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Seastrom v. Jennett

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

October 15, 2019

UNKNOWN JENNETT et al., Defendants.


          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 against Defendants Kowalski, Brawley, Harris, and Nagy.


         I. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff presently is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Lakeland Correctional Facility (LCF) in Coldwater, Branch County, Michigan. The events about which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff sues the following LCF officials: Correctional Officer Unknown Jennett; Assistant Resident Unit Manager Unknown Kowalski; Hearing Investigator Unknown Brawley; Hearing Officer S. Harris; and Warden Noah Nagy.

         Plaintiff alleges that, on April 21, 2019, he asked Defendant Jennett if he could go to health care for medical treatment, because he was experiencing severe back problems, including problems walking. Defendant Jennett denied the request, saying that Plaintiff did not need medical attention. He also threatened Plaintiff with a major misconduct charge for being out of place. Defendant Jennett yelled at Plaintiff for making his request and told Plaintiff that he was a “liar” and a “Sissy Boy.” (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.4.) When Plaintiff asked why Jennett was treating him badly, Jennett responded that he was in charge and could do whatever he wanted.

         Plaintiff asked to speak with a sergeant, one of Defendant Jennett's supervisors. Defendant Jennett refused to allow Plaintiff to contact the sergeant. Jennett became more aggressive with his name-calling and spit in Plaintiff's face, as if he wanted to fight. (Id.) Ultimately, Defendant Jennett charged Plaintiff with a major misconduct and had him taken to segregation. As he was being escorted to segregation, an unnamed sergeant called Plaintiff a “Child Toucher.” (Id.)

         The officer who escorted Plaintiff to segregation noticed that he was having trouble walking. The officer arranged for a wheelchair and took Plaintiff to health care. The nurse on duty told the sergeant that Plaintiff's back muscles were extremely tight. Nevertheless, the sergeant continued to call Plaintiff a liar and a child toucher. Plaintiff claims that Jennett's conduct amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs, in violation the Eighth Amendment.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Kowalski told Plaintiff on May 7, 2019, that Defendant Jennett was “way out of line” on the day of the incident, but she could not say anything about it unless someone from the administration asked her. She indicated that inmates who had witnessed the incident were too afraid to come forward because they feared retaliation. Kowalski told Plaintiff that she would assist him with copying the Hearing Investigation Report, once it was received. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Kowalski's failure to volunteer evidence to the hearing investigator and hearing officer amounted to dereliction of duty, support of cruel and unusual punishment, and deliberate indifference to the bullying and corruption of another staff member.

         On May 7, 2019, Defendant Hearing Investigator Brawley failed to conduct an investigation of the misconduct charge. Brawley allegedly failed to interview any witnesses and chose to ignore his duties. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Brawley's inaction amounted to dereliction of duty, support of cruel and unusual punishment, corruption, and deliberate indifference.

         Defendant Hearing Officer Harris conducted a hearing on the misconduct charge. Plaintiff contends that Defendant Harris read the evidence statement, which consisted of Plaintiff's statement and those of two officers. Plaintiff asked why statements were not obtained from the prisoners who were present. Defendant Harris told Plaintiff to hold his questions and comments until after the evidence was reviewed. When he thought Harris was finished reviewing the evidence, Plaintiff again raised the question. Harris told Plaintiff to go back to his cell while the hearing continued outside his presence. Plaintiff subsequently received a Misconduct Hearing Report, indicating that he had been found guilty of the misconduct. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Harris violated his rights to present a defense and to confront witnesses, committed dereliction of duty, deprived him of due process, and was deliberately indifferent to cruel and unusual punishment.

         On May 19, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Step-II grievance to Defendant Nagy, complaining about the conduct of other officers. Nagy allegedly failed to investigate the allegations in the grievance, failed to supervise his subordinates, and failed to ensure that prisoners were treated humanely. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Nagy's conduct amounts to neglect, corruption, cruel and unusual punishment, dereliction of duty, and deliberate indifference.

         For relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory 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 ยง 1983 is a method for vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action ...

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