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Eidam v. County of Berrien

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

December 31, 2019

COUNTY OF BERRIEN et al., Defendants.



         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, for failure to state a claim, Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment deprivation of property without due process, access to the courts, and deprivation of adequate medical care for failure to treat his tooth claims. The Court will further dismiss Defendant Berrien County from Plaintiff's claim of deprivation of adequate medical care for denying Plaintiff his medication.


         I. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Charles Egeler Reception & Guidance Center (RGC) in Jackson, Jackson County, Michigan. The events about which he complains, however, occurred at the Berrien County Jail, in St. Joseph, Berrien County, Michigan. Plaintiff sues Berrien County and Sheriff L. Paul Bailey in his official and individual capacities.

         Plaintiff alleges a series of discrete events he experienced as a pretrial detainee between August and October 2019.

         In August 2019, while incarcerated at Berrien County Jail, Plaintiff broke a tooth when he bit into a rock while eating his meal. He pushed an emergency button immediately to alert jail staff and requested medical help. Plaintiff waited two to three hours before a nurse arrived to examine him. Plaintiff was provided ibuprofen, but his tooth was not repaired. Plaintiff filed a grievance requesting repair of his tooth, which was denied. Plaintiff appealed the grievance decision, but Defendant Bailey denied the appeal.

         Approximately two months later, in October 2019, Defendant Bailey ordered deputies to remove all books, including Plaintiff's religious texts and his sudoku book, from Dorm 2E where Plaintiff was held. The reason given for the purge was bed bugs may hide in the books. Plaintiff alleges, however, that a dog capable of detecting bed bugs had cleared Dorm 2E the day prior. Exterminators did not treat Dorm 2E, and neither clothes nor linens were exchanged. Plaintiff's books were not returned, and replacements were not provided.

         At some unspecified time, Plaintiff requested a pen, envelope, and stamps to file the instant suit. Plaintiff was told that, with indigent status, he could receive three stamps each week. He could purchase a pen and manila envelope only when no longer indigent. Plaintiff alleges the stamp policy forced him to choose between writing, for example, this court, his attorney in his criminal case, his criminal court, and his wife. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants refused to cooperate in his efforts to petition for leave in the instant case to proceed in forma pauperis.

         Additionally, during his detainment with Berrien County, “Defendants[1] have refused to give [Plaintiff] all [his] psych medication” for 120 days. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.5.) Plaintiff alleges that he was not given Adderall, Klonopin, Gabapentin, or Prazosin as prescribed. Instead, “[w]ithout seeing a psychiatrist, doctor or having [Plaintiff's] medical records they felt [Plaintiff] should only get lithium . . . [and] Effexor.” (Id.) As a result, Plaintiff suffered from seizures, headaches, terror dreams and a manic episode.

         Plaintiff seeks $113, 002.20 in compensatory damages and $170, 000 in 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 § 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 alleges claims arising under the First Amendment for free exercise; the Fourteenth Amendment for deprivation of adequate medical care, deprivation of property without due process, and access to the courts, as well as claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

         III. Municipal Liability

         Plaintiff sues Berrien County but does not specifically allege any actions taken by the County. Presumably, Plaintiff contends that the County is responsible for the alleged actions of its employees and decisions made by Sheriff Bailey.

         A local government such as a municipality or county “cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor-or, in other words, a county 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 § 1983 when its policy or custom causes the injury, regardless of the form of relief sought by the plaintiff. Los Angeles Cty. v. Humphries, 562 U.S. 29, 35-37 (2010) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694 (1974)). In a county liability claim, the finding of a policy or custom is the initial determination to be made. Doe v. Claiborne Cty., 103 F.3d 495, 509 (6th Cir. 1996). The policy or custom must be the moving force behind the constitutional injury, and a plaintiff must identify the policy, connect the policy to the governmental entity and show that the particular injury was incurred because of the execution of that policy. Turner v. City of Taylor, 412 F.3d 629, 639 (6th Cir. 2005); Alkire v. Irving, 330 F.3d 802, 815 (6th Cir. 2003); Doe, 103 F.3d at 508-509.

         A “policy” includes a “policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated” by the policymaker for the county or municipality. Monell, 436 U.S. at 690. The Sixth Circuit has explained that a “custom”

for the purposes of Monell liability must be so permanent and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law. In turn, the notion of “law” includes deeply embedded traditional ways of carrying out state policy. It must reflect a course of action deliberately chosen from among various alternatives. In short, a ...

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