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Chambers v. Sood

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 6, 2017

KUL B. SOOD, M.D., Defendant.


          John J. Tharp, Jr. United States District Judge.

         For the reasons set forth in the Statement below, the defendant's motion to dismiss based upon the plaintiff's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies [94] is granted. The plaintiff's amended complaint [24] is dismissed without prejudice. Civil case terminated.


         Dr. Kul Sood, the only remaining defendant in this case, seeks to dismiss Plaintiff Jonathan Chamber's medical indifference claim on the basis that Chambers failed to exhaust his administrative remedies while he was an inmate in the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”). Sood argues that Chambers “jumped the gun” by filing a federal action before appealing his underlying grievance through the proper IDOC channels. The Court agrees. Because Chambers had an available remedy through IDOC's grievance process, his failure to appeal his grievance prior to filing suit is fatal to his claim.


         The following facts are undisputed, or if necessary, drawn in a light most favorable to Chambers.[1] In late February 2014, Chambers was processed into Stateville's Northern Reception and Classification Center (“NRC”). According to Chambers, he asked to see a doctor during intake to treat a herpes outbreak. He was seen by Sood on March 1, 2014. Although Sood examined the outbreak and Chambers' medical file indicated a history of herpes, Sood did not prescribe anti-viral medication during the visit. Instead, he directed Chambers to “put in for sick call” (where he would have a $5 co-pay) to obtain the medication.

         Following his visit with Sood, Chambers twice submitted a request for sick-call to obtain medication to treat his herpes outbreak; once on March 6, 2014 and again on March 8, 2014. Chambers then filed a written grievance on March 9, 2014 with his counselor, complaining that he had not yet been given a sick-call slip to obtain his herpes medication and had been in pain during that period. (IDOC Offender's Grievance 1-2, ECF No. 94-1.) Chambers requested to see a doctor that day and sought $60, 000 in compensatory damages.

         Chamber's counselor, Amy Gomez, responded to his grievance on March 13, 2014. (Id. at 1.) She stated that a copy of the grievance had been forwarded to the NRC's Health Care Unit (“HCU”) for review and response. (Id.) She added that the original grievance had been forwarded to the Grievance Office for a final response after the HCU had addressed his complaint. (Id.) On March 21, 2014, Chambers was transferred to Western Illinois Correctional Center (“Western”). He had not received any herpes medication prior to his transfer.

         On April 3, 2014, Stateville's Grievance Office issued a memorandum to Chambers stating that his grievance was being returned to him because it had not been reviewed prior to his transfer. (Grievance Office Mem. 1, ECF No. 94-2.) The memorandum informed Chambers that if he wanted to appeal his grievance, he must forward a copy of the grievance along with the memorandum to the Administrative Review Board (“ARB”). (Id.) Four days later, on April 7, 2014, Chambers filed a pro se complaint in this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that he had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment because the NRC had failed to timely provide him with herpes medication. Chambers did not send his grievance to the ARB before filing the complaint.

         After Chambers filed suit, he drafted a second grievance on June 2, 2014, asking that that certain “medical staff” be suspended due to their failure to provide him with herpes medication. (IDOC Offender's Grievance 1, ECF No. 94-3.) This grievance stated that he had previously filed a grievance at the NRC on March 9, 2014 regarding his lack of medication and that he had received a memorandum confirming that his grievance had not been reviewed prior to his transfer to Western. (Id. at 1-2.) The ARB received Chambers' second grievance on June 6, 2014. (ARB Response 1, ECF No 94-4.)[2] In November 2014, the ARB investigated Chambers' claim to have been improperly denied herpes medication at the NRC and whether he had received medication after his transfer. (See Email between Sherry Benton, ARB, and Kindel Kestner, HCU Office Associate, Western Corr. Ctr. (Nov. 8-10, 2014), ECF No. 94-5.) On November 10, 2014, the ARB issued a response following its investigation, stating: “Per contact with HCU staff, [Chambers' herpes medication] claim cannot be substantiated as medically needed.” (ARB Response 1.)


         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) states that a prisoner may not bring a federal action concerning prison conditions until all available remedies have been exhausted. 42 U.S.C § 1997e(a); Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1856 (2016). This requirement “applies to all inmate suits about prison life, ” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002), and is “mandatory.” Ross, 136 S.Ct. at 1856 (citations omitted). Moreover, “an inmate must exhaust irrespective of the forms of relief sought and offered through administrative avenues.” Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 n.6 (2001). “An inmate's perception that exhaustion would be futile does not excuse him from the exhaustion requirement.” Thornton v. Snyder, 428 F.3d 690, 694 (7th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). That is, “[e]ven when the prisoner seeks relief not available in grievance proceedings, notably money damages, exhaustion is a prerequisite to suit.” Porter, 534 U.S. at 524 (citation omitted). To exhaust his administrative remedies, an inmate must take each of the steps prescribed by the state's prison grievance system. Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1023-25 (7th Cir. 2002) (“[A] prisoner must file complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison's administrative rules require.”).

         IDOC has an established process for addressing inmate grievances. See 20 Ill. Admin. Code § 504.800 et seq. An inmate should first attempt to resolve his grievance through his counselor. Id. § 504.810(a). If the grievance remains unresolved, the inmate may submit it to the prison's Grievance Office for further review and investigation. Id. After investigating the inmate's complaint, the Grievance Office must submit its findings and recommendations to the facility's Chief Administrative Officer (“CAO”) (usually the warden), who then issues a ruling to the inmate. Id. § 504.830(d). If the inmate disagrees with the CAO's decision, he may appeal his grievance to the Director of IDOC through the ARB. Id. § 504.850(a). After reviewing the ARB's findings and recommendations, the Director renders a final determination on the grievance within six months of the appeal, where feasible. Id. § 504.850(e). Finally, if an inmate is transferred after an incident occurs, he may file his grievance directly with the ARB. Id. § 504.870(a)(4). The ARB must then review the grievance in the same manner and within the same timeframe as if the inmate had appealed from his original facility. Id. § 504.870(b).

         Sood argues that Chambers' medical indifference claim is barred by the PLRA. (Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss 3-5, ECF No. 94.) Although Chambers submitted a written grievance to his counselor and Stateville's Grievance Office before filing suit, he had not appealed his grievance to the ARB. Thus, Sood contends, Chambers failed to exhaust IDOC's grievance procedures. The Court agrees. Although Sood bears the burden of establishing a failure to exhaust, Maddox v. Love, 655 F.3d 709, 720 (7th Cir. 2011), Chambers unquestionably jumped the gun. His initial ...

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