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Skellett v. Washington

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

December 20, 2019

HEIDI WASHINGTON et al., Defendants.


          Paul L. Maloney United States District Judge

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12132. 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 § 1983 claims against Defendants Washington, Rewerts, Gonzalez, Winger, Becher, and the unknown Director of Bureau of Healthcare Services (Unknown Party). The Court also will dismiss Plaintiff's individual-capacity ADA claims against all Defendants and Plaintiff's official-capacity ADA claims against Defendants Rewerts, Gonzalez, Winger, Becher, Holmes and the unknown Director of Bureau of Healthcare Services (Unknown Party).

         I. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff presently is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Carson City Correctional Facility (DRF) in Carson City, Montcalm County, Michigan. The events about which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff sues MDOC Director Heidi Washington and the unknown Director of the Bureau of Healthcare Services (Unknown Party), together with the following officials employed at DRF: Warden Randee Rewerts; ADA Coordinator D. Gonzales; Deputy Warden J. Winger; Medical Provider Scott Holmes; and Grievance Coordinator L. Becher.

         Plaintiff alleges that he has numerous serious health conditions, which were diagnosed before he was convicted and sentenced to prison in 2018. According to the complaint, Plaintiff is a disabled veteran, who was placed on standing, sitting, walking, stair-climbing, and lifting restrictions in the early 2000s by Dr. Jennifer Tuney. Tests also revealed that Plaintiff had inner ear damage, leading to bouts of vertigo. In addition, Plaintiff has no feeling in his right foot and a portion of his right leg, osteoarthritic growths in his joints, left-ventricle heart issues, high blood pressure, and breathing issues and spots on his lungs, possibly due to mesothelioma from asbestos exposure. In 2013, Plaintiff suffered an accident in which he lost his right thumb and partial function in his right hand. Although the thumb was reattached, Plaintiff lost his grip strength and could no longer pass his fitness examination to drive semi-trucks. Plaintiff was placed on 70% disability from the Veterans Administration and full disability from Social Security.

         Plaintiff was arrested in 2017, and the Monroe County Jail permitted him to use leg braces and a cane, as prescribed. When Plaintiff arrived at the Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center (RGC), his braces and cane were returned with the deputy sheriff. Plaintiff was required to work and attend other programing. Plaintiff complained to Dr. Howard at RGC, requesting medical assistance and accommodation under the ADA. Dr. Howard ordered a copy of Plaintiff's medical records and subsequently began treatment. Before Plaintiff was transferred to DRF, Dr. Howard issued the following medical detail orders: a no-steps detail (assignment to a ground-floor cell); an extra-pillow detail, to elevate Plaintiff's legs when lying down; compression hose for both legs; and a cotton-blanket detail, because of Plaintiff's allergy to wool. (Ex. C to Compl., ECF No. 5-2, PageID.111.)

         When Plaintiff arrived at DRF, he informed health care of his disabilities and requested leg braces and a cane. When he received no assistance, he sent multiple kites. Defendant Dr. Holmes saw Plaintiff in response to some kites, but Holmes denied that Plaintiff was disabled, saying that he was just getting old. Defendant Holmes cancelled the no-stair detail, the cotton-blanket detail, and the extra-pillow detail. He also terminated Plaintiff's pain medications and reduced Plaintiff's calcium-blocking medications. Defendant Holmes also refused Plaintiff's requests for braces and a cane. Plaintiff complains the various changes to his medical accommodations and prescriptions caused him to suffer significant pain and increased his risk of falling.

         On March 14, 2018, Plaintiff filed an ADA request under MDOC Policy Directive 04.06.155, which was denied by Defendant Gonzales and affirmed by Defendant Rewerts. The response explained that the issuance of medical details and special accommodations must be made by a qualified health professional under MDOC Policy Directive 04.06.160. Defendant Gonzalez informed Plaintiff that, if he was dissatisfied with his medical care and medical decisions to deny him medical details, he should file a grievance. (See ADA Accommodation Request/Appeal, Ex. D to Plaintiff's brief, ECF No. 5-2, PageID.122.)

         Plaintiff filed a grievance on April 29, 2019, complaining about the lack of treatment and the failure to accommodate his disabilities, including the failures to provide knee and back braces, a cane, insoles, and walking activities in the yard. The grievance was rejected at Step I by Grievance Coordinator Becher, and Defendant Winger reviewed and approved the rejection at Step I. Plaintiff appealed to Step II, and Defendant Rewerts upheld the Step-I rejection. Plaintiff filed an appeal to Step III, and the rejection was upheld on August 6, 2019, by Richard Russell, the former manager of the grievance section in the Office of Legal Affairs, who was designated to respond on behalf of Defendant MDOC Director Heidi Washington. Plaintiff complains that Defendants failed to follow prison policy and improperly rejected the grievance on the basis that Plaintiff failed to try to resolve the issue before filing a grievance, apparently ignoring Plaintiff's many kites on the issue.

         Plaintiff sues all Defendants in both their individual and official capacities. He alleges that Defendants' actions and inactions violated the Eighth Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act. He also argues that Defendants' failures to follow prison grievance policies violated his right to due process.

         Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, together with 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 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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