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Syler v. County of Will

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

June 19, 2019

RANDALL W. SYLER, Plaintiff,
COUNTY OF WILL, et al., Defendants.


          Andrea R. Wood United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Randall Syler, a prisoner now in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections, claims that Defendant Will County and certain of its correctional officers and contract medical care providers[1] violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment while he was being held at the Will County Adult Detention Facility (“WCADF”). Specifically, Syler claims that Defendants acted with deliberate indifference towards his serious medical condition of a ruptured testicle. Defendants deny Syler's claim and assert as an affirmative defense that he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing suit. After conducting an evidentiary hearing as provided by Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739 (7th Cir. 2008), the Court concludes that Syler indeed failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and thus dismisses this case without prejudice.


         I. The Injury

         On September 9, 2009, Syler was booked at the WCADF, given an Inmate Handbook, and assigned a top bunk. Approximately one year later, on August 30, 2010, Syler suffered an injury upon falling from his bunk. Over the next day or so, Syler informed various medical staff and correctional officers that he was experiencing pain and other symptoms-such as swelling, nausea, and difficulty standing up and walking-because of the fall. On the afternoon of September 1, 2010, a doctor examined Syler and found his left testicle to be grossly enlarged, a sign of testicular trauma. Syler was then transferred to Silver Cross Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a testicular rupture and underwent emergency surgery. On September 4, 2010, Syler returned from the hospital to the WCADF, where he was temporarily housed in the medical unit to recover from his surgery. Eventually, on November 30, 2010, Syler was transferred from the WCADF into the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections and housed at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”).

         II. The Lawsuit

         Syler filed the present lawsuit on February 28, 2012. (Dkt. No. 1.) On January 8, 2013, the district judge initially assigned to Syler's case dismissed his claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. (Dkt. No. 43.) On appeal, the Seventh Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings. On remand, the case was reassigned to this Court. (Dkt. No. 90.) After reassignment, this Court recruited pro bono counsel to represent Syler. The parties then proceeded to conduct extensive discovery and motion practice limited to the exhaustion issue. This was followed by a two-day Pavey hearing to determine whether Syler properly exhausted his administrative remedies.

         III. The Pavey Hearing

         The Pavey hearing began on January 29, 2019 and, due to scheduling issues at the facility where Syler is being held, was subsequently continued to and concluded on March 14, 2019. Syler was represented by counsel at the hearing. Three witnesses testified: retired WCADF Classification Sergeant Mary Bridget Graham, Syler, and Syler's mother, Deborah Syler Spencer.

         Defendants called Sergeant Graham as their first witness. She testified that the WCADF has a formalized grievance process. (See also WCADF Policy and Procedure, Pl.'s Ex. 3.) According to Sergeant Graham, the WCADF provides inmates with a blank worksheet called the “Form 22” for submission of written grievances. Form 22 is a triplicate form consisting of an original white copy, a pink carbon copy, and a yellow carbon copy. After filling out the form, the inmate keeps the pink copy, and the white and yellow copies are submitted to the classification office. There, a classification sergeant such as Graham stamps the grievance with the date, assigns it a number, and logs it in the record book before forwarding it to the appropriate department-in Syler's case, the medical department. After a staff member in the appropriate department reviews the grievance, he or she provides a written response on the Form 22. The original white copy is then added to the inmate's classification file, and the yellow copy reflecting the response is returned to the inmate.

         According to the WCADF's records, Syler filed a grievance relating to his testicular rupture on September 22, 2010 (“September 22 Grievance”), but in that grievance he complains only about a $10 co-pay charge he was required to pay. (Pl.'s Ex. 6.) The September 22 Grievance contains Syler's written narrative summarizing his complaint and is stamped “RECEIVED OCT 13 2010.” It also shows a note from Sergeant Graham on September 24, 2010, stating that the grievance was forwarded to the medical director, and a staff response on September 28, 2010, indicating that Syler's $10 co-pay charge would be reimbursed. The WCADF also has a copy of another Form 22 that Syler filed on November 3, 2010 (“November 3 Grievance”), in which he states that he did not receive a response to the September 22 Grievance. The November 3 Grievance does not reference any other pending grievances. Like the September 22 Grievance, the November 3 Grievance contains Syler's written narrative summarizing his complaint, a handwritten notation “Rcd [Received] 11-9-10, ” a note from Sergeant Graham on November 8 stating that the grievance was forwarded to the medical director, and a staff response on November 11 confirming that the $10 co-pay charge was reimbursed. Moreover, the WCADF's grievance log reflects receipt of both the September 22 Grievance and the November 3 Grievance. (Pl.'s Ex. 7.)

         Syler was the second witness to testify at the Pavey hearing. Syler testified that he did not know he had to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit. Yet he also claims that, on September 10, 2010, he submitted a written grievance (“September 10 Grievance”) complaining about the conduct of the correctional officers and medical staff with respect to his testicular injury. Specifically, on September 4, 2010, after he returned to the WCADF from the hospital where he had undergone testicular surgery, Syler was placed in the medical unit. According to Syler, he was “immobile” and “bedridden” for the entire next week. Syler also claims that while he was recovering in the medical unit, he obtained a blank grievance form from either a nurse or another inmate and filled out the September 10 Grievance. In addition, he obtained two additional blank sheets of lined paper from another inmate, which he used to write additional statements expounding on the September 10 Grievance.

         Syler further testified that during the same time period, as he was recovering from surgery, he was taking pain medication in the form of either “Vicodins or Norcos.” Syler claims that he prepared the September 10 Grievance in the evening after taking his medication. He admitted that he was “high or something, off [his] Vicodins” at the time, “because [he] couldn't deal with the pain.” Syler clarified that he did not believe the drugs inhibited his memory but analogized himself to a “drunk driver [who] believes they're sober.” Ultimately, Syler testified that it took him six hours over a two-day period to complete the grievance form and additional two pages, which he then placed “in the door crack” of his cell in the medical unit. Syler claims that he was able to reach the door crack of his cell from his bed without standing up. Despite those efforts, according to Syler, he never received a response from any member of the WCADF staff.

         During his testimony, Syler admitted that he was familiar with the WCADF's grievance procedures on September 10, 2010 and that, when he filed grievances on other occasions, he kept the pink copy of the Form 22 as instructed by the Inmate Handbook. Syler also claims that on September 10, he submitted the white copy of the grievance and kept both the yellow and pink copies. Syler testified that he later gave the yellow and pink copies of the September 10 Grievance to his mother when he was transferred from the WCADF to Menard. His mother then turned over both copies of the September 10 Grievance to his attorney at the time, Kevin Bugos. By the time of the Pavey ...

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