Case No. 1:20-cv-1246
This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996) (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 dismisses Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim against Defendant Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC).
I. Factual Allegations
Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Carson City Correctional Facility (DRF) in Carson City, Montcalm County, Michigan. The events about which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff sues Warden Randee Rewerts, MDOC Director Heidi Washington, and the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC).
Plaintiff alleges that he has gender dysphoria and identifies as female at least part of the time. Plaintiff is also a registered practicing Muslim who prays five times a day and does not use drugs or alcohol. Plaintiff states that he is being prevented from wearing a kufi cap or a hijab outside his cell and outside of religious services. Plaintiff states that, in contrast, Jewish prisoners are allowed to wear a yarmulke cap with no such restriction. Plaintiff claims that there is no security interest that supports this restriction.
According to MDOC Policy Directive 05.03.150A, male prisoners who are members of Al-Islam may possess one kufi cap or tarboosh, while female prisoners may possess two hijabs, no longer than 36 inches. Id. However, a kufi cap or a tarboosh may only be worn by prisoners while attending group religious services or activities, while going to and from group religious services or activities, or while in their cell. Id. As noted by Plaintiff, Jewish prisoners may possess and wear a yarmulke at all times. Id.
On December 18, 2020, Plaintiff talked to the unit block representative about raising this issue in the house forum meeting. However, the representative refused because he feared reprisal. Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding this issue. Plaintiff's grievance was denied at each level.
Plaintiff asserts claims under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Plaintiff seeks damages for the alleged constitutional violations, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief for the alleged violation of RLUIPA.
II. 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) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)).
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).
III. Eleventh Amendment
Plaintiff may not maintain a § 1983 action against the MDOC. Regardless of the form of relief requested, the states and their departments are immune under the Eleventh Amendment from suit in the federal courts, unless the state has waived immunity or Congress has expressly abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity by statute. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98-101 (1984); Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978); O'Hara v. Wigginton, 24 F.3d 823, 826 (6th Cir. 1994). Congress has not expressly abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity by statute, Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 341 (1979), and the State of Michigan has not consented to civil rights suits in federal court. Abick v. Michigan, 803 F.2d 874, 877 (6th Cir. 1986). In numerous opinions, the Sixth Circuit has specifically held that the MDOC is absolutely immune from a § 1983 suit under the Eleventh Amendment. See, e.g., Harrison v. Michigan, 722 F.3d 768, 771 (6th Cir. 2013); Diaz v. Mich. Dep't of Corr., 703 F.3d 956, 962 (6th Cir. 2013); McCoy v. Michigan, 369 F. App'x 646, 653-54 (6th Cir. 2010). In addition, the State of Michigan (acting through the MDOC) is not a "person" who may be sued under § 1983 for money damages. See Lapides v. Bd. of Regents, 535 U.S. 613, 617 (2002) (citing Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66 (1989)); Harrison, 722 F.3d at 771. Therefore, the Court dismisses the MDOC.
Having conducted the review required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Court determines that Defendant Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) 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). Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Rewerts and Washington remain in the case.
An order consistent with this opinion will be entered. Dated: February 25, 2021
/s/ Janet T. Neff
Janet T. Neff
United States District Judge