Spencer v. Snyder et al
OPINION; Judgment to issue; signed by Judge Janet T. Neff (Judge Janet T. Neff, clb)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
WILLIAM SIM SPENCER,
Case No. 1:17-cv-99
Honorable Janet T. Neff
RICHARD SNYDER et al.,
This is a civil rights action brought by a state parolee pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
The Court has granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Under the Prison Litigation
Reform Act, PUB. L. NO. 104-134, 110 STAT. 1321 (1996), the Court is required to dismiss any
prisoner action brought under federal law if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from
such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The Court must read Plaintiff’s pro se complaint indulgently,
see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and accept Plaintiff’s allegations as true, unless
they are clearly irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992).
Applying these standards, Plaintiff’s action will be dismissed for failure to state a claim.
Plaintiff William Sim Spencer presently is on parole and resides in Benzie County.
He sues Governor Richard Snyder, the Michigan Parole Board (MPB), and the following MPB
members: Chairman Michael Eagen, Kevin R. Belk, Amy Conito, Charles Brown, Abigail Callejas,
Anthony King, Jayne Price, Barbara Sampson, Brian Shipman, Sonya Amos-Warchock, and Jerone
Plaintiff alleges that he was denied parole for at least 20 additional months because
he refused to abandon his claim that he was innocent of the charge on which he was convicted.
Plaintiff contends that, by demanding that he admit guilt to be eligible for parole, Defendants
violated his rights under the First and Fifth Amendments. Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment,
together with compensatory damages.
Failure to state a claim
A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails “‘to give the
defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Bell Atl. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While
a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s allegations must include more
than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements,
do not suffice.”). The court must determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although
the plausibility standard is not equivalent to a “‘probability requirement,’ . . . it asks for more than
a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the
mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged – but it has not ‘show[n]’ – that the
pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill
v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility
standard applies to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1)
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a
right secured by the federal Constitution or laws and must show that the deprivation was committed
by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Dominguez v.
Corr. Med. Servs., 555 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009). Because § 1983 is a method for vindicating
federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action under § 1983 is to
identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271
In Count 1 of his complaint, Plaintiff claims that his First Amendment rights
have been violated because he was required to say that he is guilty of the offense for which he was
convicted in order to improve his chance of parole. In Hawkins v. Morse, No. 98-2062, 1999 WL
1023780, at *2 (6th Cir. Nov. 4, 1999), the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a prisoner’s
similar First Amendment claim, stating that “the parole board’s consideration of a prisoner’s
willingness to accept responsibility for committing a crime does not force [the prisoner] to admit his
guilt. [The prisoner] is free to maintain his innocence.” Id.; see also Hawkins v. Abramajtys, No.
99-1995, 2000 WL 1434695, at *1 (6th Cir. Sept. 19, 2000) (reaffirming the decision in Hawkins
v. Morse, 1999 WL 1023780, at *2). The Third Circuit addressed the issue in more detail. In
Newman v. Beard, 617 F.3d 775, 781 (3d Cir. 2010), the court acknowledged that the First
Amendment protects both the right to speak freely and the right not to speak at all. Id. (citing
Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705, 714 (1977)). The Amendment ordinarily prevents the state from
“‘inquir[ing] about a man’s views or associations solely for the purpose of withholding a right or
benefit because of what he believes.’” Newman, 617 F.3d at 781 (quoting Baird v. State Bar of
Ariz., 401 U.S. 1, 7 (1971)).
As the Supreme Court repeatedly has recognized, however,
incarceration necessarily “imposes restrictions on a prisoner’s rights.” Id. (quoting Jones v. N.C.
Prisoners’ Labor Union, Inc., 433 U.S. 119, 129 (1977). A prisoner retains only those First
Amendment rights that are not “inconsistent with his status as a prisoner or with the legitimate
penological objectives of the corrections system.” Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822 (1974).
“[W]hen a prison regulation impinges on inmates’ constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it
is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987).
The Newman court held that the prisoner failed to make the necessary showing under Turner. See
Newman, 617 F.3d at 781.
Here, as in Newman, Plaintiff has not alleged that the requirement that he admit guilt
serves no legitimate penological purpose or is unrelated to rehabilitation. Nor could he. The
Supreme Court squarely has recognized that “‘States . . . have a vital interest in rehabilitating
convicted sex offenders’ and ‘acceptance of responsibility for past offenses’ is a ‘critical first step’
in a prison’s rehabilitation program for such offenders.’” Id. (quoting McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24,
47 (2002)); see also Ainsworth v. Stanley, 317 F.3d 1, 4-6 (1st Cir. 2002). Plaintiff suggests that his
admission would be false and it therefore is not relevant to his rehabilitation. However, because
Plaintiff was convicted of the offense, the state has no further burden of proving his guilt in relation
to his eligibility for rehabilitation programs and parole. Newman, 617 F.3d at 781. As a
consequence, Plaintiff fails to state a First Amendment claim.
Plaintiff also asserts that his right against self-incrimination was violated when he
was denied parole as a result of his refusal to admit guilt to the parole board. This assertion is
The Fifth Amendment guarantees that “[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any
criminal case to be a witness against himself.” U.S. CONST. amend. V. This right remains available
to Petitioner despite his conviction. See Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. 420, 426 (1984) (“A
defendant does not lose this protection by reason of his conviction of a crime . . . .”); cf. McKune
v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24, 48-54 (2002) (O’Connor, J., concurring) (applying the full blown Fifth
Amendment analysis to a prisoner’s claim that the prison’s requirement that he participate in a sex
offender treatment program violated his constitutional rights). The Supreme Court has recognized
that the Fifth Amendment extends not only to criminal proceedings, but any proceeding in which
the answers might incriminate the individual in a future criminal proceeding. Allen v. Illinois, 478
U.S. 364, 368, 106 S.Ct. 2988, 92 L.Ed.2d 296 (1986) (emphasis added). “A valid assertion of the
fifth amendment privilege exists where a witness has reasonable cause to apprehend a real danger
of incrimination. A witness must, however, show a ‘real danger,’ and not a mere imaginary, remote
or speculative possibility of prosecution.” In re Morganroth, 718 F.2d 161, 167 (6th Cir.1983)
It is well-settled that the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination is not
implicated by the alleged pressure on a prisoner to admit, in order to improve his chances for parole,
that he committed the crime(s) for which he is incarcerated. See Hawkins v. Morse, 1999 WL
1023780, at *2 (citing Ohio Adult Parole Auth. v. Woodard, 523 U.S. 272, 285-88 (1998)); see also
Rice v. Mich. Parole Bd., No. 1:05-cv-549, 2005 WL 2297463, at **3-4 (W.D. Mich. Sept. 21,
2005) (concluding that, because the Fifth Amendment extends only to proceedings in which answers
might incriminate the individual in future criminal proceedings, refusal to admit to crimes of which
prisoner had already been convicted did not implicate Fifth Amendment). Therefore, the parole
board’s consideration of Petitioner’s remorse (or lack thereof) for the crimes of which he had been
convicted did not violate his Fifth Amendment rights.
Having conducted the review required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Court
determines that Plaintiff’s action will be dismissed for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
The Court must next decide whether an appeal of this action would be in good faith
within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3). See McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 611
(6th Cir. 1997). For the same reasons that the Court dismisses the action, the Court discerns no
good-faith basis for an appeal. Should Plaintiff appeal this decision, the Court will assess the
$505.00 appellate filing fee pursuant to § 1915(b)(1), see McGore, 114 F.3d at 610-11, unless
Plaintiff is barred from proceeding in forma pauperis, e.g., by the “three-strikes” rule of § 1915(g).
If he is barred, he will be required to pay the $505.00 appellate filing fee in one lump sum.
This is a dismissal as described by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).
A Judgment consistent with this Opinion will be entered.
Dated: February 28, 2017
/s/ Janet T. Neff
Janet T. Neff
United States District Judge
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