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Harris v. Wilson

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

September 19, 2019

ARTHUR L. HARRIS, Plaintiff,
WILLIAM E. WILSON, et al. Defendants.


          James Patrick Hanlon, United States District Judge.

         Arthur Harris, a federal inmate formerly incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana (USP-TH), brings this civil action under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Mr. Harris alleges that the defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights by not providing constitutionally adequate medical treatment for his Hepatitis C and pain while he was incarcerated at USP-TH.

         Presently pending before the Court is the motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants on January 4, 2019. Dkt. 23. The defendants argue that the claims are barred under the exhaustion provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1977e, that requires a prisoner to first exhaust his available administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit. Mr. Harris responds that the administrative remedy process was not available to him. The defendants replied to Mr. Harris’s assertions. This motion is now fully briefed. For the reasons explained below, the motion for summary judgment, dkt. [23], is denied.

         I. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment shall 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). 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).

         “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 a prisoner exhaust his available administrative remedies before bringing a suit concerning prison conditions. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); 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).

         “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.’”) (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. Harris. 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).

         II. Material Facts

         The following facts, construed in the manner most favorable to Mr. Harris as the non-movant, are undisputed for purposes of the motion for summary judgment.[1]

         A. Federal Administrative Remedy Procedure

         The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) maintains an administrative remedy procedure through which an inmate may seek review of a complaint relating to any aspect of his confinement. Upon arrival at any BOP facility, all federal inmates attend an Admission and Orientation presentation where they are educated on the administrative remedy process, including how to properly file each submission. Inmates learn where to find BOP Policy and facility-specific supplements, and they are taught how to access the electronic law library. Inmates also receive a copy of the Admission and Orientation Handbook, which contains detailed information regarding the administrative remedy procedure. Records related to the administrative remedy process are maintained electronically in the SENTRY computer database. Each entry in the SENTRY database contains a short summary-written by BOP staff-of the issue raised by the inmate.

         The federal administrative remedy procedure requires inmates to first attempt to resolve a complaint informally through a submission commonly referred to as a “BP-8.” Because this is an informal attempt at dispute resolution, it is not recorded in the SENTRY database. If the informal resolution is not successful, an inmate may file a formal complaint with the Warden within twenty days of the date on which the alleged underlying incident occurred by filing a “BP-9.” The SENTRY database identifies BP-9 submissions with the notation “F1” followed by the remedy identification number. The Warden has twenty days to respond to a BP-9 submission. If the Warden does not timely respond to the BP-9 submission, the inmate may deem the lack of a response to be a denial and proceed to the next level of the administrative remedy process.

         If an inmate is not satisfied with the Warden’s response to his BP-9 submission, he may appeal to the Regional Office through a submission referred to as a “BP-10.” The SENTRY database records BP-10 submissions with an “R1” notation followed by the remedy identification number. The Regional Office has thirty days to respond to a BP-10 submission. If the inmate does not receive a timely response from ...

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