United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
April 15, 2004.
PETER FOWLER, Plaintiff
MARVIN BOYKIN, Law Library Supervisor; SGT. (JANE) COLLIER, Badge No. 922; LAWRENCE X. O'REILLY, Assistant State's Attorney; MICHAEL F. SHEAHAN, Sheriff of Cook County, Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES KOCORAS, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION DOCKETED
This matter comes before the court on a motion by Defendant Gail
Collier to dismiss the complaint as to her. For the reasons set forth
below, the motion is granted.
Plaintiff Peter Fowler is an inmate at the Menard Correctional Center
in Menard, Illinois. At the time of the events pertinent to this case,
Fowler was awaiting trial in the Cook County Correctional Center. In his
complaint, Fowler alleges that the four defendants violated his
constitutional rights by interfering with his access to the courts and by
denying him both substantive and procedural due process. Specifically, he claimed that the prison law librarian refused to allow him access
to the library while he was preparing for a court appearance. Fowler
claims that he filled out a grievance, which he gave to Defendant Collier
to file on April 1, 2002. According to the complaint, minutes after he
gave her the document, Collier searched his cell in retaliation for his
filing the grievance. During the search, Collier discovered legal
materials that she believed Fowler had stolen from the library. Fowler
insisted that he had obtained the papers lawfully, but Collier was
A disciplinary hearing was held on April 5, and Fowler was found guilty
of damaging and unlawfully taking law library materials. As a result, he
was sent to a segregation unit for 20 days. In February of the following
year, Fowler filed the complaint in this case, alleging claims under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 and seeking a total of $96 million in damages.
On May 21, 2003, we considered the complaint's viability as required by
28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The claims against Defendants Marvin Boykin, Lawrence
O'Reilly, and Michael Sheahan were dismissed, as well as one claim
against Collier and any procedural due process claim founded in the
alleged refusal to allow Fowler to present certain evidence at the
disciplinary hearing. However, two due process claims remained against
Collier. She now moves to dismiss the complaint for failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Prisoner Litigation
Reform Act ("PLRA").
The PLRA dictates that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to
prison conditions under section 1983 of this title . . . by a prisoner .
. . until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted."
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The PLRA helps to "reduce the quantity and improve
the quality of prisoner suits," by "afford[ing] corrections officials
time to address complaints internally." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516,
524-25, 122 S.Ct. 983, 988 (2002). The PLRA also works to "limit judicial
intervention in the management of state and federal prisons." McCoy v.
Gilbert, 270 F.3d 503, 509-510 (7th Cir. 2001). The Supreme Court has
recently held that this requirement applies to every suit filed by a
prisoner regarding events occurring during his or her incarceration,
whether ongoing or isolated. Porter, 534 U.S. at 524, 122 S.Ct. at 988.
For these reasons Congress requires prisoners to exhaust their
administrative remedies. If a prison has an internal administrative
grievance system through which a prisoner can seek to correct a problem,
"then the prisoner must utilize that administrative system before filing
a claim." Massey v. Helman, 196 F.3d 727, 733 (7th Cir. 1999). If a
prisoner plaintiff fails to exhaust his administrative remedies before
filing suit, the district court must dismiss the complaint without reaching the merits. Perez v. Wis. Dept. of Corr., 182 F.3d 532,
535-36 (7th Cir. 1999).
In support of her motion to dismiss, Collier refers to the answers
Fowler provided within the section of his form complaint entitled
"Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies." There, Fowler states that a
grievance procedure is available at his institution (at that time, Cook
County Correctional Institution) but that he has not filed a grievance
concerning the factual allegations contained within his complaint. By way
of explanation for this failure, Fowler says only that he has filed a §
1983 suit. He also states that he did not complain to the authorities at
his institution because a "grievance can't solved [sic] this matter."
According to Collier, this collection of admissions is fatal to Fowler's
ability to pursue his suit against her. We agree.
There is some question as to the accuracy of all of Fowler's statements
regarding his pursuit of remedies within his institution-attached to the
complaint is a copy of a grievance form involving the same situation
detailed in the complaint, dated April 1, 2002.*fn1 Thus, it appears
that Fowler at one point did not believe that a grievance could not solve
the matter, but the section on the form in which the inmate is permitted
to request an appeal of the decision is left blank. In the absence of any
contrary allegation, we can only conclude that Fowler never attempted to
appeal the outcome of his grievance, apparently after concluding that to
do so would be fufile.*fn2 In Perez, the Seventh Circuit rejected any
notion of a futility exception to the PLRA exhaustion requirement. 182
F.3d at 537. There is no room for a court or a plaintiff to speculate
whether exhaustion would be unavailing under the specific circumstances
of each case. Id. If a remedy exists, a plaintiff must pursue it as far
as possible before bringing suit in federal court. Otherwise,
administrative personnel are deprived of their ability to respond to
problems at their institutions. The allegations within the complaint
unequivocally indicate that Fowler has jumped the gun in filing the
instant suit. As such, we cannot consider the merits of his claims.
Based on the foregoing analysis, Collier's motion to dismiss the
complaint as to her is granted.