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Best v. Safford

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

April 25, 2018

LARRY BEST, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN SAFFORD, JEFFERY KING, BLAINE HURT, WALTER PETERSON, HERBERT DUNCAN, CORIZON HEALTH, INC., and PAUL A. TALBOT M.D., Defendants.

          Benjamin Myron Lane Jones, Jennifer Elizabeth Lemmon, Kelly Suzanne Thompson INDIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL

          ORDER DENYING STATE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants John Safford (“Safford”), Jeffery King (“King”), Blaine Hurt (“Hurt”), Walter Peterson (“Peterson”), and Herbert Duncan (“Duncan”) (collectively, the “State Defendants”) (Filing No. 78).[1] After spending more than three and a half years in administrative segregation at the Pendleton Correctional Facility (“Pendleton”), Plaintiff Larry Best, Jr. (“Best”) was moved back into the general population at the prison, and two weeks later, he was attacked and seriously injured by other inmates. Best initiated this lawsuit against the State Defendants, Corizon Health, Inc. (“Corizon”) and Paul A. Talbot, M.D. (“Dr. Talbot”) for violating his Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights by failing to protect him and having a deliberate indifference toward his health and safety. The State Defendants seek summary judgment asserting that Best's claims are barred because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing this action. For the following reasons, the Court denies the State Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are not necessarily objectively true, but as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the facts are presented in the light most favorable to Best as the non-moving party. See Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         Best was an inmate at Pendleton during the time period relevant to the claims at issue in this action (Filing No. 97-2 at 1). While in custody at Pendleton, he was moved from the general prison population into restrictive housing and held in administrative segregation from December 2011 until July 24, 2015, because of acts and threats of violence against him by prison inmates who were members of the Brotherhood of the Aryan Nation (Filing No. 95-13 at 8; Filing No. 97-2 at 1). Safford was the Unit Team Manager at Pendleton, King was a prison caseworker and Hurt, Peterson and Duncan were correctional officers at Pendleton. The State Defendants knew that Best was subjected to a large number of threats of violence and acts of violence (Filing No. 95-13 at 12-14; Filing No. 95-11 at 6-11). However, the State Defendants did not conduct any investigation about the continued threats against Best while he was in administrative segregation (Filing No. 95-13 at 6).

         While in administrative segregation, Best's life was threatened many times by an inmate in the presence of Safford (Filing No. 95-11 at 10-12). In January 2015, Best was assaulted by an inmate who threw hot liquid with glass shards on him while he was in his cell (Filing No. 97-2 at 1). Despite the acts of violence and threats of violence against Best, over his objection, Best was moved from restrictive housing into the general prison population on July 24, 2015 (Filing No. 95-11 at 11-14; Filing No. 97-2 at 1).

         On August 7, 2015, only two weeks after being moved back to the general prison population, Best was attacked by other inmates. His attackers used large rocks (which prison officials had set in front of prison cell houses), placing the rocks inside socks and then beating Best with them. This attack occurred while Best was leaving the medical line at the prison infirmary, which was located in an area that was a “blind spot” for prison officials and was known to be a dangerous area. The area was known for inmate-on-inmate assaults because several attacks had occurred there. Best sustained severe lacerations and bruises to his head, face, back, shoulders, arms, right hand and wrist during the attack. He was bleeding profusely and sought medical treatment for his injuries. Immediately after the attack, Best was transferred back to restricted housing. During the weeks and months following the attack, Best suffered constant, severe headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision (Filing No. 97-2 at 2, 6; Filing No. 95-4; Filing No. 95-2; Filing No. 95-1).

         On August 10, 2015, Best filed two informal grievances related to the August 7, 2015 assault (Filing No. 95-1; Filing No. 95-2). On August 21 and 28, 2015, Best filed formal grievances related to the August 7, 2015 assault (Filing No. 95-3; Filing No. 95-4). On September 16, 2015, Best filed another formal grievance related to the assault (Filing No. 95-6).

         On August 28, 2015, Best's formal grievance from August 21, 2015 was returned, stating that the grievance contained “classification” as a requested form of relief and there was not enough information to warrant an investigation. Additional information was requested, but what additional information was required was not specified (Filing No. 97-2 at 2, ¶9). Best crossed out the “classification relief” and resubmitted the form. Id. at 3, ¶10.

         On September 1, 2015, Camay Francum (“Francum”), the prison grievance specialist, returned the two formal grievances with a single return of grievance form, explaining that Best's complaints involved a disciplinary hearing issue or action that was subject to a separate process. Francum's form also indicated that the complaint contained multiple issues or events, which should be separated and submitted on multiple forms. Id. at 3, ¶11. Best was confused as to why his grievances would be considered disciplinary issues, and he felt threatened by the suggestion of disciplinary issues. He was unsure how to proceed, so he submitted a single appeal for the returned formal grievances on the same day, September 1, 2015. Id. at 3, ¶¶12-13.

         On September 3, 2015, Francum sent a short memo to Best. It stated, “I am returning this grievance appeal back because your grievance must be accepted, logged and DENIED; before you can file an Appeal. Please follow these steps prior to returning.” (Filing No. 95-5.)

         On September 11, 2015, Best received a response from Assistant Superintendent Duane Alsip (“Alsip”) regarding his two informal grievances that had been filed on August 10, 2015 (Filing No. 97-2 at 3, ¶15; Filing No. 95-1; Filing No. 95-2). Alsip explained, “Your allegations are unfounded. You can only have one complaint on each form.” (Filing No. 95-2.) Best disagreed with Alsip's explanation and resolution by signing the disagreement section of the form and returning it with a new formal grievance on September 16, 2015 (Filing No. 95-2; Filing No. 95-6; Filing No. 97-2 at 4, ¶16).

         On October 1, 2015, Best's formal grievances from August 28 and September 16, 2015 were returned with the explanation concerning a disciplinary hearing issue or action and multiple issues or events (Filing No. 97-2 at 4, ¶17). The October 1, 2015 return of grievance form for the September 16, 2015 grievance also indicated, “You are identified as a grievance abuser. This grievance exceeds the number of active grievances you are allowed to have in the system. To proceed with this grievance, you must withdraw at least one active grievance.” (Filing No. 95-7 at 1.)

         Best requested guidance from prison officials regarding how to proceed with the grievance process given the unsatisfactory responses that he had received, but these prison officials refused to provide any guidance because they said that policies prohibited them from helping with the grievance process (Filing No. 95-10 at 6-7; Filing No. 95-16 at 6). On October 5, 2015, Best resubmitted his August 28 and September 16, 2015 formal grievances to Indiana Department of Correction (“IDOC”) Counselor Ballenger (Filing No. 97-2 at 5, ¶21). Best submitted a “request for interview” form to Francum on ...


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