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Cooper v. Cheatham

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 17, 2014



MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

A. Introduction

In July 2013, Jeremy Cooper (then confined at Menard Correctional Center, within this Judicial District) filed suit in this Court under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging deprivation of rights secured to him by the United States Constitution. The complaint alleged that two correctional officials at Menard - James Chandler and James Cheatham - used excessive force against Cooper when escorting him to his cell following a December 18, 2012 appearance before the prison's Adjustment Committee. Specifically, Cooper alleged that Chandler threw Cooper into a steel sink, injuring Cooper's leg and wrist, and that Cheatham punched Cooper in the neck.

On threshold review under 28 U.S.C. 1915A, the undersigned Judge found that the complaint stated a colorable claim against both Defendants for violation of the Eighth Amendment, resulting from the use of excessive force against Cooper on December 18, 2012. Chandler and Cheatham (collectively, "Defendants") answered the complaint in October 2013 and December 2013, respectively, raising the affirmative defense of failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

Now before the Court is Defendants' January 31, 2014 motion for summary judgment, asserting that Cooper (Plaintiff) failed to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing this suit, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). The parties filed supporting and opposing briefs through mid-April 2014, with submission of supplemental exhibits in early May 2014. On May 8, 2014, the Honorable Stephen C. Williams, United States Magistrate Judge, conducted an evidentiary hearing (a "Pavey" hearing) on the issue of exhaustion. See Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739, 742 (7th Cir. 2008), cert. denied, 556 U.S. 1128 (2009).

On May 13, 2014, Judge Williams submitted a Report and Recommendation (Report, Doc. 42) which recommends that the undersigned District Judge grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff filed objections to the Report on May 15, 2014 (Doc. 43), and Defendants timely responded thereto on June 6, 2014 (Doc. 45).

The undersigned District Judge undertakes de novo review of the portions of the Report to which Plaintiff specifically objected. 28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1); FED. R. CIV. P. 72(b); SOUTHERN DIST. OF ILLINOIS LOCAL RULE 73.1(b). The undersigned can accept, reject, or modify Judge Williams' recommendations, receive further evidence, or recommit the matter to Judge Williams with instructions. Id. For the reasons stated below, the Court adopts Judge Williams' Report in its entirety. Analysis begins with the procedural standards governing analysis of Defendants' summary judgment motion.

B. Standard Applicable to Federal Summary Judgment Motions

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs motions for summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Archdiocese of Milwaukee v. Doe, 743 F.3d 1101, 1105 (7th Cir. 2014), citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). Accord Anderson v. Donahoe, 699 F.3d 989, 994 (7th Cir. 2012). A genuine issue of material fact remains "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Serednyj v. Beverly Healthcare, LLC, 656 F.3d 540, 547 (7th /BOLD>Cir. 2011), citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Accord Bunn v. Khoury Enterpr., Inc., ___ F.3d ___, 2014 WL 2198557 (7th Cir. May 28, 2014).

In assessing a summary judgment motion, the district court views the facts in the light most favorable to, and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of, the nonmoving party. Anderson, 699 F.3d at 994; Righi v. SMC Corp. , 632 F.3d 404, 408 (7th Cir. 2011); Delapaz v. Richardson, 634 F.3d 895, 899 (7th Cir. 2011). As the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has explained, as required by Rule 56(a), "we set forth the facts by examining the evidence in the light reasonably most favorable to the non-moving party, giving her the benefit of reasonable, favorable inferences and resolving conflicts in the evidence in her favor." Spaine v. Community Contacts, Inc., ___ F.3d ___ 2014 WL 2855000 (7th Cir. June 24, 2014).

One other procedural point bears note here. Although the affirmative defense of failure to exhaust typically is raised via summary judgment motion, dismissal without prejudice is the correct disposition of any claim filed before the full administrative process is completed. See, e.g., Fluker v. County of Kankakee, 741 F.3d 787, 791-92 (7th Cir. 2013); Burrell v. Powers, 431 F.3d 282, 285 (7th Cir. 2005).


▸ Overview of Exhaustion Requirement

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (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) (the PLRA exhaustion requirement "applies to all inmate suits about prison ...

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