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Davis v. Baxter

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

October 12, 2017

SAMUEL DAVIS, Plaintiff,
BAXTER Officer, DONALDSON Seargent, MILLER Officer, Defendants.


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

         In this civil action, plaintiff Samuel Davis (“Mr. Davis”), an Indiana prisoner incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (“Wabash”), alleges that he was subjected to excessive force when defendants Baxter, Donaldson and Miller shut his cell door on his arm.

         Presently pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Baxter, Donaldson and Miller on April 12, 2017 (Dkt. No. 22). The defendants' motion argues that the claims alleged against them are barred under the exhaustion provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, that requires a prisoner to first exhaust his available administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit in court. Mr. Davis argues in response that he exhausted his administrative remedies by filing a timely appeal. The defendants replied and the plaintiff filed a surreply. This motion is now fully briefed.

         For the reasons explained below, the motion for summary judgment, Dkt. No. 22, is denied and further proceedings are directed.

         I. 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). The requirement to exhaust provides “that no one is entitled to judicial relief for a supposed or threatened injury until the prescribed administrative remedy has been exhausted.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88-89 (2006) (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).

         Because exhaustion is an affirmative defense, “the burden of proof is on the prison officials.” Kaba v. Stepp, 458 F.3d 678, 680 (7th Cir. 2006). So here, the defendants bear the burden of demonstrating that Mr. Davis failed to exhaust all available administrative remedies before he filed this suit. Id. at 681.

         II. Material Facts

         At all times relevant to his claims in this suit, Mr. Davis was incarcerated at Wabash. Wabash maintained a grievance policy regarding complaints about prison conditions. The grievance process requires an offender to attempt to resolve the grievance informally through officials at the facility by contacting staff to discuss the matter or incident subject to the grievance and seeking informal resolution. If the offender is unable to obtain a resolution of the grievance informally, he may submit a formal written complaint (Level I grievance) to the Grievance Specialist of the facility where the incident occurred. If the formal written complaint is not resolved in a manner that satisfies the offender, he may submit an appeal (Level II) within ten (10) working days from the date of receipt of the Level I grievance response. If the offender receives no grievance response within 25 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 10 working days later.

         Mr. Davis' claim is that corrections officers closed his cell door on his arm. The parties agree that Mr. Davis attempted to resolve his grievance informally and filed a formal written complaint in accord with the requirements of the facility's grievance process. He filed an informal complaint one day after the alleged incident and was seen by medical several days later. Medical personnel noted no bruising at that time. Mr. Davis then filed a formal complaint stating that he was still in pain and wanted another medical examination. He was again seen by medical and was given an appeal form.

         There is, however, a material dispute of fact as to whether Mr. Davis appealed his grievance. The defendants assert in their motion for summary judgment that Mr. Davis never filed his appeal. They submit a report of Mr. Davis' grievances to show that this grievance was not appealed. The defendants note that Mr. Davis submitted the completed formal and informal grievance forms to this Court earlier in this case, but did not submit the completed appeal form until defendants filed their motion for summary judgment. They conclude from this that Mr. Davis did not complete the appeal form until after the motion for summary judgment was filed in this case.

         Mr. Davis, on the other hand, attests to having submitted the appeal form to the appropriate grievance specialist at Wabash. He further asserts that he has had repeated problems with the grievance specialist losing his paperwork or failing to file his grievance forms as a means of retaliation.

         III. ...

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