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Miller v. Wexford Health Source, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 10, 2017

AARON MILLER, Plaintiff,


          MICHAEL J. REAGAN Chief Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Aaron Miller, acting pro se, brought the present civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is an inmate incarcerated by the State of Illinois at Pinckneyville Correctional Center (“Pinckneyville”). Plaintiff alleges, among other things, that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated by officials and staff at Pinckneyville when he failed to receive medical treatment, or received deficient treatment, for a stomach wound. This matter is currently before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 67) filed by Defendants Wexford Health Sources, Inc., Mary Berry, Mary Beth Lane, LaDonna Long, William McFarland, Angel Rector, and Vipin Shah (“Wexford Defendants”). The Wexford Defendants assert that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act and that they are entitled to summary judgment. Plaintiff filed a response, and this matter is ripe for disposition. As discussed below, the Court finds that the Wexford Defendants have failed to meet their burden, and their motion (Doc. 67) is DENIED.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff was shot six times several years ago and has bullets still lodged in his stomach and chest. (Doc. 8, p. 1). He suffers from a seeping wound in his stomach, which requires dressing changes regularly. Id. Plaintiff also suffers from an enlarged hernia, a percutaneous fistula, and another abdominal defect. Id. The thrust of Plaintiff's lawsuit is that at various times beginning December 22, 2014, Plaintiff received inadequate care for his ailments, or no care at all, from Pinckneyville staff. See Id. at 2-5. For instance, among Plaintiff's allegations is that his wound dressings were not changed from December 22, 2014, through either February 14, 2015, or March 18, 2015. Id. at 2. Plaintiff claims that he filed grievances relating to these problems, as required by the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) administrative remedies process. (See Doc 68-1, p. 10).

         To support their assertion that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit, the Wexford Defendants provided at least a portion of Plaintiff's responses to the defendants' written discovery. See Id. at 1-23. In answering a set of Defendants' interrogatories, Plaintiff “identif[ied] all steps [he] took to grieve each issue….” Id. at 10. In doing so, Plaintiff stated there are “approximately 22 grievances in which I have copies of, yet there [are] many that I Filed with the Counselor or grievance officer that I didn't make copies of….” Id. He goes on to state that there were “grievances that were mishandled[, ] lost, destroyed, or misplaced, but I do have approximittly [sic] 22 grievances within….” Id. Plaintiff then listed the dates for the 22 grievances for which he had copies. Id. In his response to the defendants' request for production requesting the Plaintiff produce all grievances filed by him against the defendants, Plaintiff wrote, “All information is within, the only grievances that were not sent are those that were mishandled by Pinckneyville Staff[, ] which are many.” Id. at 19.

         As part of the fact section of their Memorandum in Support, the Wexford Defendants reference Plaintiff's discovery responses and state, “Plaintiff stated which grievances are applicable to his exhaustion of his administrative remedies in this suit. Plaintiff claims that twenty-two grievances are relevant….” (Doc. 68, p. 3). The Wexford Defendants also provided along with their motion, a large number of grievances, related appeals, and Administrative Review Board responses. The provided documents appear to include the twenty-two grievances listed by Plaintiff. (See generally, Docs. 68-2 through 68-20). Defendants did not provide, however, any affidavit, grievance log, or other documentation from the IDOC listing, or otherwise indicating, the number and/or nature of grievances filed by Plaintiff since December 2014.

         III. Legal Standards

         a. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if the admissible evidence considered as a whole shows there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Archdiocese of Milwaukee v. Doe, 743 F.3d 1101, 1105 (7th Cir. 2014) (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). A genuine issue of material fact remains “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Accord Bunn v. Khoury Enterpr. Inc., 753 F.3d 676 (7th Cir. 2014). In assessing a summary judgment motion, the district court views the facts in the light most favorable to, and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of, the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Donahoe, 699 F.3d 989, 994 (7th Cir. 2012); Delapaz v. Richardson, 634 F.3d 895, 899 (7th Cir. 2011). As required by Rule 56(a), the Court sets “forth the facts by examining the evidence in the light reasonably most favorable to the non-moving party, giving [him] the benefit of reasonable, favorable inferences and resolving conflicts in the evidence in [his] favor.” Spaine v. Community Contacts, Inc., 756 F.3d 542 (7th Cir. 2014).

         A motion for summary judgment based upon failure to exhaust administrative remedies 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. Generally, the Court's role on summary judgment is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge witness credibility, or to determine the truth of the matter. Instead, the Court is 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). In Pavey, however, 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. Here, the question of exhaustion is a purely legal question, and no hearing is required.

         b. PLRA's Exhaustion Requirement

         The affirmative defense of failure to exhaust depends on whether a plaintiff has fulfilled the PLRA's exhaustion requirement, which in turn depends on the prison grievance procedures set forth by the Illinois Department of Corrections. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007). To properly exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA, a Plaintff is required to comply with prison grievance procedures. Id. The 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, 549 U.S. at 211. The case may proceed on the merits only after any contested issue of exhaustion is resolved by the court. Pavey, 544 F.3d at 742.

         The Seventh Circuit takes a strict compliance approach to exhaustion by requiring inmates to 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). 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). Where a prisoner fails to follow the proper procedure, however, the grievance will not be considered exhausted. Pavey v. Conley, 663 F.3d 899, 903 (7th Cir. ...

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