Johnson #236419 v. Besteman et al
OPINION; signed by Judge Gordon J. Quist (Judge Gordon J. Quist, jmt)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
DWAYNE ANTHONY JOHNSON,
Case No. 2:13-cv-339
Honorable Gordon J. Quist
This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner 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), 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 action will be dismissed for failure to state
Plaintiff Dwayne Anthony Johnson, a state prisoner currently confined at the Kinross
Correctional Facility, filed this civil rights action against Defendants Classification Director Doug
Besteman, Administrative Assistant David Mastaw, Deputy of Housing and Programs Kathy Olsen,
and MDOC Director Daniel Heyns pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants discriminated against him on the
basis of his race. Plaintiff, who is Black, has a paralegal / legal assistant diploma from Blackstone
Career Institute. Pursuant to MDOC Policy Directive 05.02.110 ¶ T, a prisoner assigned as a law
library aide shall be paid at the first level if he has completed 31 verified college credit hours in a
paralegal, legal assistant, or legal aide certification program, and may be paid at the second level
only if he has completed at least 62 verified college credit hours in a paralegal, legal assistant, or
legal aide certification program or 31 verified college credit hours in the program and a two-year
associate degree in a related field of study. Plaintiff asserts that he has 31 verified college credits
and is being paid at the first level. In November of 2012, Plaintiff learned that two of his Caucasion
co-workers, who do not have the requisite credit hours in a paralegal, legal assistant, or legal aid
certification program, were being paid at the second-level pay scale. Plaintiff believes that he is
being paid less because of his race. Plaintiff’s grievances and complaints were denied by
Defendants Besteman, Mastaw, Olsen and Heyns. Plaintiff seeks compensatory, punitive 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); Street v. Corr.
Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996). 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 Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that a state may
not “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” which is essentially
a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike. U.S. CONST ., amend. XIV; City
of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). A state practice generally
will not require strict scrutiny unless it interferes with a fundamental right or discriminates against
a suspect class of individuals. Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia, 427 U.S. 307, 312
In this case, Plaintiff claims that he is being paid less than two other prisoners
because of his race. In response to Plaintiff’s written complaint, Defendant Besteman responded
that Plaintiff’s diploma was equal to 31 credit hours and that Plaintiff was receiving the correct
amount of pay pursuant to Policy Directive 05.02.110 ¶ T. Defendant Besteman also stated:
You address others that are getting paid more, both have over 62
credits with bachelors degrees. I currently have another NW working
in the law library getting paid more than the entry level because he
See docket #1-1, p. 5 of 26.
In addition, on May 7, 2013, Defendant Mastaw responded to Plaintiff’s complaint
The issue you describe doesn’t necessarily affect your pay status; it
has already been established your pay has [sic] found to be in
compliance with Policy. Your concern deals with the pay of the
other Library Aides. You insinuate Classification Director Besteman
has discriminated against you because you feel their pay rate is
inappropriate while presenting no supporting or substantiating
You contend they do not have the credentials to be making the
second level pay rate for a Library Aide. These individuals were
evaluated and hired in 2007 by then Librarian Deb Herbig. I have
reviewed PD 05.02.110 Paragraph T, the Classification Job Manual
and supporting documentation of the other three Library Aides.
Based on the information I have been provided; I found all three
Library Aides you mention in your letter have the proper credentials
and meet the prerequisites for the second level pay rate.
The individual issue you present has already been addressed and
responded to on many different levels and by many different staff of
the MDOC. Essentially, you do not meet the requirements to be at
the second level pay rate and the other three Library Aides do.
See docket #1-1, p. 24 of 26.
As noted above, the Equal Protection Clause provides that all persons similarly
situated should be treated alike. It is clear from Plaintiff’s Exhibits that he was not similarly situated
to his co-workers, as they had approximately twice as many college credits as Plaintiff, and that this
was the basis for the difference in pay. Therefore, Plaintiff’s equal protection claims are properly
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.
§§ 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 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: March 5, 2014
/s/ Gordon J. Quist
GORDON J. QUIST
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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