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Snodgrass v. Hurt

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 1, 2014

RALPH SNODGRASS, Plaintiff,
v.
BLAINE HURT, J.C. JACKSON, DAVID WARNER, ALEXANDER SHAW, MICHAEL KING, and ERIC WESTON, Defendants.

ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

TIM A. BAKER, Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment asserting it is undisputed that Plaintiff Ralph Snodgrass failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing this action. Reviewing the facts in the light most favorable to Snodgrass, as is appropriate for summary judgment, the Court disagrees. A genuine dispute exists as to whether Snodgrass exhausted all administrative remedies. Accordingly, Defendants' motion for summary judgment [Filing No. 32] is denied.

II. Background

Snodgrass is incarcerated at the Pendleton Correctional Facility and alleges in his complaint that Defendants used excessive force against him in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss claiming that Snodgrass's failure to exhaust all administrative remedies precludes this action. The Court converted the motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment. [Filing No. 31.]

To exhaust available administrative remedies, a prisoner must follow the grievance procedure set forth by prison officials. The Pendleton facility uses a three-step process for filing a grievance, including an informal process, a formal written grievance, and a formal appeal process. The parties do not dispute that Snodgrass filed a grievance form on September 17, 2012. The grievance form includes a "complaint/concern" section and a "relief" section. Under the complaint/concern section Snodgrass asserted the following:

On July 30 at 9:28 p.m. oicfer Hurt, oficer Jackson, and two other oicfer beat me up and slam my head into the wall outside JGH and slit my head open in 3 plase and I had to go too a hosplit because the nurse could not stop the bleeding I had to get 13 staples in my head.

[Filing No. 44-1.] In the relief section Snodgrass wrote, "I want moved to another prison." [Filing No. 44-1.] The parties also do not dispute that Defendants rejected Snodgrass's grievance form. On September 20, 2012, Snodgrass received a return of grievance form that indicated that Defendants rejected his September 17 grievance form for the following reason: "Your complaint concerns a Classification or Disciplinary Hearing issue or action. These types of issues or actions are to be appealed through their own appeal process and not through the grievance process." [Filing No. 44-2.] The word "classification" is circled on the form. The parties, however, dispute what occurred after Defendants rejected his grievance form.

According to Snodgrass, he filed a new grievance concerning the July 30 excessive force incident. The complaint section of his grievance detailed the same events, and the relief section indicated he was in the process of filing a lawsuit against the officer. Snodgrass submitted this grievance form to executive assistant Wayne Scaife in September 2012, about a week after Snodgrass received the return of grievance form. Snodgrass asserts that he then wrote assistant superintendent Dwayne Alsip in October 2012, concerning the July 30 incident and his issues in having his grievance processed. In December 2012, Snodgrass claims he received a response letter from Alsip saying that he was going to look into the matter. In April 2013, Snodgrass alleges he wrote a second letter to Alsip inquiring as to whether he had any information about Snodgrass's grievance but Alsip never responded. [Filing No. 44-3; Filing No. 45.]

Snodgrass asserts that he filed a third grievance in June 2013 with Jessica Hammick, his facility's new grievance officer.[1] This third grievance allegedly described the July 30 incident and that Snodgrass had already submitted two written grievances on the incident, one to which he never received a response. On June 14, 2013, Snodgrass received a form back from Hammick that instructed him to contact Captain Gilly about the July 30 incident and his problems with the grievance process. Snodgrass claims he spoke with Gilly August 2013. However, Gilly could not help Snodgrass because he was not the shift supervisor on the day of the incident. Snodgrass further asserts that he spoke with his cell block counselors and his cell block case manager about seeking transfer to a separate facility. All of these alleged conversations occurred over a period of six to seven months following Snodgrass's receipt of the return of grievance form. [Filing No. 45.]

According to Defendants, there is no record that Snodgrass filed a grievance form concerning the July 30 incident. Defendants rejected Snodgrass's initial grievance form because he requested a facility transfer, which cannot be addressed through the grievance process. Because Snodgrass never submitted a corrected form within the five-day time limit, Defendants treated his initial grievance as if it was never filed. Thus, it is not in their records. To properly exhaust his administrative remedies, Defendants argue that Snodgrass should have resubmitted his grievance, seeking as a remedy either an investigation or discipline of the correction officers allegedly using excessive force. Snodgrass did not submit a corrected grievance. Defendants claim this precludes him from filing in federal court. [Filing No. 33.] They also assert that there is no record of any additional grievances relating to the July 30 incident filed after September 20.

III. Discussion

A party moving for summary judgment is entitled to judgment as a matter of law when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Applicable substantive law dictates what facts are considered material. Stokes v. Cortez , No. 2:12-CV-00177-JMS-WGH, 2013 WL 6730743, at * 1 (S.D. Ind. Dec. 18, 2013). In the instant motion, the Prison Litigation Reform Act is the applicable substantive law. Under the PLRA "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." 42 U.S.C. ยง 1997e. The PLRA demands proper exhaustion, which requires a prisoner to complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules, including deadlines, as a precondition to bringing suit in federal court. Woodford v. Ngo , 548 U.S. 81, 84 (2006). The PLRA is a mechanism created to encourage the use of available internal remedies and to reduce the number of frivolous claims. See id. at 114. A prisoner's failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense that prison officials bear the burden of proving. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007).

Defendants argue that Snodgrass did not follow the proper grievance process to address his complaint within the five-day time constraint. Accordingly, he did not comply with the Pendleton facility's grievance requirements and did not properly exhaust. Snodgrass asserts that prison officials made administrative remedies unavailable to him by mistake or intentional mischaracterization. Such conduct on the part of prison officials excuses him from the exhaustion requirement. Dole v. Chandler , 438 F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006) ("[A] remedy becomes unavailable' ...


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