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Spears v. Hess

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

February 21, 2017

TONY SPEARS, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER ANDREW HESS and PEORIA COUNTY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          JOE BILLY McDADE, United States Senior District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 15) filed by the Defendants, Officer Andrew Hess and Peoria County. The motion has been fully briefed and is ready for disposition. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Tony Spears, was a pre-trial detainee in the Peoria County Jail (the “Jail”) on or around July of 2015. Plaintiff obtained knowledge of another inmate's involvement in a crime and it became known to that inmate, Deon Wells, that Plaintiff was going to testify against him at his trial. Plaintiff was placed on a keep away order related to Wells. Officer Hess was a transport officer. He was transporting Wells and Plaintiff to court one morning. Officer Hess failed to keep Inmate Wells away from Plaintiff. Inmate Wells attacked and injured Plaintiff.

         The Jail has a documented grievance procedure. The Jail provides detainees with an Inmate Rules, Regulations, and Information Handbook (the “Handbook”) and also makes the Handbook available at an electronic kiosk located in Plaintiff's housing unit dayroom. The Handbook outlines the procedures for submitting a grievance. An inmate can submit grievances electronically through the kiosk or on paper. Plaintiff acknowledged that he was familiar with the grievance process, both under the paper system and the electronic kiosk system. Plaintiff admits that he never filed a grievance related to the 07/10/15 incident or Officer Hess. Nor has he ever forwarded any complaint about the failure to protect him from Inmate Wells to the Illinois Office of Jail and Detention Standards.

         Nevertheless, immediately following his attack, Plaintiff gave a detailed account of the incident to Officer Hess and other jail officers. Jail staff ensured the keep-away order was reflected in the electronic records. Furthermore, several days after the attack, Plaintiff filed a formal grievance in relation to Inmate Well's cousin, who was in the same unit as Plaintiff and had threatened him with violence.

         Ultimately, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this action in November 2015 alleging two counts. Count I alleges that Officer Hess violated Plaintiff's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights[1] in failing to protect Plaintiff from Inmate Wells. Count II is an indemnification claim under Illinois state law against Peoria County, Officer Hess's employer.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         Summary judgment shall be granted where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. SMS Demag Aktiengesellschaft v. Material Scis. Corp., 565 F.3d 365, 368 (7th Cir. 2009). All inferences drawn from the facts must be construed in favor of the non-movant. Moore v. Vital Prods., Inc., 641 F.3d 253, 256 (7th Cir. 2011).

         To survive summary judgment, the “nonmovant must show through specific evidence that a triable issue of fact remains on issues on which [it] bears the burden of proof at trial.” Warsco v. Preferred Technical Grp., 258 F.3d 557, 563 (7th Cir. 2001) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). If the evidence on record could not lead a reasonable jury to find for the non-movant, then no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See McClendon v. Ind. Sugars, Inc., 108 F.3d 789, 796 (7th Cir. 1997). At the summary judgment stage, the court may not resolve issues of fact; disputed material facts must be left for resolution at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986).

         DISCUSSION

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (“PLRA”), was enacted in 1996 with the intent to decrease the incidence of frivolous prisoner litigation burdening the federal courts. Accordingly, the PLRA includes a strict, mandatory exhaustion requirement that disallows any lawsuit brought by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility that deals with prison conditions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or any other federal law, if the prisoner failed to exhaust any administrative remedies as were available to him. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850 (U.S. 2016). The Seventh Circuit has also taken a strict compliance approach to exhaustion requiring a prisoner to pursue all available administrative remedies and comply with a facility's procedural rules and deadlines. Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1025 (7th Cir. 2002); see also Riccardo v. Rausch, 375 F.3d 521, 523-24 (7th Cir. 2004). If an inmate fails to follow the grievance procedure rules, his claims will not be exhausted, but instead forfeited, and he will be barred from filing suit in federal court even if administrative remedies are for practical purposes no longer available to him due to his procedural default. Pozo, 286 F.3d at 1025.

         Plaintiff was a “prisoner” as that term is defined by the statute at all times relevant to this case-at the time of the alleged incident, at the time this suit was brought, and currently. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(h) (definition of “prisoner”). Thus, the PLRA applies and Plaintiff was required to exhaust his available administrative remedies.

         The Jail utilizes specific grievance procedures of which the Plaintiff was aware and had used in other incidents. Plaintiff admitted in his deposition that he did not file a grievance with respect to being assaulted by Inmate Wells or against Officer Hess for allegedly failing to protect him. He thus admitted that he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies by filing an appropriate grievance. He argued at his deposition ...


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