Young #753683 v. Horton
OPINION; signed by Judge Janet T. Neff (Judge Janet T. Neff, clb)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
DEMARCUS T. YOUNG,
Case No. 2:21-cv-114
Honorable Janet T. Neff
Petitioner Marcus T. Young challenges the conditions of his confinement at the
Chippewa Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, Michigan. He alleges that the risks of infection from
the COVID-19 virus are so significant that they render his continued incarceration at that facility
a violation of his constitutional rights. Petitioner joined together in one pleading claims for
damages and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and habeas corpus claims seeking release
from custody. See Young v. Whitmer et al., No. 2:20-cv-68 (W.D. Mich.). By order entered May
28, 2021, the Court severed Petitioner’s habeas corpus claims seeking release from his § 1983
claims seeking damages and injunctive relief. The Court directed the Clerk to open this action to
permit separate resolution of Petitioner’s habeas claims.
This is a habeas corpus action under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.1 Promptly after the filing
of a petition for habeas corpus, the Court must undertake a preliminary review of the petition to
Petitioner is in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.6) (“Petitioner [is a]
Michigan State Prisoner under the jurisdiction of the Michigan Department of Corrections . . . .”). Habeas corpus
actions brought by “a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court” are governed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
Id. Section 2254 “‘allows state prisoners to collaterally attack either the imposition or the execution of their
sentences[.]’” Bailey v. Wainwright, 951 F.3d 343, 348 (6th Cir. 2020) (Stranch, J., dissenting) (quoting Allen v.
White, 185 F. App’x 487, 490 (6th Cir. 2006)); see also Rittenberry v. Morgan, 468 F.3d 331, 336–37 (6th Cir. 2006).
determine whether “it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it
that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254
Cases; see 28 U.S.C. § 2243. If so, the petition must be summarily dismissed. Rule 4; see Allen
v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970) (district court has the duty to “screen out” petitions
that lack merit on their face). A dismissal under Rule 4 includes those petitions which raise legally
frivolous claims, as well as those containing factual allegations that are palpably incredible or
false. Carson v. Burke, 178 F.3d 434, 436-37 (6th Cir. 1999). After undertaking the review
required by Rule 4, the Court will dismiss the petition for failure to raise a meritorious federal
Petitioner commenced this action on May 28, 2020. Petitioner was then, and is
now, incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Chippewa
Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, Michigan. Petitioner is serving sentences imposed by the
Saginaw County Circuit Court on January 20, 2010, following jury verdicts convicting Petitioner
of the following: car jacking, conspiracy to car jack, assault with intent to murder, and use of a
firearm during the commission of a felony. See https://mdocweb.state.mi.us/otis2/otis2
profile.aspx?mdocNumber=753683 (visited June 2, 2021). He will also serve a sentence imposed
“The reality is that § 2254 is the ‘exclusive vehicle’ of habeas relief for prisoners in custody under a state judgment.”
Saulsberry v. Lee, 937 F.3d 644, 647 (6th Cir. 2019). No matter what form Petitioner uses or what statute he claims
serves as the basis for relief, because he is in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court, his request for habeas
relief must comply with the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Greene v. Tenn. Dep’t of Corr., 265 F.3d 369, 371
(6th Cir. 2001) (“[T]his makes § 2254 the exclusive vehicle for prisoners in custody pursuant to a state court judgment
who wish to challenge anything affecting that custody, because it makes clear that bringing an action under § 2241
will not permit the prisoner to evade the requirements of § 2254.”).
by the Ionia County Circuit Court following his guilty plea to a charge of assaulting a prison
The petition alleged that the risk of infection arising from the COVID-19 pandemic2
renders Petitioner’s continued imprisonment a violation of Petitioner’s Fifth, Eighth, and
Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Pet’r’s Br., ECF No. 1, PageID.2.) Pursuant to an opinion issued
September 9, 2020, the Court dismissed Petitioner’s Eighth Amendment claims and entered
judgment. (ECF Nos. 7, 8.) Petitioner appealed the judgment to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals
contending, among other things, that the Court failed to address Petitioner’s due process claims.
The appellate court agreed and concluded that this Court’s failure to address the due process claims
rendered the opinion and order dismissing the Eighth Amendment claim interlocutory. (Order,
ECF No. 14, PageID.129–130.) The matter was remanded to this Court to address the unresolved
claims. (Id.) The Court then severed the habeas claims which are now ripe for preliminary review.
Availability of § 2254 relief for unconstitutional conditions of confinement
Petitioner’s request for relief is not a typical habeas claim. The Supreme Court has
made clear that constitutional challenges to the fact or duration of confinement are the proper
subject of a habeas corpus petition rather than a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Preiser v.
Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 499 (1973). Constitutional challenges to the conditions of confinement,
on the other hand, are proper subjects for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. The Preiser Court,
In Wilson v. Williams, 961 F.3d 829 (6th Cir. 2020), the Sixth Circuit described the COVID-19 problem as follows:
The COVID-19 virus is highly infectious and can be transmitted easily from person to person.
COVID-19 fatality rates increase with age and underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular
disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, and immune compromise. If contracted, COVID-19 can cause
severe complications or death.
Wilson, 961 F.3d at 833.
however, did not foreclose the possibility that habeas relief might be available even for conditions
of confinement claims:
This is not to say that habeas corpus may not also be available to challenge such
prison conditions. See Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, (1969); Wilwording v.
Swenson, supra, at 251 of 404 U.S. . . . When a prisoner is put under additional and
unconstitutional restraints during his lawful custody, it is arguable that habeas
corpus will lie to remove the restraints making the custody illegal. See Note,
Developments in the Law—Habeas Corpus, 83 Harv. L. Rev. 1038, 1084 (1970).
Preiser, 411 U.S. at 499 (footnote omitted). But, the Court has also never upheld a “conditions of
confinement” habeas claim. Indeed, in Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749 (2004), the Court
acknowledged that it had “never followed the speculation in Preiser . . . that such a prisoner subject
to ‘additional and unconstitutional restraints’ might have a habeas claim independent of
§ 1983 . . . .” Id. at 751 n.1.
The Sixth Circuit has concluded that claims regarding conditions of confinement
are properly brought under § 1983 and are not cognizable on habeas review. See Martin v.
Overton, 391 F.3d 710, 714 (6th Cir. 2004) (“‘Petitioner in this case appears to be asserting the
violation of a right secured by the federal Constitution or laws by state prison officials. Such a
claim is properly brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.’”); In re Owens, 525 F. App’x 287, 290
(6th Cir. 2013) (“The criteria to which Owens refers involves the conditions of his
confinement . . . . This is not the proper execution of sentence claim that may be pursued in a
§ 2254 petition.”); Hodges v. Bell, 170 F. App’x 389, 392-93 (6th Cir. 2006) (“Hodges’s
complaints about the conditions of his confinement . . . are a proper subject for a § 1983 action,
but fall outside of the cognizable core of habeas corpus relief.”); Young v. Martin, 83 F. App’x
107, 109 (6th Cir. 2003) (“It is clear under current law that a prisoner complaining about the
conditions of his confinement should bring suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.”).
Petitioner’s claims challenging the constitutionality of his custody due to risks
posed by COVID-19 appear on their face to be claims regarding the conditions of his confinement.
Such claims should be raised, typically, by a complaint for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and he
has so raised them.
Nonetheless, Petitioner requests release from custody. That relief is available only
upon habeas corpus review. “The Supreme Court has held that release from confinement—the
remedy petitioner seek[s] here—is ‘the heart of habeas corpus.’” Wilson, 961 F.3d at 868
(quoting Preiser, 411 U.S. at 498).3 A challenge to the fact or duration of confinement should be
brought as a petition for habeas corpus and is not the proper subject of a civil rights action brought
pursuant to § 1983. See Preiser, 411 U.S. at 484 (the essence of habeas corpus is an attack by a
person in custody upon the legality of that custody and the traditional function of the writ is to
secure release from illegal custody).
In Wilson, the Sixth Circuit stated: “Our precedent supports the conclusion that
where a petitioner claims that no set of conditions would be constitutionally sufficient the claim
should be construed as challenging the fact or extent, rather than the conditions, of the
confinement.” Wilson, 961 F.3d at 838. Petitioner, like the petitioners in Wilson, contends there
are no conditions of confinement sufficient to prevent irreparable injury at the facility where he is
housed, or anywhere else within the MDOC. Accordingly, the Court construes his claim as a
proper claim for habeas relief.
The Wilson petitioners were federal prison inmates who brought habeas claims under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 similar to
those claims brought by Petitioner.
Exhaustion of State Court Remedies
Before the Court may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner, the prisoner must
exhaust remedies available in the state courts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1); O’Sullivan v. Boerckel,
526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999). Exhaustion requires a petitioner to “fairly present” federal claims so
that state courts have a “fair opportunity” to apply controlling legal principles to the facts bearing
upon a petitioner’s constitutional claim. Id. at 844, 848; see also Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270,
275–77 (1971); Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365 (1995); Anderson v. Harless, 459 U.S. 4, 6
(1982). To fulfill the exhaustion requirement, a petitioner must have fairly presented his federal
claims to all levels of the state appellate system, including the state’s highest court. O’Sullivan,
526 U.S. at 845; Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 414 (6th Cir. 2009); Hafley v. Sowders, 902 F.2d
480, 483 (6th Cir. 1990). The district court can and must raise the exhaustion issue sua sponte
when it clearly appears that habeas claims have not been presented to the state courts. See Prather
v. Rees, 822 F.2d 1418, 1422 (6th Cir. 1987); Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 138–39 (6th Cir. 1970).
Petitioner bears the burden of showing exhaustion. See Rust v. Zent, 17 F.3d 155,
160 (6th Cir. 1994). Petitioner has neither alleged that he exhausted his claims in the state courts
nor provided any documentation indicating that he has pursued such state remedies.
Subsection (b) of § 2254 precludes the Court from granting habeas relief unless
Petitioner has exhausted his claims in state court. But that section does not preclude denying
claims for habeas relief even though they are unexhausted.
The Court’s September 9, 2020, opinion thoroughly addressed Plaintiff’s Eighth
Amendment claim, dismissing it because Petitioner had failed to allege facts showing that the
MDOC’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis violated his Eighth Amendment rights. As the Court
stated in its May 28, 2021, opinion, further review indicated there was no error in that initial
decision. Indeed, intervening events provide additional compelling support for a determination
that the risks posed by the COVID-19 virus do not render Petitioner’s continued incarceration so
risky that it might be characterized as cruel and unusual punishment. Almost 85% of the inmates
at Chippewa ultimately tested positive for the virus; there are fewer than 10 active positive cases
at the present time; and the MDOC has provided vaccinations for the COVID-19 virus.
See MDOC, MDOC
https://medium.com/@MichiganDOC/mdoc-takes-steps-to-prevent-spread-of-coronavirus-covid19-250f43144337 (last visited June 2, 2021).4
Accordingly, the Court reaffirms its earlier
determinations regarding Petitioner’s alleged Eighth Amendment violations. Those allegations do
not raise a meritorious federal habeas claim.
“Due process” claims
Petitioner’s due process claim, whether raised under the Fifth Amendment or the
Fourteenth Amendment is not a claim about “process” at all. The elements of a typical due process
claim are (1) a life, liberty, or property interest requiring protection under the Due Process Clause,
and (2) a deprivation of that interest (3) without adequate process. Women’s Med. Prof’l Corp. v.
Baird, 438 F.3d 595, 611 (6th Cir. 2006). Petitioner is not claiming that if the MDOC would
Although the page is hosted on Medium.com, the MDOC specifically links to this page from their website as the
location where they will provide updates and information. See https://www.michigan.gov/corrections/0,4551,7-1199741_12798-521973--,00.html (visited June 2, 2021). Therefore, the Court takes judicial notice of these facts under
Rule 201 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. The accuracy of the source regarding this specific information “cannot
reasonably be questioned.” Fed. R. Evid. 201(b)(2); see also Paul F. Rothstein, Federal Rules of Evidence 49 (3d ed.
2019)(citing Matthews v. NFL Mgmt. Council, 688 F.3d 1107 (9th Cir. 2012) (taking judicial notice of statistics on
the NFL website that the plaintiff played 13 games in California over 19 years); Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d
227, 236–37 (3d. Cir. 2007), as amended (Nov. 20, 2007) (finding error where a district court took judicial notice of
facts stated in “a party’s . . . marketing material” on an “unauthenticated” website because marketing materials often
lack precise and candid information and the source was not authenticated)). Moreover, “[t]he court may take judicial
notice at any stage of the proceeding.” Fed. R. Evid. 201(d) (emphasis added). Thus, the Court may take judicial
notice even at this early juncture because the Court is permitted to take judicial notice sua sponte, Fed. R. Evid.
201(c)(1), and “the fact is not subject to reasonable dispute,” Fed. R. Evid. 201(b).
simply afford him adequate process it could incarcerate him under conditions posing an
unreasonable risk to his health and safety. Rather, Petitioner’s allegations implicate the protections
of “substantive due process.”
“Substantive due process ‘prevents the government from engaging in conduct that
shocks the conscience or interferes with rights implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.’” Prater
v. City of Burnside, 289 F.3d 417, 431 (6th Cir. 2002) (quoting United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S.
739, 746 (1987)). “Substantive due process . . . serves the goal of preventing governmental power
from being used for purposes of oppression, regardless of the fairness of the procedures used.”
Pittman v. Cuyahoga Cnty. Dep’t of Child. & Fam. Servs., 640 F.3d 716, 728 (6th Cir. 2011)
(quoting Howard v. Grinage, 82 F.3d 1343, 1349 (6th Cir. 1996)).
“Conduct shocks the
conscience if it ‘violates the “decencies of civilized conduct.”’” Range v. Douglas, 763 F.3d 573,
589 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Cnty. of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 846–47 (1998) (quoting
Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165, 172-73 (1952))).
Protection against “violat[ion of] the decencies of civilized conduct,” Range, 763
F.3d at 589 (internal quotes omitted), does not sound very different than protection against
contravening society’s “evolving standards of decency,” one of the purposes of the Eighth
Amendment, Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 345–346 (1981).
“Where a particular
[a]mendment ‘provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection’ against a particular
sort of government behavior, ‘that [a]mendment, not the more generalized notion of “substantive
due process,” must be the guide for analyzing these claims.’” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266,
269 (1994) (quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989) (holding that the Fourth
Amendment, not substantive due process, provides the standard for analyzing claims involving
unreasonable search or seizure of free citizens, and the Eighth Amendment provides the standard
for such searches of prisoners), overruled on other grounds by Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194
(2001)). If such an amendment exists, the substantive due process claim is properly dismissed.
Heike v. Guevara, 519 F. App’x 911, 923 (6th Cir. 2013).
In Petitioner’s case, the Eighth Amendment provides an explicit source of
constitutional protection against the MDOC’s exposure of Petitioner to inappropriate risks to his
health. See Graham, 490 U.S. at 394 (citing Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 327 (1986) (rejecting
a substantive due process claim where the Eighth Amendment supplies a textual source for prisoncondition claims); Dodson v. Wilkinson, 304 F. App’x 434, 438 (6th Cir. 2008) (because the Eighth
Amendment supplies the explicit textual source of constitutional protection for claims governing
a prisoner’s health and safety, the plaintiff’s substantive due process claim was subject to
dismissal). Consequently, Plaintiff’s substantive due process claim are appropriately dismissed.
Moreover, for the same reason that the COVID-19 remedial efforts presently
employed by the MDOC do not run afoul of the Eighth Amendment guarantee—i.e. they do not
violate society’s evolving standard of decency—those efforts also do not run afoul of substantive
due process protections—i.e., they do not violate the decencies of civilized conduct.
For all of these reasons, Petitioner’s allegations regarding his substantive due
process rights do not raise a meritorious federal claim warranting habeas relief.
Certificate of Appealability
Under 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2), the Court must determine whether a certificate of
appealability should be granted. A certificate should issue if Petitioner has demonstrated a
“substantial showing of a denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2).
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has disapproved issuance of blanket denials of
a certificate of appealability. Murphy v. Ohio, 263 F.3d 466, 467 (6th Cir. 2001) (per curiam).
Rather, the district court must “engage in a reasoned assessment of each claim” to determine
whether a certificate is warranted. Id. Each issue must be considered under the standards set forth
by the Supreme Court in Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473 (2000). Murphy, 263 F.3d at 467.
Consequently, this Court has examined each of Petitioner’s claims under the Slack standard.
Under Slack, 529 U.S. at 484, to warrant a grant of the certificate, “[t]he petitioner must
demonstrate that reasonable jurists would find the district court’s assessment of the constitutional
claims debatable or wrong.”
“A petitioner satisfies this standard by demonstrating
that . . . jurists of reason could conclude the issues presented are adequate to deserve
encouragement to proceed further.” Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 327 (2003). In applying
this standard, the Court may not conduct a full merits review, but must limit its examination to a
threshold inquiry into the underlying merit of Petitioner’s claims. Id.
The Court finds that reasonable jurists could not conclude that this Court’s
dismissal of Petitioner’s claims was debatable or wrong. Therefore, the Court will deny Petitioner
a certificate of appealability. Moreover, although Petitioner has failed to demonstrate that he is in
custody in violation of the Constitution and has failed to make a substantial showing of the denial
of a constitutional right, the Court does not conclude that any issue Petitioner might raise on appeal
would be frivolous. Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 445 (1962).
The Court will enter a judgment dismissing the petition and an order denying a
certificate of appealability.
June 7, 2021
/s/ Janet T. Neff
Janet T. Neff
United States District Judge
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