Watkinsv.Washington

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN SOUTHERN DIVISIONDec 2, 2019
Case No. 1:19-cv-926 (W.D. Mich. Dec. 2, 2019)

Case No. 1:19-cv-926

12-02-2019

NAPOLEAN WATKINS, Plaintiff, v. HEIDI WASHINGTON, Defendant.


OPINION

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 will dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim.

Discussion

I. Factual allegations

Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Ionia Correctional Facility (ICF) in Ionia County, Michigan. The events about which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff sues MDOC Director Heidi Washington in her official and personal capacity.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Washington has set a policy that puts general library access as a privilege, rather than a right. Thus, Plaintiff, who has been on loss of privileges status for most of the last five years, has been denied the right to general library books—specifically non-fiction books—for the purpose of educating and rehabilitating himself. Plaintiff claims this circumstance constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Plaintiff asks the Court to enjoin the MDOC, through Defendant Washington, from classifying the reading of non-fiction books as a privilege. He also seeks $1,000,000 in damages for his pain and suffering.

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. Immunity

Plaintiff has sued Defendant Washington in her personal and her official capacity as Director of the MDOC. A suit against an individual in her official capacity is equivalent to a suit brought against the governmental entity: in this case, the Michigan Department of Corrections. See Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); Matthews v. Jones, 35 F.3d 1046, 1049 (6th Cir. 1994). An official-capacity defendant is absolutely immune from monetary damages. Will, 491 U.S. at 71; Turker v. Ohio Dep't of Rehab. & Corr., 157 F.3d 453, 456 (6th Cir. 1998); Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 592-93 (6th Cir. 1989). Therefore, the Court will dismiss the suit for monetary relief against Washington in her official capacity. Nevertheless, an official-capacity action seeking injunctive relief constitutes an exception to sovereign immunity. See Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 159-60 (1908) (Eleventh Amendment immunity does not bar prospective injunctive relief against a state official).

IV. Cruel and unusual punishment

Federal courts consistently have found that prisoners have no constitutionally protected liberty interest in prison vocational, rehabilitation, and educational programs based on the Fourteenth Amendment. See, e.g., Moody v. Daggett, 429 U.S. 78, 88 n.9 (1976) (Due Process Clause not implicated by prisoner classification and eligibility for rehabilitative programs, even where inmate suffers "grievous loss"); Argue v. Hofmeyer, 80 F. App'x 427, 429 (6th Cir. 2003) (prisoners have no constitutional right to rehabilitation, education or jobs); Canterino v. Wilson, 869 F.2d 948, 952-54 (6th Cir. 1989) (no constitutional right to rehabilitation); Newsom v. Norris, 888 F.2d 371, 374 (6th Cir. 1989) (no constitutional right to prison employment); Ivey v. Wilson, 832 F.2d 950, 955 (6th Cir. 1987) ("[N]o prisoner has a constitutional right to a particular job or to any job"); Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1431 (7th Cir. 1996) (participation in a rehabilitative program is a privilege that the Due Process Clause does not guarantee); Rizzo v. Dawson, 778 F.2d 527, 531 (9th Cir. 1985) (no constitutional right to rehabilitative services). Plaintiff, however, claims that the right to access non-fiction books for the purpose of rehabilitation is guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment.

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. The Sixth Circuit has held that without a showing that basic human needs were not met, the denial of privileges cannot establish an Eighth Amendment violation. See Bradley v. Evans, No. 98-5861, 2000 WL 1277229, at *8 (6th Cir. Aug. 23, 2000), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1023 (2000); Collmar v. Wilkinson, No. 97-4374, 1999 WL 623708, at *3 (6th Cir. Aug. 11, 1999). The Seventh Circuit has concluded that "[t]he denial of reading material does not state a claim under the Eighth Amendment, since it is not a deprivation of 'basic human needs' or 'life's necessities.'" Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1433 n.8 (7th Cir. 1996). Accordingly, Plaintiff's allegations fail to state an Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Washington in her personal or her official capacity.

Conclusion

Having conducted the review required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 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). The Court does not certify that an appeal would not be in good faith. Should Plaintiff appeal this decision, the Court will assess the $505.00 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 $505.00 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: December 2, 2019

/s/ Janet T. Neff

Janet T. Neff

United States District Judge