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Harmer v. Parker

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

July 18, 2019

GRENDA RAY HARMER, Plaintiff,
v.
TONY PARKER et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          J. RONNIE GREER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Grenda Ray Harmer, an inmate in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”), has filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [Doc. 1]. This matter is before the Court for screening pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”).

         I. SCREENING STANDARDS

         Under the PLRA, district courts must screen prisoner complaints and shall, at any time, sua sponte dismiss any claims that are frivolous or malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or are against a defendant who is immune. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A; Benson v. O'Brian, 179 F.3d 1014 (6th Cir. 1999). The dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) “governs dismissals for failure state a claim under [28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A] because the relevant statutory language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). Thus, to survive an initial review under the PLRA, a complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Courts liberally construe pro se pleadings filed in civil rights cases and hold them to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).

         In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must establish that he was deprived of a federal right by a person acting under color of state law. Braley v. City of Pontiac, 906 F.2d 220, 223 (6th Cir. 1990) (stating that “Section 1983 . . . creates a right of action for the vindication of constitutional guarantees found elsewhere”). “Absent either element, a section 1983 claim will not lie.” Christy v. Randlett, 932 F.2d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 1991).

         II. ALLEGATIONS OF THE COMPLAINT

         Plaintiff has filed a 39-page handwritten complaint alleging that 21 separate Defendants violated his constitutional rights between March 2016 through March 2018, when he filed the instant suit [Doc. 2]. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendants have retaliated against him for exposing fraud and filing grievances, that they have denied him adequate bed and hygiene items, that they have threatened him, that they have subjected him to unconstitutional conditions of confinement, that they have subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment, that they have failed to protect him, that they have denied him proper access to the courts, that they have interfered with the proper grievance/disciplinary procedures, and that they have denied him adequate medical care [Doc. 2 at 1-39].

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Retaliation

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have transferred him, taken and/or destroyed his property, filed false disciplinary reports against him, and placed a “hit” on him in retaliation for his complaints about fraud in prison facilities and his instigation of the instant suit [Doc. 2].

         To establish a retaliation claim, Plaintiff must show that: (1) he “engaged in protected conduct; (2) an adverse action was taken against [him] that would deter a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in that conduct; and (3) there is a causal connection between elements one and two - that is, the adverse action was motivated at least in part by the plaintiff's protected conduct.” Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 394 (6th Cir. 1999).

         The Sixth Circuit has held that “the definition of adverse action is not static across contexts, ” as “[p]risoners may be required to tolerate more than public employees, who may be required to tolerate more than average citizens, before an action taken against them is considered adverse[, ]” and “certain threats or deprivations are so de minimis that they do not rise to the level of being constitutional violations[.]” Id. at 398. Rather, a retaliation claim is actionable only if the adverse action is such that would deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his right to access the courts. Smith v. Yarrow, 78 Fed.Appx. 529, 540 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Thaddeus-X, 175 F.3d at 398). Such a showing “must be more than the prisoner's personal belief that he is the victim of retaliation.” Johnson v. Rodriguez, 110 F.3d 299, 310 (5th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         The first element of Plaintiff's retaliation claim is not at issue here; it is settled law that retaliation based on the exercise of one's First Amendment rights is a constitutional violation. See, e.g., Thaddeus-X, 175 F.3d at 394. However, Plaintiff has not offered any evidence - beyond his subjective belief - that any adverse action he suffered was motivated by the fact that he initiated lawsuits and/or grievances. Therefore, his wholly conclusory allegations of retaliatory motives are insufficient to state a claim under § 1983. See, e.g., Gutierrez v. Lynch, 826 F.2d 1534, 1538-39 (6th Cir. 1987).[1]

         B. ...


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