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Hall v. Schnicker

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 25, 2014

JOHN HALL, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

This § 1983 civil rights case, in which Plaintiff has sued two Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") officers for alleged excessive force, comes before the Court on a Report & Recommendation ("R&R") issued by Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Williams. Having assessed and held a hearing on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, in which they argue Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, Judge Williams recommends denying Defendants' motion and allowing the case to proceed.

Defendants have filed a timely objection to the R&R. The undersigned must therefore undertake de novo review of the sections of the R&R to which Defendants object. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); FED. R. CIV. P. 72(b); SDIL-LR 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. [1] For the reasons stated below, the Court ADOPTS Judge Williams' R&R (Doc. 82) in its entirety, and DENIES (Doc. 58) Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

Because Defendants' objection only targets whether Plaintiff's grievance supplied enough information to satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement, the Court limns discussion of the controlling legal standards to that narrow issue.

1. The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") and Illinois' Exhaustion Requirements

The Prisoner Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") provides that "[n]o action shall be brought [under federal law] with respect to prison conditions... by a prisoner...until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Under the PLRA, exhaustion of administrative remedies is mandatory: unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007). The case may proceed on the merits only after any contested issue of exhaustion is resolved by the court. Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739, 742 (7th Cir. 2008).

The Seventh Circuit takes a strict compliance approach to exhaustion, requiring inmates follow all grievance rules established by the correctional authority. Dole v. Chandler, 438 F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006). A prisoner must "file complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison's rules require." Pozo v. McCaughtry, 268 F.3d 1022, 1025 (7th Cir. 2002). But precedent does not require perfect congruence between a prisoner's grievance and his federal court complaint, only that prison officials are alerted to a perceived problem and invited to take corrective action. Conyers v. Abitz, 416 F.3d 580, 584 (7th Cir. 2005). See also Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 219 (2007) (providing early notice to those who might later be sued is not one of the leading purposes of the PLRA's exhaustion requirement). The purpose of exhaustion, after all, is to alert the state to the prisoner's problem and to invite corrective action. Turley v. Rednour, 729 F.3d 645, 649-50 (7th Cir. 2013); Kaba v. Stepp, 458 F.3d 678, 684 (7th Cir. 2006). When that purpose has been met, the prisoner has properly exhausted his remedies. Kaba, 458 F.3d at 684.

IDOC's grievance policies require a prisoner to include "as much descriptive information" as possible when filing an administrative grievance. 20 Ill. Admin. Code § 504.810(b). "The grievance shall contain factual details regarding each aspect of the offender's complaint, including what happened, when, where, and the name of each person who is the subject of or who is otherwise involved in the complaint." Id. The procedure, however, "does not preclude an offender from filing a grievance when the names of individuals are not known, but the offender must include as much descriptive information about the individual as possible." Id.

Courts construe the contents of an inmate's grievance generously. Riccardo v. Rausch, 375 F.3d 521, 524 (7th Cir. 2004).

2. Plaintiff's 2011 Grievance & Judge Williams' Findings

In concluding that Plaintiff had exhausted his administrative remedies, Judge Williams examined Plaintiff's grievance (dated July 14, 2011), to which was appended a disciplinary report that included both Defendants' names. Judge Williams also considered testimony from both Plaintiff and the IDOC's Administrative Review Board ("ARB") chair.

Plaintiff's grievance, in pertinent part, reads:

On this date [July 14, 2011] I was jumped and framed by two officers in N1 [Menard's "North One" cellhouse]. What happen was I ask to speak to the crisis team, because I was stressing about not being able to check in to Protective Custody. Twho days before this happen to me I was in P.C. Placement placed me in N1 7-36 [presumably a specific cell] where I seen two enemies that I had problems with in Cook County Jail. So I ask to be put into P.C. and they denied me. So when I ask for the crisis team they got angry and jumped me with my handcuffs on... [As soon as a nurse left] I got sweep off my feet on to my back where I'm handcufft. They came over to me like we were going to P.C. and then they jumped me for no reason. (Doc. 59-1, 6-7).

Attached to the grievance was a disciplinary ticket received by Plaintiff.[2] That disciplinary ticket was signed by both Defendants, though it was given to Plaintiff by another correctional officer. Plaintiff testified (credibly, according to Judge Williams) that he thought the disciplinary ticket had been ...

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