In March 2015, a Michigan prisoner was awarded $1,001 in a First Amendment retaliation claim following entry of a default judgment.
Prisoner Deontae J. Gordon’s problems began when he asked “Defendant Little,” a librarian’s assistant at the Oaks Correctional Facility, to “make copies of documents so he could further pursue a grievance alleging that prison officials were fabricating documents so that certain inmates could be paid, pursuant to their prison jobs, for work which they did not perform.” His complaint stemmed from allegations that he was not allowed to perform his job duties because he was a member of the Nation of Islam.
Little confiscated and refused to copy a document titled “July 4 payroll for Unit 4 payrolls.” She told Gordon she “was not copying anything that could lead to the firing of staff.”
Following that November 10, 2011 interaction, Gordon sought to obtain copies of a document for use in an appeal of his criminal conviction. Little responded to his request by stating, “Last time I made copies for you, I had to confiscate them because the documents could have gotten [prison employees] Benson and Haske fired.”
Gordon reported the incident and was advised the matter would be looked into. The next day, Little requested that Gordon be placed on a 30-day law library ban and canceled his scheduled law library call-outs. Gordon alleged those actions were in retaliation for “petitioning her supervisors ... regarding her refusal to make Plaintiff’s legal copies for [his] criminal appeal.”
He was allowed to go to the law library on December 14, but Little again refused to make the copies, saying, “you don’t have nothing coming.” Gordon’s persistence finally led to the copies being made on December 17, 2011.
After Gordon filed suit on First Amendment retaliation grounds, naming ten defendants, Little executed a waiver of service. The Michigan Attorney General’s office entered a notice of appearance but later withdrew due to “an irremediable breakdown in the attorney-client relationship.” Little failed to appear or respond to court orders, resulting in the entry of a default judgment, and Gordon was awarded $1 in nominal damages and $1,000 in punitive damages.
He then filed a motion for costs, which was denied by the district court on September 21, 2015; the court wrote that “Even if Plaintiff is considered the prevailing party in this matter, his victory and recovery was so insignificant that an award of costs in Plaintiff’s favor is not appropriate.” See: Gordon v. Benson, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Mich.), Case No. 1:12-cv-00295-JTN-ESC.
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Related legal case
Gordon v. Benson
|U.S.D.C. (W.D. Mich.), Case No. 1:12-cv-00295-JTN-ESC