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Schwartz v. Conner

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

January 17, 2018



          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge

         I. Introduction

         Jason Schwartz is in the custody of the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC). He takes medication for seizures and a heart condition. On February 14, 2017, while he was incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (WVCF), he suffered some type of seizure. He was taken in handcuffs and chains to the infirmary. There he fell and landed on his face, and medical personnel thought he was on heroin or methamphetamine. He was injected with two doses of Narcan, an opioid overdose treatment, but kept protesting that he was not using drugs. Finally, a drug screening officer arrived and tested Mr. Schwartz's urine, concluding that Mr. Schwartz was not overdosing. Medical personnel then put Mr. Schwartz on suicide watch, where he was held without his clothes or property for over a week until outside drug screens came back clear. He was then removed from suicide watch.

         Mr. Schwartz asserts that as a result of receiving the multiple Narcan shots when he was not overdosing on opioids, he suffers problems with his eyesight, problems breathing, and loss of use of his left arm. He brought this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the medical personnel for their actions during and following his treatment for the seizure, and against the correctional officers for allowing him to fall on his face while handcuffed and chained.

         All defendants move for summary judgment contending that Mr. Schwartz failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing this lawsuit as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).

         II. 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).

         III. The Grievance System

         The 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. Grievances must be filed timely, or good cause shown otherwise, in order to comply with the grievance process. Dkt. No. 41-2 (IDOC Offender Grievance Process).

         IV. Evidence and Discussion

         Defendants submit the majority of their evidence through the affidavit of Teresa Littlejohn, the WVCF grievance specialist. Dkt. No. 41-1. She was responsible for entering offender grievances and responses thereto into IDOC's grievance tracking system and is the custodian of grievance records at WVCF. Id. Ms. Littlejohn reviewed the grievance records for Mr. Schwartz while he was incarcerated at WVCF. Id. These records show that Mr. Schwartz submitted an informal grievance on July 12, 2017, concerning the February 14 incident. Id. In this informal grievance he complained that defendant Riggs and the medical staff injected him with two doses of Narcan which has in turn caused him subsequent problems. Dkt. No. 41-3. The informal grievance was responded to on July 19, 2017, by the medical staff, saying the medical staff “did nothing wrong.” Id. Mr. Schwartz signed section 4 of the informal grievance form on July 21, 2017, indicating his disagreement with the findings. Id. This lawsuit was filed on July 20, 2017, one day before Mr. Schwartz signed his disagreement with the informal grievance.

         Pursuant to the OGP, Mr. Schwartz's next grievance step was to initiate a formal grievance within a certain time after the denial of the informal grievance. Dkt. No. 41-2, § X.B. Mr. Schwartz signed his formal grievance on August 10, 2017. Dkt. No. 41-3, p. 3. Ms. Littlejohn returned the formal grievance to Mr. Schwartz for being untimely, id. at p. 2, but it is not clear whether it was untimely from the date of the February 14 incident or the denial of the July 12 informal grievance. Mr. Schwartz did not attempt an appeal or take any further actions to explain the delays in submitting his grievances. The formal grievance attempt, dated August 10, 2017, was made three weeks after this lawsuit was filed.

         In his response to defendants' motion, Mr. Schwartz asserts that he took his grievance as far as he could. Dkt. No. 43. He asserts that he kept trying to mail the grievance form to the Central Office but that Ms. Littlejohn kept returning it back to him. Id. at p. 5. As to the initial delay in filing his informal grievance, Mr. Schwartz asserts that after the February 14, 2017, incident he was placed on suicide ...

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