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Jackson v. Washington

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Northern Division

June 13, 2018

GARY JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
HEIDI E. WASHINGTON et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          GORDON J. QUIST UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996) (PLRA), the Court is required to dismiss any prisoner action brought under federal law if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Court must read Plaintiff's pro se complaint indulgently, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and accept Plaintiff's allegations as true, unless they are clearly irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Applying these standards, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's complaint against Defendants for failure to state a claim.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Ojibway Correctional Facility (OCF) in Marenisco, Gogebic County, Michigan. The events about which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff sues MDOC Director Heidi E. Washington and the following OCF officials: Warden Kathy Olsen; Deputy Warden Mike Yon; Resident Unit Manager T. Perttu; and Accounting Technician M. Meneguzzo. Plaintiff sues Defendant Washington in her official capacity only. He sues the remaining Defendants in both their official and personal capacities.

         According to the complaint, on September 12, 2017, Defendant Meneguzzo wrote a Class-II misconduct charge against Plaintiff based on Meneguzzo's monitoring of the JPay accounting system for prisoner deposits. According to the misconduct report, Plaintiff received a deposit of $250.00 from his mother, Louise Meacham-Edwards, which was intended to benefit Prisoner Meadows. The report indicated that messages showed that Prisoner Meadows had communicated on the JPay system for the deposit to Plaintiff's account, and the JPay communications showed evidence of a money gram being sent from Lawanda Lewis to Louise Meacham-Edwards. The messages also indicated that the funds were a repayment for funds previously sent to Plaintiff for the benefit of Prisoner Meadows. Prisoners are not allowed to receive or possess moneys sent on behalf of another prisoner. See MDOC Policy Directive 04.02.105 ¶ O (eff. Jan. 1, 2010). Money that a prisoner is not entitled to possess is contraband and must be turned over to the Prisoner Benefit Fund. MDOC Policy Directive 04.07.112 ¶ II (eff. Dec. 12, 2013); Mich. Admin. Code r. 791.5501(5).

         On September 19, 2017, Defendant Perttu conducted a misconduct hearing, found Plaintiff guilty of the misconduct charge, and ordered restitution in the amount of $250.00, to be placed in the Prisoner Benefit Fund. Plaintiff complains that Defendant Perttu's hearing and order of restitution suffered from a variety of defects under MDOC policy. Specifically, Plaintiff complains that the hearing officer did not allow him to review the JPay messages, as should have been allowed under Mich. Admin. Code r. 791.5501, so Plaintiff had no way to contest the content or authenticity of those messages. Plaintiff also contends that Defendant Perttu had no authority to order the funds confiscated as, according to Plaintiff, under MDOC Policy Directive 04.02.105 ¶¶ T-U; Mich. Admin. Code r. 791.6639, funds can only be taken pursuant to an administrative hearing conducted by a hearings officer, following issuance of a notice of intent to conduct such a hearing.

         Plaintiff appealed Defendant Perttu's misconduct decision, as allowed under MDOC Policy Directive 03.03.105 ¶¶ UUU-XXX (eff. Apr. 9, 2012) and Mich. Admin. Code r. 791.5501. On September 28, 2017, Defendant Yon upheld the misconduct determination. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Washington and Olsen are liable for failing to supervise their subordinates and perform their legal duties.

         Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, together with compensatory and punitive damages.

         II. Failure to state a claim

         A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails “‘to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's allegations must include more than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). The court must determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although the plausibility standard is not equivalent to a “‘probability requirement, ' . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not ‘show[n]' - that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard applies to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the federal Constitution or laws and must show that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996). Because § 1983 is a method for vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action under § 1983 is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994).

         The majority of Plaintiff's allegations involve a central concern about how Defendants misapplied various provisions of MDOC policy and administrative rules. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that his property only could be taken under MDOC Policy Directive 04.02.105 ¶¶ T (requiring a factfinding hearing under Mich. Admin. R. 791.3310, which itself requires several elements: a notice of intent to conduct a hearing; a hearing conducted before a hearing officer as defined by Mich. Comp. Laws § 791.251; the right to be present and to speak in his own behalf and see relevant documents, unless the documents present a threat to security or safety; and a summary report of the hearing and decision). Plaintiff contends that Defendants improperly confiscated the monies through the use of procedures established for Class-II misconduct charges for possession of contraband. See MDOC Policy Directive 03.03.105 ¶¶ KK-XX (requiring notice of the misconduct charge; an initial review with the prisoner by a supervisory staff member; an informal hearing before a resident unit manager; captain, and/or lieutenant with no involvement in the issue; reasonable investigation; and a written determination listing the reasons for the decision); see also Mich. Admin. Code r. 791.5501 (governing misconduct hearings and confiscation of contraband). Plaintiff alleges a variety of specific errors in the application of these policies.

         To the extent that Plaintiff complains that officials did not use the correct policy or misapplied that policy, his claim is not cognizable in an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Claims under § 1983 can only be brought for “deprivation of rights secured by the constitution and laws of the United States.” Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 924 (1982). Section 1983 does not provide redress for a violation of a state law. Pyles v. Raisor, 60 F.3d 1211, 1215 (6th Cir. 1995); Sweeton v. Brown, 27 F.3d 1162, 1166 (6th Cir. 1994). A failure to comply with an administrative rule or policy does not itself rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Laney v. Farley, 501 F.3d 577, 581 n.2 (6th Cir. 2007); Brody v. City of Mason, 250 F.3d 432, 437 (6th Cir. 2001); Smith v. Freland, 954 F.2d 343, 347-48 (6th Cir. 1992); Barber v. City of Salem, 953 F.2d 232, 240 (6th Cir. 1992); McVeigh ...


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