Walter Jones v. Kenneth McKee, et al
OPINION filed: DISMISSED in part, and AFFIRMED in part. Jones's motion for appointment of counsel is denied. Decision not for publication pursuant to local rule 28(g). Alan E. Norris, Circuit Judge; John M. Rogers, Circuit Judge and Richard Allen Griffin, Circuit Judge (AUTHORING).
Case: 10-1515 Document: 006110940434 Filed: 04/28/2011 Page: 1
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 11a0271n.06
Apr 28, 2011
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
PATRICIA CARUSO, Warden, Director (MDOC), in
her official and individual capacities, KENNETH
McKEE, Warden, in his official and individual
capacities; LISA ENGLISH, in her official and
individual capacities; UNKNOWN PERRY, in his
official and individual capacities; CARMEN
PALMER, Warden, in her official and individual
capacities; CHRIS BOUCK, in his official and
individual capacities; JOHN PRELESNIK, in his
official and individual capacities; DAWN M.
LOVETT, in her official and individual capacities,
LEONARD GREEN, Clerk
ON APPEAL FROM THE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT
COURT FOR THE WESTERN
DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
BEFORE: NORRIS, ROGERS, and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges.
GRIFFIN, Circuit Judge.
Plaintiff Walter Jones, a pro se Michigan prisoner, appeals the district court’s grant of
summary judgment in favor of defendants in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action. Jones also
requests that this court appoint him counsel to represent him on appeal. For the following reasons,
we dismiss the appeal in part, affirm in part the district court’s judgment, and, accordingly, deny
Jones’s request for appointment of counsel.
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Jones v. McKee, et al.
Jones filed a pro se civil rights action regarding his exposure to Environmental Tobacco
Smoke (“ETS”) during his incarceration at three Michigan correctional facilities. In his complaint,
Jones asserted claims under both the Eighth and First Amendments. Jones alleged that: (1)
defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by
subjecting him to ETS, and (2) defendants John Prelesnik and Dawn Lovett violated his First
Amendment rights by transferring him from Richard Handlon Correctional Facility (“MTU”) to Ionia
Maximum Correctional Facility – an institution with allegedly worse ETS – after he complained
about the ETS at MTU. Jones sought injunctive, declaratory, and monetary relief.
Defendants, highlighting the inadequacy of Jones’s evidence and asserting a defense of
qualified immunity, moved for summary judgment. The magistrate judge agreed with their
evidentiary assessment and recommended granting their motion. After reviewing the parties’
objections, the district court adopted the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation with regard
to Jones’s claims, but declined to do likewise for the qualified immunity defense because such a
ruling was unnecessary to resolve the case.
Jones now timely appeals.
Before discussing Jones’s arguments, we must address a jurisdictional issue not raised by the
parties: mootness. Under Article III of the United States Constitution, the jurisdiction of federal
courts extends only to actual, ongoing cases or controversies. Lewis v. Cont’l Bank Corp., 494 U.S.
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Jones v. McKee, et al.
472, 477 (1990). “This case-or-controversy requirement subsists through all stages of federal
judicial proceedings, trial and appellate.” Id. “Mootness results when events occur during the
pendency of the litigation which render the court unable to grant the requested relief.” Berger v.
Cuyahoga Cnty. Bar Ass’n, 983 F.2d 718, 724 (6th Cir. 1993) (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). Mootness is a jurisdictional issue; “[q]uestions of jurisdiction are fundamental matters
which we may review sua sponte.” Id. at 721.
Regarding his Eighth Amendment claim, Jones sought declaratory and injunctive relief and
damages. On February 1, 2009 – during the pendency of litigation in the district court – Michigan
Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) Policy Directive 01.03.140 banned smoking inside all MDOC
buildings. This Policy Directive rendered moot Jones’s injunctive and declaratory requests because
“[n]othing remains to be enjoined or declared improper.” Berger, 983 F.2d at 724; cf. Kensu v.
Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1996) (holding that a prisoner’s claims for injunctive and
declaratory relief became moot when the prisoner was transferred from the prison about which he
complained). Accordingly, damages is the only relief potentially available for Jones on his Eighth
Next, we turn to the merits of Jones’s appeal. We review an order granting summary
judgment de novo. Wimbush v. Wyeth, 619 F.3d 632, 636 (6th Cir. 2010). Summary judgment is
appropriate where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Int’l Dairy Foods Ass’n v. Boggs, 622 F.3d 628,
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Jones v. McKee, et al.
635 (6th Cir. 2010). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court should, viewing
the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Lanier v. Bryant, 332 F.3d 999, 1003 (6th Cir. 2003), determine “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, 477 U.S. at 251-52; Int’l Union
v. Cummins, Inc., 434 F.3d 478, 483 (6th Cir. 2006).
“The Eighth Amendment forbids prison officials from ‘unnecessarily and wantonly inflicting
pain’ on an inmate by acting with ‘deliberate indifference’ toward the inmate’s serious medical
needs.” Blackmore v. Kalamazoo Cnty., 390 F.3d 890, 895 (6th Cir. 2004) (quoting Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976)). “The test for determining deliberate indifference based on
exposure to ETS has both objective and subjective components.” Talal v. White, 403 F.3d 423, 426
(6th Cir. 2005) (citing Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 35 (1993)). For the objective component,
“a prisoner must show that his medical needs are ‘sufficiently serious.’” Id. (quoting Hunt v.
Reynolds, 974 F.2d 734, 735 (6th Cir. 1992)).
To survive summary judgment, Jones was required to present evidence of a “medical
condition . . . such that exposing [him] to ETS represents a serious health threat,” rather than a
“mere discomfort.” Hunt, 974 F.2d at 735. The district court determined that the evidence showed
that Jones had asthma, but his symptoms were “relatively minor” and could be managed “with the
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Jones v. McKee, et al.
use of his inhalers and other medication.”1 Although Jones urges otherwise, the medical records
submitted by him do not indicate that he suffered from exposure to ETS, despite the prescribed
treatments. In short, Jones’s evidence does not show that his ETS exposure was “a serious health
threat[.]” Hunt, 974 F.2d at 735; accord Scott v. District of Columbia, 139 F.3d 940, 943 (D.C. Cir.
1998) (holding the prisoner’s evidence inadequate because “[he] failed to demonstrate a causal
relationship between his [asthma] and an increased risk of harm to him from second-hand smoke”).
Accordingly, we discern no error in the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of
defendants on Jones’s Eighth Amendment claim.2
Jones next takes issue with the district court’s ruling on his retaliation claim, in which he
alleged a retaliatory transfer due to grievances he lodged about ETS. A prisoner’s claim that prison
In his appellate brief, Jones contends that the district court failed to properly consider that
he also suffered from bronchitis. Jones, however, has not provided evidence that his resulting
symptoms posed a “serious health threat[.]” Hunt, 974 F.2d at 735. As a result, Jones has failed
to substantiate his Eighth Amendment claim as it pertains to his bronchitis.
Jones argues that the district court “held [him] to a higher standard which is not supported
by the governing law.” In Jones’s estimation, the district court erred by not applying case law
decided under Rule 12(b)(6) and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A – namely, Talal, 403 F.3d at 426-28 and
Palacio v. Hofbauer, 106 F. App’x 1002, 1004-06 (6th Cir. 2004) (unpublished).
The district court correctly applied the law of summary judgment. For nearly three decades
now, “the burden on the moving party may be discharged by ‘showing’– that is, pointing out to the
district court – that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In other words, the court rightfully held Jones to a
different standard than the litigants in Talal and Palacio because those prisoners’ complaints were
analyzed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A to determine whether they “state[d] a claim upon which relief
may be granted[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) (2006); see also Talal, 403 F.3d at 426-28; Palacio,
106 F. App’x at 1004-06.
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officials retaliated against him for engaging in protected conduct is grounded in the First
Amendment. Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 388 (6th Cir. 1999) (en banc). In this context,
a retaliation claim has three elements: (1) the prisoner engaged in protected conduct; (2) an adverse
action was taken against the prisoner that “‘would deter a [prisoner] of ordinary firmness from
continuing to engage in that conduct’”; and (3) a causal connection exists between the first two
elements – i.e., the prisoner’s protected conduct motivated, at least in part, the adverse action.
Thomas v. Eby, 481 F.3d 434, 440 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Thaddeus-X, 175 F.3d at 394).
Filing a grievance is protected conduct under the First Amendment. See Smith v. Campbell,
250 F.3d 1032, 1037 (6th Cir. 2001). But, generally, a transfer to another institution “does not
constitute an adverse action since a transfer is merely an ordinary incident of prison life.” See
Siggers-El v. Barlow, 412 F.3d 693, 704 (6th Cir. 2005). As such, an alleged retaliatory transfer
ordinarily “should be characterized as de minimis and dismissed at the summary judgment stage.”
Id. at 703.
In Siggers-El, we carved out an exception for cases in which foreseeable, negative
consequences “inextricably follow” from the transfer – such as the prisoner’s loss of his high-paying
job and reduced ability to meet with his lawyer. Id. at 701-02. In these exceptional cases,
“‘[w]hether a retaliatory action is sufficiently severe to deter a person of ordinary firmness from
exercising his or her rights is a question of fact.’” Id. at 703-04 (alteration in original) (quoting Bell
v. Johnson, 308 F.3d 594, 603 (6th Cir. 2002)). Thus, to survive summary judgment on his
retaliation claim, Jones needed to “make a sufficient showing[,]” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, of the
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Jones v. McKee, et al.
foreseeable, negative consequences that “inextricably follow[ed]” from his transfer, Siggers-El, 412
F.3d at 701-02.
Here, Jones has not sufficiently demonstrated that Prelesnik and Lovett should have foreseen
the allegedly negative consequences that resulted from his transfer. As the district court stated:
“Although Plaintiff claims that the facility had a worse living environment, Plaintiff fails to allege
that the facility lacked smoke or tobacco-free housing or that Defendants Prelesnik and Lovett had
any basis to believe that Plaintiff would be denied a request to be housed in such facilities.”
Accordingly, Jones’s retaliation claim fails as a matter of law and was properly dismissed.
For these reasons, we dismiss the appeal in part, affirm in part the district court’s judgment,
and, accordingly, deny Jones’s request for appointment of counsel.
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