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Capler v. Samuel

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

June 6, 2018




         Plaintiff Jeffery Capler, Jr., an Indiana prisoner, filed this civil action on October 17, 2017. Mr. Capler alleges that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. Specifically, he alleges that Dr. Samuel Byrd, Nurse Regina Robinson, Nurse Anne M. Conner, and Ms. Mary Rankin denied him medication and treatment for the excruciating pain in his left shoulder, arm, and hand. The lack of treatment allegedly caused nerve damage and numbness to his shoulder, arm and hand. These events occurred from December 4, 2016, through September 22, 2017.

         The defendants now seek summary judgment under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. They argue 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 provision requires a prisoner to first exhaust his available administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit in court. Mr. Capler argues in response that he attempted to exhaust his administrative remedies, but prison officials did not allow him to complete the process. For the reasons explained below, there are material facts in dispute and the motion for summary judgment, Dkt. No. 28, is denied.

         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 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 [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).

         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 Mr. Capler failed to exhaust all available administrative remedies before he filed this suit. Id. at 681; see also 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.”).

         II. Statement of Material Facts

         A. Department of Corrections' Grievance Process

         On October 17, 2017, Mr. Capler filed this civil action. On October 20, 2017, he was transferred to another facility.

         Mr. Capler was incarcerated at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility during the time period relevant to his Complaint. The older version of the Offender Grievance Process went into effect on April 5, 2015. The current grievance process went into effect on October 1, 2017.[1] The defendants do not point to any authority or evidence that suggests which grievance process Mr. Capler was supposed to follow.

         The current grievance process has three steps: (1) a formal attempt to solve a problem or concern following unsuccessful attempts at informal resolution; (2) a written appeal to the Warden/designee; and (3) a written appeal to the Department Grievance Manager. The prior version required the following three steps: (1) an informal attempt to solve a problem or address a concern; (2) submission of a written form outlining the problem or concern and other supporting information, and the response to that submission; and (3) a written appeal of the response to a higher authority and the response to that appeal.

         The new policy made several changes to the prior version, including permitting different types of evidence showing inmate attempts to informally resolve issues before being permitted to file a formal grievance, shortening the time allowed for an inmate to file a grievance from 20 to 10 business days after the incident, and adding an intermediate appeal level with the Warden or designee. However, both the prior and current version required informal attempts to resolve an issue before filing a formal grievance. Specifically, the current IDOC policy provides that, before an inmate can begin the grievance process, he is required to attempt to resolve a complaint informally and provide evidence (e.g., “To/From” correspondence, State Form 36395, “Request for Interview”) of the attempt. The prior policy required an inmate to discuss the complaint with the appropriate staff member and obtain State Form 52897, “Offender Complaint-Informal Process Level” within five business days from the date of the incident.

         The current IDOC Grievance policy provides that, if an inmate is unable to resolve his complaint informally, he may file a Formal Grievance by submitting to the Grievance Specialist a completed Form 45471, “OFFENDER GRIEVANCE, ” no later than ten business days from the date of the incident giving rise to the complaint or concern. The facility Grievance Specialist must either return an unacceptable form or provide a receipt for an accepted form. If an offender does not receive either a receipt or a rejected form from the Grievance Specialist within five business days of submitting it, the offender shall notify the Grievance Specialist ...

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