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Lambright v. Grage

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

January 8, 2020

KRISTOPHER LAMBRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
CRAIG GRAGE, et al. Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DIRECTING DEFENDANTS TO RESPOND

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Kristopher Lambright, an Indiana prisoner currently incarcerated at the Westville Correctional facility, alleges the defendants violated his rights under the First Amendment by denying him a kosher diet while he was incarcerated at the Reception Diagnostic Center (RDC) in Plainfield, Indiana.

         The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on June 26, 2019. Dkt. 55. Lambright filed a corrected response opposing the motion, and the defendants filed a reply. Dkt. 69, dkt. 74. Lambright moved for leave to file a belated surreply, dkt. [76], which is now granted. The defendants' motion for summary judgment is fully briefed.

         The defendants argue that Lambright's claims are barred under the exhaustion provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), which requires a prisoner to first exhaust his available administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit in federal court. Lambright argues in response that prison staff thwarted his efforts to fully exhaust by failing to provide him with a copy or adequate explanation of the grievance process and for failing to review his formal grievance within the timeframe required by the grievance process. For the reasons explained below, the defendants' motion for summary judgment, dkt. [55], is denied and further proceedings will be directed.

         I. Material Facts

         A. Undisputed Material Facts

         RDC is operated by the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC). Incoming prisoners are temporarily housed at RDC and then transferred to other IDOC facilities for long-term placement.

         The offender grievance process at RDC has three steps. Dkt. 55-2, pp. 8-13. First, the prisoner must file a formal grievance within ten business days of the incident after informal attempts to resolve the grievance have failed. Id. at 9-11. Second, the prisoner must file a grievance appeal within five business days of receiving the grievance response. Id. at 11-12. Third, the prisoner must file a final appeal within five business days of receiving the appeal response. Id. at 12-13. Deadlines may be extended for extenuating circumstances. Id.

         Formal grievances must be submitted to the RDC grievance specialist. Id. at 9. The formal grievance must comply with the standards set forth in the grievance process or it will be rejected. Id. at 9-10. The grievance specialist must decide whether to accept or reject the formal grievance within five business days of receiving it. Id. at 10. If the grievance specialist rejects the formal grievance, it is returned to the prisoner by the next business day with an explanation for the rejection. Id. The prisoner then has five business days to resubmit a corrected formal grievance. Id. A formal grievance that relates to more than one incident will be rejected. Id.

         If the prisoner does not receive a notice that the formal grievance was either accepted or rejected within five business days, he must notify the grievance specialist. Id. The grievance specialist will then investigate the issue and respond to the prisoner within five business days. Id.

         If a prisoner initiates a grievance at RDC and is transferred to another facility before the grievance is resolved, he may continue to exhaust his administrative remedies through RDC. Dkt. 55-2, p. 14.

         Lambright was incarcerated at RDC from April 11, 2018, until he was transferred to another facility on May 9, 2018. Dkt. 18, p. 1; dkt. 38, p. 1. He was not given a copy of the 15-page grievance process upon his arrival at RDC. Dkt. 69, p. 4. Instead, he was given a prisoner handbook that contained documentation about the grievance process. Dkt. 55-1, p. 2.

         The documentation Lambright received in his handbook is incomplete. Dkt. 61-1. The first page ends in the middle of a numbered list describing the steps of the grievance process. Id. The second page begins in the middle of a different numbered list describing the duties of the grievance specialist after the prisoner has filed a formal grievance. Id. The incomplete documentation Lambright received failed to inform him about many aspects of the grievance process. Most importantly for purposes of this motion, the documentation did not mention that prisoners may continue to pursue a grievance against RDC if they are transferred to another facility before the grievance is resolved. Id.

         Lambright wrote the food service supervisor on April 12, 2018, to request a kosher diet. Dkt. 2, p. 9. He wrote the chaplain about his request for a kosher diet on April 13, 2018. Id.; dkt. 2-1, p. 3. He made additional informal requests for a kosher ...


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