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Richards v. Corizon Health

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

November 1, 2018




         I. Background

         Plaintiff Danny Richards bring this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Richards alleges that while he was incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (Wabash Valley), defendants Dr. Chavez and Dr. Denning failed to adequately treat his medical conditions, including complaints of severe headaches, episodes of fainting, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and his need for assistance walking and being ambulatory. He also alleges that defendants Wexford and Corizon have a policy of trying to save money rather than provide medical care to inmates. The Court screened his second amended complaint and permitted his Eighth Amendment claims against the defendants Dr. Chavez and Dr. Denning and his policy and practice claim against Wexford and Corizon to proceed. Dkt. 24.

         Two of the four defendants - Dr. Chavez and Corizon - now move for summary judgment on Mr. Richard's claims arguing that he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies against these individuals as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) before filing this lawsuit.

         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). The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying” designated evidence which “demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-movant may not rest upon mere allegations. Instead, “[t]o successfully oppose a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Trask-Morton v. Motel 6 Operating L.P., 534 F.3d 672, 677 (7th Cir. 2008). “The non-movant will successfully oppose summary judgment only when it presents definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion.” Vukadinovich v. Bd. of Sch. Trs., 278 F.3d 693, 699 (7th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation and citation omitted).

         A “material fact” is one that “might affect the outcome of the suit.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine only if a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Id. If no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, then there is no “genuine” dispute. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). 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).

         Here, Mr. Richards filed two responses in opposition to summary judgment. Dkt. 54; dkt. 57. Even taking these responses together, they fail to comply with Local Rule 56-1 which requires a section labeled “statement of material facts in dispute. L.R. 56-1(b). Neither response includes such a section. Dkt. 54; dkt. 57. Rather, as discussed in footnote 1 below, Mr. Richards simply accuses Mr. Wellington, Grievance Specialist at Wabash Valley, of filing a fraudulent affidavit.

         It is “well established that pro se litigants are not excused from compliance with procedural rules.” Pearle Vision, Inc. v. Romm, 541 F.3d 751, 758 (7th Cir. 2008). Whether the Court holds pro se litigants to the consequences of violating the Court's Local Rules is a matter of discretion. Gray v. Hardy, 826 F.3d 1000, 1004-05 (7th Cir. 2016) (holding that district courts are not required to hold pro se litigants to the potential consequences of their failure to comply with the Local Rules and can instead take “a more flexible approach, ” including by ignoring the deficiencies in their filings and considering the evidence they submit). While Mr. Richards did not comply with Local 56-1, a “flexible approach” to compliance with the Local Rules is warranted here. The often harsh consequence for failure to comply with Local Rule 56-1 - concession of the defendants' version of events - is inappropriate for this motion given that (1) the issue of exhaustion is a relatively straightforward issue from a factual perspective; and (2) Mr. Richards's position is clear from his filings in that he simply provides legal argument that all of his medical claims should be considered exhausted. Also weighing in favor of a flexible approach is that the defendants' reply reveals that they clearly understand Mr. Richards's position and the facts he believe are in dispute; thus the defendants are in no way prejudiced by Mr. Richards's failure to include a “Statement of Material Facts in Dispute” section in his brief or by any of his other failures to comply with Local Rule 56- 1. For these reasons, a flexible approach to Mr. Richards's compliance with the Local Rules is warranted.

         “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.” Porter, 534 U.S. 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).

         “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.” Id. at 90-91; 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.'”) (quoting Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1025 (7th Cir. 2002)). “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).

         It is the defendants' burden to establish that the administrative process was available to Mr. Richards. 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 as long as it is actually available to the inmate.” Id.

         III. Statement of 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. Richards as the non-moving party with respect to the ...

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