Harris #292201 v. LeClaire et al
OPINION; signed by District Judge Paul L. Maloney (Judge Paul L. Maloney, cmc)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
WILLIE J. HARRIS,
Case No. 2:16-cv-260
Honorable Paul L. Maloney
J. LeCLAIRE, 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 Jondreau, Collins, Place, Minton, Oh, and Unknown Parties. The
Court will serve the complaint against Defendant LeClaire.
Plaintiff Willie J. Harris, a state prisoner currently confined at the Baraga Maximum
Correctional Facility (AMF), filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against
Defendants Prison Counselor J. LeClaire, Resident Unit Manager W. Jondreau, Pharmacy Assistant
Jennifer L. Collins, Warden S. Place, Account Tech T. Minton, Doctor Chung Oh, and Unknown
Parties Mail Room Staff. Plaintiff states that Defendants LeClaire, Minton, and Unknown Parties
destroyed outgoing mail that had sent to his sister Odella on May 7, 2016, and June 13, 2016.
Plaintiff discovered this on June 28, 2016, when he spoke to his sister on the phone. Plaintiff claims
that Defendants LeClaire, Minton, and Unknown Parties falsified documentation and improperly
charged Plaintiff’s prison account for postage in order to make it look as if they had sent out
Plaintiff claims that on June 9, 2016, Defendant LeClaire refused to process legal mail
addressed to MDOC Director Heidi E. Washington because it did “not meet the criteria of legal
mail.” However, Defendant LeClaire refused to return the mail to Plaintiff. In addition, Plaintiff
states that Defendant LeClaire repeatedly forced Plaintiff to forfeit his yard and declined to call
Plaintiff out to process his legal mail except during yard time, despite the fact that Plaintiff sent kites
requesting to be called out before yard at 9:00 a.m. Instead, Defendant LeClaire continued to make
legal mail rounds after Plaintiff’s regular yard schedule. Plaintiff states that this forced him to forego
yard in order to get his legal mail processed. Plaintiff confronted Defendant LeClaire about this
issue and was told, “You filed a grievance on me about the issue good luck with that.”
Plaintiff alleges that on July 18, 2016, Defendant LeClaire called Plaintiff to his office
to process his legal mail, which was addressed to the 63rd District Court. Plaintiff suspected that
Defendant LeClaire did not send his mail out because he knew it was a lawsuit, so he called his sister
and had her check to see if his complaint had been received by the 63rd District Court. His sister
discovered that Plaintiff’s filing had not been received by the court.
Plaintiff confronted Defendant LeClaire about his outgoing mail and Defendant
LeClaire stated, “So what? I don’t care, sue me. Just make sure you spell my name correct.” Later
that day, Defendant Place told Plaintiff to go ahead and sue because “we always win.” Plaintiff filed
a grievance regarding the missing mail. Defendant Jondreau discussed the grievance with Plaintiff,
stating that Plaintiff could not prove that prison officials interfered with his mail as long as they
possessed documentation showing that it had been sent out. However, Defendant Jondreau did not
show Plaintiff any such documentation.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Collins and Oh have refused to give him his
prescribed medical treatment for his skin condition. Plaintiff claims that he is to receive coal tar
ointment, but that medical staff claimed that his order had expired. Plaintiff claims that he was
denied treatment from March 28, 2016, until May 6, 2016, which resulted in unnecessary suffering
for Plaintiff. On June 9, 2016, Plaintiff submitted a request for a refill of the coal tar ointment, to
no avail. When Plaintiff showed Defendant Collins his painful sores, rash, and hives, she told him
that it was not an emergency and that Defendant Oh was aware of Plaintiff’s request and was going
to prescribe a replacement treatment for Plaintiff because they did not have coal tar ointment in
On June 28, 2016, Plaintiff had to be called out as a medical emergency patient.
Defendant Oh noted Plaintiff’s symptoms and ordered a steroid / Benadryl injection. Plaintiff asked
Defendant Oh why he had not ordered a replacement treatment. Plaintiff discovered that Defendant
Collins had never informed Defendant Oh that a replacement treatment was needed. In addressing
Plaintiff’s grievance regarding this issue, the step II respondent, Patricia Lamb, RN, BSN, stated:
Grievant claims that he has been denied timely provision of coal tar
Review of the electronic medical record reveals that grievant arrived
at AMF on 3/28/16 with a nearly expired order for coal tar. (It
expired on 3/31/16). The matter was referred to the medical provider
who addressed the issue on 4/8/16. Per documentation of that visit,
coal tar was not ordered in favor of a different topical treatment.
After grievant continued to request coal tar and reported that the new
treatment plan was ineffective, the coal tar was re-ordered on 5/5/16
and issued to grievant on 5/6/16. Grievant requested a refill of this
product on 6/10/16. However, it was on back order from the off-site
pharmacy and could not be immediately filled. It was eventually
received from the pharmacy and issed to the grievant on 6/29/16.
It is acknowledged that there was a delay in provision of the requested
coal tar refill in June. However, the back order and subsequent delay
in shipment from the off-site pharmacy was not within the control of
AMF Health Care. In the event a similar situation occurs in future,
suggestions for alternate interventions have been reviewed with AMF
No further remedy may be offered at this time.
See ECF No. 1-5, PageID.45.
Plaintiff claims that Defendants’ conduct violated his constitutional rights and seeks
compensatory and punitive damages, costs, and equitable 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).
Plaintiff appears to be claiming that Defendants Oh and Collins violated his rights
under the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual
punishment against those convicted of crimes. U.S. Const. amend. VIII. The Eighth Amendment
obligates prison authorities to provide medical care to incarcerated individuals, as a failure to provide
such care would be inconsistent with contemporary standards of decency. Estelle v. Gamble, 429
U.S. 102, 103-04 (1976). The Eighth Amendment is violated when a prison official is deliberately
indifferent to the serious medical needs of a prisoner. Id. at 104-05; Comstock v. McCrary, 273 F.3d
693, 702 (6th Cir. 2001).
A claim for the deprivation of adequate medical care has an objective and a subjective
component. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). To satisfy the objective component, the
plaintiff must allege that the medical need at issue is sufficiently serious. Id. In other words, the
inmate must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm.
Id. The objective component of the adequate medical care test is satisfied “[w]here the seriousness
of a prisoner’s need[ ] for medical care is obvious even to a lay person.” Blackmore v. Kalamazoo
Cnty., 390 F.3d 890, 899 (6th Cir. 2004). If the plaintiff’s claim, however, is based on “the prison’s
failure to treat a condition adequately, or where the prisoner’s affliction is seemingly minor or
non-obvious,” Blackmore v. Kalamazoo Cnty., 390 F.3d 890, 898 (6th Cir. 2004), the plaintiff must
“place verifying medical evidence in the record to establish the detrimental effect of the delay in
medical treatment,” Napier v. Madison Cnty., 238 F.3d 739, 742 (6th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation
marks omitted).The subjective component requires an inmate to show that prison officials have “a
sufficiently culpable state of mind in denying medical care.” Brown v. Bargery, 207 F.3d 863, 867
(6th Cir. 2000) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). Deliberate indifference “entails something more
than mere negligence,” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835, but can be “satisfied by something less than acts
or omissions for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm will result.” Id.
Under Farmer, “the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn
that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Id. at 837.
Not every claim by a prisoner that he has received inadequate medical treatment states
a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105. As the Supreme Court explained:
[A]n inadvertent failure to provide adequate medical care cannot be
said to constitute an unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain or to
be repugnant to the conscience of mankind. Thus, a complaint that
a physician has been negligent in diagnosing or treating a medical
condition does not state a valid claim of medical mistreatment under
the Eighth Amendment. Medical malpractice does not become a
constitutional violation merely because the victim is a prisoner. In
order to state a cognizable claim, a prisoner must allege acts or
omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to
serious medical needs.
Id. at 105-06 (quotations omitted). Thus, differences in judgment between an inmate and prison
medical personnel regarding the appropriate medical diagnoses or treatment are not enough to state
a deliberate indifference claim. Sanderfer v. Nichols, 62 F.3d 151, 154-55 (6th Cir. 1995); Ward v.
Smith, No. 95-6666, 1996 WL 627724, at *1 (6th Cir. Oct. 29, 1996). This is so even if the
misdiagnosis results in an inadequate course of treatment and considerable suffering. Gabehart v.
Chapleau, No. 96-5050, 1997 WL 160322, at *2 (6th Cir. Apr. 4, 1997).
In this case, as noted above, Defendant Oh prescribed a course of treatment upon
Plaintiff’s arrival at AMF, which Plaintiff did not feel was effective. Plaintiff’s treatment of choice
was subsequently reinstated. When Plaintiff requested a refill on June 10, 2016, the pharmacy did
not have coal tar ointment in stock and Defendant Collins told Plaintiff that the medical provider
would order a replacement treatment. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Oh was not aware of this
issue and Plaintiff was denied treatment until June 29, 2016, which resulted in a exacerbation of
Plaintiff’s symptoms. Plaintiff also states that Defendant Collins and Defendant Oh both claim that
there was a miscommunication, and that this was the cause of the delay in Plaintiff’s treatment.
The Court notes that the deliberate indifference standard “describes a state of mind
more blameworthy than negligence.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835; see also Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S.
312, 319 (1986) (“conduct that does not purport to be punishment at all must involve more than the
ordinary lack of due care for the prisoner’s interests or safety”). As the Supreme Court explained:
The Eighth Amendment does not outlaw cruel and unusual
“conditions”; it outlaws cruel and unusual “punishments.” An act or
omission unaccompanied by knowledge of a significant risk of harm
might well be something society wishes to discourage, and if harm
does result society might well wish to assure compensation. The
common law reflects such concerns when it imposes tort liability on
a purely objective basis. But an official’s failure to alleviate a
significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no
cause for commendation, cannot under our cases be condemned as the
infliction of punishment.
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837-38 (citations omitted). Thus, accidents, mistakes, and other types of
negligence are not constitutional violations merely because the victim is a prisoner. Acord v. Brown,
No. 93-2083, 1994 WL 679365, at *2 (6th Cir. Dec. 5, 1994) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97,
106 (1976)). Rather, what is required is a conscious disregard of a substantial risk of harm. Farmer,
511 U.S. at 839. The Court concludes that Plaintiff’s allegations against Defendants Oh and Collins
do not support a finding of deliberate indifference. Rather, at most, these allegations rise to the level
of negligence. Therefore, Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claims against Defendants Oh and Collins
are properly dismissed.
Plaintiff complains about two instances in which he was prevented from sending
letters to his family by Defendants LeClaire, Minton, and Unknown Parties. Generally, “isolated
instances of interference with prisoners’ mail” do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation
under the First Amendment. See Johnson v. Wilkinson, 229 F.3d 1152 (6th Cir. 2000) (citing
Gardner v. Howard, 109 F.3d 427, 431 (8th Cir. 1997) (holding that an “isolated incident, without
any evidence of improper motive or resulting interference with [the inmate’s] right to counsel or to
access to the courts, does not give rise to a constitutional violation.”)); Colvin v. Caruso, 605 F.3d
282, 293 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Johnson for the holding that “isolated incidents” of interference with
prisoners’ rights do not rise to the level of a First Amendment violation). Moreover, these claims
are entirely conclusory as Plaintiff fails to allege any facts in support of his assertion that his sister’s
failure to receive mail was the result of the actions of Defendants LeClaire, Minton, or Unknown
Parties. In fact, Plaintiff fails to allege facts showing that these individuals had any involvement in
the handling of the two letters to his sister. Conclusory allegations of unconstitutional conduct
without specific factual allegations fail to state a claim under § 1983. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678-69 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Therefore, these claims
are properly dismissed.
The Court notes that Plaintiff fails to make specific factual allegations against
Defendants Jondreau and Place, other than generally claiming that they failed to conduct an
investigation in response to his grievances. 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 Jondreau and Place engaged in any active unconstitutional
behavior. Accordingly, he fails to state a claim against them.
Finally, the Court notes that Plaintiff’s claim that Defendant LeClaire interfered in
his outgoing legal action, which was addressed to the 63rd District Court, is not clearly frivolous.
Therefore, Plaintiff’s claim against Defendant LeClaire for interference of out-going mail is not
properly dismissed at this time.
Having conducted the review required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Court
determines that Defendants Jondreau, Collins, Place, Minton, Oh, and Unknown Parties 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 will serve the complaint against Defendant LeClaire.
An Order consistent with this Opinion will be entered.
Dated: January 13, 2017
/s/ Paul L. Maloney
Paul L. Maloney
United States District Judge
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