Artis et al v. Ingham, County of 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
GEORDAN ARTIS et al.,
Case No. 1:17-cv-516
Honorable Janet T. Neff
INGHAM COUNTY JAIL et al.,
This is a civil rights action, originally brought by eight Ingham County Jail inmates
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Since filing, the Court has denied Plaintiff Paul Jackson leave to
proceed in forma pauperis (ECF Nos. 9-10), because he had previously filed at least three cases that
were dismissed on the grounds that they were frivolous, malicious or failed to state a claim. See 28
U.S.C. § 1915(g). Jackson has paid his $43.75 portion of the civil action filing fee. The Court has
also granted the motions of James Dalton and Leonard Samuel Barlow to proceed in forma pauperis.
The claims of the other five plaintiffs (Geordan Artis, Dymarion Jackson, Cornelius Smith, Willie
Lewis, and John Glazier) have been dismissed for lack of prosecution.
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), 1915A; 42
U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Court must read Plaintiffs’ pro se complaint indulgently, see Haines v.
Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and accept Plaintiffs’ allegations as true, unless they are clearly
irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Applying these
standards, Plaintiffs’ action will be dismissed for failure to state a claim.
Plaintiffs Jackson, Dalton and Barlow are incarcerated at the Ingham County Jail
(ICJ). They sue the ICJ; Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth; Ingham County Deputies
Gaston, Johnson, Wallace, Perry, Bradley, and Davis (first names unknown); and Ingham County
Sergeant Unknown Nye. Plaintiffs complain generally about the conditions of their confinement.
“[T]there is black mold everywhere” and that “numerous post/pods/floors
have been closed because of it.” (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.5, ¶ 1.)
They are instructed “not to drink the water” without explanation. (Id., ¶ 2.)
Two persons are housed in cells intended for one person. (Id., ¶ 3.)
Inmates are locked in their cells for eighteen hours a day and are permitted
out for only two 3-hour periods in a small television room. They are not
permitted to go to the gym or outside for exercise. (Id., ¶ 4.)
The toilets are timed to flush twice an hour. After the two flushes, inmates
are forced to defecate or urinate in a dirty toilet which is unsanitary and
odorous. (Id., ¶ 5.)
The shower only stays on for three minutes (Id., ¶ 6.)
One Plaintiff1 had his food thrown on the floor by deputies. (Id., ¶ 7.)
Plaintiffs have been denied law library privileges and, thus, access to the
courts. (Id., ¶8.)
Although Plaintiffs do not identify the victim in their complaint, a subsequent motion to amend reveals that
Plaintiff Jackson’s food was thrown on the ground. (Motion to Amend, ECF No. 16, PageID.37-38.)
Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $500,000.00 each. In addition,
the complaint purports to be filed as a class action for all similarly situated prisoners.2
Plaintiffs identify themselves as “Class Action Plaintiffs.” (Compl., ECF No. 1,
PageID.3.) The Court construes this as a request for class certification. For a case to proceed as a
class action, the court must be satisfied on a number of grounds, including the adequacy of class
representation. See FED. R. CIV. P. 23(a)(4). It is well established that pro se litigants are
inappropriate representatives of the interests of others. See Garrison v. Mich. Dep’t of Corr., 333
F. App’x 914, 919 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Oxendine v. Williams, 509 F.2d 1405, 1407 (4th Cir.
1975)); see also Dodson v. Wilkinson, 304 F. App’x 434, 438 (6th Cir. 2008); Ziegler v. Michigan,
59 F. App’x 622, 624 (6th Cir. 2003); Palasty v. Hawk, 15 F. App’x 197, 200 (6th Cir. 2001);
Howard v. Dougan, No. 99-2232, 2000 WL 876770, at *1 (6th Cir. June 23, 2000). Because
Plaintiffs are incarcerated pro se litigants, the Court finds that they are not appropriate
representatives of a class. Therefore, the Court will deny Plaintiffs’ request for class certification.
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
This is not Plaintiff Jackson’s first attempt to raise these claims in this Court. See Jackson et al. v. Ingham
County Jail et al., No. 1:17-cv-237 (W.D. Mich.) (Jackson’s claims were dismissed for failure to pay the filing fee; the
claims were dismissed on the merits with regard to Jackson’s co-plaintiff Keith Medlin) (Op. and J., ECF Nos. 19, 20);
Jackson v. Ingham County Jail et al., 1:17-cv-463 (W.D. Mich.) (Jackson’s claims were dismissed for failure to pay the
filing fee) (Ord. and J., ECF Nos. 6, 7). The identical claims are also raised in Klotz et al. v. Ingham County Jail, 1:17cv-608 (W.D. Mich.), although Plaintiff Jackson is not a party in that suit.
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
Lack of Allegations
It is a basic pleading essential that a plaintiff attribute factual allegations to particular
defendants. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 544 (holding that, in order to state a claim, a plaintiff must
make sufficient allegations to give a defendant fair notice of the claim). Where a person is named
as a defendant without an allegation of specific conduct, the complaint is subject to dismissal, even
under the liberal construction afforded to pro se complaints. See Frazier v. Michigan, 41 F. App’x
762, 764 (6th Cir. 2002) (dismissing the plaintiff’s claims where the complaint did not allege with
any degree of specificity which of the named defendants were personally involved in or responsible
for each alleged violation of rights); Griffin v. Montgomery, No. 00-3402, 2000 WL 1800569, at *2
(6th Cir. Nov. 30, 2000) (requiring allegations of personal involvement against each defendant);
Rodriguez v. Jabe, No. 90-1010, 1990 WL 82722, at *1 (6th Cir. June 19, 1990) (“Plaintiff’s claims
against those individuals are without a basis in law as the complaint is totally devoid of allegations
as to them which would suggest their involvement in the events leading to his injuries.”); see also
Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1994); Krych v. Hvass, 83 F. App’x 854, 855 (8th Cir.
2003); Potter v. Clark, 497 F.2d 1206, 1207 (7th Cir. 1974); Williams v. Hopkins, No. 06-14064,
2007 WL 2572406, at *4 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 6, 2007); McCoy v. McBride, No. 3:96-cv-227RP, 1996
WL 697937, at *2 (N.D. Ind. Nov. 5, 1996); Eckford-El v. Toombs, 760 F. Supp. 1267, 1272-73
(W.D. Mich. 1991).
Plaintiffs list the nine defendants on the form cover sheet of their complaint.
(Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.1.) Beyond that listing, however, Plaintiffs fail to even to mention any
of the individual Defendants in the body of their complaint. Their allegations therefore fall far short
of the minimal pleading standards under FED. R. CIV. P. 8 (requiring “a short and plain statement
of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief”). Plaintiffs’ claims against the individual
Defendants are properly dismissed.
To the extent Plaintiffs seek to impose liability on Defendant Wrigglesworth because
of his supervisory position, their claims also fail. Government officials may not be held liable for
the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior or vicarious
liability. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676; Monell v. New York City Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658,
691(1978); Everson v. Leis, 556 F.3d 484, 495 (6th Cir. 2009). A claimed constitutional violation
must be based upon active unconstitutional behavior. Grinter v. Knight, 532 F.3d 567, 575-76 (6th
Cir. 2008); Greene v. Barber, 310 F.3d 889, 899 (6th Cir. 2002). The acts of one’s subordinates are
not enough, nor can supervisory liability be based upon the mere failure to act. Grinter, 532 F.3d
at 576; Greene, 310 F.3d at 899; Summers v. Leis, 368 F.3d 881, 888 (6th Cir. 2004). Moreover,
§ 1983 liability may not be imposed simply because a supervisor denied an administrative grievance
or failed to act based upon information contained in a grievance. See Shehee v. Luttrell, 199 F.3d
295, 300 (6th Cir. 1999). “[A] plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through
the official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.
Plaintiffs have failed to allege that Defendant Wrigglesworth engaged in any active unconstitutional
behavior. Accordingly, they fail to state a claim against him.
Conditions of Confinement
The Eighth Amendment imposes a constitutional limitation on the power of the states
to punish those convicted of crimes. Punishment may not be “barbarous” nor may it contravene
society’s “evolving standards of decency.” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 345-46 (1981). The
Amendment, therefore, prohibits conduct by prison officials that involves the “‘unnecessary and
wanton infliction of pain.’” Ivey v. Wilson, 832 F.2d 950, 954 (6th Cir. 1987) (per curiam) (quoting
Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 346). The deprivation alleged must result in the denial of the “minimal civilized
measure of life’s necessities.” Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347; see also Wilson v. Yaklich, 148 F.3d 596,
600-01 (6th Cir. 1998). The Eighth Amendment is only concerned with “deprivations of essential
food, medical care, or sanitation” or “other conditions intolerable for prison confinement.” Rhodes,
452 U.S. at 348 (citation omitted). Moreover, “[n]ot every unpleasant experience a prisoner might
endure while incarcerated constitutes cruel and unusual punishment within the meaning of the
Eighth Amendment.” Ivey, 832 F.2d at 954. “Routine discomfort is ‘part of the penalty that
criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.’” Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9
(1992) (quoting Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347). As a consequence, “extreme deprivations are required
to make out a conditions-of-confinement claim.” Id.
Although the Eighth Amendment’s protections apply specifically to post-conviction
inmates, see Barber v. City of Salem, Ohio, 953 F.2d 232, 235 (6th Cir. 1992), the Due Process
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment operates to guarantee those same protections to pretrial
detainees as well. Thompson v. Cty. of Medina, Ohio, 29 F.3d 238, 242 (6th Cir. 1994); see also
Richko v. Wayne Cty., 819 F.3d 907 (6th Cir. 2016); Molton v. City of Cleveland, 839 F.2d 240, 243
(6th Cir. 1988) (stating that alleged violation of pretrial detainee’s Eighth and Fourteenth
Amendment rights is governed by the “deliberate indifference” standard). Where any person acting
under color of state law abridges rights secured by the Constitution or United States laws, including
a detainee’s Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, § 1983 provides civil redress. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983; see, e.g., City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388-89 (1989).
Plaintiffs’ allegations about being double-bunked fail to state a claim. In Rhodes v.
Chapman, 452 U.S. 337 (1981), the Supreme Court held that prison overcrowding, standing alone,
does not violate the Eighth Amendment. Rather, Plaintiffs bear the burden of showing that crowded
conditions led to independent deprivations of essential food, medical care, sanitation, or other
necessities. 452 U.S. at 348. Plaintiffs’ bare claims that they are double-bunked in cells that were
originally designed for one person fail to demonstrate that their confinement violates either the
Eighth or the Fourteenth Amendment. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 541-43 (1979) (upholding
double bunking of pretrial detainees in cells originally designed for one person).
The Eighth Amendment entitles prisoners to exercise sufficient to maintain
reasonably good physical and mental health. See Walker v. Mintzes, 771 F.2d 920-927 (6th Cir.
1985). Plaintiffs, however, fail to allege facts suggesting that they are not provided an opportunity
sufficient to exercise and maintain fitness. They allege only that the day room does not permit them
to engage in cardiovascular exercise, not that they were deprived of all ability to exercise in their
cells by, for example, running in place and doing jumping jacks. Nor do Plaintiffs allege that they
are never permitted out-of-cell exercise. Such allegations fall short of demonstrating an Eighth
Plaintiffs next claim that their cell toilets will only flush twice in one hour. They
contend that, if one of the two cell occupants has to use the toilet another time within the hour, both
inmates are forced to smell the odors. They also suggest that if the occupant must use the toilet for
a fourth time during the hour, the fourth user may be exposed to unsanitary toilet-bowl splash.
Plaintiffs’ allegations suggest minor and temporary unpleasantness. Allegations
about temporary inconveniences, e.g., being deprived of a lower bunk, subjected to a flooded cell,
or deprived of a working toilet, do not demonstrate that the conditions fell beneath the minimal
civilized measure of life’s necessities as measured by a contemporary standard of decency. Dellis
v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 257 F.3d 508, 511 (6th Cir. 2001); see also J.P. v. Taft, 439 F. Supp. 2d 793,
811 (S.D. Ohio 2006) (“[M]inor inconveniences resulting from the difficulties in administering a
large detention facility do not give rise to a constitutional claim.” (internal citation omitted)).
“Routine discomfort is ‘part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against
society.’” Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992) (quoting Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347). As a
consequence, “extreme deprivations are required to make out a conditions-of-confinement claim.”
With respect to Plaintiffs’ claims that their cell toilet will not flush more than twice
per hour, Plaintiffs fail to state a claim of constitutional magnitude. Plaintiffs do not allege that they
(or their cellmates) suffer from a chronic need to use the restroom more than once per hour. As a
result, the likelihood is small that the inmates would have to use the toilet a third time within the
hour, and if they did, the only hardship they would suffer is an objectionable odor for a few minutes.
It is even less likely that one of the two inmates would use the restroom a fourth time and
experience toilet-bowl splash.
A prisoner’s exposure to the smell of feces is not sufficient to state an Eighth
Amendment claim. See Abdur-Reheem-X v. McGinnis, No. 99-1075, 1999 WL 1045069, at *3 (6th
Cir. Nov. 12, 1999) (sickening smell of feces does not constitute a sufficiently serious health threat
under the Eighth Amendment); Bey v. Luoma, No. 2:06-cv-243, 2009 WL 884630, at *2 (W.D.
Mich. Mar. 30, 2009) (exposure to smell of feces does not violate the Eighth Amendment, despite
claims of resulting nausea, lack of appetite, and headaches); Dickinson v. Taylor, No. Civ.A. 98-695GMS, 2000 WL 1728363, at *3 (D. Del. May 19, 2000) (holding that a prisoner’s “claim that he was
forced to endure the smell of his neighbor’s feces was properly dismissed because other than nausea,
the plaintiff had asserted no serious health threat arising from the unpleasant odors.”) (internal
Moreover, the Sixth Circuit has recognized on more than one occasion that the Eighth
Amendment does not require prisoners to have immediate access to a flushable toilet. See AbdurReheem-X, 1999 WL 1045069, at *2 (holding that the “Eighth Amendment does not require that
prisoners enjoy immediately available and flushable toilets”) (citing Knop v. Johnson, 977 F.2d 996,
1013 (6th Cir. 1992) (“We do not agree that it violates the Eighth Amendment to require prisoners
to use nonflushable toilets on occasion.”)). Other courts have agreed. In Grimes v. Thomas, No.
2:12-cv-01909-LSC, 2014 WL 554700, at *7 (N.D. Ala. Feb. 12, 2014), the plaintiff complained
about a toilet system similar to that in issue in the instant case. In Grimes, the toilet system locked
out for a one-hour period, after it had been flushed twice within five minutes. The Grimes court,
relying on Abdur-Reheem-X, 1999 WL 1045069, at *2, held that the Eighth Amendment was not
violated when a prisoner had to wait an hour to flush his toilet. Grimes, 2014 WL 554700, at *7.
See also Wiley v. Ky. Dep’t of Corr., No. 11-97-HRW, 2012 WL 5878678, at *4 (E.D. Ky. Nov. 21,
2012) (“Temporary placement in a cell with no flushable toilet is not an extreme deprivation of a
- 10 -
In sum, Plaintiffs’ allegations concerning the toilet system at ICJ concern only
minimal and incidental harms that do not offend the Eighth Amendment. Dellis, 257 F.3d at 511.
They do not constitute the sort of “extreme deprivations” that make out a conditions-of confinement
claim. See Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9.
Plaintiffs also allege that parts of the jail have been closed because of the presence
of black mold. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.8.) Plaintiffs, however, are apparently lodged in
different parts of the jail. They do not allege that they have suffered exposure to black mold or any
ill effects from such exposure.
Exposure to black mold may, in an appropriate case, be sufficiently serious as to
satisfy the objective component of the Eighth Amendment. Compare Board v. Farnham, 394 F.3d
469, 486-87 (7th Cir. 2005) (mold in the ventilation system violates Eighth Amendment), with
Causey v. Allison, No. 1:08CV155-RHW, 2008 WL 4191746, at *1 (S. D. Miss. Sept. 9, 2008) (no
Eighth Amendment violation where prisoner claimed black mold was growing in the shower but
“admits that he has had no medical problems resulting from the black mold”); see also McIntyre v.
Phillips, No. 1:07-cv-527, 2007 WL 2986470, at *2-*4 (W.D. Mich. Sept. 10, 2007) (dismissing
prisoner action and holding that some exposure to black mold is a risk society has chosen to tolerate)
(citing Brady v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., No. 05-30716, 2006 WL 551388, at *3 (5th Cir. Mar.
8, 2006) (dismissing action because Plaintiff did not use due diligence in determining whether mold
was airborne or simply present in her house)).
Plaintiffs do not allege that mold from another part of the jail has become airborne,
and they do not allege that the presence of mold has caused them health problems. See Morales v.
- 11 -
White, No. 07-2018, 2008 WL 4584340, at *14 (W.D. Tenn. 2008) (holding that allegation that
black mold is located at some place within a housing unit is not sufficient to support an Eighth
Amendment claim). As a consequence, Plaintiffs’ allegations about the presence of mold do not
demonstrate the existence of a sufficiently serious risk to prisoner health to implicate the Eighth
Amendment. Ivey, 832 F.2d at 954.
Plaintiffs complain that the shower is set to automatically turn on for only three
minutes. They contend that three minutes is insufficient time to clean themselves after exposure to
someone else’s urine or fecal matter by toilet bowl splash.
A three-minute shower, while brief, does not amount to a deprivation of basic
sanitation within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment. Although Plaintiffs may wish for more
time in the shower, knowing the limitations on their shower time, they should be able to rinse, lather,
and rinse again their entire bodies within three minutes. No reasonable factfinder could conclude
that a short shower results in the denial of the “minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.”
Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347.
Depriving inmates of safe drinking water may give rise to a claim under the Eighth
Amendment. Plaintiffs, however, have not alleged such a deprivation. Plaintiffs do not claim that
they have been denied water nor do they claim that the water they have been provided is unsafe.
Moreover, Plaintiffs have not alleged that they have suffered any harm as a result of drinking the
water provided at the ICJ. Plaintiffs have failed to state an Eighth Amendment claim regarding the
ICJ drinking water.
- 12 -
food on the floor
Plaintiffs allege that on one occasion, a deputy threw Plaintiff Jackson’s food tray
on the cell floor. “[T]he Eighth Amendment imposes a duty on officials to provide ‘humane
conditions of confinement,’ including insuring, among other things, that prisoners receive adequate
... food.” Young ex rel. Estate of Young v. Martin, 51 F. App’x 509, 513 (6th Cir. 2002) (quoting
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 832). Nonetheless, the deprivation of a few meals for a limited time generally
does not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation. See Cunningham v. Jones, 667 F.2d
565, 566 (6th Cir. 1982) (per curiam) (providing a prisoner only one meal per day for fifteen days
did not violate the Eighth Amendment, because the meals provided contained sufficient nutrition
to sustain normal health); Davis v. Miron, 502 F. App’x 569, 570 (6th Cir. 2012) (denial of seven
meals over six days is not an Eighth Amendment violation); Richmond v. Settles, 450 F. App’x 448,
456 (6th Cir. 2011) (same); see also Berry v. Brady, 192 F.3d 504, 507–08 (5th Cir. 1999) (denial
of a few meals over several months does not state a claim); Staten v. Terhune, No. 01–17355, 2003
WL 21436162, at *1 (9th Cir. June 16, 2003) (deprivation of two meals is not sufficiently serious
to form the basis of an Eighth Amendment claim); Cagle v. Perry, No. 9:04–CV–1151, 2007 WL
3124806, at *14 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 24, 2007) (deprivation of two meals is “not sufficiently numerous,
prolonged or severe” to give rise to an Eighth Amendment claim).
In Richmond, the Sixth Circuit determined that a prisoner who was deprived of five
meals over three consecutive days, and a total of seven meals over six consecutive days, did not state
a viable Eighth Amendment claim, because he “does not allege that his health suffered as a result
of not receiving the meals.” Richmond, 450 F. App’x at 456. In Cunningham, the Sixth Circuit
determined that providing a prisoner only one meal a day for over two weeks was not an Eighth
- 13 -
Amendment violation, because the meals provided were adequate to sustain normal health.
Cunningham, 667 F.2d at 566. Plaintiffs do not allege that the prisoner’s health suffered as a result
of the deprivation, or that the meals he did receive were inadequate to sustain his health.
Consequently, Plaintiffs do not state a plausible claim. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (noting that the
allegations must permit an inference of more than a “mere possibility” of misconduct).
Access to the courts
It is well established that prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts.
Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977). The principal issue in Bounds was whether the states
must protect the right of access to the courts by providing law libraries or alternative sources of legal
information for prisoners. Id. at 817. The Court further noted that in addition to law libraries or
alternative sources of legal knowledge, the states must provide indigent inmates with “paper and pen
to draft legal documents, notarial services to authenticate them, and with stamps to mail them.” Id.
at 824-25. The right of access to the courts also prohibits prison officials from erecting barriers that
may impede the inmate’s access to the courts. See Knop v. Johnson, 977 F.2d 996, 1009 (6th Cir.
An indigent prisoner’s constitutional right to legal resources and materials is not,
however, without limit. In order to state a viable claim for interference with his access to the courts,
a plaintiff must show “actual injury.” Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 349 (1996); see also Talley-Bey
v. Knebl, 168 F.3d 884, 886 (6th Cir. 1999); Knop, 977 F.2d at 1000. In other words, a plaintiff
must plead and demonstrate that the shortcomings in the prison legal assistance program or lack of
legal materials have hindered, or are presently hindering, his efforts to pursue a nonfrivolous legal
- 14 -
claim. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351-53; see also Pilgrim v. Littlefield, 92 F.3d 413, 416 (6th Cir. 1996).
The Supreme Court has strictly limited the types of cases for which there may be an actual injury:
Bounds does not guarantee inmates the wherewithal to transform themselves into
litigating engines capable of filing everything from shareholder derivative actions to
slip-and-fall claims. The tools it requires to be provided are those that the inmates
need in order to attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and in order to
challenge the conditions of their confinement. Impairment of any other litigating
capacity is simply one of the incidental (and perfectly constitutional) consequences
of conviction and incarceration.
Lewis, 518 U.S. at 355. “Thus, a prisoner’s right to access the courts extends to direct appeals,
habeas corpus applications, and civil rights claims only.” Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 391
(6th Cir. 1999) (en banc). Moreover, the underlying action must have asserted a non-frivolous
claim. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 353; accord Hadix v. Johnson, 182 F.3d 400, 405 (6th Cir. 1999) (Lewis
changed actual injury to include requirement that action be non-frivolous).
In addition, the Supreme Court squarely has held that “the underlying cause of
action . . . is an element that must be described in the complaint, just as much as allegations must
describe the official acts frustrating the litigation.” Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 415
(2002) (citing Lewis, 518 U.S. at 353 & n.3). “Like any other element of an access claim, the
underlying cause of action and its lost remedy must be addressed by allegations in the complaint
sufficient to give fair notice to a defendant.” Id. at 416.
Plaintiffs have failed to identify the requisite “actual injury.” They have not
identified any underlying cause of action that has been lost because they were denied law library
privileges. Accordingly, they have failed to state a claim for violation of their First Amendment
- 15 -
Having conducted the review required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Court
determines that Plaintiffs’ action will be dismissed for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b), and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(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 Plaintiffs 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
Plaintiffs are barred from proceeding in forma pauperis, e.g., by the “three-strikes” rule of
§ 1915(g).3 If one or more Plaintiffs are barred, the barred Plaintiffs will be required to pay their
proportionate share of 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: August 28, 2017
/s/ Janet T. Neff
Janet T. Neff
United States District Judge
Plaintiff Jackson is so barred.
- 16 -
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?