United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.
Currently incarcerated at Metropolitan Correctional Center, Vance White (Plaintiff) filed suit in this Court under 42 U.S.C. 1983 in January 2014. The complaint alleged that two officials at Lawrence Correctional Center, Marc Hodge and Beth Tredway, violated Plaintiff's federally secured constitutional rights by interfering with his access to the courts and by enforcing a policy which denied him a prison job on the basis of his sexual orientation. On threshold review under 28 U.S.C. 1915A, the undersigned District Judge dismissed the court access claim but concluded that the complaint articulated a cognizable claim for violation of Plaintiff's rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Hodge and Tredway (collectively, Defendants) have moved for summary judgment on the ground that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing this suit. Defendant's motion was filed with supporting memorandum (Docs. 25, 26), and Plaintiff responded in opposition (Doc. 28). For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES Defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding that Plaintiff did all he could to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit.
B. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff filed this § 1983 lawsuit alleging violation of his equal protection rights while incarcerated at Lawrence Correctional Center, within the Illinois Department of Corrections. As narrowed by the Court's Order on threshold review, Plaintiff alleges that he is an openly gay inmate who in 2007 was classified as "vulnerable" (Doc. 7, p. 1-2). Plaintiff alleges that on May 16, 2013, he applied for a job and was denied the position because he did not satisfy the "criteria" for job placement ( id., p. 2). Plaintiff submitted a second job request on May 17, 2013 and also requested the criteria for the job. He did not receive a response on this request; he asked Counselor McDonald for a status on his request ( id. ). McDonald allegedly told Plaintiff that while his request was still pending it would most likely be denied because of his "vulnerable" status, since vulnerable inmates cannot obtain jobs ( id. ). On July 11, 2013, Plaintiff learned that his job request was denied because of his "vulnerable" status. Plaintiff alleges that the policy which prohibits vulnerable inmates from obtaining jobs at Lawrence is discriminatory, because inmates with such a status are overwhelmingly openly gay. Thus, Plaintiff alleges the policy prevents homosexuals from getting prison jobs ( id. ).
In response to Plaintiff's January 27, 2014 complaint herein, Defendants filed the pending summary judgment motion, asserting that Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit and that Plaintiff failed to properly identify Defendants Hodge and Tredway in his grievance.
Plaintiff filed a grievance on July 15, 2013 regarding the denial of his job request (Doc. 26-3, p. 1). The grievance alleged that he applied for a job and that Counselor McDonald responded that due to Plaintiff's current "vote sheet" criteria, he was not eligible for a job ( id. ). Plaintiff asked McDonald to specify as to why he was ineligible but he did not ( id., p. 1-2). Plaintiff indicated that he believed he was denied a job due to his being a homosexual with a "vulnerable" status ( id. ). Plaintiff requested to learn the reason for his job denial and the identity of the person who denied Plaintiff's job request ( id. ). He also asked to be given a job assignment ( id. ).
Plaintiff's grievance was received by his counselor on July 17, 2013 (Doc. 26-3, p. 1). His counselor denied the grievance, noting that Plaintiff was denied a job due to the criteria that was set forth by the administration regarding job eligibility ( id. ). The counselor noted that Plaintiff was not eligible for a job because of his "vulnerable" status ( id. ). The counselor's response is dated July 17, 2013 ( id. ).
Plaintiff next submitted his grievance to the grievance officer on July 24, 2013 (Doc. 26-3, p. 3). The grievance officer did not review Plaintiff's grievance until February 20, 2014 ( id. ). At that time, the grievance officer denied Plaintiff's grievance ( id. ). The chief administrative officer concurred with the decision on March 3, 2014 ( id. ). Plaintiff indicates in his responsive brief that he received the grievance back from the chief administrative officer on March 5, 2014 (Doc. 28, p. 3).
Plaintiff submitted an emergency grievance regarding the status of his motion on November 14, 2013 (Doc. 1, p. 16-17). Plaintiff stated therein that he had submitted his grievance and had been waiting for a response but had never received one ( id. ). Plaintiff also restated the claims which were the basis of his July 15, 2013 grievance. Warden Marc Hodge reviewed the grievance on November 6, 2013 and marked that it was not an emergency ( id. ). It was returned to Plaintiff with an instruction to submit the grievance in the normal manner ( id. ). There is no indication that Plaintiff submitted this grievance to his counselor or grievance officer, or that he appealed this grievance to the ARB. Plaintiff filed his complaint in this Court on January 27, 2014.
C. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS
- 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. Multi Corp ., 648 F.3d 506, 517 (7th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted), citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). See also Ruffin-Thompkins v. Experian Info. Solutions, Inc. , 422 F.3d 603, 607 (7th Cir. 2005).
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). After a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue ...