Sweezer v. Heyns et al
ORDER Adopting Report and Recommendation: Granting 37 Motion filed by Jerome Sweezer, to Supplement; Denying 21 Motion for Summary Judgment, filed by Elizabeth Goniea, Dana Judge, Debra Scutt, Daniel Heyns, Denying 25 Motion to Extend filed by Jerome Sweezer, Denying 23 Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Jerome Sweezer and Dismissing Case. Signed by District Judge Stephen J. Murphy, III. (CCoh)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 13-cv-14382
HONORABLE STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III
DANIEL HEYNS, et al.,
ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND
RECOMMENDATION'S (document no. 30) RESULT,
DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
(document no. 21), DENYING SWEEZER'S MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND ENLARGEMENT OF TIME (document nos. 23 & 25), GRANTING
SWEEZER'S MOTION TO SUPPLEMENT (document no. 37) AND DISMISSING CASE
Plaintiff Jerome Sweezer is a prisoner at the Muskegon Correctional Facility in
Muskegon, Michigan. He is serving two life sentences for two counts of second degree
murder, and two concurrent sentences of 40 to 80 years for armed robbery. He filed this
suit against various administrators in the Michigan Department of Corrections ("MDOC" or
"Defendants"), arguing the prison was not accurately applying good time and disciplinary
credits to his armed robbery sentence. He contends that he "is entitled to disciplinary
credits, special disciplinary credits, Emergency Power Acts (EPA's), and 238 county jail
credits on his minimum" and "to have regular good time and special good time applied to
his maximum sentence of 80 years." Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. 2–3, ECF No. 23. He seeks
damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.
The Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, urging the Court to dismiss the
case because Sweezer had failed to properly file an administrative grievance. The Court
referred the case to Magistrate Judge Patricia Morris. The Magistrate filed a Report and
Recommendation, advising the Court to dismiss the case because a prisoner seeking
restoration of disciplinary credits can be addressed only in a habeas corpus petition, not
an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Sweezer filed a timely objection to the Magistrate’s
Report. The Court then ordered the Defendants to file a brief addressing the merits of
Sweezer’s complaint. Order, ECF No. 34. The Defendants filed such a brief, with an
accompanying affidavit from the Records Administrator explaining the sentencing
computation. Resp., ECF No. 35.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Magistrate Judge advised the Court to sua sponte dismiss Sweezer's complaint
because a request for application of good time credits must be brought as a Writ of Habeas
Corpus, not as a civil rights action. When a pro se prisoner brings suit in federal court, the
Court is obligated to screen the complaint to ensure it is not "frivilous, malicious, [or] fails
to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1); see also 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). A complaint is "frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis either in
law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). In addition, "[a] complaint is
subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim if the allegations, taken as true, show the
plaintiff is not entitled to relief." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007).
The Defendants also filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing Sweezer failed
to exhaust his administrative remedies. Summary judgment is warranted "if the movant
shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is "material" for purposes of
summary judgment if proof of that fact would establish or refute an essential element of the
cause of action or defense. Kendall v. Hoover Co., 751 F.2d 171, 174 (6th Cir. 1984). A
dispute over material facts is “genuine” "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
248 (1986). To show that a fact is, or is not, genuinely disputed, both parties are required
to either "cit[e] to particular parts of materials in the record" or "show that the materials
cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse
party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). In
considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts and draw all
reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. 60 Ivy St. Corp. v.
Alexander, 822 F.2d 1432, 1435 (6th Cir. 1987). The Court must take care, in evaluating
the motion, not to make judgments on the quality of the evidence, because the purpose of
summary judgment is to determine whether a triable claim exists. Doe v. Metro. Nashville
Pub. Schs., 133 F.3d 384, 387 (6th Cir. 1998) (“[W]eigh[ing] the evidence . . . is never
appropriate at the summary judgment stage.”).
The current case presents three issues. First, whether Sweezer's request for the
MDOC to properly apply good time and disciplinary credits can be brought as a civil rights
action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, or whether it is cognizable only under the habeas corpus
statute. Second, whether Sweezer properly exhausted his administrative remedies. And
finally, it addresses the merits of Sweezer's complaint—whether the MDOC deprived
Sweezer of the credits to which he is entitled. The Court finds that Sweezer's claims may
be brought under Section 1983, that he properly exhausted his administrative remedies,
but that the MDOC is correctly calculating his sentence.
Sweezer May Bring His Claim Under Section 1983
Section 1983 provides a private cause of action against state officials acting “under
color of state law” that deprive persons of “a right secured by the Federal Constitution or
laws of the United States.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The parties do not dispute that the prison
administrators acted "under color of state law" when they calculated Sweezer's good time
and disciplinary credits. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has recognized that prisoners
have a liberty interest in the correct application of jail credits to their sentences. See
Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74 (2005).
The Supreme Court has held, however, that when the application of good time credits
necessarily results in the prisoner's "immediate release from physical custody" or "in
shortening the length of their actual confinement in prison, habeas corpus [is] their
appropriate remedy." Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 487 (1973). In Preiser, three
prisoners argued the correction facility unconstitutionally deprived them of good time credits
without due process of law. Restoration of the credits would have entitled each of the three
prisoners to immediate release on parole. The Court held that the prisoners could only
proceed under the habeas statute, because the prisoners' grievance was that they were
being "unlawfully subjected to physical restraint." Id. at 486–87. Such a claim fell "squarely
within [the] traditional scope of habeas corpus," and was therefore not cognizable as a civil
rights claim under Section 1983.
In Wilkinson v. Dotson, by contrast, a prisoner brought suit against prison
administrators arguing that the retroactive application of harsher guidelines to his preguidelines case violated the Constitution's Ex Post Facto and Due Process Clauses. 544
U.S. at 77. As relief, Dotson sought "an immediate parole hearing in accordance with the
statutory laws and administrative rules in place when [he] committed his crimes." Id. Ohio
parole officers argued Dotson could only bring suit under the habeas statute, not Section
1983. The Court disagreed, explaining that "[s]uccess for Dotson does not mean immediate
release from confinement or a shorter stay in prison; it means at most new eligibility review,
which at most will speed consideration of a new parole application." Id. at 82. Indeed,
"[s]uccess for Johnson means at most a new parole hearing at which Ohio parole
authorities may, in their discretion, decline to shorten his prison term." Id. Such a
remedy—which "neither terminates custody, accelerates the future date of release from
custody, nor reduces the level of custody"—was far removed from the traditional scope of
habeas review, and was therefore properly brought under Section 1983. Id. at 86 (Scalia,
In this case, a judge sentenced Sweezer to two life terms for murder, and two
concurrent terms of 40 to 80 years imprisonment for armed robbery. Sweezer argues the
MDOC is not applying disciplinary credits to his 40 year minimum, and incorrectly
calculating good time credits to decrease his 80 year maximum (for armed robbery). If the
Court agrees, it will not entitle Sweezer to immediate release from prison or necessarily
shorten the duration of his imprisonment. Rather, a finding by the Court that MDOC is
incorrectly calculating his minimum, would only result to hasten Sweezer's eligibility for
parole. And if the Court finds that MDOC is incorrectly computing Sweezer's 80 year
maximum, it will not necessarily shorten his term of imprisonment because he is also
serving a life sentence for murder. Thus, because the sought after remedy will not result
in Sweezer's immediate release, or necessarily result in a shorter prison sentence, his
claim is properly brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Sweezer Properly Exhausted His Administrative Remedies
The Defendants' motion for summary judgment urges the Court to dismiss Sweezer's
case because Sweezer failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Sweezer filed a Step
I grievance explaining that he thought the prison was incorrectly computing his sentence.
Mot. Summ. J., Grievance, ECF No. 21-4. The MDOC addressed the merits of Sweezer's
arguments and explained how it calculated the duration of incarceration. Sweezer appealed
the decision and filed a Step II grievance, raising the same arguments. The Defendants
once more responded to the merits of Sweezer's arguments. Sweezer again appealed and
filed a Step III grievance, which the prison summarily dismissed, stating that it had already
explained how it calculated Sweezer's sentence during the Step I and Step II grievances.
Sweezer then filed the present suit. The Defendants now contend Sweezer did not properly
exhaust his administrative remedies because his Step I grievance did not include the
names of each defendant.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") states: "No action shall be brought with
respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a
prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative
remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). An inmate "exhausts a
claim by taking advantage of each step the prison holds out for resolving the claim
internally and by following the 'critical procedural rules' of the prison's grievance process
to permit prison officials to review and, if necessary, correct the grievance 'on the merits'
in the first instance." Reed-Bey v. Pramstaller, 603 F.3d 322, 324 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting
Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90, 95 (2006)).
The MDOC has a three step grievance procedure. Mot. Summ. J., P.D. 03.02.130,
ECF No. 21-2. The Policy Directive outlining that procedure states that the "[d]ates, times,
places and names of all those involved in the issue being grieved are to be included" in the
Step I grievance. Mot. Summ. J., P.D. 03.02.130R, ECF No. 21-2. Because Sweezer's Step
I grievance does not include the Defendants' names, they argue Sweezer did not properly
exhaust his administrative remedies.
The issue, therefore, is whether Sweezer's failure to include Defendants' names in
his Step I grievance precludes federal review, notwithstanding the Defendants' decision to
address the merits of his grievance. The Sixth Circuit has squarely held that when a prison
addresses the merits of an inmate's grievance, the prisoner has exhausted his
administrative remedies, notwithstanding the grievance's technical deficiencies. Reed-Bey,
603 F.3d at 325–26. In Reed-Bey, an inmate filed a grievance, arguing that prison staff
provided inadequate medical treatment. He did not provide the staff members' names in
his grievance. Nonetheless, prison authorities addressed the merits of his complaint. When
Reed-Bey filed suit, the prison staff argued that he had not exhausted his administrative
remedies because the grievance did not include their names.
The Sixth Circuit held the inmate properly exhausted his administrative remedies,
notwithstanding his failure to include the staff members' names in his Step I grievance. Id.
at 325–26. It explained that the prison had the first opportunity to address the merits of the
prisoner's complaint and the review process had created an adequate administrative
record. Furthermore, "[w]hen prison officials decline to enforce their own procedural
requirements and opt to consider otherwise-defaulted claims on the merits, so as a general
rule will [federal courts]." Id. at 325. Moreover, "[e]nforcing internal prison rules even when
prison officials do not and even when they proceed to address a grievance on the merits
. . . would do more than ensure that prison officials get the first shot at correcting their own
mistakes; it would give their merits-based grievance denials undeserved insulation from
federal review." Id. at 326.
Reed-Bey is directly applicable to this case. Sweezer filed a grievance, contending
the prison was miscalculating his sentence. The prison addressed the merits of his
complaint. Sweezer then appealed and filed a Step II grievance. Once more, the prison
addressed the merits of Sweezer's grievance by explaining how they calculated his
sentence range. Sweezer appealed once more, and the prison again addressed the merits.
The prison has had a fair shot at correcting its own alleged mistakes. It has created a
valuable administrative record. And, as in Reed-Bey, the Defendants are merely seeking
to insulate their merits-based grievance denial from federal review. Accordingly, the Court
finds that Sweezer exhausted his administrative remedy.
The MDOC Properly Calculated Sweezer's Sentence
The Court ordered the Defendants to file a brief on the merits of Sweezer's complaint.
Order, ECF No. 34. The Defendants then filed a short brief explaining the basis for
Sweezer's sentence, and included an affidavit from Diana Judge, a Records Administrator
at the prison. After reviewing the affidavit and brief, the Court finds the MDOC correctly
computed Sweezer's sentence.
To reiterate, Sweezer is serving a life sentence for two counts of second degree
murder and a concurrent term of 40 to 80 years for two counts of armed robbery. Sweezer
maintains he is entitled to good time and disciplinary credits that will decrease his sentence
for armed robbery. The analysis is somewhat convoluted because Michigan has different
sentencing schemes depending on whether a person is sentenced to life imprisonment or
a term of years. The sentencing scheme is counter-intuitive because a person sentenced
to life imprisonment will often be eligible for parole earlier than a person sentenced to a
term of years. In an effort to disambiguate, the Court will separately examine the minimum
and maximum terms for the life sentence and sentence of 40 to 80 years.
Term Of Life
A judge sentenced Sweezer to a term of life imprisonment for second degree murder.
Under Michigan Law, “[a] prisoner sentenced to imprisonment for life . . . is subject to the
jurisdiction of the parole board and may be placed on parol” if “the prisoner has served 10
calendar years of the sentence for a crime committed before October 1, 1992.” Mich.
Comp. Laws § 791.234(7)(a). The Michigan Department of Corrections agrees that, had
Sweezer only been sentenced for murder, he would have been eligible for parole on
October 21, 1991, ten years after his initial incarceration. Resp., Judge Aff. ¶¶ 12, 13, ECF
While inmates sentenced to life imprisonment have the opportunity to be paroled after
only ten years, their maximum possible penalty never changes—the Michigan Department
of Corrections can keep them incarcerated for life. The policy directives clearly state that
prisoners serving life sentences can not earn good time and disciplinary credits. Resp.,
Policy Directive 03.01.100 ¶ E.1,Policy Directive 03.01.101 ¶ G.1, ECF Nos. 35-2, 3.
In short, if the judge had only sentenced Sweezer to life, Sweezer would have
become eligible for parole in 1991, though the Michigan Department of Corrections would
have had the power to keep him incarcerated for life.
Sentence Of 40 To 80 years
The judge also sentenced Sweezer to a term of 40 to 80 years imprisonment for two
counts of armed robbery. Michigan law provides that prisoners sentenced to a range of
years are “subject to the jurisdiction of the parole board when the prisoner has served a
period of time equal to the minimum sentence imposed by the court for the crime of which
he or she was convicted, less good time and disciplinary credit.” Mich. Comp. Laws. §
791.234. The scheme is counter-intuitive because a prisoner sentenced to 40 to 80 years
imprisonment will often be eligible for parole later than other prisoners sentenced to life
(who are eligible for parole after only ten years).
Here, the parole board will have jurisdiction over Sweezer once he has served his 40
year minimum sentence, “less good time and disciplinary credit.” Id. The next question,
therefore, is whether Sweezer is entitled to any good time or disciplinary credits. Section
791.233b provides that a person convicted and sentenced for armed robbery is not entitled
to any good time credit decreasing that prisoner’s minimum sentence. Mich. Comp. Laws.
§ 791.233b(x). Section 800.33 states, however, that a prisoner serving a sentence for
armed robbery is “eligible to earn a disciplinary credit of 5 days per month for each month
served after December 30, 1982. Accumulated disciplinary credits shall be deducted from
a prisoner’s minimum and maximum sentence in order to determine his or her parole
eligibility dates.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 800.33(3).
The Defendants' brief and accompanying affidavit do not disclose whether Sweezer
has earned any disciplinary credits, or whether those credits have been applied to
determine Sweezer's parole eligibility date. Nonetheless, it appears from the MDOC's
response to his grievances that they did include disciplinary credits to determine his parole
eligibility, stating Sweezer would not be "parole eligible on the 40 year minimum term until
at least 04/28/2012 . . . . The potential date of 04/28/2012 calculation includes regular and
special disciplinary credits." Mot. Summ. J., Grievance 4, ECF No. 21-4. A subsequent
audit showed the parole board anticipated having jurisdiction over Sweezer's sentence on
August 8, 2014. Pl.'s Resp. 14, ECF No. 36.
These estimates demonstrate MDOC is including disciplinary credits when calculating
Sweezer's minimum sentence calculation. Because Sweezer was originally incarcerated
in 1981, his minimum sentence without inclusion of credits would run until 2021. The earlier
estimated dates of 2012 and 2014 show that the prison is applying disciplinary credits to
his sentence. Nothing in Sweezer's extensive briefing suggests that they have applied too
few credits to his minimum term.
Sweezer also argues extensively that the prison has incorrectly calculated when his
sentence for armed robbery will end. MDOC, however, has repeatedly explained its
calculations. See Resp., Judge Aff. ¶¶ 12, 13, ECF No. 35-4. The prison has applied the
applicable credits to Sweezer's 80 year armed robbery sentence, which is expected to
terminate in 2026 (after only 45 years). Id. The Court finds no error in these calculations,
and Sweezer has not provided any basis for calculating his maximum on the armed robbery
sentence differently. Furthermore, as the MDOC has repeatedly explained, it does not
matter when Sweezer's sentence for the armed robbery expires because he is also serving
a life sentence for murder. Even if the Court completely invalidated Sweezer's armed
robbery conviction, the MDOC could still hold him indefinitely because he is serving a life
The Court finds that Sweezer properly brought a claim for the application of jail credits
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Furthermore, Sweezer has properly exhausted his administrative
remedies. Nonetheless, Sweezer's arguments fail on the merits. The MDOC has applied
disciplinary credits to his 40 year minimum sentence to determine when he becomes
eligible for parole. They also correctly determined the date that his armed robbery sentence
expires. The Court reiterates, however, that MDOC may hold Sweezer indefinitely because
he is serving a life sentence for murder. Thus, even once Sweezer's armed robbery
sentence ends, it does not necessarily mean he will be released from prison. Accordingly,
because the MDOC is correctly computing Sweezer's prison sentence, the Court will
dismiss the case.
WHEREFORE, it is hereby ORDERED that the Court ADOPTS the Report and
Recommendation's result (document no. 30), though not its reasoning, and will DISMISS
THE CASE WITH PREJUDICE.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Court will DENY the Defendants' Motion For
Summary Judgment (document no. 21).
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Court will DENY Sweezer's Motion For Summary
Judgment (document no. 23).
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Court will DENY AS MOOT Sweezer's Motion
for Enlargement of Time (document no. 25).
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Court will GRANT Sweezer's Motion to
Supplement Record (document no. 37).
s/Stephen J. Murphy, III
STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III
United States District Judge
Dated: January 31, 2015
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon the parties and/or
counsel of record on January 31, 2015, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
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