United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MARLON L. WATFORD, Plaintiff,
OFFICER ELLIS, BRAD BRAMLETT, TONYA KNUST, and LACY REAM, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. ROSENSTENGEL, United States District Judge.
Marlon Watford, an inmate incarcerated at Menard Correctional
Center, alleges his First Amendment rights were violated when
he was denied access to a bathroom on August 23, 2013,
causing him to violate a tenet of the Al-Islam faith that he
“maintain his body and keep it free from strains”
(Doc. 8). Watford's Second Amended Complaint also raised
an Eighth Amendment claim based on the same facts; however,
that claim was dismissed upon preliminary review of the
complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (Id.).
Defendants now seek summary judgment for failure to exhaust
administrative remedies (Doc. 26). Watford filed a response
on May 12, 2017 (Doc. 33). Because there are no material
facts in dispute, a hearing on the matter is not required.
See Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739 (7th Cir. 2008).
undisputed that Watford submitted a grievance on August 23,
2013, complaining he was not allowed to use the bathroom
while in the law library (Doc. 28-1, p. 6-7). It is also
undisputed that Watford exhausted this grievance by appealing
it to the Administrative Review Board and receiving a
response prior to filing suit (Id., p. 1).
Defendants' sole argument is that because Watford did not
specify his First Amendment rights were being violated, but
rather only referenced an Eighth Amendment claim, the
grievance did not exhaust the single claim in this matter.
And, since no other grievances were filed, Watford failed to
exhaust his administrative remedies. Thus, Defendants argue,
they are entitled to summary judgment.
judgment is proper only if the moving party can demonstrate
“that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact
and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a);
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
See also Ruffin-Thompkins v. Experian Information
Solutions, Inc., 422 F.3d 603, 607 (7th Cir. 2005);
Black Agents & Brokers Agency, Inc. v. Near North
Ins. Brokerage, Inc., 409 F.3d 833, 836 (7th Cir. 2005).
As noted above, there is no material fact in dispute, and
Defendants only argue that they are entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.
Prison Litigation Reform Act provides:
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 such administrative remedies as
are available are exhausted.
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Exhaustion of available
administrative remedies is a precondition to suit. Dale
v. Lappin, 376 F.3d 652, 655 (7th Cir. 2004). See
also Perez v. Wis. Dept. of Corr., 182 F.3d 532, 534-535
(7th Cir. 1999) (stating that §1997e(a) of the PLRA
“makes exhaustion a precondition to bringing
suit” under § 1983). Failure to exhaust
administrative remedies is an affirmative defense; defendants
bear the burden of proving a failure to exhaust. See
Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007); Dole v.
Chandler, 483 F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006). The Supreme
Court has interpreted the PLRA to require “proper
exhaustion” prior to filing suit. See Woodford v.
Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 84 (2006). This means “using all
steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so
that the agency addresses the issues on the merits).”
Id. at 90 (quoting Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286
F.3d 1022, 1024 (7th Cir. 2002)). In finding that the PLRA
requires proper exhaustion, the Supreme Court agreed with the
Seventh Circuit's interpretation of the statute as stated
in Pozo, which required an inmate to “file
complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the
prison's administrative rules require.”
Pozo, 286 F.3d at 1025.
Pavey, the Seventh Circuit instructed district
courts to conduct a hearing where “exhaustion is
contested” to determine whether a plaintiff has
exhausted his administrative remedies. Pavey, 544
F.3d at 742. If a plaintiff has exhausted his remedies, the
case will proceed on the merits. If, however, a plaintiff has
not exhausted, the Court may either allow plaintiff to
exhaust or terminate the matter. Because the parties do not
dispute that Watford exhausted his administrative remedies
with regard to the relevant grievance, no hearing is required
in this matter.
Illinois Administrative Code sets forth the requirements of a
grievance and is determinative of whether an inmate has
exhausted his administrative remedies. Pozo, 286
F.3d at 1025. The purpose of the grievance process is to
alert officials to a problem so action can be taken to remedy
the problem. See Maddox v. Love, 655 F.3d 709, 722
(7th Cir. 2011) (the function of a grievance is to alert
officials so that they may provide corrective action);
Kaba v. Stepp, 458 F.3d 678, 684 (7th Cir. 2006)
(the purpose of exhaustion is to allow officials an
opportunity to address complaints internally). A grievance is
not meant to provide notice to individuals of a future
lawsuit. Glick v. Walker, 385 F. App'x. 579, 583
(7th Cir. 2010) (citing Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199,
218 (2007)). Nor, as Defendants acknowledge, is a grievance
meant to parrot a complaint filed in federal court. Both the
Illinois Administrative Code and the grievance form provided
to inmates instructs the inmate to set forth “what
happened, when, where, and the name of each person who is the
subject or who is otherwise involved in the complaint.”
Ill. Admin. Cod. Tit. 20, § 504.810(a). Absent from the
Code is any requirement that an inmate set forth a legal
theory for his complaint.
grievance, Watford stated that on August 23, 2013, while he
was in the law library, he was not permitted to use the
bathroom by Defendant Ellis and that the refusal
“equate[s] out to cruel and unusual punishment.”
The grievance was reviewed by his counselor, the grievance
officer, and the Administrative Review Board, yet never
rejected for being incomplete. While Watford alludes to the
Eighth Amendment, such information was not necessary for
Watford to properly grieve his claim. Defendants cannot
expect an inmate to state information in a grievance that is
not required by the Code, including legal theories. See
Strong v. David, 297 F.3d 646, 650 (7th Cir. 2002)
(“[T]he grievant need not lay out the facts, articulate
legal theories, or demand particular relief. All the
grievance need do is object intelligibly to some asserted
addition, because a grievance is not meant to notify an
individual of a claim against him, Watford's grievance
was sufficient to notify the prison that there was a problem
with its bathroom procedures. See Id. (“a
grievance suffices if it alerts the prison to the nature of
the wrong for which redress is sought”);
Jones, 549 U.S. at 219 (“exhaustion is not
per se inadequate simply because an individual later
sued was not named in the grievances”). This was
sufficient to allow jail officials to investigate the claim,
if they saw fit, and rectify the problem. Watford complied
with Illinois' Administrative Code and set ...