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Davis v. Baxter

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

May 22, 2018

SAMUEL DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
BAXTER, DONALDSON, MILLER, Defendants.

          ENTRY ON PAVEY HEARING DENYING AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE OF FAILURE TO EXHAUST AVAILABLE ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES

          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge

         I. Background

         This is a civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Samuel Davis, who was formerly confined at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (“Wabash Valley”). Mr. Davis alleges that, while he was incarcerated at Wabash Valley, the defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights when they used excessive force against him on July 6, 2016, by closing his cell door, pinning him between the door and doorframe.

         The defendants asserted as an affirmative defense their contention that Mr. Davis failed to comply with the exhaustion requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). The burden of proof as to this defense rests on the defendants. Dole v. Chandler, 438 F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006).

         On summary judgment, the Court determined that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Mr. Davis submitted a second level appeal of grievance #92992 relating to the July 6, 2016 Incident.

         Because the defendants' motion for summary judgment was denied, a hearing in accordance with Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739 (7th Cir. 2008) was scheduled. Pro bono counsel was recruited to assist Mr. Davis in preparation for and participation in the hearing.

         The Pavey hearing was conducted on March 27, 2018. Mr. Davis was present. He was ably represented by recruited counsel Mr. Daniel Bowman.[1] The defendants appeared by counsel. Documentary evidence was submitted, as well as testimony from Grievance Specialist Teresa Littlejohn and Law Librarian Brenda Hinton.

         For the reasons explained in this Entry, the Court finds that the defendants failed to meet their burden of proof and therefore, failed to show that Mr. Davis failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies with respect to the July 6, 2016 Incident prior to filing this lawsuit.

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standards

         The PLRA requires that a prisoner exhaust his available administrative remedies before bringing a suit concerning prison conditions. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524-25 (2002). The statutory exhaustion requirement is that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions…by a prisoner…until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). “[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.” Porter, 534 U.S. at 532.

         “Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules because no adjudicative system can function effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90-91 (2006) (footnote omitted); see also Dale v. Lappin, 376 F.3d 652, 655 (7th Cir. 2004) (“In order to properly exhaust, a prisoner must submit inmate complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison's administrative rules require.”) (internal quotation omitted). “In order to exhaust administrative remedies, a prisoner must take all steps prescribed by the prison's grievance system.” Ford v. Johnson, 362 F.3d 395, 397 (7th Cir. 2004).

         As noted, it is the burden of the defendants to establish that the administrative process was available to Mr. Davis. See Thomas v. Reese, 787 F.3d 845, 847 (7th Cir. 2015) (“Because exhaustion is an affirmative defense, the defendants must establish that an administrative remedy was available and that [the plaintiff] failed to pursue it.”). “[T]he ordinary meaning of the word ‘available' is ‘capable of use for the accomplishment of a purpose, ' and that which ‘is accessible or may be obtained.'” Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1858 (2016) (internal quotation omitted). “[A]n inmate is required to exhaust those, but only those, grievance procedures that are capable of use to obtain some relief for the action complained of.” Id. at 1859 (internal quotation omitted).

         “This circuit has taken a strict approach to exhaustion.” Wilborn v. Ealey, 881 F.3d 998, 1004 (7th Cir. 2018). “An inmate must comply with the administrative grievance process that the State establishes, at least ...


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