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Williams v. Holton

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 3, 2015



STEPHEN C. WILLIAMS, Magistrate Judge.

This ยง 1983 case, in which pro se Plaintiff Marcus Williams alleged excessive force, is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 38) for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

On September 23, 2013, Plaintiff brought the present Complaint pursuant to Section 1983, making claims that Defendants used excessive force against him on December 16, 2011. (Doc. 1). Defendants filed the present Motion on June 26, 2014. (Doc. 38). Plaintiff filed a Response on July 31, 2014. (Doc. 41). The Court then held a hearing on this issue on January 15, 2015. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED. (Doc. 38).

Plaintiff's Grievances

Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that he filed a grievance with his counselor Ms. Mueller, and that Mueller failed to respond. (Doc. 1, p. 4). Plaintiff did not attach any exhibits to his Complaint. Defendants submitted exhibits showing that Plaintiff wrote a grievance dated December 17, 2011, complaining about the relevant incident. (Doc. 39-1, pp. 7-9). Plaintiff wrote a letter to the ARB dated December 18, 2011, indicating that he was sending them the December 17 grievance because "the counselor will not accept it." (Doc. 39-1, p. 6). The ARB received the grievance on December 21, 2011, and rejected it on December 22, 2011 for failure to include the Grievance Officer's and Chief Administrative Officer's responses. (Doc. 39-1, p. 5).

Plaintiff's responses to Defendant Holton's interrogatories indicate that he wrote one grievance, dated December 19, 2011, which he submitted to his counselor on December 22, 2011. (Doc. 39-1. p. 34). He further alleged that his counselor, Barbara Mueller, failed to respond to this grievance. (Doc. 39-1, p. 24). Plaintiff responded in a nearly identical manner to interrogatories propounded on behalf of Schnicker and Smith. (Doc. 39-1, pp. 36-39). He also submitted a copy of the grievance he alleges Mueller did not respond to in response to Defendants' Request for Production. (Doc. 39-1, pp. 42-43). The grievance is dated December 19, 2011 and does not have any marks showing that prison officials received it. (Doc. 39-1, pp. 42).

Mueller submitted an affidavit stating that Plaintiff submitted three grievances to her between December 16, 2011 and December 30, 2011, regarding the alleged assault. (Doc. 39-1, p. 11). Mueller stated in her affidavit that she responded to all three grievances on December 30, 2011. (Doc. 39-1, p. 11). Her response is also reflected in Plaintiff's cumulative counseling summary. (Doc. 39-1, p. 15). Mueller further testified at the hearing on January 15, 2015. (Doc. 58). Mueller's testimony was consistent with her affidavit and the cumulative counseling summary. Mueller testified that she always responded to prisoners' grievances. She further testified that, in the course of her long career, she had seen the necessity of documenting her actions regarding grievances, and that by the time she was Plaintiff's counselor, it was her standard practice to do so. When asked specifically about the December 30, 2011 entry on Plaintiff's cumulative counseling summary, Mueller testified that the phrase "answer on all 3 grievances" meant that she had returned the grievances to Plaintiff with a response. The notation "copy sent to internal affairs to investigate allegations" meant that Mueller had copied the grievances and then sent the copies on to internal affairs (IA). She testified that the copy sent to IA would have been separate from the answers received by Plaintiff.

In his Response Plaintiff submitted no additional evidence. Rather, he argued that the December 30, 2011 entry meant that Mueller had given his grievances to IA in lieu of responding, and that therefore, the grievance process was unavailable to him. Plaintiff repeated this argument at the hearing.

1. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment - which is governed by Federal Rule of Procedure 56 - 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)).[1] 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).

While generally, the Court's role on summary judgment is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, judge witness credibility, or determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether a general issue of triable fact exists, a different standard applies to summary judgment on the issue of exhaustion. Nat'l Athletic Sportwear Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008). When there are factual disputes regarding exhaustion, the Court holds a hearing, allows limited discovery, and resolves any factual dispute material to the issue. Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739, 742 (7th Cir. 2008). Where the defense has been raised, the Seventh Circuit has set forth the following recommendations:

The sequence to be followed in a case in which exhaustion is contested is therefore as follows: (1) The district judge conducts a hearing on exhaustion and permits whatever discovery relating to exhaustion he deems appropriate. (2) If the judge determines that the prisoner did not exhaust his administrative remedies, the judge will then determine whether (a) the plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, and so he must go back and exhaust; (b) or, although he has no unexhausted administrative remedies, the failure to exhaust was innocent (as where prison officials prevent a prisoner from exhausting his remedies), and so he must be given another chance to exhaust (provided that there exist remedies that he will be permitted by the prison authorities to exhaust, so that he's not just being given a runaround); or (c) the failure to exhaust was the prisoner's fault, in which event the case is over. (3) If and when the judge determines that the prisoner has properly exhausted his administrative remedies, the case will proceed to pretrial discovery, and if necessary a trial, on the merits; and if there is a jury trial, the jury will make all the necessary findings of fact without being bound by (or even informed of) any of the findings made by the district court in determining that the prisoner had exhausted his administrative remedies.

Id. at 742.

2. PLRA's Exhaustion ...

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