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Bryant v. Michigan Department of Corrections

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

August 20, 2019

AARON BRYANT, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          GORDON J. QUIST, 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 is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Carson City Correctional Facility (DRF) in Carson City, Montcalm County, Michigan. The events about which he complains, however, occurred at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility (ARF) in Adrian, Lenawee County, Michigan. Plaintiff sues the Michigan Department of Corrections, Warden Unknown Ricumstrict, Administrative Law Examiner Unknown Jacobsen, Hearing Investigator Unknown Edmond, Sergeant Unknown Theim, and Inspector Unknown Tanner.

         Plaintiff alleges that he received a misconduct report for assault resulting in a serious physical injury. The misconduct report was written by Defendant Tanner and accused Plaintiff of paying Inmate Dorris #522986 to assault Corrections Officers Brown and Parkhurst on May 6, 2018. Defendant Tanner indicated that a confidential informant had overheard Plaintiff telling another inmate that he was worried about a pay for hire job during a May 6, 2018, phone call. However, a recording of the phone call revealed no mention of a pay for hire job. Video surveillance supported Plaintiff's statement that he used the $50.00 he received from his mother to purchase food worth $35.00, which Plaintiff then gave to Inmate Bambata #237521. Inmate Bambata verified this fact. Plaintiff never gave any money to Inmate Dorris.

         In the hearing report, Defendant Jacobsen states that Plaintiff could have arranged for the hit on a different date. Defendant Jacobsen claimed he had received an anonymous note alleging that Plaintiff and Inmate Dorris had been talking about assaulting the officers “all day Sunday, ” but that Plaintiff must have backed out of the deal. However, no proof was presented verifying this statement. In addition, this statement contradicted Defendant Jacobsen's theory that Plaintiff had paid Inmate Dorris to assault the officers. Defendant Jacobsen also relied on the fact that just before Inmate Dorris assaulted the guards, he hugged Plaintiff and shook his hand.

         Prior to the misconduct hearing, Plaintiff requested statements from Inmates Felton and Powell, both of whom were in the hole during the phone call when Plaintiff allegedly discussed the planned assault. Defendant Edmond obtained the statements, but failed to get their signatures. Because of the lack of signatures, Defendant Jacobsen refused to admit the statements during the hearing. Plaintiff also requested statements from Inmates Reed and Hill, but Defendant Edmond refused to obtain them. Defendant Edmond's conduct ensured that Plaintiff did not have any exculpatory statements in his defense.

         Defendant Ricumstrict told Plaintiff that he was going to do everything in his power to tie Plaintiff to the assault and that he had both of his inspectors on Plaintiff's “ass.” Defendant Theim refused to give Plaintiff any documentation associated with the confidential informants because Plaintiff might recognize the handwriting. Plaintiff asserts that he should have been given a verbatim transcript of the statements so that he could have the opportunity to prove them false. Defendant Jacobsen found Plaintiff guilty based on the statements of confidential informants. Plaintiff received 10 days in segregation and 30 days' loss of privileges. Plaintiff was transferred to the Carson City Correctional Facility and placed in Level 4 security.

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive 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 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 may not maintain a § 1983 action against the Michigan Department of Corrections. Regardless of the form of relief requested, the states and their departments are immune under the Eleventh Amendment from suit in the federal courts, unless the state has waived immunity or Congress has expressly abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity by statute. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98-101 (1984); Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978); O'Hara v. Wigginton, 24 F.3d 823, 826 (6th Cir. 1993). Congress has not expressly abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity by statute, Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 341 (1979), and the State of Michigan has not consented to civil rights suits in federal court. Abick v. Michigan, 803 F.2d 874, 877 (6th Cir. 1986). In numerous opinions, the Sixth Circuit has specifically held that the MDOC is absolutely immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. See, e.g., Harrison v. Michigan, 722 F.3d 768, 771 (6th Cir. 2013); Diaz v. Mich. Dep't of Corr., 703 F.3d 956, 962 (6th Cir. 2013); McCoy v. Michigan, 369 Fed.Appx. 646, 653-54 (6th Cir. 2010). In addition, the State of Michigan (acting through the Michigan Department of Corrections) ...


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