United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Northern Division
L. Maloney United States District Judge.
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.
presently is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of
Corrections (MDOC) at the Chippewa Correctional Facility
(URF) in Kincheloe, Chippewa County, Michigan. The events
about which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff
sues MDOC Grievance and Appeals Section Manager Richard D.
Russell, MDOC Hearing Officer Sheila E. O'Brien, and MDOC
Hearings Investigator D. Durant, together with the following
URF officials: Correctional Officer R. Benson; Sergeant E.
Koskela; and Warden Connie Horton.
alleges that, on February 23, 2019, Defendant Benson wrote a
false Class-II misconduct ticket against Plaintiff. The
ticket charged that, during a cell search, Defendant Benson
found Plaintiff in possession of yellow highlighters, two
pads of Post-It notes, and approximately 50 trifold brown
paper towels. None of the items was available for purchase
from the commissary. Defendant Benson therefore concluded
that the items were stolen from state supplies. In addition,
Defendant Benson found that Plaintiff possessed a spray
bottle, which contained a liquid mixture that tested positive
for bleach, a substance that prisoners were not allowed to
Koskela reviewed Plaintiff on the charge later that day. Upon
review, Defendant Koskela elevated the charge from a Class-II
to a Class-I misconduct on the charge of possession of
dangerous contraband. Plaintiff remained charged on the
Class-II violation of possession of stolen property/theft. As
a result of the change in designation, Plaintiff was
immediately placed on top lock, which required him to remain
in his cell until the administrative hearing.
submitted a three-page sworn statement about the charges on
February 27, 2019. (Prisoner Misconduct Statement, ECF No.
1-2, PageID.35-37.) In his statement, Plaintiff did not
dispute his possession of the items listed in the misconduct
charge. Instead, he raised 15 challenges to the procedures
followed by Benson in issuing the misconduct charge and
documenting the evidence. (Id.)
Hearing Officer O'Brien conducted the disciplinary
hearing on March 1, 2019. Defendant O'Brien concluded
that, because there existed no verification by a supervisor
of the presence of bleach, she could not find Plaintiff
guilty of possession of dangerous contraband.However,
O'Brien found that, because Plaintiff admitted that he
possessed two highlighters and Post-It notes and because he
should have known they were stolen as they were not sold to
prisoners, Plaintiff was guilty of possession of stolen
property. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.10-11; Class-I
Misconduct Hr'g Rep., ECF No. 1-4, PageID.41.)
filed a request for rehearing, contending that Defendant
O'Brien violated prison policy by falsely claiming that
Plaintiff had admitted possessing the highlighters and
Post-It notes. He claimed that, rather than admitting
conduct, he had exercised his Fifth Amendment right to remain
silent. Plaintiff also complained that Defendant O'Brien
falsely stated that Plaintiff had refused the assistance of
Defendant Hearing Investigator Durant. Plaintiff argued that
O'Brien's failure to follow policy violated
Plaintiff's rights to due process and equal protection.
April 26, 2019, Defendant Russell responded to the request
for rehearing. Russell concluded that a prisoner is presumed
to possess property found in an area over which he has
control and responsibility, and that the prisoner therefore
has the burden of proof in rebutting the presumption at a
misconduct hearing. Having reviewed the record, Russell found
the hearing officer's determination to be based on
competent, material, and substantial evidence. (Rehr'g
Decision, ECF No. 1-6, PageID.49.)
alleges that, after the hearing, Defendant Benson continued
to harass him and threaten him with additional disciplinary
tickets. Benson told Plaintiff, “Oh, so Scott, you must
think you're big sh*t now huh because the bleach was
thrown out. Just so you know the next thing that I do to you
will stick!!! You'll soon learn that this is my house,
you just live here, for now that is. You'd better stay
the f*ck outta my way Scott. This is your only
warning.” (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.15.) Plaintiff
alleges that Defendant Benson made calls to other prison
guards and instructed them to terminate Plaintiff from his
job as prisoner observation assistant. Correctional Officer
Olmstead (not a Defendant) purportedly listened to Defendant
Benson and had Plaintiff terminated from his jobs as prisoner
observation assistant and unit porter.
Count 1 of his complaint, Plaintiff contends that Defendants
Durant, O'Brien and Russell deprived him of due process
in the misconduct proceedings, through which he ostensibly
was deprived of his right to equal protection. In Count 2,
Plaintiff asserts that Defendants Horton, Koskela,
O'Brien, and Russell failed to protect him from the
conduct of their subordinates, resulting in deprivations that
inflicted cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the
Eighth Amendment. In Count 3, Plaintiff argues that
Defendants Koskela and Russell engaged in a cover-up of the
actions of Defendant Benson, in violation of their fiduciary
duties and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. In Count 4,
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants collectively retaliated
against him for exercising his right to utilize the grievance
procedure, resulting in Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment
relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages and permanent
Failure to state a claim
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)).
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).
sues Defendant Hearing Officer O'Brien, contending that
O'Brien misrepresented facts and violated MDOC policy in
finding Plaintiff guilty of possessing stolen property.
Sixth Circuit, recognizing that a Michigan hearings officer
has adjudicatory functions spelled out by statute in the
nature of an administrative law judge, has held that hearings
officers are entitled to absolute judicial immunity from
damages in relation to actions within the officer's
authority. Shelly v. Johnson, 849 F.2d 228, 229 (6th
Cir. 1988); Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 791.251-255.
See also Williams v. McGinnis, Nos. 02-1336,
02-1837, 2003 WL 245352, at *2 (6th Cir. Jan. 31, 2003)
(recognizing that Michigan's prison hearings officers are
entitled to absolute immunity); Thompson v. Mich.
Dep't of Corr., No. 01-1943, 2002 WL 22011, at *1
(6th Cir. Jan. 2, 2002) (same); Gribble v. Bass, No.
93-5413, 1993 WL 524022, at *2 (6th Cir. Dec. 16, 1993)
(same). As a consequence, Defendant Hearing Officer
O'Brien is absolutely immune from suit for damages for
her findings and determinations at Plaintiff's misconduct
injunctive relief is not available under § 1983,
because, under the 1996 amendments to that statute,
injunctive relief “shall not be granted” in an
action against “a judicial officer for an act or
omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity . . .
unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory
relief was unavailable.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983;
accord Savoie v. Martin, 673 F.3d 488, 496 (6th Cir.
2012). Plaintiff does not allege that a declaratory decree
was violated or that declaratory relief was unavailable.
Consequently, his claim for injunctive relief is barred.
Montero v. Travis, 171 F.3d 757, 761 (2d Cir. 1999).
Defendant O'Brien is immune from suit, Plaintiff's
claims against ...