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Buchanan v. Mifflen

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

March 26, 2018

EDDY BUCHANAN, Plaintiff,
v.
MIFFLEN, PETTY, WARDEN DICK BROWN, MR. THOMSON, Defendants.

          ENTRY GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND ENTERING FINAL JUDGMENT

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         I. Background

         In this civil action, plaintiff Eddy Buchanan, an Indiana prisoner incarcerated at the New Castle Correctional Facility alleges that the defendants failed to protect him from multiple assaults while he was incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (“Wabash Valley”).

         Presently pending before the Court is the motion for summary judgment filed by defendants Brian Mifflin, Michael Petty, Richard Brown, and David Thomson on December 1, 2017. Dkt. 23. This motion is fully briefed.

         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. Buchanan argues in response that attempts to complete the grievance process were obstructed by Wabash Valley staff to stop civil rights actions from being filed and that the grievance process was therefore not available to him. For the reasons set forth in this Entry, the defendants' motion for summary judgment, dkt. [23], is granted.

         II. Legal Standards

         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 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).

         “An inmate . . . must exhaust available remedies, but need not exhaust unavailable ones.” Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1858 (2016). An administrative procedure is unavailable when “it operates as a simple dead end, ” when it “might be so opaque that it becomes, practically speaking, incapable of use” or when “prison administrators thwart inmates from taking advantage of a grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation.” Id. at 1860.

         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 the plaintiff failed to exhaust all available administrative remedies before he filed this suit. Id. at 681.

         III. Discussion

         A. Undisputed Facts

         The following statement of facts was evaluated pursuant to the standard set forth above. That is, this statement of facts is not necessarily objectively true, but as the summary judgment standard requires, the undisputed facts and the disputed evidence are presented in the light reasonably most favorable to Mr. Buchanan as the non-moving party with respect to ...


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