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Widmer v. Harrington

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 12, 2014



STEPHEN C. WILLIAMS, Magistrate Judge.

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff Michael Widmer brought this action on December 3, 2013, for deprivations of his constitutional rights that allegedly occurred at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"). Plaintiff made allegations of retaliation, and deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs against Defendants Harrington, Qualls, Restoff, and Walters in his original Complaint. (Doc. 1). Defendant Kim Butler was later added in her official capacity only for the purposes of injunctive relief. (Doc. 44). The matter now comes before the Court on Defendants Harrington, Qualls, Restoff, and Walter's Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of exhaustion of administrative remedies. (Doc. 40). The matter has been referred to United States Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Williams by United States District Judge Michael J. Reagan pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(B) and (C), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), and Local Rule 72.1(a) for a Report and Recommendation on whether Widmer exhausted his administrative remedies before filing suit. For the following reasons, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the Court GRANT the Motion (Doc. 40) in Defendants' favor.

On July 1, 2014, Defendants filed the present Motion. (Doc. 40). Plaintiff filed an "Objection to Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment" on July 31, 2014. (Doc. 43). The Court then set this matter for a hearing. Plaintiff requested to present witnesses at the hearing, but the Court denied the request after Plaintiff refused to provide the subject of the proposed witnesses' testimony. (Doc. 50). The Court held a hearing on Plaintiff's Motion on October 30, 2014. The motion is therefore ripe for disposition. It is clear from the record that summary judgment is warranted here, because the pleadings and testimony demonstrate that Plaintiff did not exhaust his grievances prior to filing suit.


1. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper only if the admissible evidence considered as a whole shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Dynegy Mktg. & Trade v. Multiut Corp., 648 F.3d 506, 517 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating-based on the pleadings, affidavits and/or information obtained via discovery-the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court must view the record in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

A Motion for Summary Judgment filed pursuant to Pavey typically requires a hearing to determine any contested issues regarding exhaustion and a judge may make limited findings of fact at that time. Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739, 742 (7th Cir. 2008). The case may proceed on the merits only after any contested issue of exhaustion is resolved. Pavey, 544 F.3d at 742. In Pavey, the Seventh Circuit held that "debatable factual issues relating to the defense of failure to exhaust administrative remedies" are not required to be decided by a jury but are to be determined by the judge. Pavey, 544 F.3d at 740-41. A hearing will not be required where "there are no disputed facts regarding exhaustion, only a legal question." Doss v. Gilkey, 649 F.Supp.2d 905, 912 (S.D.Ill. 2009).

2. PLRA's Exhaustion Requirement

The affirmative defense of failure to exhaust depends on whether a plaintiff has fulfilled the Prison Litigation Reform Act's (PLRA's) exhaustion requirement, which in turn depends on the prison grievance procedures set forth in Illinois law. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007).

The Prisoner Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") provides that "no 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 and 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 therefore "file complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison's rules require." Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1025 (7th Cir. 2002). But the PLRA's plain language makes clear that an inmate is required to exhaust only those administrative remedies that are available to him. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The Seventh Circuit has held that administrative remedies become "unavailable" when prison officials fail to respond to inmate grievances. Lewis v. Washington, 300 F.3d 829, 833 (7th Cir. 2002). However, if the prisoner fails to follow the proper procedure, the grievance will not be considered exhausted. Pavey v. Conley, 663 F.3d 899, 903 (7th Cir. 2011). The purpose of exhaustion is to give prison officials an opportunity to address the inmate's claims internally, prior to federal litigation. Kaba v. Stepp, 458 F.3d 678, 684 (7th Cir. 2006).

Additionally, exhaustion is a precondition to filing suit; a prisoner may not file suit in anticipation that his administrative remedies will soon become exhausted. Ford v. Johnson, 362 F.3d 395, 398 (7th Cir. 2004). Rather, a prisoner must wait bring a suit until he completes the exhaustion process. Perez v. Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections, 182 F.3d 532, 535 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)). A suit that is filed prior to the exhaustion of remedies must be dismissed, even if a plaintiff's administrative remedies become exhausted during the pendency of the suit. Id.

3. Exhaustion Requirement under Illinois Law

The Illinois Department of Corrections' (IDOC's) process for exhausting administrative remedies is laid out in the Illinois Department of Corrections Grievance Procedures for Offenders. 20 Ill. Admin. Code § 504.810. If unable to resolve dispute with the counselor, the prisoner may file a written grievance with the Grievance Officer within sixty (60) days of discovery of the dispute. Id. The grievance should include "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... [or] as much descriptive information about the individual as possible." Id. The grievance officer shall review the grievance and report findings and recommendations to the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). 20 Ill. Adm. Code § 504.830(d). The prisoner will then have the opportunity to review the CAO's response. Id. If the prisoner is unsatisfied with the institution's ...

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