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Cameron v. Gurnoe

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

May 29, 2019

JARED J. CAMERON, Plaintiff,
v.
UNKNOWN GURNOE et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          GORDON J. QUIST, 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 against Defendants Gurnoe, Switzer, Olsen, Lombard, McLean, and Rink. The Court will allow the action to proceed against Defendant Newcomb.

         Discussion

         I. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff Jared J. Cameron is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Chippewa Correctional Facility (URF) in Kincheloe, Michigan. Plaintiff sues the following MDOC employees at URF: Sergeant Unknown Gurnoe; Correctional Officers Bruce Switzer, Sheri Newcomb, Unknown Olsen, and Unknown Lombard; Chaplain Unknown Rink; and Grievance Coordinator M. McLean.

         Plaintiff alleges that in January 2016, when the URF warden was making rounds in Plaintiff's unit, Plaintiff asked the warden why officers were making “degrading” religious comments about members of the Islamic faith. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.2.) Warden Woods told Plaintiff to file a grievance about the issue. Woods also stopped by the officers' desk and spoke briefly with them.

         Two days later, when Plaintiff was in the dining hall, Sergeant Gurnoe told him to leave. Plaintiff explained that the “chow lines” were still running and that his unit had been called for “Unit Store and Chow.” (Id.) However, Gurnoe told Plaintiff that he had arrived too late to eat.

         Plaintiff turned and left the dining hall. After walking out the door, he came across Officer Switzer, who, along with Sergeant Gurnoe, approached Plaintiff “with aggression.” (Id.) Gurnoe asked, “Do you have something smart you want to say to me? Or are you waiting for us to do something [s]o you can report it to the Warden's Office[?]” (Id.) Plaintiff did not respond. Instead, he went back to his unit and wrote a grievance.

         Several months later, on July 4, 2016, Plaintiff was working in the kitchen serving “kool-aid” when Officer Newcomb told him that he was being “laid in pending termination, because [Plaintiff] refused to pass out napkins.” (Id., PageID.3.) Newcomb also told him, “Your Grievance that you wrote on C/O Switzer and Sgt ‘G' was a mischar[ac]terization of the facts.” (Id.) Plaintiff responded that the incident involving Switzer was an “isolated” one arising from the fact that Switzer was upset because Plaintiff had complained about prison staff's “religious comm[en]ts.” (Id.) Newcomb stated, “We are a family, each one protects the next, this is how it is do[n]e up North[.] Maybe next time you think about that before you file any more grievances.” (Id.) Newcomb told Plaintiff to return to his unit. Plaintiff did so. He also wrote a grievance about Newcomb's conduct.

         On July 7, Plaintiff received a prisoner program and work assignment evaluation signed by Newcomb and a Trinity Food Services employee. The evaluation stated that Plaintiff refused to follow a Trinity employee's order to pass out napkins. Apparently, the evaluation did not describe any other negative work performance, and Plaintiff was not given a probationary period or issued a misconduct, so the classification director returned him to work.

         That same day, Switzer issued Plaintiff a misconduct ticket for disobeying a direct order. According to the misconduct ticket, Plaintiff was washing his arms, face, hands, and feet in front of the porter's sink to prepare for group prayer in recognition of Eid al-Fitr, and Switzer told him to stop three times. According to Plaintiff, this washing, known as “WUDU, ” was a necessary part of his preparation for the prayer time, according to his religious beliefs. (Id., PageID.3-4.) Plaintiff told Switzer that once he starts WUDU, he should finish it. Switzer responded, “My commands supersede those of your God, I'm in charge of Safety, Good Order, and Security for this Institution!” (Id., PageID.4.)

         Plaintiff contends that the misconduct ticket was dismissed because the misconduct could not have occurred on the date alleged; Eid al-Fitr “was performed on a different date.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff apparently informed his family of Switzer's actions, and they filed a “Civil Services Complaint” against Switzer. (Id.)

         On August 16, 2016, Officer Switzer saw Plaintiff and asked him to provide his prisoner identification card. Switzer then accused Plaintiff of writing grievances on Switzer that called Switzer a liar, and noted that Plaintiff's family had filed a complaint about Switzer. Switzer declared, “You think that it will keep my from doing my job you['re] wrong. . . . [W]hy don't you go and cry that to your family, and if you don't stop, you will not be happy with the results.” (Id.) Plaintiff filed a grievance against Switzer regarding this incident.

         Later that day, Officer Olsen told Plaintiff, “Leave the cube area this won't take long, I've only got to search one area[.]” (Id.) Plaintiff believes that Switzer sent Olsen to the cube area to harass Plaintiff.

         Eventually, Plaintiff was transferred to the other side of URF and then to another prison. On October 25, 2018, Plaintiff transferred back to URF. On November 13, 2018, Plaintiff wrote a grievance against Officer Lombard for making “religious comm[ents] against this Prisoner.” (Id., PageID.5.) Apparently, Lombard told Plaintiff that he agrees with Switzer that Plaintiff is a “radical.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff complained to his supervisor in food services about the comments by Lombard. Sometime after doing so, Lombard accused Plaintiff of “double dipping, ” which means eating twice during one meal, and he had Plaintiff “laid in” pending termination. (Id.) After an investigation, Plaintiff was cleared of the allegations and he returned to work. He also received back pay for the days that he missed.

         Plaintiff attempted to file a grievance against Lombard for this accusation, but Grievance Coordinator McLean allegedly refused to process the grievance. Plaintiff contends that McLean conspired with Newcomb and Lombard to prevent Plaintiff from exhausting the grievance procedure. Plaintiff subsequently filed a grievance against McLean, but that grievance was not processed either.

         On December 22, 2018, another Muslim prisoner was “laid in” for praying at work, and Plaintiff was asked to replace that prisoner as the lead cook. (Id.) When Plaintiff showed up for work, Newcomb allegedly stated, “You better not get caught praying over here anymore.” (Id.) Plaintiff told Newcomb that his religion requires him to pray five times per day. Newcomb responded,

I think C/O Switzer and C/O Lombard were right. You're a radical. . . . Nothing you can do or nobody will ever change my rules . . . . No. grievance no complaint no lawsuit . . . I'm right you're wrong and that's that. . . . There's nowhere in America you're allowed to pray at work mister, and that's probably only allowed secretly in heavily Arab populated areas like downstate, but not in the ‘U.P.' If you want to pray at work you should move to another country.

(Id., PageID.6.) Later, Newcomb gave Plaintiff a post-it note with “information alleging to be [a] Policy Directive provided by Chaplain Rink[.]”[1] (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that he has been assigned to work in the kitchen since July 2018, and he is not allowed to leave work to return to his unit to offer prayer. Consequently, he has missed prayer times that are mandatory for his faith.

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants Gurnoe, Switzer, Olsen, and Newcomb retaliated against him for verbally complaining and filing grievances. Plaintiff also claims that Defendant McLean conspired with Defendants Newcomb and Lombard to retaliate against Plaintiff by preventing Plaintiff from using the grievance process. In addition, Plaintiff claims that Defendants Rink, Newcomb, and Switzer prevented Plaintiff from exercising his religion by verbally harassing him and by using prison policy to force him to choose between a work assignment and prayer.

         As relief, Plaintiff seeks a total of $100, 000 in compensatory damages.

         II. Failure ...


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