Bell v. Michigan, Case No. 1:19-cv-233

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District Michigan)
Writing for the CourtHonorable Paul L. Maloney
PartiesLESTER BELL, Plaintiff, v. STATE OF MICHIGAN et al., Defendants.
Decision Date01 November 2019
Docket NumberCase No. 1:19-cv-233

LESTER BELL, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF MICHIGAN et al., Defendants.

Case No. 1:19-cv-233

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN NORTHERN DIVISION

November 1, 2019


Honorable Paul L. Maloney

OPINION

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. § 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 against Defendants State of Michigan, Unknown Skipper, Unknown Henry, Unknown Party (Captain John Doe), Unknown Miller, Unknown Simmons, Unknown Sturn, Unknown Wise, Unknown Sissel, Unknown Joyit, Unknown Breelove, Unknown Foltz, Unknown Gaudio, Unknown Kelly, Unknown Chaney, Unknown Smith, Unknown Frias, and Unknown Pittman. The Court will also dismiss Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claims against Defendants Unknown Bonn, Unknown Cunningham, and Unknown Jackson. Plaintiff's

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Eighth Amendment and First Amendment retaliation claims against Defendants Unknown Brown and Unknown Wilson, Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims against Unknown Bonn, Unknown Cunningham, and Unknown Jackson, and Plaintiff's state-law claims against those five Defendants remain.

Discussion

I. Factual Allegations

Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility, (LRF) in Muskegon Heights, Muskegon County, Michigan. The events about which he complains, however, occurred at the Ionia Correctional Facility (ICF) in Ionia County, Michigan and the Carson City Correctional Facility (DRF) in Montcalm County, Michigan.

Plaintiff sues the State of Michigan through the MDOC and several MDOC employees at ICF: Warden Unknown Skipper; Unknown Party (Captain John Doe); Lieutenant Henry; Inspectors Unknown Miller, Unknown Simmons, and Unknown Bonn; Sergeants Unknown Sturn, Unknown Wise, Unknown Sissel, Unknown Cunningham, Unknown Joyit, Unknown Breelove, and Unknown Jackson; Corrections Officers Unknown Brown, Unknown Foltz, Unknown Gaudio, Unknown Kelly, D. Wilson, and Unknown Chaney; and Assistant Resident Unit Supervisors Unknown Smith, Unknown Frias, and Unknown Pittman.

Plaintiff alleges that, while he was housed at ICF during 2015 and then again during April, May, and June of 2018, several of the Defendants threatened to harm him or to have other prisoners harm him and then actually carried out those threats. Plaintiff alleges the rest of the Defendants were aware of the threats to Plaintiff's safety, and were deliberately indifferent to the

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risk of harm. Plaintiff claims that the threats and the deliberate indifference were retaliatory for conduct protected by the First Amendment: filing grievances.

During June of 2018, Plaintiff was attacked by an unknown assailant. Plaintiff contends the attack was arranged by Brown, Wilson, or both. Plaintiff was transferred to the Duane Waters Health Center in Jackson, Michigan. He reported the threats to staff at that facility. When he was transferred, the MDOC moved Plaintiff to DRF. Plaintiff claims prisoners at DRF threatened because Defendants Brown and Wilson "had a 'green light' on Plaintiff's head." (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.29.)

Plaintiff seeks a declaration that Defendants have violated his rights, an injunction prohibiting Plaintiff's placement at ICF or any facility where the Defendants are present; an injunction compelling proper treatment for Plaintiff's injuries, and millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.

Significantly, this is not the first time Plaintiff has raised these claims. In Bell v. Miller et al., 1:18-cv-522 (W.D. Mich.) (Bell I), Plaintiff initially sued Defendants Miller, Simmons, Skipper, Brown, and Wilson based on the same facts that are the basis for this action. In Bell I, however, Plaintiff's statement of facts included little detail. Upon initial screening, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Miller, Simmons, and Skipper, and ordered service of the complaint upon Defendants Brown and Wilson.

Thereafter, Plaintiff was granted leave to supplement the complaint to add additional Defendants: Defendants Wise (recorded as Loise in the docket), Sturn, Henry, Foltz, Smith, Sissel, Joyit, Gaudio (recorded as Saudio in the docket), Kelly, Breelove, Chaney, Pittman, Frias (recorded as Friasy in the docket), Miller, Simmons, Skipper, the John Doe Captain, and Ionia State Troopers. Bell I (Op. and Order, ECF Nos. 13, 14.) Although the Court permitted

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Plaintiff to add the Defendants and supplement his claims, the parties and claims were dismissed for failure to state a claim. Bell I (Id.) Plaintiff sought to amend his complaint again, Bell I (ECF Nos. 17, 19, 20, 21), but the Court denied his motions, Bell I (ECF No. 24).

Defendants Brown and Wilson appeared in the action and moved for summary judgment based on Plaintiff's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies. Bell I (ECF Nos. 21, 22.) The Court granted summary judgment on that ground. Bell I (Order and J., ECF Nos. 32, 33.)

Plaintiff sought reconsideration and he filed a notice of appeal. Plaintiff, now claiming that he has exhausted his administrative remedies against Brown and Wilson in the interim, filed this action. The Court denied reconsideration, Bell I (Order, ECF No. 41), and, apparently, Plaintiff's Bell I appeal is ongoing.

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

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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's allegations implicate his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and his First Amendment right to be free from retaliation for conduct protected by that amendment.

A. Sovereign immunity

Plaintiff names as a defendant "the State of Michigan acting through the Michigan Department of Corrections." (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.3.) Plaintiff may not maintain a §1983 action against the State of Michigan or the Michigan Department of Corrections. Regardless of the form of relief requested, the states and their departments are immune under the Eleventh Amendment from suit in the federal...

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