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Ford v. Haas

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 22, 2018

BRIAN E. FORD, Plaintiff,

          Honorable Mark A. Goldsmith Judge



         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed on October 20, 2017, by the defendants in this action, all of whom are employees of the Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) (collectively “Defendants”). (Doc. #73). Pro se plaintiff Brian Ford (“Ford”), an incarcerated person, filed a response to this motion on February 20, 2018 (Doc. #97); Defendants filed a reply on March 16, 2018 (Doc. #100); and, with the Court's permission, Ford filed a sur-reply on April 23, 2018 (Doc. #103). An Order of Reference was entered on June 6, 2016, referring all pretrial matters to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). (Doc. #10).

         Generally, the Court will not hold a hearing on a motion in a civil case in which a party is in custody. See E.D. Mich. L.R. 7.1(f). Here, the Court finds that the facts and legal issues are adequately presented in the briefs and on the record, and it declines to order a hearing at this time.


         For the reasons set forth below, IT IS RECOMMENDED that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #73) be GRANTED.

         II. REPORT

         A. Background

         Ford is a State of Michigan prisoner who is currently confined at the Carson City Correctional Facility in Carson City, Michigan. He brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Doc. #1). At the time of the events at issue in his complaint, Ford was housed at the Macomb Correctional Facility (“MRF”) in New Haven, Michigan, and all of the named defendants are employed by the MDOC at that facility.

         In his complaint, Ford alleges that, during the summer of 2015, he - along with three other MRF inmates - filed a Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”) report, asserting that fellow inmate “Bourney, ”[1] a member of the Gangster Disciples (“GDs”) prison gang, was “trying to force [him] to have sex with others for money ….” (Id. at 5). An investigation was conducted by Defendant Michael White (“Lieutenant White”), after which Borney was placed in segregation. (Id.).

         When Borney was released from segregation two months later, he allegedly immediately began threatening Ford again. (Id.). According to Ford, he informed Lieutenant White that he was afraid and that his life was in danger, and Lieutenant White responded by telling Ford, “You better learn how to fight.” (Id. at 6). Ford further alleges that he also discussed the matter with Defendants Robert Leduc (“Inspector Leduc”), Eric Herbert (“Captain Herbert”), and George Stephenson (“Deputy Warden Stephenson”), but nothing was done. (Id.).

         Eventually, after Ford's repeated complaints, Borney was transferred out of MRF in October 2015; just a few days later, however, on October 23, 2015, Ford was assaulted by another prisoner, Russell Richardson (“Richardson”), allegedly at Borney's direction. (Id.). Three days later, Ford sought protective custody because he was “known as a ‘snitch' & had a ‘green-light' (hit) on [him].” (Id.). Ford was then transferred to the Chippewa Correctional Facility (“URF”). (Id.). While at URF, Ford sent a grievance back to MRF regarding Defendants' alleged failure to protect him from harm, receiving a grievance receipt, but no response. Ford alleges that he subsequently wrote to Defendants Eutrilla Taylor (“Grievance Coordinator Taylor”) and Randall Haas (“Warden Haas”) about the status of his grievance, but received no response from either of them. (Id. at 8).

         In his instant complaint, Ford generally alleges that Defendants ignored his PREA complaint against Borney, were aware of ongoing threats to his safety, and failed to protect him from the October 2015 assault by prisoner Richardson (an alleged GD). (Id. at 8). He further alleges that the failure of Grievance Coordinator Taylor and Warden Haas to respond to his correspondence and otherwise properly process his grievance violated his due process rights, as well as his right of access to the courts. (Id. at 9). Ford sues all of the Defendants in their individual and official capacities, seeking both monetary damages and declaratory relief. Defendants now move for summary judgment on all of Ford's claims. (Doc. #73).

         B. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the Court will grant summary judgment if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Pittman v. Cuyahoga County Dep't of Children & Family Servs., 640 F.3d 716, 723 (6th Cir. 2011). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court assumes the truth of the non-moving party's evidence and construes all reasonable inferences from that evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Ciminillo v. Streicher, 434 F.3d 461, 464 (6th Cir. 2006).

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the Court of the basis for its motion, and must identify particular portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute as to any material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986); Alexander v. CareSource, 576 F.3d 551, 558 (6th Cir. 2009). “Once the moving party satisfies its burden, ‘the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing a triable issue.'” Wrench LLC v. Taco Bell Corp., 256 F.3d 446, 453 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). In response to a summary judgment motion, the opposing party may not rest on its pleadings, nor “rely on the hope that the trier of fact will disbelieve the movant's denial of a disputed fact but must make an affirmative showing with proper evidence in order to defeat the motion.” Alexander, 576 F.3d at 558 (internal quotations omitted).

         C. Analysis

         1. Ford Has Not Established Sufficient Personal Involvement in the Alleged Wrongdoing on the Part of Defendants Steece or Klimowicz

         In their motion, Defendants argue that summary judgment in favor of Defendants Kristopher Steece and John Klimowicz is warranted because Ford has not sufficiently alleged their personal involvement in any purported wrongdoing. (Doc. #73 at 22-24). In order to demonstrate liability under § 1983 as to any particular defendant, a plaintiff must first establish that that defendant acted under color of state law and that his actions violated rights secured by the Constitution and/or laws of the United States. See Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 140 (1979). The plaintiff also must make a clear showing that each defendant was personally involved in the activity that forms the basis of the complaint. See Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 377 (1976); Bellamy v. Bradley, 729 F.2d 416, 421 (6th Cir. 1984). Moreover, § 1983 liability cannot be premised upon mere allegations of respondeat superior, i.e., supervisory liability; rather, a defendant can only be liable under § 1983 if the plaintiff shows that he personally participated in, or otherwise authorized, approved, or knowingly acquiesced in, the allegedly unconstitutional conduct. See Monell v. New York City Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978); Bellamy, 729 F.2d at 421. A supervisory official's mere awareness of a complaint of allegedly illegal conduct, and his subsequent failure to take corrective action, is insufficient to trigger § 1983 liability. See Poe v. Haydon, 853 F.2d 418, 429 (6th Cir. 1988). Rather, liability under § 1983 must be based upon active unconstitutional behavior, not a “mere failure to act.” Shehee v. Luttrell, 199 F.3d 295, 300 (6th Cir. 1999).

         In this case, although Defendants Steece and Klimowicz are named as defendants in Ford's complaint (Doc. #1 at 3), the complaint contains no factual allegations whatsoever pertaining to either of them. Indeed, in his response to Defendants' motion for summary judgment, Ford “concedes that he made a mistake in not specifically addressing the roles played by [these two defendants].” (Doc. #97 at 19). Although Ford then purports to “reserve[] the right to file an Amended Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15 to specifically allege the roles of these men” (Id.), he does not actually move for leave to amend his complaint, [2] nor does he indicate with any degree of specificity exactly what actions Defendants Steece and/or Klimowicz allegedly took that would subject either to liability. Ford did not name Steece or Klimowicz in his grievance related to this incident (Doc. #23 at 6), which suggests that, even at the time, he did not view them as culpable. At this juncture, then, where Ford still has failed to point to any specific evidence demonstrating that Defendants Steece and/or Klimowicz were personally involved in or responsible for the alleged failure to protect him from prisoner Richardson's assault in October 2015, summary judgment is warranted in favor of these two individuals.

         2. Summary Judgment is Warranted on Ford's Claims against Grievance Coordinator Taylor and Warden Haas

         As set forth above, following Ford's assault by Richardson (on October 23, 2015) and his subsequent request for protective custody (on October 26, 2015), Ford was transferred from MRF to URF. While at URF, Ford sent a grievance back to MRF; he alleges that he received a grievance receipt, but no grievance response. (Doc. #1 at 8). According to Ford, he then wrote to Grievance Coordinator Taylor and Warden Haas but did not receive a reply from either. (Id.). Ford now alleges that Grievance Coordinator Taylor and Warden Haas violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, as well as his right to access the courts, when they failed to respond to his grievance and his follow-up requests for information. The Court disagrees.

         To begin with, Ford's Fourteenth Amendment due process claim fails because it is clear that prisoners have “no due process right to file a prison grievance or to receive responses to such grievances.” Peterson v. Ostrander, 2016 WL 3751681, at *2 (W.D. Mich. July 14, 2016). Indeed, courts have repeatedly held that “there exists no constitutionally protected due process right to an effective prison grievance procedure.” Id. (citing cases); see also Parker v. Donnellon, 2011 WL 3163524, at *2 (E.D. Mich. July 27, 2011) (“[A] prisoner does not have a constitutionally-protected interest in an inmate grievance procedure or the right to an effective procedure.”). Thus, even taking as true Ford's allegations - that Grievance Coordinator Taylor and Warden Haas deliberately failed or refused to respond to his grievance and/or related communications - any such failures constitute, at most, violations of MDOC policy, not of Ford's constitutional rights.

         Ford also appears to assert that the alleged inaction of these defendants wrongfully deprived him of access to the courts. It is true that prisoners have a fundamental right of access to the courts. See Hall v. Burt, 2011 WL 2623263, at *3 (E.D. Mich. May 16, 2011) (citing Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977)). This right is derived from the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances. See Knop v. Johnson, 977 F.2d 996, 1002 (6th Cir. 1992); Hollins v. Curtin, 2013 WL 1703880, at *6 (W.D. Mich. Apr. 19, 2013). But, as the Peterson court explained in a similar case:

A prisoner's constitutional right to assert grievances typically is not violated when prison officials prohibit only one of several ways in which inmates may voice their complaints to, and seek relief, from prison officials while leaving a formal grievance procedure intact. Indeed, Plaintiff's ability to seek redress is underscored by his pro se invocation of the judicial process. Even if Plaintiff had been improperly prevented from filing a grievance, his right of access to the courts to petition for redress of his grievances (i.e., by filing a lawsuit) cannot be compromised by his inability to file institutional grievances, and he therefore cannot demonstrate the actual injury required for an access-to-the-courts claim. The exhaustion requirement only mandates exhaustion of available administrative remedies. If Plaintiff were improperly denied access to the grievance process, the process would be rendered unavailable, and exhaustion would not be a prerequisite for initiation of a civil rights action.

Peterson, 2016 WL 3751681, at *3 (internal citations and quotations omitted) (emphasis in original).

         In this case, it is clear that - even taking as true Ford's assertions that Grievance Coordinator Taylor “refused to let him exhaust his remedies” and Warden Haas “chose to also ignore [his] rights” (Doc. #97 at 19) - Ford cannot show that he has been denied access to the courts in violation of his constitutional rights. Courts have recognized that “[a] prisoner asserting a denial of access to courts claim must allege that he suffered an actual injury.” Hall, 2011 WL 2623263, at *4. To meet this requirement, “a plaintiff must show that the actions of the prison official impeded the prisoner's efforts to pursue a legal claim.” Id. Here, the exact opposite is true: not only was Ford able to file the instant lawsuit, but he successfully opposed a prior motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants on exhaustion grounds. (Docs. #25, 32). In denying that motion, this Court specifically recognized the difficulty Ford had experienced in navigating the grievance process, noting that he “made multiple requests for a Step II grievance appeal form so he could comply with his exhaustion obligations, but that (contrary to MDOC policy) he received no response to these requests.” (Doc. #25 at 7). Thus, where the Court permitted Ford to proceed with his claims, despite the alleged failure of Grievance Coordinator Taylor and/or Warden Haas to respond to his grievance and/or related correspondence, Ford simply has “failed to show any prejudice to a potentially meritorious claim.” Heddleston v. Mack, 2000 WL 1800576, at *1 (6th Cir. Nov. 30, 2000).

         For all of the foregoing reasons, summary judgment is appropriate in favor of Defendants Taylor and Haas on Ford's claims against them.

         3. All of the Defendants Are Entitled to Sovereign Immunity from ...

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