Spearman v. Heyns et al
ORDER adopting 19 Report and Recommendation; granting 6 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by District Judge Arthur J. Tarnow. (MLan)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 20-11558
SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT
JUDGE ARTHUR J. TARNOW
MARK MACHULIS, SR.,
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
DAVID R. GRAND
ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ; OVERRULING
PLAINTIFF’S OBJECTIONS TO REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ; GRANTING
DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT 
Plaintiff Rufus Spearman filed this prisoner civil rights action on January 26,
2015 alleging sexual harassment and sexual assault, retaliation, physical abuse and
deprivation of rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments against
fifty-nine defendants. Spearman v. Heyns, No. 15-cv-00015 (W.D. Mich. 2015),
(ECF No. 1, 11). Plaintiff’s only remaining claim is a First Amendment retaliation
claim against Defendant Mark Machulis. On June 17, 2020, Defendant filed a
Motion for Summary Judgment . Plaintiff filed a Response  on July 6, 2020.
Defendant filed a Reply  on August 14, 2020. On September 14, 2020, the
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Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) 
recommending that the Court grant Defendant’s motion. Plaintiff filed Objections
 to the R&R on November 2, 2020. Defendant filed a Response  on
November 30, 2020. Plaintiff filed a Reply  on December 10, 2020.
For the reasons stated below, the R&R  is ADOPTED; Plaintiff’s
Objections  are OVERRULED; and Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment  is GRANTED.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The Court adopts the facts of this case as set forth in the R&R:
According to a Misconduct Report issued against Spearman, on March
5, 2012, he appeared at the Quartermaster window at the Saginaw
Correctional Facility, where Quartermaster Machulis was working,
insisting that he receive a pair of pants with belt loops. (ECF No. 6-2,
PageID.60.) Machulis told Spearman that he would not issue pants with
belt loops, but, rather, a “serviceable pair of pants in his size.” (Id.)
Spearman became very upset, stating, “I’ll come in and get them myself
you punk bitch.” (Id.) Spearman then entered the Quartermaster room
through a back door and started pulling pants out of a pile on the floor.
(Id.) Machulis gave Spearman a direct order to leave. (Id.) Although
Spearman left the room, he came back to the window, yelling at
Machulis and threatening him, stating, “bitch, next time I come through
that fucking door I am going to beat your bitch ass you blue eyed devil
On that same day, Machulis completed a Misconduct Report regarding
the incident, classifying Spearman’s actions as three separate
misconduct charges: threatening behavior, insolence, and being out of
place. (Id.) MDOC Policy Directive (PD) 03.03.105 governed prisoner
discipline for violations of prison rules at the time of this incident. (ECF
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No. 6-3.) Under this policy, Machulis classified Spearman’s three
separate misconduct charges as major misconduct offenses. (ECF No.
6-3, PageID.63-64.) MDOC PD 03.03.105 mandates temporary
segregation or top lock pending a hearing for major misconduct
Also on that same day, Spearman alleges he returned to his unit to
phone the United States Department of Justice, and initiate a complaint
under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Person’s Act. (ECF No. 6,
PageID.36.) Spearman alleges that Machulis harassed him in the abovedetailed incident, rather than the other way around. (Id.) Spearman
further claims another officer interrupted the call, in which he was
reporting the alleged harassment, and told him to return to his cell. (Id.)
Thereafter, MDOC placed Spearman in segregation where he later
received Machulis’s Misconduct Report. (Id.)
On March 12, 2012, MDOC held a Major Misconduct Hearing, but
Spearman chose not to attend. (ECF No. 6-4, PageID.81.) Hearing
Officer Groat entered a not guilty plea on Spearman’s behalf. (Id.)
Hearing Officer Groat found Spearman guilty of two of the three counts
pending in the Misconduct Report, including threatening behavior and
being out of place. (Id.) Hearing Officer Groat dismissed the charge of
insolence based on redundancy. (Id.) Hearing Officer Groat considered
the following evidence: “the misconduct report; a statement from the
prisoner to the investigator; and a statement from a QMHP indicating
that [Spearman] was responsible for his behavior at the time of this
incident.” (Id.) Hearing Officer Groat gave Spearman 30 days of
detention and 30 days loss of privileges. (Id.)
On March 14, 2012, Spearman filed a grievance indicating that MDOC
failed to provide his legal material to him in segregation. Spearman v.
Heyns, 15-cv-00015 (W.D. Mich. 2005) (ECF No. 11, PageID.30-47.)
MDOC denied this grievance through Step III. (Id.) On April 18, 2012,
MDOC transferred Spearman to Alger Correctional Facility due to
space constraints. (ECF No. 6-5, PageID.83.)
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STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court’s review of objections to a Magistrate Judge’s R&R on a
dispositive motion is de novo. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c). “‘[O]bjections disput[ing]
the correctness of the magistrate’s recommendation but fail[ing] to specify the
findings . . . believed in error’ are too general.” Novak v. Prison Health Services,
Inc., No. 13-11065, 2014 WL 988942, at *3 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 13, 2014) (quoting
Miller v. Currie, 50 F.3d 373, 380 (6th Cir. 1995)). Ordinarily, objections that lack
specificity do not receive de novo review. Mira v. Marshall, 806 F.2d 636, 637 (6th
Cir. 1986). In addition, the Court may accept, reject, or modify any or all of the
Magistrate Judge’s findings or recommendations. FED. R. CIV. P. 72 (b)(3).
A party is entitled to summary judgment when “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 if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under
the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
Additionally, the Court views all of the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all reasonable inferences in the non-moving party’s favor.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986);
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.
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Objection 1: Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge’s “finding that [Plaintiff]
failed to properly exhaust [his] administrative remedies, and that Machulis timely
raised the affirmative defense of proper exhaustion.” (ECF No. 22, PageID.226).
The Magistrate Judge concludes that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his
administrative remedies with regard to Defendant Machulis, because neither
Machulis nor Plaintiff’s retaliation claim are mentioned in his grievances. Plaintiff
objects and asserts that he was deterred from specifically naming Defendant for fear
of further retaliation, that he explained the details of his grievance during an
interview, and that, because the grievance was not rejected for being vague,
Defendant has waived this argument. Upon review of the grievances in question, the
Court finds that Plaintiff did not properly grieve his retaliation claim. Objection one
The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) states that “[n]o 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). The Supreme Court has identified two purposes behind the PLRA
exhaustion requirement: 1) to give the “agency an opportunity to correct it[s] own
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mistakes;” and 2) to promote efficiency. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 89 (2006).
Though failure to exhaust such remedies is not a jurisdictional bar to filing suit, when
raised as an affirmative defense it is grounds for dismissal. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S.
199, 212 (2007); Lee v. Willey, 789 F.3d 673, 677 (6th Cir. 2015). There are no
federal requirements for exhaustion; for a prisoner to exhaust his remedies, he must
follow the grievance procedures put forward by the correctional institution. Mattox
v. Edelman, 851 F.3d 583, 590 (6th Cir. 2017).
Here, the MDOC grievance policy states that a grievant must provide “the
facts involving the issue being grieved (i.e., who, what, when, where, why, how).
[And] [d]ates, times, places, and names of all those involved in the issue being
grieved are to be included.” (ECF No. 6-7, PageID.96). Plaintiff’s grievance,
however, fails to mention Defendant by name and the protected activity that he
alleges Defendant retaliated against. In fact, the only allegation relevant to Plaintiff’s
retaliation claim comes in the first sentence of the grievance: “[o]n or about Monday,
March 5, 2012, I . . . was placed in temporary segregation based upon a fabricated
charge of ‘threatening behavior.” Spearman v. Heyns, No. 15-cv-00015 (W.D. Mich.
2005), (ECF No. 20, PageID.228). The rest of the grievance form alleges that he
was denied personal property and legal material while in segregation. (Id.). He
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makes no mention of his alleged call to the Department of Justice, or any other
protected activity that was retaliated against with a “fabricated charge” (Id.).
In response, Plaintiff argues that Defendant waived the exhaustion argument,
because the MDOC failed to reject the grievance for vagueness and instead decided
it on the merits. It is true that our circuit recognizes that when the prison decides an
inmate’s claim on the merits although it was not properly exhausted, an argument
for dismissal for failure to exhaust is a nonstarter. Reed-Bey v. Pramstaller, 603 F.3d
322, 325 (6th Cir. 2010) (“[T]he State's decision to review a claim on the merits
gives us a warrant to do so as well, even when a procedural default might otherwise
have resolved the claim.”). However, this rule is inapplicable here.
The gravamen of Plaintiff’s grievance, as further evidenced by his appeals at
step II and step III, was his lack of access to personal property and legal materials,
not retaliation. Spearman v. Heyns, No. 15-cv-00015 (W.D. Mich. 2005), (ECF No.
20, PageID.228-41). In fact, Plaintiff never again mentions his misconduct ticket
after the first sentence of his first grievance at step I. His subsequent appeals only
mention the conditions of his segregation, not what brought him there. (Id.).
Accordingly, the MDOC did not, and never had the opportunity to, address
Plaintiff’s retaliation claim administratively. Applying the rule outlined in Reed-Bey
to this case would defy the purpose of the rule itself: to “allow prison officials ‘a fair
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opportunity’ to address grievances on the merits.” Reed-Bey, 603 F.3d at 324.
Plaintiff failed to properly exhaust his retaliation claim.
To the extent that Plaintiff additionally objects to the Magistrate Judge’s
finding that Defendant timely raised his affirmative defense, this objection is also
overruled. As the Magistrate Judge notes, Defendant timely raised his exhaustion
defense in his first responsive pleading, which here was his motion for summary
judgment. Objection one is overruled.
Objection 2: Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge’s “finding that [his] retaliation
claim is barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel.” (ECF No. 22, PageID.231).
“[W]hen a state agency acting in a judicial capacity resolves disputed issues
of fact properly before it which the parties have had an adequate opportunity to
litigate, federal courts must give the agency's factfinding the same preclusive effect
to which it would be entitled in the State's courts.” Peterson v. Johnson, 714 F.3d
905, 912 (6th Cir. 2013) (citing University of Tennessee v. Elliott, 478 U.S. 788, 799
(1986)). In order for a major misconduct hearing in prison to have preclusive effect,
three elements must be satisfied: (1) “the agency must have been acting in a ‘judicial
capacity,’” (2) the hearing officer must resolve “a disputed issue[ ] of fact that was
properly before it,” and (3) the petitioner had “an adequate opportunity to litigate the
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factual dispute.” Peterson, 714 F.3d at 913 (internal quotations and citation omitted).
Here, Plaintiff challenges the last element.
Plaintiff argues that he did not have an adequate opportunity to litigate,
because the prison withheld his legal materials from him while he was in
segregation. The Court is not persuaded by this argument. First, Plaintiff failed to
raise this argument during the briefing of Defendant’s motion, preventing the
Magistrate Judge from addressing it. Second, although Plaintiff claims he did not
have the legal material to present a more informed defense, regardless, under
relevant case law, he was still provided with an adequate opportunity to litigate and
yet failed to do so. See Robinson v. Knack, No. 2:18-CV-009, 2019 WL 10301655,
at *8 (W.D. Mich. Dec. 27, 2019), report and recommendation adopted, No. 2:18CV-9, 2020 WL 2519842 (W.D. Mich. May 18, 2020) (finding that petitioner had
an opportunity to litigate this issue, because he “was read the misconduct ticket[,]
was confronted with the evidence against him[,] had the chance to present evidence
and argument to the hearing officer[,] also had the opportunity to appeal the
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Despite having the opportunity to appear and testify at the hearing and
appeal the hearing officer’s finding even up to the state court, Plaintiff declined.
He did, however, make a statement which the hearing officer considered in their
findings. (ECF No. 6-4, PageID.81). Under Peterson, Plaintiff’s failure to use the
available procedures cannot “be considered proof that the procedures themselves
were somehow inadequate.” Peterson, 714 F.3d at 916. Objection two is overruled.
Objection 3: “Genuine dispute of whether there is sufficient evidence to infer
Defendant Machulis knew of my protected conduct.” (ECF No. 22, PageID.237).
To show retaliation, Plaintiff has the burden of proving 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 protected conduct.
Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 394 (6th Cir. 1999). Although Plaintiff’s
adverse action is barred by collateral estoppel, the Magistrate Judge found that
Plaintiff’s retaliation claim also fails, because he has not shown a genuine dispute of
fact as to causal connection. Plaintiff objects to this finding and claims to show
sufficient evidence that Defendant Machulis knew of his protected conduct.
Recognizing the difficulty of proving an official’s retaliatory motive with
direct evidence, the Sixth Circuit has stated that circumstantial evidence will suffice.
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Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 475 (6th Cir. 2010). Examples of circumstantial
evidence include the timing of events and disparate treatment of similarly situated
individuals. Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d at 399. Plaintiff here alleges temporal
proximity between his interrupted call to the DOJ and his misconduct ticket, but
“often evidence in addition to temporal proximity cases is required.” Holzemer v.
City of Memphis, 621 F.3d 512, 526 (6th Cir. 2010). “In analyzing the facts in
temporal proximity cases, [the Sixth Circuit has] always looked at the totality of the
circumstances to determine whether an inference of retaliatory motive can be
drawn.” Vereecke v. Huron Valley Sch. Dist., 609 F.3d 392, 401 (6th Cir. 2010).
Plaintiff claims that he identifies circumstantial evidence of the following
material questions of fact: “(1) Why did Defendant Machulis fail to follow
department policy or procedure, and his training, and not call for assistance at the
time I allegedly threatened him?; (2) Why was I restrained and transferred to
segregation immediately following my complaint to the justice department, rather
than at the time of the alleged threatening behavior incident?” (ECF No. 22,
PageID.238). However, Plaintiff merely raises these questions and fails to point to
answers, other than pure speculation, that a reasonable jury could believe. Namely,
Plaintiff fails to explain how the fact that an unnamed inmate told Defendant that he
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worked as a clerk in the law library imputed knowledge Plaintiff’s protected
conduct. Objection three is therefore overruled.
For the reasons stated above, the R&R  is ADOPTED; Plaintiff’s
Objections  are OVERULLED; and Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment  is GRANTED. This ruling has the effect of dismissing Defendant
Machulis and dismissing the case.
IT IS ORDERED that the R&R  is ADOPTED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Objections  are
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment  is GRANTED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that this case is CLOSED.
Dated: March 31, 2021
s/Arthur J. Tarnow
Arthur J. Tarnow
Senior United States District Judge
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