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Tarik-El v. Knight

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

November 10, 2016

WENDY KNIGHT, et al., Defendant.


          William T. Lawrence, Judge

         I. Background

         In this civil rights action brought by Mr. Neely-Bey Tarik-El, he alleges his rights under the First Amendment were violated by the defendants when they allegedly enforced a restriction placed on him by the Moorish Science Temple of America that suspended him from participating in religious services. His claims are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He seeks injunctive relief.

         The defendants have presented as an affirmative defense their contention that Mr. Neely-Bey Tarik-El failed to comply with the exhaustion requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) prior to filing this action. Specifically, the defendants argue that Mr. Neely-Bey Tarik-El failed to file an appeal of the denial of his formal grievance.

         The Court denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Court held a hearing on June 29, 2016, pertaining to the exhaustion defense. The parameters of the hearing were established by Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739, (7th Cir. 2008). Mr. Neely-Bey Tarik-El was present in person and represented by Mr. Nicholas Baker.[1] The defendants were represented by counsel. Documentary evidence was submitted, as well as testimony from the plaintiff, plaintiff's witness James Clemens, and from defendants' witness, grievance administrator Robert Stafford. The Court has considered the evidence presented in support of and in opposition to the motion for summary judgment.

         The burden of proof as to the defense rests on the defendants. Dole v. Chandler, 438 F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Dale v. Lappin, 376 F.3d 652, 655 (7th Cir. 2004)). For the reasons set forth in this Entry, the Court finds that Mr. Neely-Bey Tarik-El did not exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the PLRA.

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standards

         The PLRA requires that a prisoner exhaust his available administrative remedies before bringing a suit concerning prison conditions. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524-25 (2002). The statutory exhaustion requirement is that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions…by a prisoner…until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). “[T]he PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.” Porter, 534 U.S. at 532.

         “Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules because no adjudicative system can function effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90-91 (2006) (footnote omitted); see also Dale v. Lappin, 376 F.3d 652, 655 (7th Cir. 2004) (“In order to properly exhaust, a prisoner must submit inmate complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison's administrative rules require.”) (internal quotation omitted). “In order to exhaust administrative remedies, a prisoner must take all steps prescribed by the prison's grievance system.” Ford v. Johnson, 362 F.3d 395, 397 (7th Cir. 2004).

         B. Undisputed Findings of Fact

          Having considered the evidence presented at the hearing, the Court makes the following findings of fact:

         Mr. Neely-Bey Tarik-El was incarcerated at the Pendleton Correctional Industrial Facility (“CIF”) at all time relevant to this action. The Indiana Department of Correction (“IDOC”) has a three step administrative remedy process for inmates which is set forth in the “Offender Grievance Process” policy No. 00-02-301 (“Grievance Policy”). First, an inmate must attempt to resolve the grievance informally by communicating with prison staff. Second, if the informal grievance is not successful, the inmate can file a written formal grievance with the Executive Assistant. Third, if not satisfied with the Executive Assistant's response, the inmate may file an appeal. An appeal must be submitted to the person, or in the manner, or both, as designated by the facility for persons living in the offender's housing unit, within ten working days from the date of the grievance response. If the offender receives no grievance response within twenty-five working days of the day he submitted the grievance, he may appeal as though the grievance had been denied. In that event, the time to appeal begins on the 26th working day after the grievance was submitted and ends ten working days later. (Defendants' Ex. 1, pp. 14-25).

         Robert Stafford is the grievance administrator at CIF. He is responsible for the grievance process at CIF. His responsibilities as grievance administrator include collecting grievances and grievance appeals, logging the grievances and grievance appeals into the Offender Grievance Review and Evaluation System (“OGRE”), ...

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