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Harris v. Coppes

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

June 11, 2019



          Gary Feinerman Judge

         In this pro se suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Dexter Harris alleges that correctional officers Derek Coppes, Jacob Deane, and Matthew Cortese used excessive force against him at the Will County Adult Detention Facility (“WCADF”). Doc. 8. With discovery closed, Doc. 48, Defendants move for summary judgment, Doc. 52. The motion is granted.


         A. Harris's Noncompliance with Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)

         Consistent with Local Rule 56.1, Defendants filed a Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement of undisputed facts along with their summary judgment motion. Doc. 54. The factual assertions in the Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement cite evidentiary material in the record and are supported by the cited material. See N.D. Ill. L.R. 56.1(a) (“The statement referred to in (3) shall consist of short numbered paragraphs, including within each paragraph specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon to support the facts set forth in that paragraph.”). Also consistent with the local rules, Defendants served on Harris a Local Rule 56.2 notice, which explains what Local Rule 56.1 requires of a pro se litigant opposing summary judgment. Doc. 55.

         Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) required Harris to file “a concise response to [Defendants' Local Rule 56.1(a)(3)] statement … contain[ing] … a response to each numbered paragraph in [Defendants'] statement, including, in the case of any disagreement, specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon.” N.D.Ill. L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(B). Although Harris filed a memorandum of law opposing summary judgment, Doc. 60, he did not file a Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) response to Defendants' Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement or a Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) statement of additional facts. The failure to file a Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) response has consequences, as the local rules provide that “[a]ll material facts set forth in the [Local Rule 56.1(a)(3)] statement … will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by the statement of the opposing party.” N.D.Ill. L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(C).

         The Seventh Circuit “has consistently upheld district judges' discretion to require strict compliance with Local Rule 56.1.” Flint v. City of Belvidere, 791 F.3d 764, 767 (7th Cir. 2015) (collecting cases); see also Zoretic v. Darge, 832 F.3d 639, 641 (7th Cir. 2016) (same); Boss v. Castro, 816 F.3d 910, 914 (7th Cir. 2016) (same, collecting cases); Stevo v. Frasor, 662 F.3d 880, 886-87 (7th Cir. 2011) (“Because of the high volume of summary judgment motions and the benefits of clear presentation of relevant evidence and law, we have repeatedly held that district judges are entitled to insist on strict compliance with local rules designed to promote the clarity of summary judgment filings.”). Harris's pro se status does not excuse him from complying with Local Rule 56.1. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) (“[W]e have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel.”); Zoretic, 832 F.3d at 641 (“While we liberally construe the pleadings of individuals who proceed pro se, neither appellate courts nor district courts are obliged in our adversary system to scour the record looking for factual disputes.”) (internal quotation marks omitted); Welcher-Butler v. Brennan, 619 Fed.Appx. 550, 550 (7th Cir. 2015) (“The district court has discretion to demand strict compliance with its local rules, so we uphold its decision because even pro se litigants must follow these rules.”) (citations omitted); Brown v. Wyndemere LLC, 608 Fed.Appx. 424, 425 (7th Cir. 2015) (“[A] district court is entitled to enforce its local rules, even against pro se litigants.”) (citing Cady v. Sheahan, 467 F.3d 1057, 1061 (7th Cir. 2006)); Townsend v. Alexian Bros. Med. Ctr., 589 Fed.Appx. 338, 339 (7th Cir. 2015) (“[The pro se plaintiff] did not … properly respond to the defendants' [Local Rule 56.1(a)(3)] Statement of Material Facts or file a [Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C)] Statement of Additional Facts in response to the defendants' motion for summary judgment. … Thus, the district court adopted the factual representations in the defendants' unopposed Statement of Material Facts, and we enforce the court's choice to demand strict compliance with the local rule.”).

         Here, the problem is not that Harris failed to strictly comply with Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B); rather, it is that he did not comply at all. Accordingly, the court accepts as true the facts set forth in Defendants' Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement “to the extent th[ose] facts [a]re supported by admissible and docketed evidence.” Kreg Therapeutics, Inc. v. VitalGo, Inc., 919 F.3d 405, 411 (7th Cir. 2019) (“According to well-established Seventh Circuit law, [the non-movant's] noncompliance [with Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B)] meant that the district court could exercise its discretion to accept [the movant's] statements of fact as undisputed.”) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Olivet Baptist Church v. Church Mut. Ins. Co., 672 Fed.Appx. 607, 607 (7th Cir. 2017) (“The district court treated most of the [movant's] factual submissions as unopposed, because the [non-movant] failed to contest them in the form required by Local Rule 56.1(b). We have held that the district court is entitled to enforce that rule in precisely the way it enforced the rule in this litigation.”) (collecting cases); Curtis v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 807 F.3d 215, 218 (7th Cir. 2015) (“When a responding party's statement fails to dispute the facts set forth in the moving party's statement in the manner dictated by [Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B)], those facts are deemed admitted for purposes of the motion.”) (internal quotation marks omitted); Keeton v. Morningstar, Inc., 667 F.3d 877, 880, 884 (7th Cir. 2012) (similar).

         That said, the court is mindful that “a nonmovant's failure to respond to a summary judgment motion, or failure to comply with Local Rule 56.1, does not … automatically result in judgment for the movant[s]. [The movants] must still demonstrate that [they are] entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Keeton, 667 F.3d at 884 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, the court will recite the facts as favorably to Harris as the record and Local Rule 56.1 permit. See Johnson v. Advocate Health & Hosps. Corp., 892 F.3d 887, 893 (7th Cir. 2018). At this juncture, the court must assume the truth of those facts, but does not vouch for them. See Gates v. Bd. of Educ. of Chi., 916 F.3d 631, 633 (7th Cir. 2019).

         B. Material Facts

         At all relevant times, Harris was housed at WCADF. Doc. 54 at ¶¶ 1-2, 14-15. Harris alleges that Defendants used excessive force against him on January 9, 2018. Id. at ¶¶ 2, 4; Doc. 8 at 5. Prior to January 9, 2018, Harris had received the WCADF Inmate Handbook, which set forth the procedures for submitting and processing grievances about various matters, including allegations of officer misconduct or mistreatment. Doc. 54 at ¶¶ 6, 14; Doc. 54-4 at 3-4.

         The grievance process at WCADF has two steps: a “grievance level” and an “appeal level.” Doc. 54 at ¶ 6. An inmate starts the “grievance level” step by submitting an Inmate Request Form that eventually is given to the head of the relevant department. Id. at ¶¶ 6-10. The department head must respond in writing to the grievance within fifteen business days, and the inmate is given a copy of the response. Id. at ¶¶ 11-12. If the inmate disagrees with the response, he has 48 hours to submit another Inmate Request Form-with the “Appeal of Grievance” box checked-to initiate the “appeal level” step of the grievance process. Id. at ¶ 13; Doc. 54-3 at ¶ 11.

         Harris testified that he was familiar as of January 9, 2018 with WCADF's grievance process. Doc. 54 at ¶ 15. Harris submitted three Inmate Request Forms in January 2018 regarding the alleged assault. Id. at ¶¶ 17-20, 27; Docs. 54-5, 54-6, 54-7. Harris received timely responses for each of the three grievances. Doc. 54 at ¶¶ 21-22, 24; Doc. 54-2 at 25, 27. The responses denied Harris's account and did not take further action. Docs. 54-5, ...

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