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Mathews v. Gainer

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

August 6, 2019

ANTONIO MATHEWS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNKNOWN GAINER 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. 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 Antonio Mathews is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility (LRF) in Muskegon Heights, Michigan. The events about which he complains, however, occurred at the Oaks Correctional Facility (ECF) in Manistee, Michigan. Plaintiff sues the following MDOC employees at ECF: Correctional Officer Unknown Gainer and Lieutenant Unknown Clifford.

         Plaintiff alleges he witnessed a fight between two prisoners in the ECF prison yard on October 2, 2018. During the fight, he was arrested and taken to segregation. Defendant Gainer allegedly charged Plaintiff with a major misconduct, falsely accusing Plaintiff of being involved in the fight. Defendant Clifford allegedly “re-reviewed” the misconduct report but “failed to do his job duty as a reviewing officer.” (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.3.) As a result, Plaintiff was placed in segregation for 56 days, and placed on room restriction for 68 days. He lost his prison job, his phone privileges, his yard privileges, and the ability to participate in the “one day with God” program. (Id., PageID.4.)

         Plaintiff has attached a number of documents to the complaint that are related to his misconduct proceedings, including the following: the misconduct report, the misconduct hearing report, Plaintiff's request for a rehearing, a response to Plaintiff's request for a rehearing, and a misconduct hearing report following a rehearing. (See ECF No. 1-1, PageID.10-18.) According to these documents, Officer Gainer charged Plaintiff with assault and battery, and Sergeant Mackey reviewed the misconduct report with Plaintiff. (See id., PageID.10.) Lieutenant Clifford provided a statement to the hearing investigator. Hearing Officer Burke found Plaintiff guilty of the misconduct after a hearing, citing video of the incident and other evidence, but Plaintiff successfully appealed that decision. Hearings Administrator Russell ordered a rehearing. Officer Pallas held a rehearing on April 19, 2019, and dismissed the misconduct charge against Plaintiff because the video of the incident did not provide sufficient support for the charge.

         Plaintiff contends that Defendants deprived him of liberty interests without due process. He contends that there was insufficient evidence to support the misconduct charge, but Defendants did not follow state law, prison policy directives, or prison handbooks regarding misconduct reports. If they had done so, they would not have instigated the misconduct report or allowed the misconduct charge to proceed based on insufficient evidence.

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages for the loss of money he has suffered due to the loss of his prison job, as well as punitive damages from each defendant.

         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).

         Plaintiff contends that Defendants deprived him of liberty interests without due process. 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 Supreme Court long has held that the Due Process Clause does not protect every change in the conditions of confinement having an impact on a prisoner. See Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 225 (1976). In Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995), the Court set forth the standard for determining when a state-created right creates a federally cognizable liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause. According to that Court, a prisoner is entitled to the protections of due process only when the sanction “will inevitably affect the duration of his sentence” or when a deprivation imposes an “atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ...


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