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LEWIS v. WASHINGTON

May 30, 2003

MICHAEL LEWIS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ODIE WASHINGTON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elaine E. Bucklo, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs, state inmates at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, sued defendants, various prison officials, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of their constitutional rights while they were in "Category IV Protective Custody." I certified a class of about 160 inmates who have been placed in Category IV since the beginning of 1995. Lewis v. Washington, 197 F.R.D. 611, 612 (N.D. Ill. 2000). Defendants now move for Summary judgment. I grant the motion in part.

I. Background

Protective custody refers to the separation of inmates from the general prison population. Inmates may request to be placed in protective custody, which is divided into four categories. When an inmate so requests, he is placed in protective custody as soon as possible. While his application for protective custody is pending, he is placed in Category III protective custody. Inmates whose applications are approved are placed in Category I or II protective custody. Inmates whose applications are denied are returned to the general prison population, unless they appeal the denial. In that case, inmates are placed in Category IV.

Plaintiffs claim that while in Category IV protective custody, they are denied access to communal religious services, educational opportunities, drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, the gym, and hot food. They also claim that they are denied access to the main exercise yard, and instead relegated to a small yard without amenities available in the main yard.*fn1

II. Analysis

Defendants raise five arguments in their motion for summary judgment. First, they argue that the claims of any plaintiffs who have not exhausted their administrative remedies should be dismissed. Second, they argue that there is no case or controversy because plaintiffs are no longer in Category IV protective custody. Third, they argue that injunctive relief is unwarranted because the operation of Category IV protective custody has changed. Fourth, they argue that the involvement of defendants Tyree Currie and Donald Gaetz in Category IV decision-making was not sufficient to make them liable under § 1983. Finally, defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity.

A. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). This exhaustion requirement "applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). Defendants argue that many members of the plaintiff class have not exhausted their administrative remedies, and that judgment should therefore be entered against those plaintiffs. Defendants do admit, however, that four plaintiffs "have nominally complied with exhaustion requirements." (Defs.' Nem. Supp. Not. Summ. J. at 10 n. 2) Plaintiffs argue that exhaustion of administrative remedies by one class member is sufficient to satisfy the exhaustion requirement as to the entire class. In support, they cite Rahim v. Sheahan, No. 99 C 0395, 2001 wL 1263493 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 19, 2001) (Schenkier, Mag.) and Jones `El. v. Berge, 172 F. Supp.2d 1128 (W.D. Wis. 2001).

Both Rahim and Jones `El analogized the exhaustion requirement in PLRA class actions to the exhaustion requirement in Title VII employment discrimination class actions.*fn2 It is well established that in the Title VII context, the exhaustion requirement is satisfied when one member of a class has complied with the requirement; each member of the class need not exhaust administrative remedies. Romasanta v. United Airlines, Inc., 537 F.2d 915, 919 (7th Cir. 1976), aff'd sub nom. United Airlines, Inc. v. McDonald, 432 U.S. 385 (1977). Both Rahim and Jones `El found that this rule of vicarious exhaustion applies in PLRA class actions. Rahim, 2001 WL 1263493 at *7; Jones `El, 172 F. Supp.2d at 1132-33. I find the analogy compelling, and likewise hold that one class member's exhaustion of administrative remedies satisfies the PLRA's exhaustion requirement as to the entire class.

The purpose behind enactment of the PLRA exhaustion requirement was "to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits." Porter, 534 U.S. at 524. To this end, Congress afforded corrections officials time and opportunity to address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a federal case. Id. at 524-25. The Porter Court noted that in some cases, prison officials may take corrective action to address an inmate's concerns, thus obviating the need for litigation. Id. at 525. This rationale for the PLRA exhaustion requirement is similar to the purpose behind the Title VII exhaustion requirement, which is to allow the EEOC "an opportunity to settle disputes . . . before the aggrieved party [is] permitted to file a lawsuit." Zuckerstein v. Argonne Nat'l Lab., 663 F. Supp. 569, 572 (N.D. Ill. 1987) (Moran, J.) (quoting Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 44 (1974)). In the Title VII context, this purpose behind administrative exhaustion is satisfied in class action suits where there is one complying plaintiff because

[i]t would be wasteful, if not vain, for numerous employees, all with the same grievance, to have to process many identical complaints with the EEOC. If it is impossible to reach a settlement with one discriminatee, what reason could there be to assume that the next one would be successful.
Id. (quoting Oatis v. Crown Zellerbach Corp., 398 F.2d 496, 498 (5th Cir. 1968)). Similarly, in the PLRA context, the purpose of affording prison officials an opportunity to address complaints internally is met when one plaintiff in a class action has exhausted his administrative remedies. To require each inmate with the same grievance to exhaust their administrative remedies would be wasteful, and "[a]s long as prison officials have received a single complaint addressing each claim in a class action, they have the opportunity to resolve disputes internally and to limit judicial intervention in the management of prisons." Jones `El, 172 F. Supp.2d at 1133. The analogy to the Title VII exhaustion requirement is apt. The purpose behind the PLRA requirement is met when a single plaintiff in a class action has exhausted his administrative remedies, and a rule of vicarious exhaustion in PLRA cases is therefore appropriate. Because defendants admit that at least four plaintiffs here have complied with the exhaustion requirement, I will not enter judgment against any class member for tailing to exhaust administrative remedies.

B. Case or Controversy

Defendants next argue that there is no case or controversy because the named plaintiffs are no longer in Category IV protective custody. While the general rule is that an Article III case or controversy must exist at every stage of litigation, there is a special rule for class actions that allows named plaintiffs to continue representing a class even after their own claims are moot. Trotter v. Klincar, 748 F.2d 1177, 1183 (7th Cir. 1984). This is based on the fiction that once a class is certified, the class obtains a legally cognizable interest independent of that of the named plaintiffs, and the class claims thus preserve the adversarial interest needed for the invocation of jurisdiction. Id. (citing Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393 (1975)). Because the named plaintiffs were in Category IV protective custody when the original complaint was filed, and because there are still inmates in Category IV protective custody, there exists an Article III case or controversy whether or not the named plaintiffs are still ...


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