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Taylor v. Smith

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

July 29, 2019

TERRENCE LEE TAYLOR #377991, Plaintiff,
SCOTT SMITH, et al., Defendants.




         This is a civil rights action brought by state prisoner Terrence Lee Taylor pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The remaining claim involves an alleged denial of access to the courts against Defendants Scott Smith and Jeff Clark. Taylor alleges that his legal property was confiscated including a copy of his criminal trial transcript. Taylor asserts that, as a result, he was unable to prepare a complete motion for relief from judgment under MCR 6.502 regarding his first-degree murder and assault convictions, and his life without parole sentence.[1] Taylor's Rule 6.502 motion was ultimately filed in October 2016, and was denied in the state courts.

         Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 163.) I respectfully recommend that the Court grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismiss this case. Although Taylor alleges that he was unable to bring his claim in 2013, the record establishes that he raised every issue in his motion for relief from judgment in 2016. It is the opinion of undersigned that Taylor cannot establish prejudice and Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.

         Procedural history

         Taylor filed his original complaint on August 18, 2014. Taylor alleged that he transferred to the Chippewa Correctional Facility (URF) on June 19, 2013, with two state-issued duffle bags containing both legal property and personal property. Defendant Smith wrote Taylor a Notice of Intent for contraband/excess property. Prisoners are allowed one duffle bag, unless a hearing officer from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) determines that the excess property is legal property. Prisoners can store excess legal property in a footlocker. Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) P.D. 04.07.112 (C), (O), (P). Excess property is considered contraband that must either be mailed out of the facility or destroyed. Taylor had a hearing before Assistant Resident Supervisor Defendant Clark. Defendant Clark separated Taylor's property into two stacks and told Taylor to select one of the stacks and to sign the hearing report. Taylor refused to sign the report and maintained that legal property was within each stack of property.

         Taylor asserted claims of retaliation, equal protection, and denial of access to the courts. On January 15, 2016, this Court dismissed Defendants Woods, Norton, and Ross due to Taylor's failure to exhaust administrative remedies against them. (ECF No. 53.) On October 27, 2016, the Court dismissed Taylor's due process claim, and his access-to-the-courts claim because Taylor failed to show an actual injury. Taylor had filed a request for another copy of his transcript and had an attorney working on his criminal appeal. (ECF Nos. 100, 101.) Taylor alleged that he was forced to file his Rule 6.502 motion without his criminal trial transcripts.

         On November 29, 2016, Taylor moved to amend his complaint to plead new allegations in support of his access-to-the-courts claim. (ECF No. 103.) On December 14, 2016, this Court denied Taylor's motion to amend the complaint explaining “that simply adding allegations to the complaint cannot revive the dismissed claims because Plaintiff has failed to show that the denial of his MCR 6.502 motion was due to the alleged action by Defendants of limiting his personal property and confiscating his transcripts or ‘legal material.'” (ECF No 107.)

         The Court held a jury trial on the remaining claims. After a jury verdict, the Court entered judgment for Defendants. (ECF No. 135.) Taylor appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. On August 30, 2018, the Sixth Circuit affirmed in part, but vacated the order denying Taylor's motion for leave to amend his complaint regarding his access-to-the-courts claim, explaining that this Court applied the wrong standard to the motion “because an access-to-the-courts claim requires only that the underlying claim be non-frivolous.” (ECF No. 154.)

         Amended complaint

         Taylor's amended complaint was filed on October 2, 2018. (ECF No. 158.) Taylor alleges that he arrived at URF on June 19, 2013, with two duffle bags, each containing personal and legal property. The legal property consisted of a self-help litigation manual, jailhouse lawyer manual, legal notes, police reports, trial transcripts, and his motion requesting relief from judgment under MCR 6.502.

         Taylor asserts that the MCR 6.502 motion was ready for filing in the state court. Taylor's motion allegedly included the following arguments:

1) the prosecutor failed to show an absence of heat of passion/sudden provocation to convict Taylor of felony murder;
2) the lesser included offense of involuntary manslaughter should not have been considered by the jury due to the absence of a heat of passion/sudden provocation element;
3) the prosecutor used one of the victim's back injuries to argue that Taylor had time to take a “second look, ” despite the fact that there was no testimony that the victim tried to flee and the evidence established that Taylor and the victim engaged in a struggle due to the pattern of injuries;
4) the trial court failed to swear in the jury;
5) counsel was ineffective for failing to request impeachment instructions; and
6) the admission of the one of the victim's hospital photograph was for the purpose of eliciting sympathy and prejudice.

         Taylor says that he tried to explain to Defendant Smith that he was authorized to possess legal property so that he could challenge his criminal conviction. Taylor says that Smith responded that “the last person who filed a lawsuit here found himself in the hole and eating out a straw, now if you don't have a copy of that legal hearing you claim you had you're not getting this property.” (PageID.854-855.) Defendant Smith informed Taylor that he could only have one duffle bag of property. Defendant Smith wrote a Notice of Intent for contraband/excess property stating that Taylor did not have legal property.

         On July 1, 2013, Defendant Clark conducted a hearing. The property was sorted into two stacks. Defendant Clark stated “‘I heard you like to file petty lawsuits, you'll learn.' He then selected one of the piles and said, ‘Here you get this.'” (PageID.855.) Taylor tried to explain that his completed 6.502 motion was in the other stack. Defendant Clark told Taylor to sign the hearing report. Taylor refused to sign the report and Defendant Clark ordered him to leave the office.

         Taylor states that he was entitled to an automatic reversal of his conviction and a new trial because the jury was never sworn. Taylor explains that this was settled law in 2013. But this is no longer the case because of a 2015 change in the law. Taylor argues that the decision in People v. Cain, 408 Mich. 108 (2015), set forth a new standard, and Taylor could not file his Rule ...

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