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Lewis v. Washington

August 14, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 99 C 1050--Harold A. Baker, Judge.

Before Coffey, Kanne, and Rovner, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED JULY 10, 2002

Illinois prisoner Peter Lewis sued various employees of the Illinois Department of Cor- rections ("IDOC") under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that they failed to protect him from an attack by his cellmate and that they conspired to cover up the attack by ignor- ing many of his grievances and requests. The district court dismissed the case, concluding that Lewis had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"). See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). We affirm the dismissal of the failure-to- protect claim, but remand the conspiracy claim to the district court for further proceedings.


In October 1997 Lewis complained to unnamed security officers at Henry Hill Correctional Center that his new cellmate, Joseph Carlos, was "aggressive and threatening" and that he was afraid to stay in the cell with him. The next day Lewis spoke with Lieutenant Jones, who as- sured Lewis that he would speak with Carlos. Lewis con- tends that Carlos displayed a "furious anger" toward him after Lt. Jones spoke with Carlos. The following night Lewis called for security officers because Carlos began "act- ing 'crazy' by jumping up and down in the middle of the floor screaming and hitting the walls." The security offi- cers did not respond to Lewis's calls for help. The next day Lewis told Lt. Jones about Carlos's behavior and re- quested to be moved to another cell, including a segrega- tion cell for his own safety. Lt. Jones refused Lewis's trans- fer request.

A few days after Lt. Jones's refusal, Lewis awoke in the morning to the sound of Carlos speaking to security officer Lt. Shaw. Lt. Shaw had escorted Carlos to his cell to re- trieve his personal property because he was being placed in segregation for fighting in the dining hall that morning. Lt. Shaw left Carlos alone in the cell with Lewis, and Lewis went back to sleep. Carlos suddenly began to beat Lewis with a metal walking cane. Lewis screamed for help, and a security officer appeared and took Lewis to the health care unit. Lewis spent two days in the health care unit and was treated for an injury to his right leg.

As soon as Lewis was released from the health care unit he filed two grievances concerning the Carlos attack. The first grievance sought disciplinary action against Carlos and listed numerous witnesses to the attack. The second grievance, titled "Staff Conduct," alleged that Lt. Shaw endangered Lewis's life by returning Carlos to his cell in a hostile state despite knowing of Lewis's complaints of Carlos's behavior. That grievance also alleged that Lt. Jones failed to transfer him to another cell.

The following month Lewis spoke with Officer Connor of the Internal Affairs Office regarding the Carlos attack. He explained that he wanted to press criminal charges against Carlos, and Officer Connor said that she would look into it. Officer Connor also explained that Carlos had denied attacking Lewis, that there were no eye witnesses, and that Lewis had not been injured in the attack. Lewis then asked Officer Connor for a polygraph examination to prove that he was telling the truth, and Officer Connor said that she would look into it.

In December 1997 Lewis learned that a grievance offi- cer had denied his "Staff Conduct" grievance and that the Chief Administrative Officer ("CAO") of the prison had concurred. The denial did not address Lewis's grievance against Carlos or Lewis's request for a polygraph exam- ination, but did explain that Lewis had 30 days to appeal the CAO's decision to the Administrative Review Board ("ARB"). A few days later and before appealing to the ARB, Lewis wrote to the Internal Affairs Office and to Warden Richard Gramley seeking responses to his griev- ance against Carlos and to his polygraph request. Lewis also requested from a grievance officer a copy of the investi- gation report on which the denial of his "Staff Conduct" grievance was based. Lewis received no response to any of these requests.

That same month Lewis asked Internal Affairs Officer Connor about the status of his polygraph examination re- quest. She told him that he needed to file a grievance in order to take a polygraph examination. Lewis then filed a grievance in January 1998 in which he alleged that he had sent a polygraph request to the grievance officer, the Internal Affairs Office, and Warden Gramley, but received no response. He also renewed his request for criminal charges against Carlos. When he received no response, Lewis filed another grievance on January 20, 1998, request- ing the same relief and concluding that he had "not re- ceived any kind of a respond [sic] . . . granting or denial [sic] the request to the polygraph test and to press chargest [sic] for the attacked [sic]." About a week later he received a response that "there is no record of a request for a poly- graph test" and that "[a]ll requests are to be submitted to the Warden." The response did not mention Lewis's grievance against Carlos or explain why his other requests had gone unanswered.

That same week Lewis happened to see Warden Gramley and explained to him that he had received no responses to his requests for a polygraph examination and his griev- ance against Carlos. Warden Gramley said that he would look into the matter and get back to him, but Lewis again received no response. In February 1998 Lewis again ex- plained to the warden that he wanted a polygraph exam- ination and that he wanted to press criminal charges against Carlos. About a week later the warden replied that he saw no basis to pursue disciplinary action against Carlos because Lewis had no injuries and because Carlos had denied the attack. But the warden wrote that he would forward the investigation report to the State's Attorney, who would decide whether to pursue criminal charges against Carlos.

Lewis waited to hear from the State's Attorney, but he received no response. About three months after receiving the warden's letter, Lewis appealed his "Staff Conduct" grievance to the ARB. Lewis explained that he never re- ceived a response regarding his grievance against Carlos or his request for a polygraph examination. In June 1998 the ARB declined to consider Lewis's appeal because it was untimely filed.

In January 1999 Lewis filed this ยง 1983 case against various employees of the IDOC. In February 2000 the district court dismissed the case without prejudice be- cause, by untimely appealing to the ARB, Lewis had failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The court, however, granted Lewis leave to "reinstate the case upon filing a written statement with the court within 14 days of re- ceipt of this order establishing why he failed to file a timely appeal" to the ARB. In a footnote, the district court advised Lewis that "the court must first be persuaded by the plaintiff's filing that cause and prejudice exist for his procedural default before the court will reinstate the case." Lewis submitted his written statement within the 14-day period, but the district court clerk had al- ...

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