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Jackson v. Hoffman

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

September 25, 2013

MAURICE JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
C/O M. HOFFMAN, CHRISTOPHER FLEMING, SGT. PELKER, TRACY HEIMAN, LT. CARTWRIGHT, FRANK EOVALDI, C/O MAYBERRY, JUSTIN ENGELAGE, C/O BISHOP, A. WALTER, C/O NEHRING, C/O SULSER, CLINT MAYER, C/O PROWELL, DR. SHEPERD, DR. FAHIM, TRACY HARRINGTON, MICHAEL ATCHISON, and CHARLES McDANIEL, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

This § 1983 civil rights case comes before the Court on pro se Plaintiff Maurice Jackson's objections to a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") submitted by Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Williams. For the reasons explained below, the undersigned overrules Plaintiff's objections, adopts in full Judge Williams' Report and Recommendation, and dismisses Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Fahim and Sheperd without prejudice.

PROCEDURAL & FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff sued Defendants on March 14, 2012. According to Plaintiff's Complaint, Fahim and Sheperd (for purposes of this Memorandum & Order, "Defendants") acted with deliberate indifference to serious medical needs Plaintiff incurred when he was assaulted by Menard staff on December 30, 2011. In August 2012, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the undersigned screened the complaint and severed the case into three distinct actions: this (the underlying action), as well as No. 12-cv-0960 and No. 12-cv-0961. Defendants (Fahim in February, Sheperd in June 2013) filed respective and nearly-identical motions for summary judgment, each asserting Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing suit, as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA").

Magistrate Judge Williams, pursuant to Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739 (7th Cir. 2008), held a hearing the motions on August 6, 2013. In his post-hearing R&R, Judge Williams recommended granting both summary judgment motions. Judge Williams' Recommendation (and the underlying argument between the parties) focuses on four grievance forms Plaintiff submitted into evidence (either via attachment to the original Complaint or as part of his summary judgment response), as well a collection of records kept by Menard and Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") officials. Judge Williams found Defendants submitted evidence sufficient to show Plaintiff never filed any grievances relating to his post-assault medical care, and that neither Plaintiff's exhibits nor his testimony were credible. (Doc. 119, 10). In short, Judge Williams found none of the four grievances Plaintiff submitted were actually filed at Menard, as Plaintiff claims.

Plaintiff's objection to Judge Williams' R&R is twofold. He first challenges the magistrate judge's application of the summary judgment standard, then takes issue with the findings of fact and credibility determinations that lie at the heart of the R&R.

ANALYSIS

When a party timely objects to a magistrate judge's R&R, the district court-giving deference to the magistrate judge's findings of fact and credibility determinations as noted below- must undertake de novo review of the portions to which an objection has been made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

1. Plaintiff's First Objection: Summary Judgment Standard, Pavey , and the Instant Standard of Review

Interpreting Plaintiff's argument generously, his underlying objection seems to be that it was erroneous for Magistrate Judge Williams to make any factual findings or credibility determination at this stage of the case. Plaintiff points to Washington v. Haupert for the proposition that credibility determinations are not within a court's purview at the summary judgment stage. See Washington v. Haupert , 481 F.3d 543, 551 (7th Cir. 2007) ("we are not in a position to resolve swearing contests between litigants" at summary judgment) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

While Plaintiff's proposition is generally a correct one, Haupert did not concern the PLRA's exhaustion requirement. Whether a prisoner exhausted his administrative remedies is an issue frequently challenged in what the parties label a "motion for summary judgment, " but the standard outlined by the Seventh Circuit is not the one enshrined in Haupert (or Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56).

In Pavey v. Conley ( Pavey I ), the Seventh Circuit set forth the procedures for tackling the exhaustion issue; the first step is for the judge to conduct "a hearing on exhaustion and [permit] whatever discovery relating to exhaustion he deems appropriate." Pavey I , 544 F.3d 739, 742 (7th Cir. 2008). And in holding that hearing, a court may credit the testimony of one witness over another. See Pavey v. Conley (Pavey II) , 663 F.3d 899, 904 (7th Cir. 2011) (affirming the findings of a magistrate judge, whose R&R included factual findings that Plaintiff was not credible). In other words, the very purpose of Pavey I is to allow a judge to resolve swearing contests between litigants. See Pavey I , 544 F.3d at 741 ("Juries decide cases, not issues of judicial traffic control."). Plaintiff's argument is off-target, and his objection overruled.

Further, for the purposes of this memorandum and order, while the Court undertakes de novo review of the R&R portions to which Plaintiff objects, the Court will give great deference to Judge Williams' factual findings and credibility determinations. Pavey II , 663 F.3d at 904. See also Towns v. Holton , 346 F.App'x 97, 100 (7th Cir. 2009) (great deference to credibility findings based on demeanor); Goffman v. Gross , 59 F.3d 668, 671 (7th Cir. 1995) ("[ D ] e novo determination is not the same as a de novo hearing . The district ...


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