Lansing, MI – A three-judge panel ruled that a prisoner can proceed with his lawsuit against the state after he got shorted on beans for lunch, and a corrections officer used profanity when he complained about it.
The panel said James Maben, who was serving a six year sentence for assault, can sue a state corrections officer for $260,000.
Maben, 51, was incarcerated at the Central Michigan Correctional Facility in St. Louis when he alleged Corrections Officer Troy Thelen violated his constitutional rights on Oct. 19, 2015, the Detroit Free Press reported.
In his lawsuit, the prisoner said he was trying to complain that he hadn’t been given the appropriate amount of food.
Maben claimed the officer yelled and swore at him and gave him a misconduct ticket because he complained that a food server short-changed him on a serving of beans, the lawsuit said.
The prisoner said that Officer Thelen told him, “If you’re going to complain, then you’re going to get a misconduct for it.”
The Detroit Free Press reported that Maben’s version of events was supported by affidavits sworn by other prisoners.
Maben said that the prison food server admitted he made a mistake.
The lawsuit claimed that Maben was left, “embarrassed, demeaned and humiliated,” by Officer Thelen’s treatment of him. He also lost phone call privileges and other privileges for a week as a result of the ticket.
Initially, U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy III threw out Maben’s lawsuit.
Murphy said that Maben had no legitimate First Amendment complaint because the situation was already resolved by the Correction Department when it had a hearing about the misconduct ticket.
However, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with Murphy’s ruling.
“Maben was complaining about the adequacy of his food, and we refuse to say that a complaint about one of the major requirements of life is a frivolous … grievance,” the three judges – Gilbert Merritt, Eric Clay, and Jeffrey Sutton – said in a published opinion, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The court said that Maben hadn’t been given an adequate opportunity to present his case at the prison hearing, and that the hearing officer had refused to watch a video of the incident.