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Handzlik v. Lain

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

May 22, 2014

DAVID LAIN, et al., Defendants.


JON E. DEGUILIO, District Judge.

Thomas M. Handzlik, a pro se prisoner, is proceeding on numerous claims regarding the conditions of his confinement at the Porter County Jail. (DE 15.) The defendants move for summary judgment on the ground that Handzlik failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing suit as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). (DE 87, 90.) Defendant Michelle Harris also moves for dismissal based on Handzlik's failure to state a claim against her. (DE 87 at 2-3.)

I. Failure to State A Claim

The court first addresses Harris's request for dismissal based on failure to state a claim. (DE 88 at 15-20.) In deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 12(b)(6), the court must accept all well-pleaded allegations as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Golden v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 745 F.3d 252, 255 (7th Cir. 2014). To survive dismissal, a "complaint must contain allegations that state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A plaintiff "must plead some facts that suggest a right to relief that is beyond the speculative level.'" Atkins v. City of Chicago, 631 F.3d 823, 832 (7th Cir. 2011). "This means that the complaint must contain allegations plausibly suggesting (not merely consistent with) an entitlement to relief." Lavalais v. Village of Melrose Park, 734 F.3d 629, 632 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal quote marks and citation omitted). Nevertheless, "[a] document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

Here, Harris argues that she should be dismissed as a defendant based on Handzlik's "failure to state a plausible claim" against her in his complaint. (DE 88 at 15.) Despite the terminology she uses, her argument is actually based on outside evidence; she responds to various allegations in the complaint and argues that in light of the evidence (specifically, her 9page affidavit and Handzlik's medical records from the jail), he has not established that she was deliberately indifferent to his medical needs. ( See DE 88 at 16-19; see also DE 88-5, Harris Aff. & Exhibits.) That is not a proper argument for a motion to dismiss based on failure to state a claim. Rather, as outlined above, the court must accept the plaintiff's allegations as true and construe all inferences in his favor at this stage. Golden, 745 F.3d at 255. Furthermore, the court cannot consider outside evidence in deciding whether the complaint fails to state a claim. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(d). Accordingly, the court expressly excludes Harris's outside evidence, and considers only the allegations in the complaint in deciding whether Handzlik adequately states a claim.

Inmates are entitled to adequate medical care under the Constitution. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). To establish liability, a prisoner must satisfy both an objective and subjective component by showing: (1) his medical need was objectively serious; and (2) the defendant acted with deliberate indifference to that medical need. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). A medical need is "serious" if it is one that a physician has diagnosed as mandating treatment, or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention. Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 653 (7th Cir. 2005).

For a medical professional to be held liable for deliberate indifference, he or she must make a decision that represents "such a substantial departure from accepted professional judgment, practice, or standards, as to demonstrate that the person responsible actually did not base the decision on such a judgment." Jackson v. Kotter, 541 F.3d 688, 697 (7th Cir. 2008). Although the Constitution does not entitle an inmate to demand a specific form of treatment, prison medical staff cannot deny all forms of treatment or continue with a course of treatment that is known to be ineffective. Greeno, 414 F.3d at 654-55. Furthermore, a delay in providing treatment can constitute deliberate indifference when it causes unnecessary pain or suffering. Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 752-53 (7th Cir. 2011); Grieveson v. Anderson, 538 F.3d 763, 779 (7th Cir. 2008).

Here, Handzlik alleged in his amended complaint that when he arrived at the jail, he was suffering from serious mental health problems, including obsessive compulsive disorder and panic attacks which had been diagnosed and treated prior to his incarceration. (DE 4 at 9.) He further alleged that his mental state deteriorated after he arrived at the jail, and that he made several requests to see a therapist. ( Id. ) He alleged that Harris ignored his requests for several months, and in one instance had him placed in a "padded cell" for complaining about his medical care, even though there was no legitimate medical reason for doing so. ( Id. ) Accepting these allegations as true, he has alleged a plausible deliberate indifference claim against Harris. Accordingly, the court declines to dismiss her as a defendant.

II. Exhaustion

Turning to the issue of exhaustion, summary judgment must be granted when "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[1] FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists when "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). To determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Heft v. Moore, 351 F.3d 278, 282 (7th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, a party opposing a properly supported summary judgment motion may not rely merely on allegations or denials in her own pleadings, but rather must "marshal and present the court with the evidence she contends will prove her case." Goodman v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010).

Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), prisoners are prohibited from bringing an action in federal court with respect to prison conditions "until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense on which the defendant bears the burden of proof. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007); Dole v. Chandler, 438 F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has taken a "strict compliance approach to exhaustion." Dole, 438 F.3d at 809. Thus, "[t]o exhaust remedies, a prisoner must file complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison's administrative rules require." Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1025 (7th Cir. 2002). "[A] prisoner who does not properly take each step within the administrative process has failed to exhaust state remedies." Id. at 1024.

Nevertheless, inmates are only required to exhaust administrative remedies that are "available." Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 102 (2006). The availability of a remedy is not a matter of what appears "on paper, " but rather whether the process was in actuality available for the prisoner to pursue. Kaba v. Stepp, 458 F.3d 678, 684 (7th Cir. 2006). Thus, when prison staff hinder an inmate's ability to use the administrative process, such as by failing to provide him with the necessary forms, administrative remedies are not considered "available." Id. In essence, "[p]rison officials may not take unfair advantage of the exhaustion requirement... and a remedy becomes unavailable' if prison employees do not respond to a properly filed grievance or otherwise use affirmative misconduct to prevent a prisoner from exhausting." Dole, 438 F.3d at 809. In determining whether an administrative remedy was effectively unavailable, the question is whether the inmate did "all that was reasonable to exhaust" under the circumstances to exhaust. Id. at 812; see also Schultz v. Pugh, 728 F.3d 619, 621 (7th Cir. 2013) (plaintiff must demonstrate that a person of "ordinary firmness" would have been deterred from exhausting under the circumstances). When there are disputed issues of fact pertaining to whether the plaintiff exhausted or was precluded from doing so, the court is required to hold a hearing to resolve those disputes. Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739, 742 (7th Cir. 2008).

Here, Handzlik tendered his original complaint for mailing on April 4, 2013. (DE 1 at 10.) He raised a host of allegations about improper medical care, improper food, improper clothing, and a lack of sanitation at the jail, among other issues. ( Id. at 1-10.) However, his filing was unduly vague and confusing in certain respects, and he was afforded an opportunity to replead his claims. (DE 3.) On April 19, 2013, he tendered his amended complaint for mailing. (DE 4.) In this filing he complained about many conditions at the jail, including sewer gas smells; infestation of ants, gnats, and other bugs; overcrowding; inadequate jail-issued clothing; an inadequate amount of toilet paper; inadequate food, including spoiled and improperly cooked foods; an inadequate mattress; and a lack of sanitation. ( Id. ) He further claimed that he was not receiving adequate medical care for mental health issues, and that jail staff improperly denied him access to religious books. ( Id. ) Handzlik was granted leave to proceed against defendants David Lain, John Widup, Robert Taylor, Diane Patrick, Tom Baker, and Michelle Harris in connection with these claims. (DE 15.)

The record shows that Handzlik was housed at the jail from October 2012 to April 2014, when he was transferred to an Indiana Department of Correction facility. (DE 1 at 7; DE 98.) At all relevant times, the jail had a grievance process in place under which an inmate could grieve a broad range of issues, including the actions of jail staff, living conditions, health care, food, mail, laundry service, and jail polices. (DE 88-4, Gaydos Aff. ¶ 5 & Ex. 2, Standard Operating Procedure 02-05(I)(B) ("Grievance Policy").) Under the policy, an inmate is encouraged to informally resolve his complaint by speaking with a member of the jail staff. (DE 88-4, Gaydos Aff. ¶ 5.) If the inmate is dissatisfied with the response, he must file a formal grievance. ( Id. ) Grievance forms can be obtained from the pod officer assigned to the unit where the inmate is housed. ( Id. ) Completed grievances are forwarded by the pod officer to the shift supervisor, who responds to them or, if necessary, forwards them to the appropriate personnel (such as medical staff where the grievance pertains to a medical issue). ( Id. ) An inmate must file a written grievance within 7 days of the event ...

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