Miller v. Stewart, Case No. 15-14164

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
Writing for the CourtStephanie Dawkins Davis United States Magistrate Judge
PartiesSHAREE MILLER, Plaintiff v. ANTHONY STEWART, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCase No. 15-14164
Decision Date01 March 2019

ANTHONY STEWART, et al., Defendants.

Case No. 15-14164


March 1, 2019

Sean F. Cox United States District Judge

Stephanie Dawkins Davis United States Magistrate Judge



Plaintiff, Sharee Miller, filed this lawsuit on November 25, 2015, against Anthony Stewart, Robin Howard, and Renata Patton, all employees of the Michigan Department of Corrections, claiming retaliation under the First Amendment and a claim under Michigan's Whistleblower's Protection Act (WPA). (Dkt. 1). On February 18, 2016, District Judge Sean F. Cox referred this matter to the undersigned for all pretrial proceedings. (Dkt. 7). After a period of discovery, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. 75, 76). This matter is fully briefed. (Dkt. 86, 87, 88). The parties filed their joint statement of resolved and unresolved issues on September 20, 2018. (Dkt. 91). The Court held a hearing and received oral arguments from both parties. (Dkt. 92). This matter is now ready for report and recommendation.

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For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned RECOMMENDS GRANTING defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's WPA claim and GRANTING defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim, as to her claims for money damages only. Further, the undersigned RECOMMENDS DENYING defendants' motion to the extent they seek summary judgment on plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim against defendants in their official capacities.


A. The Complaint

Miller sued three employees of the Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV), which is in Ypsilanti, Michigan. First, she sues Warden Anthony Stewart in his official capacity only. According to defendants, Stewart did not begin working as Warden at WHV until February 1, 2015, after the allegations in the Complaint arose. Miller also sues Inspector Robin Howard and Classification employee Renata Patton in their individual capacities. (Dkt. 1, Pg ID 1, 3). Miller claims that she was released from the Prisoner Observation Aid (POA) Program at WHV in retaliation for complaining about the mistreatment of the prisoners who she was observing as part of that program. (Dkt. 1, Pg ID 3, 10). Miller says the officials violated her rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution (Dkt. 1, Pg ID 10 11) as well as her rights under the WPA, codified in Mich. Comp. Laws

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§§ 15.361-15.369. (Dkt. 1, Pg ID 11, 12). She seeks both compensatory and injunctive relief against defendants Howard and Patton, but only injunctive relief against Stewart. (Dkt. 1, Pg ID 12).

B. The Prisoner Observation Aide Program

This lawsuit derives from Miller's role in MDOC's POA program. Therefore, a summary of the program is perhaps helpful to begin. It is MDOC's policy to place prisoners who are suicidal or self-injurious in cells by themselves, under one-on-one, direct and continuous observation. (Dkt. 86-2, Ex. A, POA Training PowerPoint). For observation of these at-risk prisoners throughout each day, MDOC relies on a combination of corrections staff and prisoners assigned as POAs who are specially selected, trained, and carefully screened. Id. p. 3. MDOC began using POAs in approximately 2012, and WHV piloted the POA program for the MDOC in Michigan. (Dkt. 86-3, Ex. B, R. Patton Dep., 22:3-22:6; 23:13). Defendant Patton was the only Corrections Program Coordinator ("CPC") responsible for the POA program at WHV. Id. at 16:21-23.

POAs' job duties require them to continuously observe the mentally ill prisoner to whom they are assigned on a given day, to log their observations at regular intervals, and to contact a corrections officer or other staff if a mentally ill prisoner is in distress, or if some other emergency arises. (Dkt. 86-4, Ex. C, Prisoner Observation Rules and Procedures, at 1). POA rules and procedures

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require each POA to maintain appropriate confidentiality of her observations. Id. at 3. The confidentiality clause provides, in pertinent part:

Away from the Job

1. Confidentiality is very important in prisoner observation. Relevant information should only be shared with staff or the next shift of Prisoner Observers. Inappropriate sharing of information about the observed prisoner will be grounds for immediate removal from the job. Prisoner Observers are only to discuss what the assigned prisoner says or does or what is said/done to the prisoner with housing staff on the unit or relief observers (staff or prisoner).

Id. The confidentiality provision authorizes removal of any POA who shares information "inappropriate[ly]." The terms "relevant" and "appropriate" are not further defined in the policy, and Miller points out that Patton does not specifically explain the meaning of the confidentiality provision when training POAs. (Dkt. 86-3, Ex. B, at 117:13-25 and 118:1-3).

Miller began working as a POA at WHV in March 2014. (Dkt. 86-5, Ex. D, S. Miller Dep., 23:1-6). She received job training as a POA before assuming her responsibilities. Id. at 11:11-13. And she received wages in exchange for her services as a POA. Id. at 9:4-6.

B. Miller's Observations

1. The Bielby Incident

During a POA shift in spring 2014, Miller witnessed corrections officers

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abuse and mistreat a mentally ill inmate, Rochelle Bielby. (Dkt. 86-5, Ex. D, p. 23:14-18). After Bielby became upset and lost her temper, corrections officers stripped Bielby of her clothes and restrained her. (Id. at 26:16-18; Dkt. 86-6, Ex. E, Critical Incident Report). According to Miller, WHV officials cuffed Bielby's wrists and ankles and used a chain to hog-tie her wrists and ankles together behind her back with her knees bent while leaving her lying prone. (Dkt. 86-6, Ex. D, at 31:8-14). Miller says Bielby was naked, tied, and alone in her cell. Id. at 34: 1-18. Bielby repeatedly cried out that she was in pain, which caused Miller to be concerned for Bielby's well-being. Miller's main reason for concern was that if Bielby had fallen from her bed, she would have no way to catch herself while restrained in the hogtied position. Id. at 36:1-5. According to Miller's recollection of the event, officers stated that Bielby had to stay in that position because Bielby had struggled and fought her restraints. Id. at 34:19-36:1-5. Miller maintains that Bielby was left naked, hog-tied, and screaming out in pain for four hours and fifty-two minutes. Id. at 39:3-25; Dkt. 86-6, Ex. E, at 001491. Miller says she observed Bielby sliding off her bed with her extremities bound. (Dkt. 86-5, Ex. D, at 39:3-25). Although she notified a sergeant about this danger, Miller was told dismissively that Bielby would be fine. Id. at 42:5-11.

Miller was disturbed by this treatment of a mentally ill inmate and claims she made several attempts to address the incident with authorities at WHV as a

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result. Id. at 41:3-23, 42:16-44:13, 68:14-69:10. None of her attempts proved fruitful. For example, at a POA meeting the next day, Miller complained to Patton, who supervised the POA program. Id. at 42:16-44:13. Patton indicated that the officer's conduct was appropriate and that Miller was mistaken. Id. at 43:22-44:2. Based on this response, Miller sent a kite (or written request) to Howard, but she received no response. Id. at 44:3-15.

Because WHV was not taking her claims seriously, Miller felt she exhausted her avenues to report the abuse within WHV, and says she was forced to contact advocates outside WHV for aid. Acting on Miller's behalf, persons and organizations outside WHV (e.g. "Humanity for Prisoners") reported the abuse to public officials and agencies who initiated investigations. Although Howard knew Miller had reported Bielby's alleged mistreatment to others outside of WHV, she met with Miller but did not reprimand her. Id. 48:2-15. Instead, Howard simply encouraged Miller to tell the truth. Id.

Howard says that after she learned of Miller's correspondence to Humanity for Prisoners about Bielby's treatment, she investigated Miller's report of mistreatment by reviewing video and critical incident reports to determine the veracity of Miller's allegations. (Dkt. 75-4, Ex. 3, Howard dep, p. 48). Howard's investigation led her to determine that Miller's allegations had no credibility. Id. at 49. Howard met with Miller on June 4, 2014. Although Howard concluded that

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Miller breached her POA confidentiality agreement, she did not recommend removing Miller from her POA position. Howard says she did remind Miller, however, that because she signed the confidentiality agreement, she was not to report information that she learned during her POA assignment to those outside of the prison. Id. at 58-61.

2. The Martin Incident

In mid-June 2014, Miller says she again witnessed disturbing abuse and mistreatment of a mentally ill and/or disabled inmate. (Dkt. 1, Compl., p. 6). This time, Miller was acting as a POA for inmate Darlene Martin. Id. Martin was not eating and could not operate the sink in her cell to drink water because of her weakened condition. (Dkt. 86-5, Ex. D, at 50:16-52:9). To drink water, Martin tried to splash water out of the toilet in her cell. Id. But, claiming that her actions made a mess, corrections officers turned off all water to Martin's cell. Id. at 51:10-12. Miller informed officers that Martin was begging for water. Id. at 52:2-9. Every few hours a tiny paper cup with a few ounces of water was placed in Martin's cell, but Miller says Martin remained dehydrated. Id. at 53:13-18. Over the course of several days as a POA for Martin, Miller sent multiple kites to Patton and Howard about Martin's condition. Id. at 56:6-9. Miller reported that Martin was not eating, was denied water, and appeared to be in distress. Miller's kites went unanswered. Id. at 56:16-18.

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According to Miller,...

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