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Chandler v. S. Morris

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

July 12, 2018

ROBERT CHANDLER, Plaintiff,
v.
S. MORRIS, Defendant.

          OPINION

          Paul L. Maloney 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 for failure to state a claim.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff presently is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Ionia Correctional Facility (ICF) in Ionia, Ionia County, Michigan. The events about which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff sues MDOC Hearing Officer S. Morris.

         Plaintiff alleges generally that hearing officers do not provide a fair opportunity for prisoners to dispute misconduct charges made against them. Specifically, he complains that he has been denied a fair hearing on his Class-I misconduct ticket for “Threatening Behavior.” (Misconduct Hr'g Report, Ex. 1 to Compl., ECF No. 1-1, Page ID.8.) The misconduct hearing report provided as follows:

Prisoner present. Misconduct report and hearing investigation read and reviewed with prisoner. Pleads not guilty. Hearing investigation consists of one page from the charged prisoner; one page of mental health screening. The prisoner indicates that this isn't even his personality. He states that if he wanted to eat, why would he say that. He states that he never had any conflict with that lady. He states that he isn't about to throw piss or doo doo at a C/O. He states that he just got an assault charge and got 6 more years and isn't looking to get any more. He states that it doesn't make any sense to say if you feed me, I'm going to throw piss in your face. He was asked why the staff member would write this misconduct if it wasn't true and he stated that he had no idea. He was informed of the decision and sanctions at the conclusion of the hearing.
Pursuant to PD 03.03.105, threatening behavior is words, actions or other behavior which expresses an intent to injure or physically abuse another person. Hearing officer finds the reporting staff member's statement to be specific, reliable and credible. HO finds that the prisoner did state “if you open my slot bitch, I will throw piss in your face” to the reporting staff member. The prisoner denies that he said this and states that the report writer is fabricating the misconduct. However, he admits that he has no problem with this staff member and could provide no reason for the staff member to fabricate a misconduct. In cases where there may be a fabrication, there would be a reason to do so and it would be likely that the prisoner would know the reason. I find the prisoner was properly identified by door card, which is posted right on the door, so there is no reason for him to have been misidentified. Further, the comment was made with direct eye contact, so I find that the staff member would properly have heard it. I find no evidence of fabrication or embellishment. I find the prisoner guilty of (012).

(Id., PageID.8.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant merely accepted the word of the charging officer without investigation or basis for believing the officer over the prisoner.

         Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief requiring the MDOC to establish a fair misconduct hearing process.

         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).

         Plaintiff's due process claim against Defendant Burke fails for two reasons. First, the Sixth Circuit, recognizing that a Michigan hearings officer has adjudicatory functions spelled out by statute in the nature of an administrative law judge, has held that hearings officers are entitled to absolute judicial immunity from damages in relation to actions within the officer's authority. Shelly v. Johnson, 849 F.2d 228, 229 (6th Cir. 1988); Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 791.251-255. See also Williams v. McGinnis, Nos. 02-1336, 02-1837, 2003 WL 245352, at *2 (6th Cir. Jan. 31, 2003) (recognizing that Michigan's prison hearings officers are entitled to absolute immunity); Thompson v. Mich. Dep't of Corr., No. 01-1943, 2002 WL 22011, at *1 (6th Cir. Jan. 2, 2002) (same); Gribble v. Bass, No. 93-5413, 1993 WL 524022, at *2 (6th Cir. Dec. 16, 1993) (same). Plaintiff's action fails because Defendant hearings officer is absolutely immune from suit for damages under the circumstances of this case. Moreover, injunctive relief is not available under § 1983, because, under the 1996 amendments to that statute, injunctive relief “shall not be granted” in an action against “a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity . . . unless a declaratory decree was ...


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