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Johnson v. Newcomb

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

July 8, 2019

SHERRY L. NEWCOMB 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 against Defendants Biggers, Bellanger, Gurnoe, Banks, Firth, Pruitt, Horton, Young, Savoie, Durant, and Blemke.


         I. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Chippewa Correctional Facility (URF) in Kincheloe, Chippewa County, Michigan. The events about which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff sues Corrections Officers Sherry L. Newcomb and H. Anderson, Lieutenant Unknown Biggers, Sergeants Unknown Bellanger, Unknown Gurnoe, and Unknown Banks, Food Service Employees Unknown Firth and Unknown Pruitt, Warden Connie Horton, Deputy Warden Unknown Young, Corrections Officer L. Webb, Food Service Employee Unknown Savoie, Hearing Investigator M. Durant, Chaplain Unknown Rink, Sergeant Unknown Blemke, and Corrections Officers W. Henderson and L. LaPonise (also referred to in the complaint as LaPonsie).

         Plaintiff Cleotis L. Johnson arrived at URF on June 6, 2016. On November 25, 2018, Plaintiff began his Islamic morning prayer while he was on a break from his job in food service. Defendant Newcomb interrupted Plaintiff and ordered him to stop praying, stating “You Black Muslims are not allowed to pray in public, or in public buildings.” Defendant Newcomb then ordered Plaintiff to leave food service. Plaintiff replied that he was allowed to pray on break as long as he did it quietly. Defendant Newcomb stated that she did not like it and ordered Plaintiff to leave the area. Plaintiff attempted to resolve the issue with his food service supervisors, Defendants Firth and Pruitt, who told Plaintiff that there was no talking to Defendant Newcomb. Defendants Firth and Pruitt stated that they could not go against Defendant Newcomb's decision because they feared she would retaliate against them. Plaintiff was laid in from his job for the remainder of the day for praying.

         On November 26, 2018, Plaintiff was again ordered to leave food services by Defendant Newcomb for praying on his break. Defendants Biggers and Savoie refused to help Plaintiff with Defendant Newcomb. Plaintiff wrote a grievance on Defendant Newcomb, who told Plaintiff that she knew about the grievance and not to come back to work.

         On November 26, 2018, Plaintiff filed a PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) complaint on Defendant Newcomb after she “used her personal sexual gender to harass [Plaintiff] who on video refused to give [her] his personal attention.” Plaintiff claims that Defendant Newcomb's improper conduct toward him was covered up by Defendants Biggers, Blemke, and Bellanger. In retaliation for the grievance and PREA complaint, Defendant Newcomb wrote a false misconduct on Plaintiff for disobeying a direct order on November 26, 2018.

         On November 27, 2018, Defendant Blemke reviewed the misconduct report with Plaintiff. On November 29, 2018, Defendant Biggers conducted a hearing on the misconduct and found Plaintiff guilty. Plaintiff states that Defendant Biggers violated MDOC policy in conducting the hearing because Defendant Biggers was present during the event and was personally involved. Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal. On November 30, 2018, Defendant Durant gave Plaintiff a sanction of six days loss of privileges. Plaintiff's appeal was denied on December 6, 2018, by Defendant Young.

         On December 13, 2018, Defendants Anderson, LaPonise, and Webb searched Plaintiff's cell and took Plaintiff's tape player and Plaintiff's Tylenol and Senna, which had been given to him by URF Medical Services. When doing so, Defendant Anderson stated that Plaintiff should not have written grievances on Defendant Newcomb. Defendant Anderson further stated that if Plaintiff continued to write grievances, he would end up in segregation and would be denied food. Defendant Anderson told Plaintiff, “That's what we do to Muslims.” Defendant Anderson wrote another false misconduct on Plaintiff for substance abuse, stating that Plaintiff should not have written grievances on Defendant Newcomb. On December 14, 2018, Plaintiff was reviewed on the misconduct ticket. On December 15, 2018, Defendants Rink and Henderson incorrectly stated that Plaintiff was not allowed to pray while at work or while at yard. On December 17, 2018, Defendant Biggers reviewed Plaintiff on his grievance against Defendant Newcomb.

         On December 18, 2018, Defendants Anderson and Webb falsified a class 3 misconduct on Plaintiff which accused him of altering his tape player. In addition, Defendants Anderson and LaPonise took Plaintiff's prescribed Tylenol and Senna in retaliation for Plaintiff's grievances against Defendants Anderson and Newcomb. Plaintiff claims that Defendants Horton, Bellanger, and Biggers improperly denied Plaintiff's grievances in order to protect their co-workers.

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants retaliated against him and prevented him from practicing his religion. Plaintiff also claims that Defendants acted with deliberate indifference when they took his Tylenol and Senna, and that they discriminated against him on the basis of his religious beliefs. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as 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 ...

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