Vines v. Calhoun County Sheriff Department et al, No. 1:2024cv00323 - Document 6 (W.D. Mich. 2024)

Court Description: OPINION; signed by Magistrate Judge Phillip J. Green (jkw)

Download PDF UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN SOUTHERN DIVISION ______ GEORGE TAYLOR CARL VINES, Plaintiff, v. Case No. 1:24-cv-323 Honorable Phillip J. Green CALHOUN COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants. ____________________________/ OPINION This is a civil rights action brought by a county detainee under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court has granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis in a separate order. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Plaintiff consented to proceed in all matters in this action under the jurisdiction of a United States magistrate judge. (ECF No. 4.) This case is presently before the Court for preliminary review under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996) (PLRA), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b), and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Court is Vines v. Calhoun County Sheriff Department et al Doc. 6 required to conduct this initial review prior to the service of the complaint. See In re Prison Litig. Reform Act, 105 F.3d 1131, 1131, 1134 (6th Cir. 1997); McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 604–05 (6th Cir. 1997). Service of the complaint on the named defendants is of particular significance in defining a putative defendant’s relationship to the proceedings. “An individual or entity named as a defendant is not obliged to engage in litigation unless notified of the action, and brought under a court’s authority, by formal process.” Murphy Bros., Inc. v. Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc., 526 U.S. 344, 347 (1999). “Service of process, under longstanding tradition in our system of justice, is fundamental to any procedural imposition on a named defendant.” Id. at 350. “[O]ne becomes a party officially, and is required to take action in that capacity, only upon service of a summons or other authority-asserting measure stating the time within which the party served must appear and defend.” Id. (citations omitted). That is, “[u]nless a named defendant agrees to waive service, the summons continues to function as the sine qua non directing an individual or entity to participate in a civil action or forgo procedural or substantive rights.” Id. at 351. Therefore, the PLRA, by requiring courts to review and even resolve a plaintiff’s claims before service, creates a circumstance where there may only be one party to the proceeding—the plaintiff—at the district court level and on appeal. See, e.g., Conway v. Fayette Cnty. Gov’t, 212 F. App’x 418 (6th Cir. 2007) (“Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the district court screened the complaint and dismissed it without prejudice before service was made upon any of the defendants . . . [such that] . . . only [the plaintiff] [wa]s a party to this appeal.”). Here, Plaintiff has consented to a United States magistrate judge conducting all proceedings in this case under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). That statute provides that “[u]pon the consent of the parties, a full-time United States magistrate judge . . . may conduct any or all proceedings . . . and order the entry of judgment in the case . . . .” 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Because the named Defendants have not yet been served, the undersigned concludes that they are not presently parties whose consent is required to permit the undersigned to conduct a preliminary review under the PLRA, in the same way they are not parties who will be served with or given notice of this opinion. See Neals v. Norwood, 59 F.3d 530, 532 (5th Cir. 1995) (“The record does not contain a consent from the defendants[; h]owever, because they had not been served, they were not parties to this action at the time the magistrate entered judgment.”). 1 Under the PLRA, 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. But see Coleman v. Lab. & Indus. Rev. Comm’n of Wis., 860 F.3d 461, 471 (7th Cir. 2017) (concluding that, when determining which parties are required to consent to proceed before a United States magistrate judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), “context matters” and the context the United States Supreme Court considered in Murphy Bros. was nothing like the context of a screening dismissal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b), and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)); Williams v. King, 875 F.3d 500, 503–04 (9th Cir. 2017) (relying on Black’s Law Dictionary for the definition of “parties” and not addressing Murphy Bros.); Burton v. Schamp, 25 F.4th 198, 207 n.26 (3d Cir. 2022) (premising its discussion of “the term ‘parties’ solely in relation to its meaning in Section 636(c)(1), and . . . not tak[ing] an opinion on the meaning of ‘parties’ in other contexts”). 1 Discussion Factual Allegations Plaintiff is presently incarcerated at the Calhoun County Correctional Center in Battle Creek, Michigan. The events about which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff sues the “Calhoun County Sheriff Department” and Sheriff Steven Hinkley. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.2.) In Plaintiff’s complaint, he alleges that on June 6, 2023, he “reported that [he] didn’t feel safe in [his] cell due to how [his] new roommate was acting.” 2 (Id., PageID.4.) Plaintiff first reported this at around 9:30 a.m. when Plaintiff told “the pod dep[uty],” a non-party, that Plaintiff did not “feel comfortable in [his] cell.” (Id.) The non-party pod deputy “told [Plaintiff] to kite Class,” but “by the time [Plaintiff] got a response, it was far too late.” (Id.) Additionally, during the morning shift, nonparty Deputy Carson “told [Plaintiff] to hush up about it.” (Id.) Thereafter, during the night shift, Plaintiff “alerted [non-party] Deputy Jennings two time[s],” and “when she finally decided to listen, she made a mockery and threatened to give [Plaintiff] a write up.” (Id.) Plaintiff states that he “find[s] it odd and if not strange with all the signs or posters saying don’t be afraid to ask for help,” and Plaintiff “did 3 or more time[s].” (Id., PageID.5.) Plaintiff asks why he was “told to [send a] kite . . . to someone [who] wasn’t there,” and Plaintiff states that “they wait[ed] [un]til [he] was [at] group to In this opinion, the Court corrects the spelling, capitalization, and punctuation in quotations from Plaintiff’s complaint. 2 take action and reclass [him] from pod B to D.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that the next day, a non-party unnamed deputy “chastise[d]” Plaintiff, “saying all day [Plaintiff had] been trying to get out [of] that cell and manage[d] to do so, as if [Plaintiff] was an animal.” (Id.) Plaintiff states that he “feel[s] like [the non-party deputy] say[ing] that to an inmate was very unproductively professional, which falls in their handbook of rights.” (Id.) Plaintiff further alleges that another non-party unnamed deputy “said he finds it hard to believe any of the things [Plaintiff] reported because the other inmate was ICE [(U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)].” (Id.) Plaintiff states he felt “belittled [that] they reclass[ified] [him] to low pods and let the other get away while [Plaintiff] had to then walk the halls with shackles on [his] ankles for doing what you’re suppose[d] to when you don’t feel safe.” (Id.) Based on the foregoing allegations, Plaintiff avers that Defendants Calhoun County Sheriff Department and Hinkley violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Id., PageID.3.) As relief, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages. (Id., PageID.4.) 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. Id.; 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.” Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the wellpleaded 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.” Id. 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) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)). 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). A. Defendants Calhoun County Sheriff Department and Sheriff Hinkley As an initial matter, with respect to Defendant Calhoun County Sheriff Department, this Defendant does not exist as a separate entity; it is simply an agent of the county. See Vine v. Cnty. of Ingham, 884 F. Supp. 1153, 1158 (W.D. Mich. 1995) (citing Hughson v. Cnty. of Antrim, 707 F. Supp. 304, 306 (W.D. Mich. 1988); Bayer v. Almstadt, 185 N.W.2d 40, 41 (Mich. Ct. App. 1970)). Accordingly, for this reason alone, Defendant Calhoun County Sheriff Department can be dismissed. Moreover, construing Plaintiff’s pro se complaint with all required liberality, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), even if the Court assumes that Plaintiff intended to sue Calhoun County, rather than the Calhoun County Sheriff Department, as explained below, he fails to state a claim. See infra Section II.B. With respect to Defendant Hinkley, Plaintiff fails to allege facts showing how Defendant Hinkley was personally involved in the violation of his constitutional rights. (See generally Compl., ECF No. 1.) Specifically, when listing the Defendants named in this action, Plaintiff lists Defendant Hinkley, however, Plaintiff fails to name Defendant Hinkley in the factual allegations in the complaint. (See id., PageID.2–5.) Where a person is named as a defendant without an allegation of specific conduct, the complaint is subject to dismissal, even under the liberal construction afforded to pro se complaints. See Gilmore v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 92 F. App’x 188, 190 (6th Cir. 2004); Frazier v. Michigan, 41 F. App’x 762, 764 (6th Cir. 2002) (dismissing plaintiff’s claims where the complaint did not allege with any degree of specificity which of the named defendants were personally involved in or responsible for each alleged violation of rights). Additionally, Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Hinkley fall far short of the minimal pleading standards under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and are subject to dismissal. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) (requiring “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief”). Furthermore, to the extent that Plaintiff seeks to hold Defendant Hinkley liable due to his supervisory position, government officials, such as Defendant Hinkley 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. 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). The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit repeatedly has summarized the minimum required to constitute active conduct by a supervisory official: “[A] supervisory official’s failure to supervise, control or train the offending individual is not actionable unless the supervisor either encouraged the specific incident of misconduct or in some other way directly participated in it.” Shehee, 199 F.3d at 300 (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks omitted). We have interpreted this standard to mean that “at a minimum,” the plaintiff must show that the defendant “at least implicitly authorized, approved, or knowingly acquiesced in the unconstitutional conduct of the offending officers.” Peatross v. City of Memphis, 818 F.3d 233, 242 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting Shehee, 199 F.3d at 300); see also Copeland v. Machulis, 57 F.3d 476, 481 (6th Cir. 1995)); Walton v. City of Southfield, 995 F.2d 1331, 1340 (6th Cir. 1993). Here, Plaintiff fails to allege any facts showing that Defendant Hinkley encouraged or condoned the conduct of his subordinates, or authorized, approved, or knowingly acquiesced in their conduct. Plaintiff’s vague and conclusory allegations of supervisory responsibility are insufficient to show that Defendant Hinkley was personally involved in the alleged violations of Plaintiff’s constitutional rights. Because Plaintiff has failed to allege that Defendant Hinkley engaged in any active unconstitutional behavior, Plaintiff fails to state a claim against him. Accordingly, for all of the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants Calhoun County Sheriff Department and Hinkley will be dismissed. B. Calhoun County Even assuming that Plaintiff intended to sue Calhoun County, for the reasons set forth below, he fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Calhoun County may not be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees under § 1983. See Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 60 (2011); City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 392 (1989); Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. Instead, a county is liable only when its official policy or custom causes the injury. Connick, 563 U.S. at 60. This policy or custom must be the moving force behind the alleged constitutional injury, and the plaintiff must identify the policy or custom, connect it to the governmental entity, and show that his injury was incurred because of the policy or custom. See Turner v. City of Taylor, 412 F.3d 629, 639 (6th Cir. 2005); Alkire v. Irving, 330 F.3d 802, 815 (6th Cir. 2003). “Governmental entities cannot be held responsible for a constitutional deprivation unless there is a direct causal link between a municipal policy or custom and the alleged violation of constitutional rights.” Watson v. Gill, 40 F. App’x 88, 89 (6th Cir. 2002) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 692). A policy includes a “policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated” by the sheriff’s department. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 690. Moreover, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has explained that a custom “for the purposes of Monell liability must be so permanent and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law.” Doe v. Claiborne Cnty., 103 F.3d 495, 507 (6th Cir. 1996). “In short, a ‘custom’ is a ‘legal institution’ not memorialized by written law.” Id. Here, Plaintiff’s allegations against Calhoun County essentially rest on a theory of vicarious liability and therefore do not state a claim. To the extent that Plaintiff suggests the existence of a custom regarding a failure to protect inmates, his allegations are wholly conclusory. To show that a governmental entity has an unlawful custom, a plaintiff must show the existence of “practices so persistent and widespread as to practically have the force of law.” Connick, 563 U.S. at 61. Plaintiff’s allegations do not show a widespread pattern. And, to the extent that Plaintiff intended to suggest a pattern, conclusory allegations of unconstitutional conduct without specific factual allegations fail to state a claim under § 1983. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (2007). Plaintiff therefore fails to state a claim against Calhoun County. Conclusion Having conducted the review required by the PLRA, the Court determines that Plaintiff’s complaint will be dismissed for failure to state a claim under 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). Although the Court concludes that Plaintiff’s claims are properly dismissed, the Court does not conclude that any issue Plaintiff might raise on appeal would be frivolous. Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 445 (1962). Accordingly, the Court does not certify that an appeal would not be taken in good faith. Should Plaintiff appeal this decision, the Court will assess the $605.00 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 $605.00 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: May 9, 2024 /s/ Phillip J. Green PHILLIP J. GREEN United States Magistrate Judge

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