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Singleton v. Shah

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 20, 2018

AVERY SINGLETON, Plaintiff,
v.
DR. SHAH, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Herndon Judge United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Pro se Plaintiff Avery Singleton, a state inmate, brought the present lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging Defendant Dr. Shah violated Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights for refusing to examine Plaintiff's knees, back, and neck despite Plaintiff's complaints of severe pain. This matter is before the Court on Defendant Shah's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 36). Defendant Shah asserts that summary judgment should be granted since Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, which federal law requires a prisoner to do prior to filing a suit of this nature. Plaintiff has filed a Motion to Dismiss Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 41), which the Court construes as a response in opposition. Since Defendant has failed to meet his burden on summary judgment, the motion is DENIED.

         II. Background

         The specifics of the allegations Plaintiff raises in his Complaint are less significant for these purposes than are allegations surrounding the grievance process. It is sufficient to say that Plaintiff alleges that in August 2016, while incarcerated at Robinson Correctional Center (“Robinson”), the prison's physician, Defendant Dr. Shah, refused to examine Plaintiff, though Plaintiff had complained of neck, back, and knee pain. (Doc. 7, p. 3). On October 7, 2016, Plaintiff filed a prison grievance against Dr. Shah. (Doc. 37-2, p. 3). In that grievance, Plaintiff describes visits with Dr. Shah wherein the doctor refused to examine his neck, back, and knee pain. (Id. at 3 - 4). This grievance was checked as an emergency and sent to Robinson's warden. (Id. at 3). The warden denied the grievance emergency status. (Id.). Plaintiff then sent the grievance to his counselor, who received it on October 26, 2016, and the counselor issued a response on the same date. (Id..).

         The grievance was then received by Robinson's grievance officer on November 14, 2016, and the officer reviewed it the next day. (Id. at 2). The grievance officer recommended the grievance be denied, and the warden concurred on November 17, 2016. (Id.).

         Plaintiff sent the grievance to the Illinois Department of Corrections' (“IDOC”) Administrative Review Board (“ARB”), and the grievance was received there on December 20, 2016. (Id. at 1, 2). The ARB did not address the grievance, claiming it was untimely, as it was received after 30 days from the date the warden signed his concurrence. (Id. at 1). According to Plaintiff in his response, he submitted the grievance on December 16, 2016. (Doc. 41, p. 3). The signature and date line on the part of the grievance response where an inmate signs and dates an appeal to the ARB is blank. (Doc. 37-2, p. 2).

         III. Legal Standard 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); Righi v. SMC Corp. , 632 F.3d 404, 408 (7th Cir. 2011); Delapaz v. Richardson, 634 F.3d 895, 899 (7th Cir. 2011). As the Seventh Circuit has explained, as required by Rule 56(a), “we set 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, however, 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. While generally, the 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, but to determine whether a general issue of triable fact exists, a different standard applies to summary judgment on the issue of exhaustion. Nat'l Athletic Sportwear Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008). In Pavey, 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).

         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 ...


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