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McKinney v. Smith

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

June 29, 2018

L. SMITH et al., Defendants.



         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 for failure to state a claim.


         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff presently is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Alger Correctional Facility (LMF) in Munising, Alger County, Michigan. The events about which he complains, however, occurred at the West Shoreline Correctional Facility (MTF) in Muskegon Heights, Muskegon County, Michigan. Plaintiff sues MTF Security Threat Group (STG)[1] Coordinator Sergeant L. Smith; MTF Warden Shane Jackson; MTF Inspector Dale Myers; MTF Grievance Coordinator James Kitchen; MDOC Central STG Office Supervisors Brent Travelbee and Larry Brown; and MDOC Director Heidi E. Washington.

         Although Plaintiff's complaint is lengthy, it contains only meager descriptions of the facts on which he bases his claims. Instead, it largely consists of repetitious legal conclusions that Defendant Smith and other Defendants acted with long lists of mental states (intentionally, maliciously, corruptly, tortiously, callously, recklessly, discriminatorily and deliberately) to commit constitutional violations, without specific factual underpinnings. (See, e.g., Compl., EFC No. 1 PageID.3-5, 8, 10, 12-14, 16-19, 21-23, 25-27, 29.) Nevertheless, from a review of the complaint in conjunction with the attachments, it appears that, on February 10, 2016, Defendant Smith completed a STG-II member identification form, indicating that Plaintiff was an inactive STG-II member who had demonstrated new activity. (Id., PageID.3-4; Ex. A to Compl., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.37-38.) Plaintiff contends that Defendant Smith “falsified” various parts of the form, most particularly by checking box number 16 on the form, which indicated that Plaintiff “is identified as a leader, enforcer, recruiter in a Security Threat Group, ” thereby elevating Plaintiff's classification to STG II. (Id., PageID.38.)

         On February 22, 2016, Correctional Officer Plesgo issued a Class-III misconduct charge against Plaintiff for being an accessory to possession of contraband by prisoner Gibson. The misconduct ticket charged that, during a search of prisoner Gibson's papers, Plesgo found “Renew My Vows” papers signed by Gibson and witnessed by Plaintiff, purporting to renew Gibson's vows as a member of the Melanic Islamic Palace of the Rising Sun (Melanics), a designated STG. (Misconduct Report, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.39.) Defendant Smith reviewed Plaintiff on the misconduct charge on February 23, 2016. On February 29, 2016, Defendant Smith told Plaintiff to return to his cell and retrieve the Class-III misconduct issued on February 22, 2016, because Defendant Smith intended to pull the misconduct charge. Plaintiff told Smith that he did not have the misconduct report, as he had mailed it to his family for safekeeping. Defendant Smith apparently did not believe Plaintiff and threatened him with two misconduct charges (disobeying a direct order and interference with the administration of rules) if Plaintiff did not return the form. When Plaintiff returned to his cell, he was informed that the cell had just been searched on Smith's orders.

         On March 3, 2016, Plaintiff signed a renunciation of his membership in the Melanics. On March 14, 2016, Defendant Travelbee approved Plaintiff's designation as an STG-II member. The following day, March 15, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Step-I grievance, [2] alleging that he had signed off from the Melanics in 2002, signed off again on March 3, 2016, and had nothing to do with the Melanics. In his grievance, Plaintiff also complained that he had been deprived of his due process rights when Defendant Smith completed the STG form on February 10, 2016, stating that Melanic material with Plaintiff's name on it was found in another prisoner's possession and that the misconduct ticket was not written until February 22, 2016, twelve days after Defendant Smith completed the form. (Step-I grievance form, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.42.) On investigation, Defendant Inspector Myers reported to Defendant Grievance Coordinator Kitchen Plaintiff's claim that he was not involved with the Melanics was inconsistent with witness accounts of Gibson's renewal of vows, as well as other “observed, reported or suspect activity.” (Mem., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.44.) The Defendant Myers therefore found that Plaintiff had been properly returned to STG-II classification. Defendant Myers also wrote that, according to the records, Plaintiff had signed off on the Melanics in October of 2015, not in 2002, as Plaintiff represented. (Id.) Defendant Myers rejected Plaintiff's grievance, referencing and attaching his memorandum. (Step-I Grievance, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.42.) Plaintiff appealed to both Step II and Step III of the grievance process. The Step-I response was affirmed at both appeal levels, on June 23, 2016, and October 27, 2016, by Defendant Warden Jackson and Richard Russell, respectively. (ECF No. 1-1, PageID.45-49.)

         On March 29, 2018, during his anuual security classification screening, Plaintiff's confinement level was set at Level V, [3] as a result of his STG-II classification. However, the screener found Plaintiff's true security level to be Level IV, where Plaintiff subsequently was placed. As a result of his STG-II classification, Plaintiff cannot work a prison job and is permitted only one hour per day of out-of-cell movement, including morning yard time. In addition, he is not permitted to receive SecurePak, cannot send J-Pay messages, and is limited to five telephone calls per week, excluding attorney calls. Plaintiff also complains that, as an STG-II prisoner, he is entitled to have only two non-contact visits per month. Because of his STG-II classification, Plaintiff was ineligible to attend his birth father's funeral on August 9, 2016. See MDOC Policy Directive 04.04.140 (governing approvals of escorted funeral and sick bed visits for prisoners whose true security level is I, II, or III) (eff. Nov. 1, 2002).

         Plaintiff alleges that, in February and March of 2018, he sent descriptions of his alleged mistreatment to Defendants Brown, Travelbee, and Washington, but they took no action to rectify the problem, though Brown and Travelbee informed Plaintiff that the actions were correct and that he should stop submitting complaints about it. Plaintiff therefore contends that they and all of the supervisory defendants have implicitly authorized the allegedly unconstitutional actions of Defendant Smith to have Plaintiff placed in STG-II status.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants denied him his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection by improperly classifying him to STG-II. In addition, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Smith coerced him into signing and dating the MDOC Security Threat Group Renunciation/Removal form on March 3, 2016, in violation of his rights under the Fifth Amendment, because Smith failed to attach a statement to the form indicating that Plaintiff was not an active member of any STG, an attachment requested by Plaintiff. Plaintiff also contends that his classification to STG-II has subjected him to conditions of confinement that amount to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Further, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Smith retaliated against him, in violation of the First Amendment, and violated the Eighth Amendment by having Plaintiff transferred to a Level-IV prison located 410 miles farther away from his four-year-old son and the rest of his family. Plaintiff argues that 14 of the 16 Level-IV prisons are located downstate, closer to Plaintiff's family, and that he easily could have been transferred to one of these 14 prisons.

         Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, together with nominal, 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).

         A. Supervisory Liability

         Plaintiff fails to make specific factual allegations against Warden Jackson, Inspector Myers, Grievance Coordinator Kitchen, Central Office STG Coordinator Brown, and MDOC Director Washington, other than that they failed to correct the actions of Defendant Smith, failed conduct an investigation in response to his grievances and letters of complaint, or failed to supervise their subordinates. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that, other than approving the STG-II classification, ...

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