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Truss v. Michigan Department of Corrections

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

July 22, 2019

EARL FLYNN TRUSS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS et al., Defendants.

          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 and the Michigan constitution. 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 federal claims for failure to state a claim. The Court will dismiss his supplemental state-law claim without prejudice.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

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

         Plaintiff sues the MDOC, MDOC Director Heidi Washington, MDOC Grievance Manager Richard D. Russell, and the following LCF officials: Warden Noah Nagy; Deputy Warden Bryan Morrison; and Assistant Deputy Warden Robert Ault.

         By way of background, Plaintiff was first incarcerated with the MDOC in 1986, on a conviction for larceny over $100, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.356, for which he was sentenced to a prison term of 2 to 5 years. In 1992, Plaintiff pleaded guilty to two counts of armed robbery, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.52, and he was sentenced to two prison terms of 8 to 20 years. In 1998, while in prison on the armed-robbery convictions, Plaintiff was convicted of being a prisoner in possession of a weapon, Mich. Comp. Laws § 800.283(4), and he was sentenced to a prison term of 4 to 10 years. Plaintiff apparently was released on parole from the armed-robbery and prisoner-in-possession sentences when he committed another armed robbery in 2009. He was sentenced on February 11, 2010, to a prison term of 15 to 40 years. Because he was on parole when he committed the 2009 offense, Plaintiff resumed serving the remainder of his 1992 and 1998 sentences, and he continues to serve time on those offenses, as well as on the 2010 sentence.

         In his amended complaint (ECF No. 8), Plaintiff alleges that, in February 2019, he was assigned a full-time prison job as a porter at LCF. When he received his first pay, he realized that he was not being paid an enhanced rate based on his vocational education and certification in custodial maintenance, to which he believed he was entitled under MDOC Policy Directive (PD) 05.02.110(CC):

A prisoner paid in accordance with the standard pay scale and assigned to a semiskilled or skilled position shall be paid an additional 15% beginning the first day of the assignment if s/he is assigned to a position for which s/he has completed a related career and technical education program (e.g., prisoner is assigned as a porter and has completed a custodial maintenance technology program). Prisoners assigned to a semi-skilled or skilled position on or after August 1, 2018 shall only be eligible to receive the addition 15% pay if they completed the career and technical education program on their current prefix.[1]

Id. (eff. Oct. 1, 2018).

         Plaintiff complained to Resident Unit Manager Houz about the allegedly improper pay. Houz instructed Plaintiff to file a grievance. Plaintiff filed a grievance on March 11, 2019, in which he argued that the “prefix” limitation in PD 05.02.110(CC), which was first adopted in the version of the policy that immediately preceded the current version, did not apply to him. See PD 05.02.110 ¶ BB (eff. Aug. 1, 2018) (superseding PD 05.02.110 (eff. Feb. 25, 2008)). While Plaintiff admitted in his grievance that he currently is serving a period of incarceration on a “C” prefix, Plaintiff argued in his grievance that he also continued to be incarcerated on his “B” prefix offense, the prefix he had when he earned his certification in 1993. (Step-I Grievance, ECF No. 8-1, PageID.67.) Plaintiff argued that the policy should not have been applied to him and that, because he was in the pool of prisoners from which porters were drawn before the effective date of the policy, he should be paid the 15% extra.

         Defendant Ault responded to the Step-I grievance, which was reviewed by Defendant Morrison. The response stated:

         According to the Classification Manual[, ] “If a prisoner, paid in accordance with the standard pay scale, is assigned to a semi-skilled or skilled position, the s/he shall be paid an additional 15% beginning the first day of the assignment in the following circumstances only:

A. The prisoner is assigned to a position for which s/he had completed a related CTE [Career and Technical Education] [P]rogram (e.g., prisoner is assigned as a porter and has completed a Custodial Maintenance Technology Program) on his/her current prefix. CTE program completions must be verified by available documentation found in the prisoner's unit, Record Office, or School Files. Short seminars or trainings cannot be substituted for this requirement.”

(Step-I Grievance Response, ECF No. 8-1, PageID.65.) The response went on to find that, because Petitioner did not receive his CMT certification while he was incarcerated on his current prefix, the certification could not be used to calculate his pay rate. In addition, the response found, Petitioner still needed to complete his CTE ...


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