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Kyle v. Skipper

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

August 8, 2019

GREGORY SKIPPER 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 Sun, Wixson, Schneider, and Zammaron.


         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Michigan Reformatory (RMI) in Ionia, Michigan. The events about which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff sues the following MDOC employees at RMI: Chaplain Unknown Rodenault; Warden Gregory Skipper; Prisoner Counselors Michael Sun and Todd C. Wixson; Assistant Residential Unit Supervisor Steven E. Schneider; and mailroom worker Unknown R. Zammaron.

         Plaintiff alleges that RMI has music equipment. Plaintiff wanted to use the music equipment, specifically the drums. He requested a callout for that purpose. On December 30, 2017, Defendant Rodenault met with Plaintiff and informed him that the drums were available to inmates that attend Christian services. The chaplain explained that the only way Plaintiff could use them would be to sign off as an adherent of the Nation of Islam and instead attend Christian services. Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding the matter.

         Defendant Skipper, then a deputy warden, interviewed Plaintiff regarding the grievance on January 11, 2018. Plaintiff explained that the music equipment should be for all prisoners and that his religious preference should have no bearing on his ability to use the equipment.

         Plaintiff received the Step I response to his grievance seven days later. He claims that Defendant Skipper prepared a response that deceitfully recharacterized Plaintiff's claim. The response indicates that Plaintiff was not permitted access to the drums because the drums are not a critical part of the Muslim services.

         After the Step I response, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Rodenault pulled him aside and stated the following:

These rules regarding the music equipment may not be fair, but they are the rules. You are like a truck stuck in the mud spinning your wheels going nowhere. This administration is on my side, do you know where you are? If you proceed with your complaint, you will regret it.

(Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.10.)

         Plaintiff attempted to clarify the nature of his complaint at the second step. He noted that his complaint was not that he could not use the drums for religious purposes; rather, he complained because he was denied access to the musical equipment because of his religious preference. Defendant Skipper denied the grievance at Step II explaining that the drums are not generally available, they are only available if they are essential for religious services.

         Plaintiff's remaining claims against Defendants Sun, Schneider, Wixson, and Zamarron are based upon those Defendants' failure to properly process his grievance. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that those Defendants intercepted Plaintiff's outgoing mail to prevent Plaintiff from exhausting his state administrative remedies. Additionally, Defendants Sun, Schneider, and Wixson allegedly misled Plaintiff into believing he was required to use the Interdepartmental Mail Run (ID mail) system to process his Step III Grievance.

         Plaintiff claims that Defendant Rodenault violated Plaintiff's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by requiring Plaintiff to change his religious preference to use the drums, threatening Plaintiff, and by deceitfully recharacterizing Plaintiff's grievance. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Skipper also violated Plaintiff's First Amendment right to petition the government and the Fourteenth Amendment when Skipper recharacterized Plaintiff's complaint and acted as the Step II respondent where he had already ...

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