Dean #578910 v. Coons
OPINION; signed by Chief Judge Robert J. Jonker (Chief Judge Robert J. Jonker, sdb)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 1:17-cv-669
Honorable Robert J. Jonker
This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 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), 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). 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 federal claims will be dismissed for failure
to state a claim. Plaintiff’s state-law claim will be dismissed without prejudice.
Plaintiff Michael Dean presently is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of
Corrections (MDOC) at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility, though the actions about which he
complains occurred while he was housed at the Muskegon Correctional Facility (MCF). He sues
Trinity Food Service Supervisor William Coons, who was working at MCF.
Plaintiff complains that, on April 18, 2016, while he was performing his food-service
job, Defendant Coons “assaulted and battered” him. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.2.) In response
to Defendant Coons’ “intentional, unconsented and offensive assault upon his person,” Plaintiff
warned Coons that “if he were to ‘[t]ouch [him] again’ he would be forced to ‘lay him out.’” (Id.,
PageID.2-3 (verbatim).) Dean issued a Class I misconduct ticket to Plaintiff for threatening
behavior, alleging that he “was told by Inmate Dean (578910) ‘touch me again and I’ll lay you out.’”
As a result, Plaintiff was taken to the control center. He told Sergeant Matthews and Inspector Kludy
that Defendant Coons had assaulted him, and he asked them to review the video footage. Both
officials told Plaintiff that the video did not support his claim. Plaintiff therefore was placed in
On April 27, 2016, Plaintiff received a formal misconduct hearing. The hearing
officer found that “the video footage reflected that Defendant Coons ‘reached out and placed his
open hand on . . . [Plaintiff’s] shoulder’ and that ‘[other] staff indicate[d] that [Defendant] Coons
said [that] he hit the prisoner.’” (Id., PageID.3 (verbatim).) The hearing officer noted that Defendant
Coons had failed to report the pertinent facts in his misconduct report. The hearing officer also
noted that “Defendant Coons’ ‘physical contact with [Plaintiff] could be considered to be
intentional[,] nonconsensual[,] and intended to physically abuse’ Plaintiff.’” (Id., PageID.3-4
(verbatim.)) Nevertheless, the hearing officer found Plaintiff guilty of threatening conduct and
imposed a sanction of 20 days’ loss of privileges.
Plaintiff filed several grievances against Defendant Coons and other staff members
for assault, falsifying a misconduct report, and violations of MDOC policy. On June 20, 2016,
Plaintiff was transferred to the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility.
Plaintiff alleges in Count I that Defendant Coons violated his Eighth Amendment
rights by assaulting him. He alleges in Count II that he was deprived of due process under the
Fourteenth Amendment by Defendant Coons’ failure to include all pertinent facts in the misconduct
charge, as required by MDOC policy. In Count III, Plaintiff raises a state-law claim of assault and
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 (1994).
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.
There exist both an objective component and a subjective component to an Eighth
Amendment claim. Santiago v. Ringle, 734 F.3d 585, 590 (6th Cir. 2013) (citing Comstock v.
McCrary, 273 F.3d 693, 702 (6th Cir. 2001)). First, “[t]he subjective component focuses on the
state of mind of the prison officials.” Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011). We ask
“whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and
sadistically to cause harm.” Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992). Second, “[t]he objective
component requires the pain inflicted to be ‘sufficiently serious.’” Williams, 631 F.3d at 383
(quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)). This component requires a “contextual”
investigation, one that is “responsive to ‘contemporary standards of decency.’ ” Hudson, 503 U.S.
at 8, (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976)).
Not “every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a[n Eighth Amendment]
cause of action.” Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992). “The Eighth Amendment’s
prohibition of ‘cruel and unusual’ punishments necessarily excludes from constitutional recognition
de minimis uses of physical force, provided that the use of force is not of a sort repugnant to the
conscience of mankind.” Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9. Significant injury, however, is not a threshold
requirement for an excessive force claim. Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 38 (2010). Instead, the
“‘core judicial inquiry’ [is not] the extent of the injury,” but “whether [the force used] was nontrivial
and “was applied . . . maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.’” Id. at 39 (quoting Hudson, 503
U.S. at 7).
In the instant case, Plaintiff alleges nothing more than a trivial use of force. Indeed,
despite his characterization of the incident as an “unprovoked, intentional, unconsented and
offensive assault upon his person” (Compl. ECF No. 1, PageID.2), Plaintiff recites no description
of the assault. Instead, he incorporates the hearing officer’s description of the incident, which found
that Defendant Coons “reached out and placed his open hand on . . . [Plaintiff’s] shoulder . . . .” As
described, the use of force was trivial, falling well short the cruel and unusual punishment required
by the Eighth Amendment. Wilkins, 559 U.S. at 39; Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7.
Petitioner next argues that he was denied his right to due process when Defendant
Coons failed to include in his statement of the misconduct charge the pertinent facts leading up to
the incident, as required by MDOC policy
Claims under§ 1983 can only be brought for “deprivation of rights secured by the
constitution and laws of the United States.” Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 924 (1982).
Section 1983 does not provide redress for a violation of a state law. Pyles v. Raisor, 60 F.3d 1211,
1215 (6th Cir. 1995); Sweeton v. Brown, 27 F.3d 1162, 1166 (6th Cir. 1994). Defendant’s alleged
failure to comply with an administrative rule or policy does not itself rise to the level of a
constitutional violation. Laney v. Farley, 501 F.3d 577, 581 n.2 (6th Cir. 2007); Brody v. City of
Mason, 250 F.3d 432, 437 (6th Cir. 2001); Smith v. Freland, 954 F.2d 343, 347-48 (6th Cir. 1992);
Barber v. City of Salem, 953 F.2d 232, 240 (6th Cir. 1992); McVeigh v. Bartlett, No. 94-23347, 1995
WL 236687, at *1 (6th Cir. Apr. 21, 1995) (failure to follow policy directive does not rise to the
level of a constitutional violation because policy directive does not create a protectible liberty
interest). Section 1983 is addressed to remedying violations of federal law, not state law. Lugar v.
Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 924 (1982); Laney, 501 F.3d at 580-81.
Moreover, because Plaintiff has no due process interest in being falsely convicted of
a misconduct charge, he necessarily has no due process interest in the accuracy of the misconduct
charge. A prisoner’s ability to challenge a prison misconduct conviction depends on whether the
conviction implicated any liberty interest. In the seminal case in this area, Wolff v. McDonnell, 418
U.S. 539 (1974), the Court prescribed certain minimal procedural safeguards that prison officials
must follow before depriving a prisoner of good-time credits on account of alleged misbehavior. The
Wolff Court did not create a free-floating right to process that attaches to all prison disciplinary
proceedings; rather the right to process arises only when the prisoner faces a loss of liberty, in the
form of a longer prison sentence caused by forfeiture of good-time credits:
It is true that the Constitution itself does not guarantee good-time credit for
satisfactory behavior while in prison. But here the State itself has not only provided
a statutory right to good time but also specifies that it is to be forfeited only for
serious misbehavior. Nebraska may have the authority to create, or not, a right to a
shortened prison sentence through the accumulation of credits for good behavior, and
it is true that the Due Process Clause does not require a hearing “in every conceivable
case of government impairment of private interest.” But the State having created the
right to good time and itself recognizing that its deprivation is a sanction authorized
for major misconduct, the prisoner’s interest has real substance and is sufficiently
embraced within Fourteenth Amendment “liberty” to entitle him to those minimum
procedures appropriate under the circumstances and required by the Due Process
Clause to insure that the state-created right is not arbitrarily abrogated.
Wolff, 418 U.S. at 557 (citations omitted).
Plaintiff does not allege that his major misconduct conviction resulted in any loss of
good-time credits, nor could he. The Sixth Circuit has examined Michigan statutory law, as it relates
to the creation and forfeiture of disciplinary credits1 for prisoners convicted of crimes occurring after
April 1, 1987. In Thomas v. Eby, 481 F.3d 434 (6th Cir. 2007), the court determined that loss of
disciplinary credits does not necessarily affect the duration of a prisoner’s sentence. Rather, it
merely affects parole eligibility, which remains discretionary with the parole board. Id. at 440.
Building on this ruling, in Nali v. Ekman, 355 F. App’x 909 (6th Cir. 2009), the court held that a
misconduct citation in the Michigan prison system does not affect a prisoner’s constitutionally
protected liberty interests, because it does not necessarily affect the length of confinement. 355 F.
App’x at 912; accord, Taylor v. Lantagne, 418 F. App’x 408, 412 (6th Cir. 2011). In the absence
of a demonstrated liberty interest, Plaintiff has no due-process claim based on the loss of disciplinary
credits. See Bell v. Anderson, 301 F. App’x 459, 461-62 (6th Cir. 2008).
Even in the absence of a protectible liberty interest in disciplinary credits, a prisoner
may be able to raise a due-process challenge to prison misconduct convictions that result in a
significant, atypical deprivation. See Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S. 472 (1995). Plaintiff has not
identified any significant deprivation arising from his convictions. Here, Plaintiff only lost his
privileges for 20 days. A loss of privileges does not rise to the level of an atypical or significant
deprivation. Ingram v. Jewell, 94 F. App’x 271, 273 (6th Cir. 2004). Plaintiff therefore fails to state
a due-process claim.
Count III of Plaintiff’s claim alleges that Defendant Coons committed assault and
battery under state law. The Court declines to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s
For crimes committed after April 1, 1987, Michigan prisoners earn “disciplinary credits” under a statute that abolished
the former good-time system. MICH. COMP. LAWS § 800.33(5).
state-law claim. “Generally, once a federal court has dismissed a plaintiff’s federal law claim, it
should not reach state law claims.” Experimental Holdings, Inc. v. Farris 503 F.3d 514, 521 (6th
Cir. 2007) (citing United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966)); see also
Landefeld v. Marion Gen. Hosp., 994 F.2d 1178, 1182 (6th Cir. 1993). “Residual jurisdiction should
be exercised only in cases where the interests of judicial economy and the avoidance of multiplicity
of litigation outweigh our concern over needlessly deciding state law issues.” Moon v. Harrison
Piping Supply, 465 F.3d 719, 728 (6th Cir. 2006). The Court concludes that the Court’s exercise of
its supplement jurisdiction serves no such purpose in the instant case. The Court therefore will
dismiss the assault-and-battery claim without prejudice.
Having conducted the review required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Court
will dismiss Plaintiff’s federal claims with prejudice 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 will dismiss Plaintiff’s state-law
claim without prejudice.
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.
August 11, 2017
/s/ Robert J. Jonker
ROBERT J. JONKER
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
- 10 -
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?