Weatherspoon #471817 v. Williams et al
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW; signed by Judge Gordon J. Quist (Judge Gordon J. Quist, jmt)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
MORRIS WEATHERSPOON #471817,
Case No. 2:14-CV-108
JOHN THIBAULT, MICHAEL McDOWELL,
and KIM ESSLIN,
HON. GORDON J. QUIST
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Plaintiff, Morris Weatherspoon, a prisoner currently incarcerated with the Michigan
Department of Corrections, has sued Defendants, John Thibault, Michael McDowell, and Kim
Esslin, alleging a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that Defendants violated Weatherspoon’s First
Amendment rights by retaliating against him for filing grievances against Defendants’ co-workers.
Weatherspoon alleges that Defendants retaliated against him by issuing a false misconduct ticket
for possession of a weapon plus some related acts—e.g. being in a six man cell for 30 minutes.
Weatherspoon’s claim was tried to the Court on June 14, 2017. The Court heard testimony from
Weatherspoon and Defendants and received exhibits from both parties.
The Court now issues its findings of fact and conclusions of law.
FINDINGS OF FACT
The alleged retaliation occurred at Kinross Correctional Facility. Weatherspoon arrived at
Kinross on September 11, 2012. Weatherspoon had previously been incarcerated at Chippewa
Correctional Facility. On September 16, 2012, Defendant Thibault conducted a random search of
Weatherspoon’s cell at Kinross and found an eight-inch homemade knife or “shank” in
Weatherspoon’s defined area of control. Defendant Thibault confiscated the shank, secured
Weatherspoon’s property, and notified Defendant Esslin. At 1815, or 6:15 p.m., Defendant Thibault
wrote a misconduct report, stating that he found the shank at 1715, or 5:15 p.m. Soon thereafter,
Defendant Esslin reviewed the misconduct ticket, but made a clerical error in writing the time of the
review as 1709, or 5:09 p.m.
Following the incident, Defendant Esslin made arrangements for Weatherspoon to be taken
to administrative segregation. Defendant McDowell, who was working in segregation that day, was
identified on the misconduct ticket as the officer who was notified of Weatherspoon’s transfer to
segregation. At the time Weatherspoon was taken to segregation, he reported thoughts of self-harm
to Defendant Esslin. Defendant Esslin notified healthcare about Weatherspoon’s statements of selfharm.
Weatherspoon was placed in a six-man cell in segregation. Weatherspoon was not housed
with any prisoner with a predator/sexual risk behavior prisoner or, if he was housed with such an
inmate, no Defendant was aware of that fact. Weatherspoon remained in the six-man cell for about
30 minutes, after which time he was taken to healthcare and placed in an observation unit.
Weatherspoon remained in the observation unit for about nine days.
subsequently returned to segregation and, eventually, to the general population.
On September 25, 2012, a hearing was held on the misconduct ticket. Weatherspoon
attended and pled not guilty. The hearing officer dismissed the misconduct for the following reason:
There is no showing that the misconduct was reviewed within 24 hour [sic] pursuant
to PD 03.03.105 which is required and the date and time the misconduct was written
was 9-16-12 at 1815 hrs and the review time indicates it was done at 9-16-12 at 1720
hrs before the miscondut [sic] was written and there is no statement as to the correct
review time and as a result the misconduct is dismissed.
(Defs.’ Ex. B at 190.)1 Defendant Esslin was not contacted by the hearings officer or the hearings
investigator about the time discrepancy on the misconduct report. Had either individual contacted
Esslin for an explanation, Esslin would have explained the error and the misconduct ticket likely
would not have been dismissed.
Weatherspoon did not file any grievance between the date he arrived at Kinross and
September 16, 2012, when Defendant Thibault found the shank. While at Chippewa, however,
Weatherspoon had filed a substantial number of grievances and, for that reason, was placed on
modified access for grievances. Defendants Thibault, Esslin, and McDowell were unaware of
Weatherspoon’s grievance history at Chippewa or any other facility when the events of September
16, 2012, occurred. There is no motive for any Defendant to have retaliated against Weatherspoon.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Retaliation based upon a prisoner’s exercise of his constitutional rights violates the
Constitution. See Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 394 (6th Cir. 1999) (en banc). In order to
establish a First Amendment retaliation claim, a plaintiff must prove that: (1) he engaged in
protected conduct; (2) an adverse action was taken against him that would deter a person of ordinary
firmness from engaging in that conduct; and (3) the adverse action was motivated, at least in part,
by the protected conduct. Id. Moreover, a plaintiff must be able to prove that the exercise of the
protected right was a substantial or motivating factor in the defendant’s alleged retaliatory conduct.
See Smith v. Campbell, 250 F.3d 1032, 1037 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Mount Healty City Sch. Dist. Bd.
of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 287, 97 S. Ct. 568, 576 (1977)).
Despite the clear language of the hearing officer, Weatherspoon continues to insist that he was found “not
guilty” of having had a shank in the property under his control.
Weatherspoon’s retaliation claim fails on the second and third elements.
Weatherspoon engaged in protected conduct while at Chippewa, he has failed to prove that any
Defendant took an adverse action against him. Defendant Thibault did not “plant” the shank in
Weatherspoon’s belongings, but instead found it during a random search. Defendant Esslin properly
reviewed the ticket that Defendant Thibault wrote and mistakenly wrote the wrong time of the
review on the misconduct ticket. Defendants Thibault and Esslin did not fabricate the misconduct
ticket, and Weatherspoon may well have been convicted of the misconduct had Defendant Esslin
been asked to explain the discrepancy in times. Defendant McDowell’s only involvement was being
the corrections officer who was notified of and handled Weatherspoon’s placement in administrative
Weatherspoon also failed to show a causal connection to his prior grievance activity.
Because Defendants did not know that Weatherspoon had previously filed grievances, their actions
against Weatherspoon could not have been motived by Weatherspoon’s protected activity.
In sum, Weatherspoon has failed to prove that Defendants retaliated against him in violation
of the First Amendment.
An appropriate judgment will enter.
Dated: June 20, 2017
/s/ Gordon J. Quist
GORDON J. QUIST
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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