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Davis v. Blackman

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

January 4, 2018

SAMUEL DAVIS, Plaintiff,


          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Samuel Davis, an Indiana inmate who at all relevant times was incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (“WVCF”), brought this action against defendants who are all correctional officers at WVCF. Mr. Davis alleges that on June 16, 2016, defendants Blackman, Dugger, Goff, and Myers violated his Eighth Amendment rights by pushing him into the corner of his bed, bending his wrist, and closing a cell door on him causing him to be pinned in the doorframe. All four defendants move for summary judgment asserting that Mr. Davis failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing this suit. The parties have each submitted multiple briefs and exhibits in support of their respective positions. For the reasons explained in this Entry, defendants' motion for summary judgment, dkt. [33], is granted. Plaintiff's December 7, 2017, motion for clarification, dkt. [73], is granted to the extent the arguments presented were considered by the Court in addressing the motion for summary judgment.

         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 Prison Litigation Reform Act (“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).

         II. Background

         The Court begins by discussing the administrative remedy process in effect at WVCF during the relevant time. This will be followed by a summary of the evidence presented by defendants and, in turn, Mr. Davis.

         The Indiana Department of Correction (“IDOC”) has an Offender Grievance Process (“OGP”) through which inmates, including those at WVCF, 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.

         Defendants submit the majority of their evidence through the affidavit of Teresa Littlejohn, the WVCF Grievance Specialist. Ms. Littlejohn was responsible for entering offender grievances and responses into the IDOC's grievance tracking system and is the custodian of grievance records at WVCF. She reviewed the grievance records for Mr. Davis while he was incarcerated at WVCF beginning on May 17, 2013. Dkt. 33-1, ¶ 14.

         According to Ms. Littlejohn, the records reveal that Mr. Davis filed two grievances at WVCF concerning being assaulted by staff. These grievances were assigned numbers 92991 and 92992. The first grievance alleged that Corrections Officer Sgt. Donaldson grabbed Mr. Davis by the shoulder on June 22, 2016. Dkt. 33, attachments 4-7. The second grievance, number 92992, concerns an allegation that Sgt. Donaldson and Officer Miller closed a cell door on Mr. Davis's arm on July 6, 2016. Dkt. 33-8. In this grievance, after Mr. Davis describes what happened on July 6, 2016, he adds a final sentence: “Also, I would like for you to view and save video for G-Unit on 7-16-2016 [sic] from 7:40 a.m. on.” Id. Ms. Littlejohn notes that she issued Mr. Davis a blank formal appeal form, pre-marked with grievance number 92992, for his use in appealing the matter. However, Ms. Littlejohn states that Mr. Davis never appealed. Dkt. 33-1, ¶¶ 24-25.

         Mr. Davis in response contends he has attempted to grieve the issue. He provides an informal grievance form dated June 29, 2016, sufficiently describing the date and time of the incident giving rise to this lawsuit. Dkt. 47-1, p. 1. He does not name specific officers, but described them as “all the officers that came to G-Unit on June 16th, 2016, between 8:45 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.” Id. The informal grievance form also contains a description of Mr. Davis's claim: “They assaulted me after they cuffed my hand behind my back.” Id. Mr. Davis also submitted a response to this informal grievance, on which Lt. C. Nicholson wrote that the video was saved and the incident documented. Mr. Davis signed this response, checking the box indicating his disagreement, on June 30, 2016. Dkt. 47-1, p. 2.

         Next, Mr. Davis submits an offender grievance form, dated July 12, 2016, in which he describes the alleged June 16 assault by staff, but not specifically naming the officers. Dkt. 47-1, pp. 3-4. Much of this grievance is about medical issues, but there is ample description of the assault allegations. In the form section for stating the relief sought, Mr. Davis wrote “For conduct report to be dropped to a C364 or C347.” Dkt. 47-1, p. 3. Mr. Davis does not provide the disposition of this grievance. Id.

         Mr. Davis does not further describe any attempts to appeal the grievance, but he generally asserts that he did, in fact, write to the facility head about the incident. He includes a letter to Mr. Brown, the Warden of WVCF, in which he described the June 16 incident, and asks that Warden Brown view and preserve video of the incident. Dkt. 47-1, p. 5. This letter is dated June 20, 2016, just four days after the incident, and nine days before the informal grievance form was signed. Id. Also submitted is a letter Mr. Davis wrote to IDOC Internal Affairs. It is also dated June 20, 2016, and mirrors the letter sent to Warden Brown. In this latter Mr. Davis also asks that video of the incident be preserved. Dkt. 47-1, p. 6. An Internal Affairs investigator wrote back to Mr. Davis on June 22, 2016, informing him that the video had been preserved. Dkt. 47-1, p. 7.

         In reply, defendants assert that the documents provided by Mr. Davis were not included in the IDOC's grievance system (nor discussed in their motion for summary judgment, nor discussed in Ms. Littlejohn's affidavit) because they were never properly filed. Dkt. 50. Defendants then provide their own copies of these documents to demonstrate that Mr. Davis attempted to file a formal grievance after his informal grievance had been denied, but that the formal grievance was returned to him. Dkt. 49-4, p. 1. A “Return of Grievance” form dated July 21, 2016, concerning the formal grievance filed the day before, reflects the grievance was returned because “[r]equested relief not authorized through the grievance process.” Id. As noted above, ...

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