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Miller v. Behuke

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

May 29, 2019

ANTHONY A. MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
RICHARD BEHNKE et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          GORDON J. QUIST, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a civil rights action brought by a county jail inmate 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 is presently serving a sentence in the Cass County Jail. Based on the records of the Cass County Circuit Court, it appears he is jailed following his guilty plea to either a methamphetamine-related offense or fleeing and eluding a police officer. He sues Cass County Sheriff Richard Behnke, Captain Kevin Garreitts, Sergeant Todd Johnson, and Cass County.

         Plaintiff alleges that on January 25, 2019, Defendant Johnson put Plaintiff on inmate worker status. He claims that, because of that status, Defendant Johnson gave Plaintiff a 31-day sentence reduction. On February 11, 2019, Defendant Johnson removed Plaintiff from inmate worker status and took away the 31-day reduction of his sentence. Plaintiff contends that the loss of his 31-day sentence reduction without a hearing violated his constitutional rights. Plaintiff asks the Court to order Defendants to restore Plaintiff's 31-day sentence reduction. He also asks the Court to order Defendants to provide a hearing when an inmate is removed from inmate worker status or when Defendants take away the 31-day sentence reduction that is provided to inmate workers. Finally, Plaintiff seeks $146, 500.00 in 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).

         III. Due Process Violation

         Plaintiff's claim that he was removed from inmate worker status and caused to forfeit his 31-day sentence reduction without a hearing is a claim that he was denied his due process rights in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. “The Fourteenth Amendment protects an individual from deprivation of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” Bazetta v. McGinnis, 430 F.3d 795, 801 (6th Cir. 2005). To establish a Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process violation, a plaintiff must show that one of these interests is at stake. Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005). Analysis of a procedural due process claim involves two steps: “[T]he first asks whether there exists a liberty or property interest which has been interfered with by the State; the second examines whether the procedures attendant upon that deprivation were constitutionally sufficient.” Ky. Dep't of Corr. v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 460 (1989).

         The Sixth Circuit has consistently found that prisoners have no constitutionally protected liberty or property interest in prison employment under the Fourteenth Amendment. See, e.g., Dellis v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 257 F.3d 508, 511 (6th Cir. 2001) (district court properly dismissed as frivolous the plaintiff's claim that he was fired from his prison job); Newsom v. Norris, 888 F.2d 371, 374 (6th Cir. 1989) (no constitutional right to prison employment); Ivey v. Wilson, 832 F.2d 950, 955 (6th Cir. 1987) (“[N]o prisoner has a constitutional right to a particular job or to any job”); Carter v. Tucker, 69 Fed.Appx. 678, 680 (6th Cir. 2003) (same). Moreover, “as the Constitution and federal law do not create a property right for inmates in a job, they likewise do not create a property right to wages for work performed by inmates.” Carter, 69 Fed.Appx. at 680 (citing Williams v. Meese, 926 F.2d 994, 997 (10th Cir. 1991), and James v. Quinlan, 866 F.2d 627, 629-30 (3d Cir. 1989)). Under these authorities, Plaintiff fails to state a due process claim arising from Defendant Smith's termination of Plaintiff's inmate worker status.

         An inmate does not have a protected liberty interest in a determination that the inmate should be removed from inmate worker status and, thus, deprived of the corresponding sentence reduction, unless the sanction “will inevitably affect the duration of his sentence” or the resulting restraint imposes an “atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.” See Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484, 487 (1995). Although Plaintiff does not allege that Defendant Johnson's determination imposed an atypical or significant hardship, he does allege that the determination affected the duration of his sentence, effectively extending his sentence by 31 days. Thus, accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, he has identified a protected liberty interest. Moreover, Plaintiff's allegations further indicate that he was not afforded procedural protections before that liberty interest was taken.

         Although Plaintiff has alleged the elements of a procedural due process claim, that claim is still properly dismissed because it can only be raised in a habeas corpus proceeding. Section 1983 provides a cause of action for “the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” by any person acting “under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Supreme Court, however, has limited the availability of § 1983 actions for prisoners in a series of cases, including Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973), Heck v. ...


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