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Bentzz v. Tope

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 22, 2017



          Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         In May of 2014, David Bentz, an inmate at Menard Correctional Center proceeding pro se, filed suit in this Court under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Bentz alleged various federal constitutional violations against a number of correctional officials. The claims included, inter alia, failure to protect, excessive force, deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, and retaliation. On threshold merits review of the complaint, the undersigned dismissed certain claims and defendants (see Doc. 5). Later Orders dismissed without prejudice additional defendants based on Plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies against them before filing suit and his failure to timely identify “John Doe” unknown parties (see Docs. 104, 164, 165).

         After the Court's May 14, 2016 Order (Doc. 65), remaining herein are Adam Tope and Jacob Guetersloh, who were substituted for John Doe 1 and 2. Plaintiff alleged that Tope and Guetersloh conspired in a May 11, 2014 assault against him, that Tope and Guetersloh used excessive force against him, that Guetersloh failed to protect Plaintiff, that Tope and Guetersloh committed assault and battery on him, that they were deliberately indifferent to his injuries after the attack, and that their actions in failing to obtain medical treatment for Plaintiff amounted to negligence.

         Now before the Court is an exhaustion-based summary judgment motion filed by Tope and Guetersloh (collectively referred to herein as “Defendants”) with a supporting memorandum (Docs. 176-177). Plaintiff responded in opposition (Docs. 186, 195). Defendants replied thereto (Docs. 190, 198). The Honorable Stephen C. Williams, to whom the case is referred for pretrial proceedings, conducted an evidentiary hearing on the motion on January 11, 2017 and ordered a transcript of the hearing prepared.

         On January 18, 2017, Judge Williams submitted a detailed Report and Recommendation (R&R, Doc. 216), recommending that the undersigned Chief District Judge grant Defendants' summary judgment motion. Plaintiff timely objected to the R&R on January 27, 2017 (Doc. 218) and, one week prior to that, filed a “Supplement” (Doc. 217) which the Court considers with the objection. Defendants responded to Plaintiff's objection on February 15, 2017 (Doc. 222). Timely objections having been filed, the District Judge undertakes de novo review of the portions of the Report to which Plaintiff specifically objected. 28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1)(C)(“A judge … shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report … to which objection is made.”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); SDIL Local Rule 73.1(b). The undersigned can accept, reject, or modify the recommendations made by Judge Williams, receive further evidence, or recommit the matter to Judge Williams with instructions. Id.

         The allegations of assault, battery, excessive force, and deliberate indifference are troubling, but the Court cannot reach the merits of those claims unless Plaintiff fully exhausted his administrative remedies before he filed this suit. For the reasons explained below, the undersigned concludes that Plaintiff did not fully exhaust before commencing this lawsuit. The Court overrules Plaintiff's objections and adopts Judge Williams' R&R in its entirety. Analysis begins with reference to the applicable legal standards.

         II. Applicable Legal Standards

         A. Summary Judgment

         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 (7thCir. 2005).

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing --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 for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986), quoting Fed R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). A fact is material if it is outcome determinative under applicable law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Ballance v. City of Springfield, Ill. Police Department, 424 F.3d 614, 616 (7thCir. 2005); Hottenroth v. Village of Slinger, 388 F.3d 1015, 1027 (7th Cir. 2004). A genuine issue of material fact exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         Generally a district 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. It is only to determine whether a general issue of triable fact exists. Nat'l Athletic Sportwear Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008). But a slightly different standard applies to summary judgment on the issue of exhaustion. A motion for summary judgment based upon failure to exhaust administrative remedies often involves a hearing to determine contested issues regarding exhaustion, and the judge may make limited findings of fact at that time. Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739, 742 (7thCir. 2008). The case may proceed on the merits only after any contested issue of exhaustion is resolved. Pavey, 544 F.3d at 742.

         B. Exhaustion Under the PLRA

         Lawsuits brought by prisoners are governed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C 1997e. The PLRA requires that “no action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until … administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a).

         Exhaustion is a condition precedent to suit in federal court, so the inmate must exhaust before he commences his federal litigation; he cannot exhaust while his lawsuit is pending. See Perez v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections, 182 F.3d 532, 535 (7thCir. 1999); Dixon v. Page, 291 F.3d 485, 488 (7th Cir. 2002). If the inmate fails to exhaust before filing suit in federal court, the district court must dismiss the suit. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 223 (2007); Burrell v. Powers, 431 F.3d 282, 284-85 (7th Cir. 2005).[1]

         The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit requires strict adherence to the PLRA's exhaustion requirement. See Dole v. Chandler, 438 F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006) ('This circuit has taken a strict compliance approach to exhaustion”). “Unless a prisoner completes the administrative process by following rules the state has established for that process, exhaustion has not occurred.” Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1025 (7th Cir. 2002). This includes the filing of “complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison's rules require.” Id. at 1025. If the prisoner ...

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