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Farmer v. Spears

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

January 13, 2017

JEREMIAH FARMER, Plaintiff,
v.
GERARD SPEARS, et al., Defendants.

          ENTRY ON PAVEY HEARING REJECTING AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE OF FAILURE TO EXHAUST AVAILABLE ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES

          LARRY J. McKINNEY, JUDGE.

         I. Background

         This is a civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Jeremiah Farmer, an inmate formerly confined at the Pendleton Correctional Facility (“Pendleton”). Mr. Farmer alleges that defendants Gerard Spears, Dr. Ron Westrate, and Dr. Herb Troyer were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs when they failed to provide adequate mental health treatment and removed him from the Insight Mental Health Program.

         The defendants asserted as an affirmative defense their contention that Mr. Farmer failed to comply with the exhaustion requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). The burden of proof as to this defense rests on the defendants. Dole v. Chandler, 438 F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006).

         On summary judgment, the defendants argued that none of the three relevant grievances filed by Mr. Farmer were properly filed beyond the second step of the process. They argued that the informal and formal steps were completed, but no timely appeal was filed. Genuine issues of fact existed as to the circumstances surrounding Mr. Farmer's failure to complete the third step of the process. The defendants' motion for summary judgment was denied and a hearing in accordance with Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739 (7th Cir. 2008) was scheduled. Pro bono counsel was recruited to assist Mr. Farmer in preparation for and participation in the hearing.

         The Pavey hearing was conducted on December 14, 2016. The plaintiff participated by telephone, per his request. Mr. Farmer was ably represented by recruited counsel Mr. Andrew McNeil.[1] The defendants appeared by counsel. Documentary evidence was submitted, as well as testimony from Mr. Farmer and from the defendants' witness, Grievance Specialist Camay Francum.

         For the reasons explained in this Entry, the Court finds that the defendants did not meet their burden of proof by showing that Mr. Farmer failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies prior to filing this lawsuit.[2]

         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).

         “The PLRA does not [ ] demand the impossible.” Pyles v. Nwaobasi, 829 F.3d 860, 864 (7th Cir. 2016). “Remedies that are genuinely unavailable or nonexistent need not be exhausted.” Id. “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.” Id. (internal quotation omitted). “In such cases, the prisoner is considered to have exhausted his administrative remedies.” Id.

         B. Findings of Fact

         The following facts having either been stipulated by the parties or found by the Court to be true for purposes of the issue of exhaustion based on the ...


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