Rickman #252749 v. Martin et al
OPINION ; signed by Judge Robert Holmes Bell (Judge Robert Holmes Bell, kcb)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
MILTON D. RICKMAN,
Case No. 2:16-cv-101
Honorable Robert Holmes Bell
MICHAEL MARTIN, et al.,
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, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint for failure
to state a claim against Defendants Daniel H. Heyns, Richard Russell, and James Bolton. The Court
will serve the complaint against Defendants Michael Martin, Unknown Rink, and David Leach.
Plaintiff Milton D. Rickman, a state prisoner currently confined at the Chippewa
Correctional Facility (URF), filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against
Defendants Special Activities Coordinator Michael Martin, Chaplain Unknown Rink, MDOC
Director Daniel H. Heyns, Hearing Administrator Richard Russell, Special Activities Coordinator
David Leach, and Chaplain James Bolton.
Plaintiff states that his religious affiliation is Hebrew Israelite. In his complaint,
Plaintiff alleges that on May 1, 2013, Plaintiff’s request for a religious diet was denied by Defendant
Martin. Plaintiff wrote to Defendant Bolton, asking why his request had been denied. Defendant
Bolton indicated that he had recommended granting Plaintiff’s request and did not know why the
request had been denied in Lansing. Plaintiff wrote a letter to Defendant Martin asking why he had
denied Plaintiff’s request for a religious diet. On November, 3, 2013, Plaintiff filed a grievance on
Defendant Bolton for not approving his request to change his religious preference to Hebrew
Israelite because the MDOC did not recognize that religion. On March 21, 2014, Plaintiff sent a
request for a declaratory judgment to Defendant Heyns requesting that the MDOC recognize the
Hebrew Israelite religion. On April 25, 2014, Plaintiff received a letter from Daphne M. Johnson,
Administrator of the Office of Legal Affairs, stating that if a non-recognized religion would like to
be recognized, members needed to submit supporting documents and materials to the Warden or
Designee for approval. Ms. Johnson also stated that the vegan menu served at URF was Kosher and
that Plaintiff could request the vegan menu pursuant to Policy Directives 04.07.100 and 05.03.150.
On June 3, 2014, Plaintiff sent a letter to Defendant Bolton, requesting a copy of the religious diet
request that he had sent on Plaintiff’s behalf. On August 19, 2014, Plaintiff sent a request for
declaratory judgment to Defendant Heyns, seeking a religious diet.
On June 5, 2014, Plaintiff’s second request for a religious diet was denied by
Defendant Leach. On August 5, 2014, Plaintiff sent a letter to Defendant Heyns asking him to
investigate why he had been denied a religious diet on two occasions. On September 24, 2014,
Plaintiff received a memo from Defendant Leach stating that the denial of a religious diet was a
grievable issue. On November 3, 2014, Plaintiff filed a grievance on Defendants Martin and Leach,
seeking an explanation for the denial of his religious diet requests. On November 25, 2014, Plaintiff
received a memo from Defendant Russell stating that he must submit a legible step I grievance. On
December 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed a grievance on Defendant Leach for the denial of a religious diet,
and for the failure to give a reason for the denial. On May 21, 2015, Plaintiff wrote a letter to
Defendant Rink asking him why Plaintiff’s request for a Star of David medal and a Kufi cap was
denied, but received no response.
Plaintiff claims that Defendants’ conduct violated his right to religious freedom under
the First Amendment, as well as under RLUIPA. Plaintiff also claims that he was subjected to cruel
and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and that his Fourteenth Amendment
equal protection rights were violated. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well
as declaratory and injunctive relief.
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).
Initially, the Court notes that Plaintiff fails to make specific factual allegations
against Defendants Heyns and Russell, other than his claim that they failed to conduct an
investigation in response to his grievances. Nor does Plaintiff allege any facts showing that
Defendant Bolton violated his rights. In fact, it appears from the complaint, as well as the
attachments thereto, that Defendant Bolton actually recommended that Plaintiff receive a religious
diet. 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. Plaintiff has failed to
allege that Defendants Heyns, Russell, and Bolton engaged in any active unconstitutional behavior.
Accordingly, he fails to state a claim against them.
Plaintiff claims that Defendants’ denial of his request for a religious diet violated his
Eighth Amendment rights. 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.
In order for a prisoner to prevail on an Eighth Amendment claim, he must show that
he faced a sufficiently serious risk to his health or safety and that the defendant official acted with
“‘deliberate indifference’ to [his] health or safety.” Mingus v. Butler, 591 F.3d 474, 479-80 (6th
Cir. 2010) (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (applying deliberate indifference
standard to medical claims); see also Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 35 (1993) (applying
deliberate indifference standard to conditions of confinement claims)). Plaintiff’s claim that he was
denied a special religious diet does not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment deprivation.
Therefore, Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claims are properly dismissed.
With regard to Plaintiff’s equal protection claims against Defendants Martin and
Leach, he alleges that he was intentionally treated differently than other prisoners who were
members of the Hebrew Israelite religion and were given a religious diet following their first
request. Plaintiff’s allegations, if true, could support his claim for relief. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s
equal protection claims against Defendants Martin and Leach are sufficient to warrant service of his
Finally, with regard to Plaintiff’s First Amendment and RLUIPA claims against
Defendants Martin and Leach, for denying him a religious diet, and against Defendant Rink for
denying him a Kufi cap and Star of David, the Court concludes that these claims are nonfrivolous
and may not be dismissed on initial review.
Motion for temporary restraining order
Plaintiff has also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary
injunction (ECF No. 3), seeking immediate placement on a religious diet. The issuance of
preliminary injunctive relief is committed to the discretion of the district court. See Ne. Ohio Coal.
v. Blackwell, 467 F.3d 999, 1009 (6th Cir. 2006); Nader v. Blackwell, 230 F.3d 833, 834 (6th Cir.
2000). In exercising that discretion, a court must consider whether the plaintiff has established the
following elements: (1) a strong or substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) the likelihood
of irreparable injury if the preliminary injunction does not issue; (3) the absence of harm to other
parties; and (4) the protection of the public interest by issuance of the injunction. Id. These factors
are not prerequisites to the grant or denial of injunctive relief, but factors that must be “carefully
balanced” by the district court in exercising its equitable powers. Frisch’s Rest., Inc. v. Shoney’s,
Inc., 759 F.2d 1261, 1263 (6th Cir. 1985); see also Ne. Ohio Coal, 467 F.3d at 1009. Moreover,
where a prison inmate seeks an order enjoining state prison officials, the court is required to proceed
with the utmost care and must recognize the unique nature of the prison setting. See Glover v.
Johnson, 855 F.2d 277, 284 (6th Cir. 1988); Kendrick v. Bland, 740 F.2d 432 at 438 n.3, (6th Cir.
The party seeking injunctive relief bears a heavy burden of establishing that the
extraordinary and drastic remedy sought is appropriate under the circumstances. See Overstreet v.
Lexington-Fayette Urban Cnty. Gov’t, 305 F.3d 566, 573 (6th Cir. 2002); Stenberg v. Cheker Oil
Co., 573 F.2d 921, 925 (6th Cir. 1978); see also O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342 (1986).
Under controlling Sixth Circuit authority, Plaintiff's “initial burden” in demonstrating
entitlement to preliminary injunctive relief is a showing of a strong or substantial likelihood of
success on the merits of his section 1983 action. NAACP v. Mansfield, 866 F.2d 162, 167 (6th Cir.
1989). Plaintiff has not done so. It is not at all clear from Plaintiff’s pro se complaint or subsequent
filings that Plaintiff has a substantial likelihood of success on his constitutional claims. Although
the Court makes no final determination on this issue, it appears at this preliminary stage that Plaintiff
has not made a substantial showing of a violation of any of his constitutional rights. Therefore, the
Court will deny Plaintiff’s motion (ECF No. 3).
Having conducted the review required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Court
determines that Defendants Heyns, Russell, and Bolton 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), as will Plaintiff’s
Eighth Amendment claims against all Defendants. The Court will serve the complaint against
Defendants Martin, Rink, and Leach with regard to Plaintiff’s First Amendment and RLUIPA
claims, and against Defendants Martin and Leach with regard to Plaintiff’s equal protection claims.
Finally, the Court will deny Plaintiff’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary
injunction (ECF No. 3).
An Order consistent with this Opinion will be entered.
/s/ Robert Holmes Bell
ROBERT HOLMES BELL
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated: September 8, 2016
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