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Vontz v. Jackson

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

October 10, 2019

NICHOLAS VONTZ, Plaintiff,
v.
SHANE JACKSON et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          JANET T. NEFF, 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 Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility, (LRF) in Muskegon Heights, Muskegon County, Michigan. The events about which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff sues the following LRF officials: Warden Shane Jackson; Deputy Warden B. Smith; Assistant Deputy Warden P. Davis; and Librarians G. Harris and Rex Miller.

         Plaintiff alleges that he was denied his right to access the courts from January 1, 2019, through August 20, 2019. According to Plaintiff, under MDOC Policy Directive 05.03.115(L) he was entitled to four hours per week of library time. Plaintiff requested four sessions each week between January 1 and April 20, 2019, but he typically only received one or two 1.5-hour sessions each week. Although Plaintiff asked for additional time during this period, Defendants Harris and Miller denied his requests.

         On approximately April 15, 2019, Plaintiff received notification from his attorney that he had 84 days to submit his supplemental brief on appeal and that it was due to the attorney no later than June 26, 2019. Plaintiff submitted library requests to Defendants Miller and Harris on repeated dates between April 17 and April 30, 2019, advising Defendants of his deadlines for filing. Nevertheless, Plaintiff received only one session of 1.5 hours each week during this period.

         Plaintiff filed a grievance (#LRF/2019/05/0500/14C) on May 7, 2019, explaining that Defendants Miller and Harris had denied him access to the courts by failing to schedule him with more than one session per week, despite knowing of his upcoming deadline. The grievance was received on May 9, and, on May 23, 2019, Defendant Davis denied the grievance, concluding that no violation of policy had occurred, because Plaintiff had been granted all but three of his library requests during the preceding six weeks. (Ex. E to Compl., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.33.) Plaintiff appealed to Step II. Defendant Jackson denied the grievance on June 17, 2019. The Step-III grievance was denied on July 29, 2019. (Ex. H to Compl., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.40.)

         Plaintiff continued to request additional library time. He filed a second grievance (#LRF/2019/05/0570/14E) on May 25, 2019. On June 20, 2019, Defendant Davis found that no intentional violation had occurred and that Plaintiff had received 19 callouts or 28.5 hours of library time over eight weeks. Davis noted, however, that simultaneous scheduling by the Library Tech and the Librarian had led to conflicts in the schedule, knocking prisoners out of their slots. Defendant Davis, therefore, placed Plaintiff on a repeat callout for 6 hours per week until the end of July, in order to allow Plaintiff to complete his pleadings. (Ex. I to Compl., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.46.) By the time of Davis' decision, however, Plaintiff had reached the deadline for sending his supplemental brief to counsel. Plaintiff claims that he filed an appeal of his grievance to Step II, which was ignored by staff. (See Ex. J to Compl., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.48.)

         On May 31, 2019, a week before receiving the Step-I decision on his second grievance, Plaintiff filed a third grievance, which was rejected as duplicative. (Ex. F to Compl., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.35.) Plaintiff elected not to appeal the rejection.

         According to certain attachments to the complaint, Plaintiff also filed Grievance No. LRF/2019/07/0690/14E on June 23, 2019, in which he complained about the many policy violations that resulted in his not receiving sufficient library time to meet his filing deadlines. (Ex. L to Compl., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.56-58.) In addition, on July 16, 2019, Plaintiff filed Grievance No. LRF/2019/07/00734/11B, complaining about the grievance coordinator's failure to timely respond to his Step-II appeal of his second grievance. (Id., PageID.59.)

         Plaintiff contends that Defendants have violated prison policy and deprived him of his right to access the courts. He 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 ...


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