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Almond v. Cline

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

July 24, 2018

LEON ALMOND, Plaintiff,
v.
S. CLINE et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          ROBERT J. JONKER CHIEF 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 Houtz, Chrisman, Tory, Van Wyck, Mittelstadt, and Morrison for failure to state a claim. The Court will serve the complaint against Defendants Cline and Knaack, but only with respect to Plaintiff's claim that Defendant Cline retaliated against Plaintiff for Plaintiff's refusal to sign a reclassification request and Plaintiff's claim that Defendant Knaack conspired with Defendant Cline to accomplish that retaliation.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Lakeland Correctional Facility (LCF) in Coldwater, Michigan. The events about which he complains occurred at that facility.

         Plaintiff sues several officials from LCF: acting Classification Director S. Cline; Prisoner Counselor J. Knaack; Resident Unit Manager J. Houtz; Inspector T. Chrisman; Food Service Director G. Tory; Assistant Food Service Director Unknown Van Wyck; Business Manager S. E. Mittelstadt; and Deputy Warden B. Morrison.[1]

         Plaintiff's allegations cover a three month period beginning December 20, 2017. On that date, a corrections officer wrote a Class II misconduct report against Plaintiff for possession of stolen property/theft. The items of property at issue were an onion and some seasoning. Plaintiff worked for the food service and was classified as a food service worker. Pending his hearing, he was laid-in and was not permitted to work.

         On January 2, 2018, Plaintiff was summoned to a hearing on the misconduct charge. According to Plaintiff, the hearing officer Lieutenant LaMontagne reduced the Class II charge to a Class III charge for possession of a garden onion past the date it should have been consumed. Plaintiff received a sanction of two days' loss of privileges. Plaintiff asked the hearing officer to contact staff so Plaintiff could be reinstated to his food service job. The hearing officer agreed to contact Defendant Cline.

         Plaintiff heard nothing for several days. He wrote Defendant Cline inquiring why Cline had not reinstated Plaintiff to his food service job. On January 10, 2018, Cline responded with a memorandum informing Plaintiff that Cline had reclassified him and put him in the work pool for the first available opening. Plaintiff protested, arguing that Cline could not reclassify him under the circumstances.

         Plaintiff's insistence that Cline could not reclassify him lies at the heart of his allegations. Plaintiff's contention is that Cline had no legitimate bases to reclassify him, at least after the misconduct was reduced to a Class III offense, unless Plaintiff himself made a request. There is good reason to doubt that Plaintiff is correct in his reading of the MDOC Classification policy.[2] But, assuming Plaintiff's view is correct for purposes of argument, he claims that a number of Defendants mounted a campaign to get him to request a classification out of food service:

1. On January 22, 2018, Defendant Knaack visited Plaintiff and told Plaintiff to sign a piece of paper to be reclassified. Plaintiff refused. Plaintiff set out to get the papers necessary to file a grievance. Before he could, Defendant Knaack again approached Plaintiff. Knaack told Plaintiff this was his last chance to be reclassified, otherwise Cline would classify Plaintiff as unemployable. Plaintiff again refused to sign.
2. Plaintiff filed a grievance against Defendants Cline and Knaack for violating the reclassification policy. On January 26, 2018, Plaintiff visited Cline at his office. Cline instructed Plaintiff to sign a reclassification request document so Cline could reclassify Plaintiff, otherwise Cline would classify Plaintiff as unemployable. Plaintiff refused. Cline told Plaintiff that Cline had terminated Plaintiff from his food service assignment. Plaintiff protested that Cline did not have the authority to do so absent a bad work evaluation from Plaintiff's supervisor. Plaintiff again grieved Cline.
3. On January 28, 2018, Plaintiff visited Defendant Van Wyck. Van Wyck told Plaintiff that Cline reported Plaintiff had been found guilty of a Class II misconduct and instructed Van Wyck to write a bad work evaluation to terminate Plaintiff from his job. When Van Wyck learned that Plaintiff had not been found guilty of a Class II misconduct, he indicated he would contact Defendant Mittelstadt and have her get Plaintiff back to work. Plaintiff grieved Cline again.
4. The next day, Plaintiff received three documents: a January 26, 2018, memorandum of classification to Mittelstadt notifying her that Plaintiff was on “OO” status; a work evaluation stating that Plaintiff was terminated from his assignment on December 21, 2017; and a MDOC itinerary dated January 29, 2018, notifying Plaintiff that he was on “OO” status.
5. The next day, Plaintiff, undaunted, raised the employment situation with Defendant Morrison. Morrison instructed Plaintiff to write to Morrison or Defendant Chrisman and one of them would take care of it. Plaintiff wrote Chrisman. Nothing happened.
6. On February 5, 2018, Plaintiff received a MDOC Assignment Waiver Form from Cline indicating that Plaintiff refused to sign it on January 26, 2018.
7. On February 6, 2018, Defendant Houtz interviewed Plaintiff regarding the grievances against Cline. At first Houtz told Plaintiff that Cline could not do what Cline had done. According to Plaintiff, however, Houtz then reheard the Class II misconduct and found Plaintiff ...

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