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Elledge v. Minton

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

December 4, 2019

CHRISTOPHER KIRK ELLEDGE, Plaintiff,
v.
T. MINTON et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Paul L. Maloney, 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 Baraga Correctional Facility (AMF) in Baraga County, Michigan. Plaintiff sues AMF mailroom clerk T. Minton and United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan Clerk David J. Weaver. Plaintiff alleges that he submitted a petition for writ of habeas corpus, and a motion to stay, to the AMF mailroom for mailing to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan during June of 2016. He submits a disbursement authorization for postage in support of his claim. (ECF No. 1-1, PageID.11.) The authorization indicates that the materials were placed in outgoing mail on June 27, 2016. (Id.)

         Plaintiff attempted to follow-up with the federal court, only to learn that that court did not receive the materials. Plaintiff contends that one or the other of the Defendants is responsible for interfering with his access to the courts. The only relief Plaintiff seeks is a determination by this Court as to who is responsible for mishandling the petition. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.4-5.)

         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).

         III. Immunity

         Generally, judges enjoy absolute immunity from a suit for monetary damages. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 9-10 (1991) (“[I]t is a general principle of the highest importance to the proper administration of justice that a judicial officer, in exercising the authority vested in him, shall be free to act upon his own convictions, without apprehension of personal consequences to himself.”) (internal quotations omitted); Barrett v. Harrington, 130 F.3d 246, 254 (6th Cir. 1997); Barnes v. Winchell, 105 F.3d 1111, 1115 (6th Cir. 1997). Absolute judicial immunity may be overcome in only two instances. First, a judge is not immune from liability for non-judicial actions, i.e., actions not taken in the judge's judicial capacity. Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11; see Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 229 (1988) (noting that immunity is grounded in “the nature of the function performed, not the identity of the actor who performed it”). Second, a judge is not immune for actions, though judicial in nature, taken in complete absence of all jurisdiction. Id. at 12.

         Absolute judicial immunity is extended to non-judicial officers who perform “quasi-judicial” duties. “Quasi-judicial immunity extends to those persons performing tasks so integral or intertwined with the judicial process that these persons are considered an arm of the judicial officer who is immune.” Bush v. Rauch, 38 F.3d 842 (6th Cir. 1994) (probate court administrator entitled to quasi-judicial immunity for his role in carrying out the orders of the court) (citing Scruggs v. Moellering, 870 F.2d 376 (7th Cir. 1989)); see also Johnson v. Turner, 125 F.3d 324, 333 (6th Cir. 1997) (one who acts as a judge's designee in carrying out a function for which the judge is immune is also protected from suit seeking monetary damages); Foster v. Walsh, 864 F.2d 416, 417-18 (6th Cir. 1988) (clerk of court was entitled to quasi-judicial immunity for issuing a warrant as directed by the court); accord Carlton v. Baird, No. 03-1294, 2003 WL 21920023, at *1 (6th Cir. Aug. 8, 2003) (state court clerk's office employees were entitled to quasi-judicial immunity from state prison inmate's § 1983 claim); Lyle v. Jackson, No. 02-1323, 2002 WL 31085181, at *1 (6th Cir. Sept. 17, 2002) (quasi-judicial immunity applied to claims against state court clerks who allegedly failed to provide prisoner with requested copies of previous filings and transcripts); Bradley v. United States, 84 Fed.Appx. 492 (6th Cir. 2003) (federal court clerk). Cf. Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429, 437 & n.11 (1993) (court reporter not entitled to absolute immunity for preparing transcripts because that function is ministerial; it does not exercise the kind of judgment protected by judicial immunity). Defendant Weaver was clearly acting on behalf of the court when he accepted, or, as Plaintiff posits, failed to accept for filing Plaintiff's habeas petition. Because Defendant Weaver is entitled to quasi-judicial immunity, Plaintiff may not maintain an action against him for monetary damages. But, it is not clear that Plaintiff is seeking any damages, or injunctive relief. Instead, it appears that he seeks only declaratory relief. To the extent such a claim might survive quasi-judicial immunity, the merits of Plaintiff's claim against Defendant Weaver is considered below.

         IV. Access to the courts

         It is well established that prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977). The principal issue in Bounds was whether the states must protect the right of access to the courts by providing law libraries or alternative sources of legal information for prisoners. Id. at 817. The Court further noted that in addition to law libraries or alternative sources of legal knowledge, the states must provide indigent inmates with “paper and pen to draft legal documents, notarial services to authenticate them, and with stamps to mail them.” Id. at 824-25. The right of access to the ...


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