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Wagoner v. Lemmon

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 4, 2015

RICHARD WAGONER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
BRUCE LEMMON, Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Corrections, and INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Defendants-Appellees

Argued September 18, 2014.

Page 587

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. No. 3:05-cv-438 -- Christopher A. Nuechterlein, Magistrate Judge.

For Richard Wagoner, Plaintiff - Appellant: Kent L. Hull, Attorney, Indiana Legal Services Incorporated, South Bend, IN.

For INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, a state agency, Indiana Department of Corrections Commissioner, Defendants - Appellees: Corinne T. Gilchrist, Attorney, Kyle Hunter, Attorney, Office of The Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN.

Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and POSNER and MANION, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 588

Wood, Chief Judge.

This appeal requires us to revisit the rule imposed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requiring a prisoner to exhaust any available administrative remedies before challenging her conditions of confinement in a federal court. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Often exhaustion (or its lack) will be apparent, but when it is not, the district court must hold an evidentiary hearing to resolve the question. See Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739 (7th Cir. 2008). A Pavey hearing serves a limited but important role: it helps the judge decide whether the court or the prison is the proper forum for the prisoner's grievance. A proper Pavey hearing should be conducted before an adjudication on the merits. In the present case, that did not happen, because the prisoner failed to submit his renewed motion for a Pavey hearing as directed by the district court. We must decide whether the court abused its discretion in denying that hearing and whether the Commissioner and the Indiana Department of Corrections were entitled to summary judgment.

I

For twelve years, Richard Wagoner was incarcerated in various facilities overseen by the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC). Wagoner is paraplegic, as a result of severe injuries he sustained in a car accident in 1996, and thus he needs a wheelchair. In 2005, five years into his confinement, Wagoner filed a pro se complaint in which he asserted that IDOC had failed properly to accommodate his disability and had thus violated his civil and constitutional rights. The district court eventually recruited counsel for Wagoner, and counsel submitted the operative third amended complaint on September 6, 2011. That complaint alleged that IDOC and its Commissioner (in his official capacity) had committed various violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, redressable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and had violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, as well. The complaint identified eight particular grievances, including 1) inadequate and humiliating toileting arrangements; 2)

Page 589

a cell so small that Wagoner had to move his wheelchair every time his cellmate needed to use the toilet; 3) sidewalks that caused him to tip out of his wheelchair and fall to the ground; 4) no access to the weight room or the library because of space constraints; 5) ongoing problems with his wheelchair and its repair; 6) failures to provide him with other medical supplies; 7) exclusion from a job training program; and 8) transportation in a vehicle not equipped for wheelchairs--a shortcoming that led once to Wagoner's catheter becoming dislodged and that forced him to crawl on the van's floor in order to get out of the vehicle.

IDOC, acting for itself and the Commissioner, filed a motion for summary judgment. IDOC argued it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law for several reasons, including that Wagoner had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the PLRA. On April 18, 2013, Wagoner filed a motion for a Pavey hearing to determine whether he had, in fact, exhausted his ...


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