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Combs v. Butts

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

July 24, 2017

DEAN COMBS, Plaintiff,
Mr. BUTTS Warden, Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiff Dean Combs, who at all relevant times was incarcerated at New Castle Correctional Facility (“New Castle”), brought this action against defendant Keith Butts, the Superintendent of New Castle. Mr. Combs alleges that Superintendent Butts violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to protect Mr. Combs from being sexually assaulted by his cellmate.

         Superintendent Butts moves for summary judgment on the ground that Mr. Combs failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing this suit. The parties have each submitted multiple briefs in support of their respective positions. For the reasons explained in this Entry, Superintendent Butts's motion for summary judgment, [Dkt. 27], is granted.


         Standard of Review

         Summary judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A “material fact” is one that “might affect the outcome of the suit.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the non-movant's favor. Ault v. Speicher, 634 F.3d 942, 945 (7th Cir. 2011).

         “The applicable substantive law will dictate which facts are material.” National Soffit & Escutcheons, Inc., v. Superior Systems, Inc., 98 F.3d 262, 265 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). The substantive law applicable to this motion for summary judgment is the PLRA, which requires that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 . . . until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e; see Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524-25 (2002). “[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.” Id. at 532 (citation omitted). Exhaustion of available administrative remedies “‘means using all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that the agency addresses the issues on the merits).'” Id. at 90 (quoting Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1024 (7th Cir. 2002)). Proper use of the facility's grievance system requires a prisoner “to file complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time [as] the prison's administrative rules require.” Pozo, 286 F.3d at 1025; see also Dole v. Chandler, 438 F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006). The exhaustion requirement “is an affirmative defense that a defendant has the burden of proving.” King v. McCarty, 781 F.3d 889, 893 (7th Cir. 2015).



         The Court begins by discussing the administrative remedy process in effect at New Castle during the relevant time. It then will summarize the evidence presented by Superintendent Butts and Mr. Combs in turn.

         The Indiana Department of Correction (“IDOC”) has an Offender Grievance Process (“OGP”) through which inmates, including those at New Castle, can grieve issues related to their conditions of confinement, such as the claims at issue here. The OGP in effect at all times relevant to this action consisted of three stages: the informal grievance stage, the filing of a formal grievance, and the filing of a grievance appeal. The OGP is complete, and all administrative remedies are fully exhausted, once the inmate has received a response to his grievance appeal.

         Superintendent Butts submits the majority of his evidence via the affidavit of Jennifer Smith. Ms. Smith was at all times relevant to this action the Grievance Specialist at New Castle, and as such, she was responsible for entering offender grievances and responses thereto into IDOC's grievance tracking system and is the custodian of grievance records at New Castle. Ms. Smith reviewed the grievance records for Mr. Combs while he was incarcerated at New Castle from January 2016 through April 2016. The grievance records reveal that Mr. Combs filed three informal grievances on April 19, 2016, but they related to improper medical treatment and the inappropriate demeanor of a correctional officer; they did not relate to the claims at issue in this case. Moreover, the grievance records reveal that Mr. Combs has not filed a formal grievance since 2007.

         Mr. Combs submitted multiple statements in response to Superintendent Butts's motion, as well as various documents.[1] The following summary of his submissions reveals the ever- changing and internally inconsistent nature of his evidence and positions with respect to exhaustion.

         Mr. Combs filed the Complaint in this action on July 6, 2016. In his Complaint, he stated that he filed three grievances but received “no response.” Dkt. 2 at 2. The Complaint was screened and Superintendent Butts asserted the affirmative defense of exhaustion. The Court issued a scheduling order staying all matters in the case unrelated to exhaustion and ordered Superintendent Butts to file a motion for summary judgment on exhaustion, request a Pavey hearing, or withdraw his defense. Before Superintendent Butts chose any of these options, Mr. Combs submitted two filings regarding exhaustion, and the Court stated that it would consider these filings ...

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