Harbin-Bey v. Rutter

Citation420 F.3d 571
Decision Date18 August 2005
Docket NumberNo. 04-1458.,04-1458.
PartiesKeith HARBIN-BEY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Lyle RUTTER et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)

ON BRIEF: Keith Harbin-Bey, Munising, Michigan, pro se.

Before: KENNEDY, CLAY, and GILMAN, Circuit Judges.


GILMAN, Circuit Judge.

Keith Harbin-Bey, a Michigan prisoner, filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against several officials employed by the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). Specifically, the defendants are MDOC Inspector and Alger Maximum Correctional Facility Security Threat Group Coodinator Lyle Rutter, MDOC Officer Bill Martin, MDOC Central Office Security Threat Group Coordinator Robert Mulvaney, MDOC Director William Overton, and MDOC Manager of Prison Affairs Michael Powell. Harbin-Bey contended that his designation as a member of a Security Threat Group (STG) without a hearing violated his constitutional rights.

The district court initially dismissed all of Harbin-Bey's claims other than the claim that Rutter had retaliated against him. It subsequently granted summary judgment for Rutter on the retaliation claim as well. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.


Harbin-Bey, an inmate at the Alger Maximum Correctional Facility in Munising, Michigan, is a Moorish-American Muslim affiliated with a gang known as the Vice Lords. In the fall of 2001, he began writing to family members and to other inmates regarding the prison's STG policy directive. He stated in his letters that the STG policy infringed on prisoners' constitutional rights and on their ability to obtain parole, and he indicated that he was contemplating legal action against Rutter, the prison's STG Coordinator. In addition, the letters allegedly contained veiled references to the Vice Lords. For example, they used the terms "golden sun" and "black moon," which are gang symbols, and the phrase "la via va va," which is Vice Lord code for "all is well."

Rutter intercepted one of Harbin-Bey's letters in November of 2001 and issued a Notice of Intent to Conduct an Administrative Hearing (referred to as an "NOI" in the realm of prison administration). He also ordered Harbin-Bey to refrain from any further correspondence involving STG matters. In numerous letters to Rutter, Harbin-Bey asserted that the allegedly offensive references in his letters were religious and therefore should not be considered violations of STG policy. He did not receive a reply from Rutter.

In March of 2002, Rutter and Mulvaney notified Harbin-Bey that he had been designated an STG leader. Harbin-Bey subsequently wrote to Mulvaney and complained that his designation as an STG leader without a hearing violated his rights to the due process of law.

In May of 2002, Harbin-Bey was notified that an issue of FHM (For Him Magazine) had been rejected by the prison because one of the articles in the magazine contained depictions of gang signs. Prison policy prohibits inmates from receiving such information. Harbin-Bey's request that he be given the magazine with the offending article removed was denied. Shortly thereafter, he received a postcard from FHM informing him that his subscription could not be continued because the prison had returned the issue in question as "unauthorized."

Harbin-Bey received a second NOI from Rutter in July of 2002. This NOI notified Harbin-Bey that he was being classified as an "STG II" because he had sent his grandfather a photograph of himself in which he displayed an STG tattoo on his arm. Harbin-Bey wrote to Rutter and requested that he not be so labeled without a hearing. He also wrote to Mulvaney, demanding that he receive equal protection under the law. In August of 2002, Harbin-Bey filed three grievances against Rutter, all of which were denied: one for violating his constitutional rights, a second for retaliation, and a third for tampering with his mail. He appealed the denial of the three grievances in accordance with prison procedure.

Harbin-Bey filed the present lawsuit in January of 2003, alleging that the defendants' conduct in applying and enforcing the prison's STG policies against him violated his constitutional rights to (1) equal protection, (2) due process, (3) access to the courts, (4) freedom from censorship of his mail and publications, (5) freedom of religion, and (6) freedom from retaliation. He sought both equitable and monetary relief.

With the exception of Harbin-Bey's retaliation claim against Rutter, the district court dismissed Harbin-Bey's complaint on the basis that it failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The court also denied Harbin-Bey's motion to alter or amend the judgment. Rutter subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment on the retaliation claim, which was granted by the district court on the recommendation of the magistrate judge. This timely appeal followed.

On appeal, Harbin-Bey reasserts all of his original claims other than the one based on freedom of religion. He also argues that the district court abused its discretion when it denied his motion to supplement his complaint as to the retaliation claim. Finally, Harbin-Bey argues that the district court abused its discretion in ruling that he had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to defendants Martin and Powell.

A. Standard of review

We review de novo the dismissal of a prisoner's complaint on the basis that it failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 604 (6th Cir.1997). In determining whether a prisoner has failed to state a claim, we construe his complaint in the light most favorable to him, accept his factual allegations as true, and determine whether he can prove any set of facts that would entitle him to relief. Turker v. Ohio Dep't of Rehab. & Corrs., 157 F.3d 453, 456 (6th Cir.1998).

We also review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment. Minadeo v. ICI Paints, 398 F.3d 751, 756 (6th Cir.2005). Summary judgment is proper where there exists no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the district court must construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). The central issue is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

B. The district court did not err in dismissing Harbin-Bey's equal-protection, access-to-the-courts, and First Amendment claims

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and must show that the deprivation of that right was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 101 L.Ed.2d 40 (1988). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted when no relief is available under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations of the complaint. Jones v. City of Carlisle, 3 F.3d 945, 947 (6th Cir.1993).

1. Equal protection and due process

Harbin-Bey's first claim is that his designation as an STG leader, which caused him "to be permanently excluded from community placement, placed on visitor restrictions, and more," violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. He contends that the failure to provide him with a hearing prior to his designation as an STG leader constituted the unequal application of state law, because all other prisoners who are given a special designation, "such as homosexual predator, escape risks, high and very high risk classification," receive a hearing prior to being so designated.

The Equal Protection Clause provides that a state may not "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." U.S. Const., amend. XIV, § 1. Legislation is generally presumed to be valid and will be sustained if the classification drawn by the statute is rationally related to a legitimate state interest. Schweiker v. Wilson, 450 U.S. 221, 230, 101 S.Ct. 1074, 67 L.Ed.2d 186 (1981). But when a law adversely affects a "suspect class," such as one defined by race, alienage, or national origin, or invades a "fundamental right," such as speech or religious freedom, the law will be sustained only if it is "suitably tailored to serve a compelling state interest." City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 440, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 87 L.Ed.2d 313 (1985).

Here, the "rational-basis" test applies. Inmates are not a suspect class. Hampton v. Hobbs, 106 F.3d 1281, 1286 (6th Cir.1997). Nor does Harbin-Bey's claim involve the denial of a fundamental right, because a prisoner does not have a constitutional right to be placed in a specific security classification. See Moody v. Daggett, 429 U.S. 78, 88 n. 9, 97 S.Ct. 274, 50 L.Ed.2d 236 (1976). Although Harbin-Bey claims that his STG designation was based on his religious beliefs, the record clearly shows that he was designated as an STG member because of his gang affiliation, not because of his religion.

The MDOC's policy directive regarding the classification of inmates as STG members is rationally related to the legitimate state interest of maintaining order in the prison. See Jones v. N.C. Prisoners' Labor Union, 433 U.S. 119, 136, 97 S.Ct. 2532, 53 L.Ed.2d 629 (1977) ("There is nothing in the Constitution which requires prison officials to treat all inmate groups alike where...

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