Hill v. Lappin, No. 09–5575.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtON BRIEF:
Citation630 F.3d 468
PartiesDemetrius HILL, Plaintiff–Appellant,v.Harley G. LAPPIN, B.O.P. Director; McLeod, Associate Warden, McCreary; Huff, Warden, S.I.A. McCreary; Sheldrake, CMC McCreary; Burchette, Lieutenant, SIS, McCreary, Defendants–Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 09–5575.
Decision Date28 December 2010

630 F.3d 468

Demetrius HILL, Plaintiff–Appellant,
v.
Harley G. LAPPIN, B.O.P. Director; McLeod, Associate Warden, McCreary; Huff, Warden, S.I.A. McCreary; Sheldrake, CMC McCreary; Burchette, Lieutenant, SIS, McCreary, Defendants–Appellees.

No. 09–5575.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

Dec. 28, 2010.


[630 F.3d 469]

ON BRIEF: Demetrius Hill, pro se.Before: GILMAN and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges; ROSE, District Judge. *

OPINION
RONALD LEE GILMAN, Circuit Judge.

Demetrius Hill is a federal prisoner who was incarcerated at United States Penitentiary—McCreary (McCreary) in 2009. Hill alleges that the McCreary prison staff placed him in segregated housing and threatened to transfer him to the lock-down unit at United States Penitentiary–Lewisburg (Lewisburg) in retaliation for grievances that he had filed against the McCreary staff. He also alleges that his life would be in danger if he were transferred to Lewisburg because the staff there would assault and possibly kill him due to his prior history of incarceration at Lewisburg. To avoid being transferred to the lock-down unit at Lewisburg, Hill sued the Director of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and four McCreary staff members, seeking damages, a temporary restraining order, and a preliminary injunction to prevent his transfer.

The district court dismissed Hill's complaint as frivolous because a prisoner does not have an inherent constitutional right to avoid prison transfers or segregated housing, and because his alleged fear of being harmed by the Lewisburg staff in the future was conjectural and lacking in specificity. Hill appeals the dismissal. For the reasons set forth below, we REVERSE the district court's decision to dismiss the complaint, VACATE the judgment entered in favor of the defendants, and REMAND the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. BACKGROUND

The facts set forth below are based solely on the allegations in Hill's complaint. As alleged, Hill is a federal prisoner who has filed suit to prevent the prison staff at McCreary from transferring him to the lock-down unit at Lewisburg. Lewisburg housed Hill at various points in 2005 and

[630 F.3d 470]

2006. Hill contends that staff members there viciously assaulted him in 2005. He also claims that Lewisburg staff members told other prisoners in 2006 that he was a rat and should be stabbed. But the plausibility of these claims is undermined by Hill's own complaint, where he admits that his prior lawsuit against certain members of the Lewisburg prison staff for beating him was dismissed because he “was unable to prove his allegations in court.”

Against this backdrop, Hill complains that the staff at McCreary have threatened to transfer him from McCreary to the lock-down unit at Lewisburg in retaliation for Hill filing grievances against the McCreary staff. Two staff members told him that he was going to be transferred because “they didn't need the paper-work up here.” After reviewing a report prepared by one of these staff members, a third staff member recommended that Hill be transferred to the lock-down unit at Lewisburg. Hill also alleges that he was placed in segregated housing at McCreary immediately after he filed a grievance against a McCreary staff member.

Relying on the doctrine announced in Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971), Hill filed this pro se civil rights action in January 2009. Because Hill's lawsuit seeks redress from governmental officers, and because Hill proceeded in forma pauperis, the district court screened Hill's complaint as required by 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A and 1915(e)(2)(B). These statutes provide, in relevant part, that the court must dismiss any portion of the complaint that (1) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or (2) is frivolous.

The district court dismissed the complaint after determining that the pleading was frivolous because it lacked an arguable basis in fact or law. Specifically, the court reasoned that Hill's complaint lacked an arguable basis in law because a prisoner does not have an “inherent constitutional right to avoid a transfer from one prison to another, [or] to remain free of security classifications that would place them in segregation or specialized housing units.” The court also found that Hill's allegation that the Lewisburg staff will have him assaulted and possibly killed lacked an arguable basis in fact because it was conjectural and lacking in specificity. Hill appeals the dismissal of his complaint.

II. ANALYSIS
A. Standard of review

We review de novo a district court's decision to dismiss a prisoner's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A and 1915(e)(2)(B). Smith v. Campbell, 250 F.3d 1032, 1036 (6th Cir.2001). As stated above, these statutes require the court to dismiss any portion of the complaint that (1) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or (2) is frivolous. A complaint can be frivolous either factually or legally. See Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 325, 109 S.Ct. 1827. Any complaint that is legally frivolous would ipso facto fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See id. at 328–29, 109 S.Ct. 1827.

The Supreme Court recently clarified the pleading standard for complaints to survive dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ––– U.S. ––––, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949–50, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009), and in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555–57, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). This circuit has not yet addressed how these two cases affect the review of complaints under the failure-to-state-a-claim standard found in §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). We now decide that the dismissal standard

[630 F.3d 471]

articulated in Iqbal and Twombly governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under those statutes because the relevant statutory language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6). See Wolfson v. Carlucci, 232 Fed.Appx. 849, 850 n. 1 (10th Cir.2007) (applying Twombly 's dismissal standard to dismissals under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)); see also Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir.1997) (applying Rule 12(b)(6) standards in reviewing dismissals under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) because the language of the statute tracks the language of the Rule). So, to survive scrutiny under §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” See Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

Whether a complaint is factually frivolous under §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) is a separate issue from whether it fails to state a claim for relief. Statutes allowing a complaint to be dismissed as frivolous give “judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.” Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327, 109 S.Ct. 1827 (interpreting 28 U.S.C. § 1915). Unlike a dismissal for failure to state a claim, where a judge must accept all factual allegations as true, Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949–50, a judge does not have to accept “fantastic or delusional” factual allegations as true in prisoner complaints that are reviewed for frivolousness. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327–28, 109 S.Ct. 1827.

B. Discussion

The issue in this case is whether Hill's complaint states a nonfrivolous First Amendment retaliation claim upon which relief can be granted. Although inartfully pled, Hill brings this claim through a Bivens action, which allows civil rights claims against federal officials that are analogous to those brought against state officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 504, 98 S.Ct. 2894, 57 L.Ed.2d 895 (1978) (reasoning that, “without congressional directions to the contrary,” it would “stand the constitutional design on its head” if federal officials were not liable for constitutional violations through Bivens actions to the same extent as state officials are through § 1983 actions). To succeed on a Bivens action, a plaintiff must first establish a constitutional violation. Baranski v. Fifteen Unknown Agents of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, 452 F.3d 433, 444 (6th Cir.2006) (citing Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 397, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971)).

The allegations in Hill's complaint sufficiently state a First Amendment retaliation claim, especially in light of the “indulgent treatment” that “[c]ourts are instructed to give ... to the ‘inartfully pleaded’ allegations of pro se prison litigants.” Pasley v. Conerly, 345 Fed.Appx. 981, 986 (6th Cir.2009) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972)). In Pasley, this court concluded that the facts alleged in the prisoner's complaint contained the elements of a First Amendment retaliation claim even though the prisoner did not make an effective argument for that claim in his original complaint or in his appellate brief. Id. Hill similarly fails to explicitly state that he is making a First Amendment retaliation claim, but he alleges that the prison staff at McCreary placed him in segregated housing and recommended that he be transferred to

[630 F.3d 472]

the lock-down unit at Lewisburg in retaliation for the grievances that he filed against the prison staff.

These facts contain the essential elements of a First Amendment retaliation claim. To establish such a claim, a prisoner must prove that (1) he engaged in protected conduct, (2) the defendant took an adverse action that is capable of deterring a person of “ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in that conduct,” and (3) “the adverse action was motivated at least in part by the [prisoner's] protected conduct.” ...

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  • Flournoy v. Hemingway, Case No. 20-13130
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • May 18, 2021
    ...Filing grievances against prison officials on one's own behalf is "undisputed[ly]" protected by the First Amendment. Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 472 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Herron v. Harrison, 203 F.3d 410, 415 (6th Cir. 2000)). Litigating a civil rightsPage 15 lawsuit is also protected.......
  • Leblanc v. Kalamazoo Police Dep't, Case No. 1:18-cv-487
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District Michigan)
    • June 29, 2018
    ...'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 ......
  • Johnson v. Cuyahoga County CSEA, 1:21 CV 517
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • July 7, 2021
    ...state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). To survive scrutiny under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), a pro se complaint must set forth sufficient factual matter, acce......
  • Bumpas v. Corr. Corp. of America, NO. 3:10-1055
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
    • August 30, 2011
    ...has alleged claims which are subject to dismissal under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) or (iii) is a separate issue. See Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 471 (6th Cir. 2010). 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) provides that:Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6141 cases
  • Flournoy v. Hemingway, Case No. 20-13130
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • May 18, 2021
    ...Filing grievances against prison officials on one's own behalf is "undisputed[ly]" protected by the First Amendment. Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 472 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Herron v. Harrison, 203 F.3d 410, 415 (6th Cir. 2000)). Litigating a civil rightsPage 15 lawsuit is also protected.......
  • Leblanc v. Kalamazoo Police Dep't, Case No. 1:18-cv-487
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District Michigan)
    • June 29, 2018
    ...'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 ......
  • Johnson v. Cuyahoga County CSEA, 1:21 CV 517
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • July 7, 2021
    ...state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). To survive scrutiny under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), a pro se complaint must set forth sufficient factual matter, acce......
  • Bumpas v. Corr. Corp. of America, NO. 3:10-1055
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
    • August 30, 2011
    ...has alleged claims which are subject to dismissal under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) or (iii) is a separate issue. See Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 471 (6th Cir. 2010). 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) provides that:Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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