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Michigan Prisoner Prevails in First Amendment Retaliation Case; $30,000 in Damages and Attorney Fees

by David M. Reutter

A Michigan federal district court has awarded $18,325.28 in attorney fees and costs in a prisoner’s civil rights action, which followed a jury verdict on First Amendment retaliation and conspiracy claims that totaled $11,500.

Prisoner Arthur L. Campbell was housed at the Mound Road Correctional Facility when, on April 4, 2007, he received a minor misconduct ticket for leaving his wet coat on the back of a chair in his cell. Prior to that, Campbell had been in verbal conflicts with guards Angela Dye and Mark Bragg over the handling of his legal mail, and had filed grievances against Bragg and guard Cynthia Gause.

Campbell asserted at a disciplinary hearing that he had been told by Gause at previous resident unit meetings that “it was permissible to hang a wet coat on a chair.” Nonetheless, he was found guilty and told, “you’re a legal beagle, appeal it.”

His appeal was denied. Then, on April 24, 2007, Campbell was abruptly transferred to another facility. He was told by Dye that they were “going to fix his legal beagle ass.” As he was leaving the prison, Dye, Bragg and another guard, Joslyn Conyers, were in his cell unpacking his property. When it arrived at Campbell’s new facility on May 4, his typewriter, television, headphones and tape player were broken or damaged. Other items were missing, including religious items, and his legal papers were in disarray. Some of his prescribed medications had been confiscated.

Campbell filed suit on April 1, 2010. After a week-long trial, on October 17, 2017 a jury awarded Campbell $11,500, which included $2,500 against Conyers on a conspiracy claim with Dye. Campbell, who was represented by attorneys Cale A. Johnson, Dante A. Stella and Matthew M. Dybas, then moved for attorney fees. It took the district court around 18 months to rule on that motion, in May 2019.

The court set the fee rate at $198 per hour and said the PLRA fee cap of 150% of the verdict would be reached at 87.12 hours, which would have easily been exceeded in the case. It ordered Campbell to pay $1 of the fee award out of the jury verdict. The court also awarded $1,075.28 in costs. It denied Campbell’s request for pre-judgment interest and he filed an appeal with the Sixth Circuit on June 7, 2019, challenging the district court’s denial of his motion to withdraw a stipulated order that had dismissed a First Amendment free exercise claim and RLUIPA claim. His appeal remains pending. See: Campbell v. Gause, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mich.), Case No. 2:10-cv-11371-RSW. 

Related legal case

Campbell v. Gause