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King v. Zamiara

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

June 1, 2015

KEVIN KING, Plaintiff-Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
CHUCK ZAMIARA, CURTIS CHAFFEE, SHARON WELLS, in their individual and official capacities, Defendants-Appellees/Cross-Appellants

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan at Lansing. No. 4:02-cv-00141--Robert Holmes Bell, District Judge.


Gregory N. Longworth, CLARK HILL PLC, Grand Rapids, Michigan, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

Kevin R. Himebaugh, OFFICE OF THE MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

Before: COLE, Chief Judge; MOORE, Circuit Judge; BECKWITH, District Judge.[*]



In this appeal, we decide whether 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), a provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (" PLRA" ), precludes prisoners from asserting meritorious § 1983 claims alleging First Amendment violations merely because those violations did not also cause physical harm. After Kevin King, an inmate held by the Michigan Department of Corrections (" MDOC" ), participated in a class-action lawsuit designed to challenge personal property policies at MDOC facilities (the " Cain litigation" ), prison officials transferred him to a prison with a higher security classification and more restrictive conditions. King filed suit against Chuck Zamiara, Curtis Chaffee, Sharon Wells, and other prison officials (the " prison officials" ) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We have previously held that Zamiara, Chaffee, and Wells are liable for retaliating against King for his First Amendment-protected conduct, namely participating in the Cain litigation and assisting other petitioners to file grievances. After we remanded the case back to the district court, the court granted compensatory damages and awarded attorney fees, but denied punitive damages and injunctive relief. Both parties appealed. For the following reasons, we VACATE the district court's judgment and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Our previous opinions thoroughly discuss the facts of this case. See King v. Zamiara, 680 F.3d 686, 688-94 (6th Cir. 2012) (" King V " ). As pertinent to this appeal, the facts are as follows: Kevin King was incarcerated in 1983 after his conviction for first-degree murder. As of November 1999, King was housed in the Conklin Unit at Brooks Correctional Facility (" Brooks" ), a Level II facility. On April 20, 2000, Sharon Wells, the Resident Unit Manager of Conklin Unit, requested that King be transferred to another unit because he was " becoming increasingly more powerful in the eyes of the prisoners in Conklin Unit." R. 11-2 (Wells Memo) (Page ID #132). Curtis Chaffee, the transfer coordinator at Brooks, requested that Chuck Zamiara, an MDOC classification specialist, approve a transfer to another Level II facility. R. 130-3 (Chaffee/Zamiara Email) (Page ID #788). After consulting with Classification Director Nick Ludwick, Zamiara instead approved a transfer to a Level III facility because King was " preceived [sic] as a disruptive prisoner who is manipulating others to create unrest." Id. The security screen entered into King's file was hand-edited to replace a note that King was " manageable in Level II" with a note scoring him at Level III. R. 130-3 (Chaffee Screen) (Page ID #784). King was transferred to Chippewa Correctional Facility (" Chippewa" ), a Level III facility, on May 17, 2000.

A Level III facility operates under more heightened security procedures than a Level II facility. Although the Warden testified that " [t]here's very little difference" between the two security levels and that each facility sets its own schedules and programming, R. 171 (Trial Tr. I at 125-26) (Page ID #1557-58), another prison official testified that there were differences between Level II and Level III facilities in terms of visitation, programming, and activities. R. 172 (Trial Tr. II at 272-74) (Page ID #1706-08). In addition, King testified to several substantial differences between the two facilities. King explained that his access to other prisoners during " yard time" and free time in the day rooms was significantly restricted at the Level III facility. He was inhibited from " communicat[ing] with who [he] wanted to" because he was unable to move freely between common spaces. R. 171 (Trial Tr. I at 92-97) (Page ID #1524-29). The movement restrictions in Level III affected King's ability to assist with the Cain litigation: " I was less able to get affidavits, declarations to discover what was going on with the department up there at the time because I was pretty much secluded. I had to move with the masses that they chose that I move with." Id. at 98 (Page ID #1530). King continually objected to his Level III classification, and in February 2001 he was approved for a transfer to Thumb Correctional Facility, a Level II facility.

On July 26, 2002, King filed a pro se complaint alleging First Amendment retaliation against several MDOC employees. R. 1 (Compl.) (Page ID #1-18). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, concluding that King had not engaged in any form of protected conduct. R. 30 (D. Ct. Order) (Page ID #352). King appealed, and we reversed. King v. Zamiara, 150 F.App'x 485 (6th Cir. 2005) (" King I " ). We concluded that King made a prima facie showing of the elements of his First Amendment retaliation claim: that his participation in the Cain litigation and his assistance to other prisoners in filing grievances were examples of First Amendment-protected conduct, that the defendants took " adverse" actions against him by increasing his security level and charging him with misconduct tickets, and that there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the increase in security level. King I, 150 F.App'x at 491-95. We remanded the case to the district court to determine whether the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 490.

On remand, the district court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity. King v. Zamiara, No. 4:02-cv-141, 2006 WL 2439732, at *1 (W.D. Mich. Aug. 22, 2006) (" King II " ). King appealed, and we again reversed. King v. Zamiara, No. 06-2271, slip op. at 4 (6th Cir. April 26, 2007) (" King III " ). On remand, both parties moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted both motions in part. The case proceeded to trial on the question of causation. Following a two-day bench trial, the district court found in favor of the defendants. King v. Zamiara, No. 4:02-CV-141, 2009 WL 3424221, at *9 (W.D. Mich. Oct. 20, 2009) (" King IV " ).

King appealed once again. We affirmed the district court's judgment as to two of the defendants because King presented insufficient proof that those defendants had knowledge of the constitutional violation and retaliatory motive. King V, 680 F.3d at 705-07. We reversed the district court's judgment with respect to Wells, Chaffee, and Zamiara, and remanded the case for entry of judgment in favor of King as against the three defendants. Id. at 710. On remand, the district court entered judgment in favor of King, and ordered $1,475 in compensatory damages and $2,212.50 in attorney fees. King v. Zamiara, No. 4:02-CV-141, 2013 WL 2102655 (W.D. ...

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