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Baker v. McCorkle

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

March 14, 2017

Christopher Baker, Plaintiff,
Richard McCorkle, individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff of Henry County, Bruce Baker, Kim Cronk, Ed Yanos, Richard Bouslog, Robin Reno-Fleming, Steven Dugger, Nathan Lamar, Clay Morgan, Michael Thalls, Harold Griffin, Henry County Commissioners, and Henry County Council, Defendants.



         Plaintiff Christopher Baker, an inmate at the Henry County Jail in New Castle, Indiana (the “Jail”), brings this putative class action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the Jail is overcrowded and presents unsanitary and unsafe conditions, which he contends violate the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Defendants, which include Henry County Sheriff Richard McCorkle, several Henry County Commissioners and Council members, and the Henry County Council, have asserted as an affirmative defense their contention that Mr. Baker failed to comply with the exhaustion requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”).

         The Court held a hearing on March 7, 2017, the parameters of which were established by Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739 (7th Cir. 2008). For the reasons explained in this Entry, the Court finds that Defendants have met their burden of proof as to claims relating to certain conditions at the Jail, but that Mr. Baker has exhausted his administrative remedies regarding his overcrowding allegations.[1]

         I. Standard of Review

         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, 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).

         II. Findings of Fact[2]

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

         A. Grievance Procedure at the Jail

         When individuals are booked into the Jail, it is Jail policy that they be given a copy of the Inmate Handbook. Upon receipt of the Inmate Handbook, those individuals sign a page at the end of the Inmate Handbook titled “Acceptance of Manual Received by Inmate, ” and this signed page is placed in their file, or “jail packet.” The Inmate Handbook outlines the grievance procedure at the Jail as follows:

Grievance procedures established by Henry County Jail consists of the following steps or options. These steps include:
1. An inmate may file an informal grievance by discussing the specific problem with a staff member. Normally these informal grievances are filed verbally with staff having contact with the inmate during routine supervision. Where and when possible, staff receiving the grievance may address the complained of condition directly.
2. If the problem cannot be resolved through informal discussions or the inmate wishes to document the grievance for additional consideration, he may submit a written grievance to the grievance officer/board.
3. Formal grievances are filed in writing and an inmate may ask for assistance from officers or other inmates in writing out the grievance on the Inmate Grievance Form. Grievance forms and writing materials are made available to inmates upon request. A problem that results from a specific event or action is presented on the approved form within seven [7] days of the occurrence. On a daily basis, officer's (sic) conduct rounds throughout the facility giving inmates the opportunity to turn in written grievances. After acknowledgement of receiving [the] grievance, signed and dated by the receiving officer, the grievance is sent directly to the Jail Commander who reviews the filed grievances. The grievance:
a. Is in writing;
b. Clearly defines the situation in question and the facts upon which it is based;
c. Specifies the wrongful act or situation and describe[s] the harm done;
d. Arises out of an act or failure to act by Henry County Jail;
e. Addresses a matter within the control of the facility;
f. Requests a remedy that is within the power of the facility to grant;
g. Is submitted within seven [7] days of the occurrence;
h. Includes a copy of any written supporting documents or pertinent discussion, decision, and justification; &
i. Specifies a requested remedy.
4. The decision of the grievance officer/board is presented to the inmate in writing, no later than fifteen [15] days after the grievance is received. The grievance officer/board provides for meaningful relief of a substantiated grievance.
5. Inmates may be disciplined for filing frivolous or repeated grievances that consistently have ...

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