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Stanley Boclair v. Donald Hulick

March 14, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge


A. Introduction and Procedural Overview

In this prisoner civil rights suit filed under 42 U.S.C. 1983, Stanley Boclair alleges deprivations of his federally-secured constitutional rights while incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center, in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. On threshold review of Boclair's complaint under 28 U.S.C. 1915A, the undersigned Judge dismissed several claims and Defendants, ordered service to be made on the remaining Defendants, and referred pretrial matters to the Honorable Stephen C. Williams, United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to Local Rule 72.1(a).

Subsequent pleadings and Orders clarified and narrowed the case to retaliation claims against six Defendants: (1) Donald Hulick, (2) Tina Beardan Monroe, (3) Bradley Sadler, (4) Tom Maue, (5) Darrell Westerman, and (6) Dan Liefer. On September 23, 2011, these six Defendants moved for summary judgment based on Plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a).

On January 24, 2012, Judge Williams submitted a Report and Recommendation (Doc. 52, "the Report") recommending that the undersigned District Judge grant in part and deny in part Defendants' summary judgment motion.*fn1

Specifically, the Report recommended that the Court grant the motion as to Defendants Hulick, Sadler, Maue and Liefer. The Report further recommended that the Court deny the motion (find that Plaintiff did exhaust his claims) as to Defendants Tina Beardan Monroe and Darrell Westerman.*fn2

The Report was sent to the parties with a notice plainly advising them that they must file any objections by February 10, 2012 (Doc. 52-1). Defendants did not object to the Report. On February 14, 2012, the Court received Plaintiff Boclair's objections to the Report. They had a February 5, 2012 certificate of service and arrived in an envelope with a February 7, 2012 postmark. Applying the mailbox rule, the Court construed the objections as timely-filed and set a March 2, 2012 deadline by which Defendants could respond thereto. Defendants did so (Doc. 59).

Timely objections having been filed, the District Judge undertakes de novo review of the portions of the Report to which Boclair specifically objected. 28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1); FED.R.CIV.P. 72(b); Southern Dist. Illinois Local Rule 73.1(b). The undersigned can accept, reject, or modify the recommendations made by Judge Williams, receive further evidence, or recommit the matter to Judge Williams with instructions.Id.

B. Analysis

► Overview of Exhaustion Requirement

The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), Pub. L. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), requires prisoners to exhaust administrative remedies before they file suit in federal court. 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). The exhaustion requirement applies to all lawsuits challenging prison conditions under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and actions under any other federal law brought by a prisoner confined in any jail or correctional facility. See Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002)(United States Supreme Court held that PLRA 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").

Exhaustion is a condition precedent to suit in federal court, so the inmate must exhaust before he commences his federal litigation; he cannot exhaust while his lawsuit is pending. See Perez v. Wisconsin Department of Corr., 182 F.3d 532, 535 (7th Cir. 1999); Dixon v. Page, 291 F.3d 485, 488 (7th Cir. 2002). If the inmate fails to exhaust before filing suit in federal court, the district court must dismiss the suit or dismiss any claims not fully exhausted. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 223 (2007); Burrell v. Powers, 431 F.3d 282, 284-85 (7th Cir. 2005).

Because exhaustion is an affirmative defense, "the burden of proof is on the prison officials." Kaba v. Stepp, 458 F.3d 678, 680 (7th Cir. 2006). So here, Defendants bear the burden of demonstrating that Boclair failed to exhaust all administrative remedies before he filed this suit. Kaba, 458 F.3d at 681, citing Dole v. Chandler, 438 F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006).

To properly exhaust within the meaning of the PLRA, the inmate must "file complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison's administrative rules require." Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1025 (7th Cir. 2002). As an inmate confined in the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC"), Boclair was ...

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