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Calhoun v. Tyler

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

November 12, 2019

SHARON J. TYLER 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 on grounds of immunity and for failure to state a claim.


         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Muskegon Correctional Facility (MCF) in Muskegon County, Michigan. Plaintiff is serving a life sentence for first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC-I). Plaintiff was found guilty by a Berrien County Circuit Court jury during July of 2001 in Case Number 2001-410703-FC. At the same time Plaintiff was being prosecuted for CSC-I, he was also being prosecuted for larceny in Case Number 2000-0411372-FC. After Plaintiff's conviction on the CSC-I offense, the prosecutor dismissed the charges in the larceny case. Plaintiff's allegations in this suit relate to the larceny prosecution.

         Plaintiff alleges that, on September 7, 2018, he filed a motion in the Berrien County Circuit Court seeking 18 documents from the court's files and the prosecutor's files so that he might pursue a post-conviction appeal in the larceny case. The court entered an order directing Sharon Tyler, Berrien County Circuit Court Clerk, and Jeffrey B. Taylor, Berrien County Prosecutor, to provide the documents. Plaintiff, anticipating receipt of the documents, filed his motion for relief from judgment.

         Tyler and Taylor did not comply. Plaintiff prepared a motion to hold them in contempt. Plaintiff was concerned that Tyler would not accept for filing a document pursuing contempt against her; so, he filed it in the Michigan Supreme Court. The supreme court clerk rejected the motion because that court did not have jurisdiction. Plaintiff then filed the contempt motion, along with a motion to stay his motion for relief from judgment, in the circuit court. Plaintiff claims Tyler never docketed the motions.

         On March 11, 2019, Tyler mailed Plaintiff an envelope containing 3 of the 18 documents. Shortly thereafter, Berrien County Circuit Court Judge LaSata denied Plaintiff's motion for relief from judgment. Plaintiff claims the docket in the larceny case shows that Judge LaSata directed the clerk to not accept additional filings in the case, but to return them without filing.

         Plaintiff sues Judge LaSata, Clerk Tyler, and Prosecutor Taylor for interfering with his access to the courts. Plaintiff also suggests that Defendants have violated state law and are liable for state-law torts. Plaintiff additionally sues the City of St. Joseph and the City of Niles. Plaintiff seeks a declaration that Defendants violated his constitutional rights, an injunction compelling Defendants to provide the documents he seeks and precluding them from rejecting his pleadings in the larceny case, and $750, 000 in 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 § 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 contends the Defendants have violated his First Amendment rights.

         III. Municipal liability

         Plaintiff sues the City of St. Joseph and the City of Niles. It is not apparent why. Perhaps Plaintiff sues the cities because he believes the cities to be the employers of one or more of the Defendants. A local government such as a municipality or county “cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor-or, in other words, a municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.” Monell v. Dep't. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). Instead, a municipality may only be liable under ยง 1983 when its policy or custom causes the ...

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