Goens v. Holcomb
OPINION & ORDER (1) Overruling Plaintiff's Objections (Dkt. 13 ), (2) Accepting the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (Dkt. 12 ), and (3) Granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 10 ). Signed by District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith. (Sandusky, K)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 17-cv-11286
HON. MARK A. GOLDSMITH
OPINION & ORDER
(1) OVERRULING PLAINTIFF’S OBJECTIONS (Dkt. 13), (2) ACCEPTING THE
MAGISTRATE JUDGE’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION (Dkt. 12), AND (3)
GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Dkt. 10)
Plaintiff Devonte Goens, an inmate at the Lakeland Correctional Facility, proceeding pro
se, filed this civil rights case against Defendant Captain John Holcomb pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983. See Compl. (Dkt. 1). The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Mona K. Majzoub for
all pretrial proceedings. See Order of Referral (Dkt. 7). On February 2, 2018, the Magistrate
Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) (Dkt. 12), recommending that Holcomb’s
motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 10) be granted. Goens filed objections to the R&R (Dkt. 13);
Holcomb subsequently filed a response (Dkt. 14). The Court reviews de novo any portion of the
R&R to which specific objections are timely filed. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3). For the reasons
discussed below, the Court overrules Goens’s objections, accepts the recommendation contained
in the R&R and grants Holcomb’s motion for summary judgment.1
A. Goens’s Objections
The factual background of this case is sufficiently explained in the magistrate judge’s R&R and
need not be repeated here.
Goens first objects to the Magistrate Judge’s findings regarding his First Amendment
retaliation claim. Specifically, Goens objects to the conclusion that Holcomb met his burden of
production to show that he would have filed a misconduct report against Goens regardless of his
protected First Amendment activity. Goens argues that, even if Holcomb heard him discussing
point spreads for professional sports games on the phone, he never heard a discussion of betting
or any other communication that violates prison guidelines. Goens also argues that the transfer of
money into his prison account did not violate any policy, and that Holcomb incorrectly concluded
that he used another prisoner’s prisoner identification number (“PIN”) to make phone calls. See
Obj. at 1-5.
Goens also objects to the Magistrate Judge’s findings regarding his Fourteenth Amendment
due process claim. He argues that he was denied due process when Holcomb filed falsified
misconduct reports against him. He contends that the notice and hearing afforded to him by prison
officials was insufficient to satisfy his due process rights. See id. at 6.
1. First Amendment Retaliation
A First Amendment retaliation claim consists of three elements:
(1) the plaintiff engaged in protected conduct; (2) an adverse action
was taken against the plaintiff that would deter a person of ordinary
firmness from continuing to engage in that conduct; and (3) there is
a causal connection between elements one and two — that is, the
adverse action was motivated at least in part by the plaintiff's
Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 394 (6th Cir. 1999). “Once the plaintiff has met his burden
of establishing that his protected conduct was a motivating factor behind any harm, the burden of
production shifts to the defendant. If the defendant can show that he would have taken the same
action in the absence of the protected activity, he is entitled to prevail on summary judgment.” Id.
Goens objects to the Magistrate Judge’s finding that Holcomb established that he would
have filed the December 2016 misconduct report against Goens in the absence of the protected
The Magistrate Judge noted Holcomb’s affidavit, which states that he filed the
misconduct report after learning that Goens had placed multiple phone calls to a phone number,
during which he discussed point spreads for professional basketball and football games. R&R at
11-12 (citing Holcomb Aff., Ex. 1 to Def. Mot., ¶ 7 (Dkt. 10-2). He also noted that a total of
$1,600 was deposited into Goens’s prison account from April 2016 through November 2016;
according to Holcomb, several of these transactions were made by unapproved individuals. See
Holcomb Aff. ¶ 7. Holcomb also stated that Goens made a phone call using the prisoner
identification number (“PIN”) of another prisoner; Holcomb stated he was able to determine that
it was actually Goens who made the call because the caller identified himself as Goens. Id. ¶ 8.
Goens now argues that these reasons for the misconduct report are a pretext. He argues
that merely discussing point spreads is not a violation of prison policy, money transferred into his
prison account was transferred permissibly, and that Holcomb incorrectly accused him of using
another prisoner’s PIN to make phone calls. This argument is not persuasive. It is not clear what
exactly Holcomb would have been retaliating against when he filed his misconduct report. Goens
alleges that the report was filed because Goens had previously reported Holcomb to his superiors
for misconduct. Goens alleges that this retaliation began on November 29, 2016, and continued
through the December 2016 misconduct report. However, as noted by the Magistrate Judge,
Holcomb produced unrebutted evidence that he was on leave from September 16, 2016, through
December 12, 2016. Id. ¶ 4. From December 12, 2016, through January 27, 2017, Holcomb was
placed on “light duty,” meaning he was not permitted inside the prison gates. Id. ¶ 5. This means
that from at least September 16, 2016, through January 27, 2017, Goens and Holcomb had no
contact whatsoever. Goens has not identified in his complaint, before the Magistrate Judge, or
before the undersigned, any grievance he filed against Holcomb prior to September 16, 2016, that
would have led Holcomb to retaliate by filing a misconduct report in December 2016. As a result,
a reasonable jury could not conclude that the report was an act of retaliation.
2. Fourteenth Amendment Due Process
Goens next argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in concluding that he did suffer a
violation of his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Amendment states, in part, that no state “shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property,
without due process of law.” U.S. Const. amend. IV, § 1. “[A] procedural due process analysis
addresses two questions. [T]he first asks whether there exists a liberty or property interest which
has been interfered with by the State, the second examines whether the procedures attendant upon
that deprivation were constitutionally sufficient.” Bazzetta v. McGinnis, 430 F.3d 795, 801 (6th
Cir. 2005) (internal quotations and citation omitted). “In evaluating a claimed liberty interest by
prison inmates, courts are mindful that imprisonment necessarily carries with it the circumscription
or loss of many significant rights.” Id. (internal quotations and citation omitted). This is necessary
to accommodate the needs of prison facilities, primarily internal security. Id. The Supreme Court
has recognized that, in the absence of a state regulation, an inmate is only deprived of a liberty
interest where the deprivation “exceed[s] the sentence in . . . an unexpected manner” or “imposes
atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.”
Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995).
Goens has not alleged the deprivation of a recognized liberty interest. Even assuming
Holcomb falsified the misconduct report, his conditions of imprisonment did not change as a result
of the report. After the report was filed, Goens was afforded notice of the charge and a hearing,
after which the charge was dismissed. There is no allegation that he was deprived of liberty, or
that the process afforded to him was deficient. As a result, Goens fails to state a due process claim.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court the Court overrules Goens’s objections (Dkt. 13),
accepts the recommendation contained in the R&R (Dkt. 12), and grants Holcomb’s motion for
summary judgment (Dkt. 10).
Dated: March 13, 2018
s/Mark A. Goldsmith
MARK A. GOLDSMITH
United States District Judge
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
The undersigned certifies that the foregoing document was served upon counsel of record and any
unrepresented parties via the Court's ECF System to their respective email or First Class U.S. mail
addresses disclosed on the Notice of Electronic Filing on March 13, 2018.
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