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Watts v. Williams

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 25, 2019



          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, Chief U.S. District Judge.

         Plaintiff Zachary Watts, an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”), filed this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that, while he was incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center, Defendant Kyle Williams, a correctional officer, and Defendant Tracy Peek, a nurse, were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. According to Watts, both Williams and Peek denied his requests for clean, new colostomy bags and medical supplies.

         Now before the Court are Defendants’ motions (Docs. 27, 30) arguing that Watts failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants Defendants’ motions for summary judgment.

         Factual Background

          Watts filed his complaint on June 28, 2018, alleging deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs by Defendants Williams and Peek. Watts is confined to a wheelchair and has a colostomy bag. He claims that he did not receive his needed medical supplies, namely new colostomy bags, on November 13, 2016. He told the nurse in charge of distributing supplies that day that he needed the bags, but the nurse did not have any. As a result, Watts alleges that he was forced to wear a diaper around his open stomach wound for two weeks while the healthcare unit failed to provide him with his much-needed colostomy bags.

         According to Watts, on June 11, 2017, Peek informed him that she did not have any colostomy bags. When Watts asked her what to do because he was using his last bag, Peek allegedly told him to reuse it or to use the clear garbage bag that his diapers and wipes came in. He also claims that she told him to write a grievance if he “didn’t like it.” (Doc. 1, p. 11). Watts alleges that he also spoke with Williams about his medical needs and asked him to ask the healthcare unit about Watts’s supplies, particularly his colostomy bags, but Williams did not help him.

         Relevant to his claims in this action, Watts filed two grievances. The first, dated November 14, 2016, complained that he was out of colostomy bags and that he did not receive his weekly supply from the healthcare unit. (Doc. 28-2, p. 10-16). The grievance mentioned a nurse, but it did not mention a correctional officer’s involvement. A grievance counselor responded to the grievance on December 7, 2016, stating that Health Care Unit Administrator Brown spoke with Watts on several occasions and explained that he did not need to use a new bag each day. Brown also told the grievance counselor that when Watts was shaken down in September, he had ten bags in his cell, and that the need for additional supplies was addressed with Wexford.

         A grievance officer denied the grievance on January 5, 2017, and the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) concurred in the decision on January 25, 2017. While Watts signed and dated the appeal section on the grievance response on February 7, 2017, it was not received by the Administrative Review Board (ARB) until March 10, 2017, two weeks after his appeal deadline lapsed. The ARB offered no further redress on March 22, 2017, finding that Watts did not submit his appeal within the timeframe outline in Department Rule 504. (Doc. 28-2, p. 10-16).

         Watts filed a second grievance about not receiving sufficient numbers of colostomy bags on June 13, 2017. (Doc. 28-1, p. 25-27). In it, he complains that on June 11, 2017, Tracy Peek passed out medical supplies. Watts told her that he needed bags and was in desperate need of a colostomy bag dressing change. Peek allegedly told him to use the same bag he had on or to use the bag that his medical supplies came in. The grievance does not mention a correctional officer by name or by description.

         Watts marked the grievance as an emergency, and the CAO agreed that it was an emergency on June 30, 2017. A grievance officer reviewed the grievance on July 7, 2017, and recommended that it be denied because the colostomy bags are reusable, and Watts was found to keep a stockpile of bags hidden in his cell in the past. The CAO concurred in the response on July 18, 2017. (Doc. 28-1, p. 25-27). There is no record of an appeal of the June 2017 grievance in the ARB’s records.

         Legal Standards

          Summary judgment is “proper if the pleadings, discovery materials, disclosures, and affidavits demonstrate no genuine issue of material fact such that [Defendants are] entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Wragg v. Village of Thornton, 604 F.3d 464, 467 (7th Cir. 2010). Lawsuits filed by inmates are governed by the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). See 42 U.S.C. §1997e(a). That statute states, in pertinent part, that “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.” Id. (emphasis added).

         Generally, the Court’s role on summary judgment is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge witness credibility, or to determine the truth of the matter. Instead, the Court is to determine whether a genuine issue of triable fact exists. See Nat’l Athletic Sportwear Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008). In Pavey, however, 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 v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739, 740-41 (7th Cir. 2008). Here, the question of exhaustion does not rely on weighing debatable factual issues and involves only a question of law.

         The Seventh Circuit requires strict adherence to the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement. See, e.g., Dole v. Chandler, 438 F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006)(noting that “[t]his circuit has taken a strict compliance approach to exhaustion”). Exhaustion must occur before the suit is filed. See Ford v. Johnson, 362 F.3d 395, 398 (7th Cir. 2004). A plaintiff cannot file suit and then exhaust his administrative remedies while the suit is pending. Id. Moreover, “[t]o exhaust remedies, a prisoner must file complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison administrative rules require.” Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1025 (7th Cir. 2005). Consequently, if a prisoner fails to use a ...

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