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Dennis v. Byrd

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Western Division

July 29, 2014

DARIUS JARQUES DENNIS, Plaintiff,
v.
RAYMOND BYRD and LARRY LEE, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL T. PARKER, Magistrate Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [45] filed by Defendant Larry Lee and the Motion for Summary Judgment [49] filed by Defendant Raymond Byrd. Having reviewed the submissions of the parties and the applicable law, the Court finds that the Motions [45] [49] should be granted.

BACKGROUND

On April 17, 2013, Plaintiff Darius Jarques Dennis, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed his complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his complaint and as clarified in his testimony at the Spears [1] hearing, Plaintiff alleges that on December 12, 2012, a violent incident occurred at the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility ("WCCF") which resulted in an inmate being stabbed.[2] According to Plaintiff, Defendant Raymond Byrd and Investigator Artist[3] interrogated him regarding the incident. Plaintiff alleges that, during the interrogation, Byrd and Artist assaulted him and threatened to poison him if he reported the assault. Plaintiff also alleges that Byrd and Artist denied him the opportunity to be seen by medical professionals following the assault. See Omnibus Order [36].

According to Plaintiff, he was issued four false Rule Violation Reports ("RVRs") for the stabbing and placed on "lockdown" (administrative segregation). Allegedly, Plaintiff remained on "lockdown" for twenty days before all four RVRs were dismissed without a hearing, and he remained on "lockdown" after the RVRs were dismissed. According to Plaintiff, he sent a letter to Defendant Larry Lee (Mississippi Department of Corrections Contract Monitor for WCCF) informing him about the assault and the false RVRs, but Defendant Lee did not respond or rectify the situation. Plaintiff allegedly sent a second letter to Defendant Lee, and as a result, Defendant Lee confronted Plaintiff and instructed him to stop writing letters because Plaintiff's issues were unimportant. Id.

Plaintiff claims that, as a result of Defendants actions, he was kept on "lockdown" and deprived of opportunities to see his family. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages from the Defendants. On February 25, 2014, Defendant Lee moved for summary judgment, and on March 3, 2014, Defendant Byrd moved for summary judgment. On July 14, 2014, Plaintiff responded to the Motions for Summary Judgment.

STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Summary judgment must be rendered "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 322-23. The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and designate, by affidavit, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

At the summary judgment stage, the Court must consider the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). "However, a nonmovant may not overcome the summary judgment standard with conclusional allegations, unsupported assertions, or presentation of only a scintilla of evidence." McClure v. Boles, 490 Fed.App'x 666, 667 (5th Cir. 2012).

ANALYSIS

Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

Defendants argue that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies on certain claims. Indeed, at his Spears hearing, Plaintiff conceded that he did not file a grievance through the Administrative Remedy Program ("ARP") regarding the allegations that Defendant Byrd assaulted him, threatened to poison him, and denied him medical treatment. According to Plaintiff, he only filed an ARP grievance regarding his placement on "lockdown." See Omnibus Order [36].

The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), requires prisoners to exhaust any available administrative remedies prior to filing suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "Whether a prisoner has exhausted administrative remedies is a mixed question of law and fact." Dillon v. Rogers, 596 F.3d 260, 266 (5th Cir. 2010). The Fifth Circuit held that "[s]ince exhaustion is a threshold issue that courts must address to determine whether litigation is being conducted in the right forum at the right time, ... judges may resolve factual disputes concerning exhaustion without the participation of a jury." Id. at 272. Because exhaustion is an affirmative defense, Defendants bear the burden of demonstrating that Plaintiff failed to exhaust available administrative remedies. Id. at 266.

The Fifth Circuit takes "a strict approach" to the PLRA's exhaustion requirement. Johnson v. Ford, 261 Fed.App'x 752, 755 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Days v. Johnson, 322 F.3d 863, 866 (5th Cir. 2003)). The "proper exhaustion of administrative remedies is necessary." Woodford v. Ngo , 548 U.S. 81, 83-84 (2006). It is not enough to merely initiate the grievance process or to put prison officials on notice of a complaint; the grievance process must be carried through to its conclusion. Wright v. Hollingsworth, 260 F.3d 357, 358 (5th Cir. 2001). Exhaustion is mandatory, irrespective of the relief sought by Plaintiff. "[A] prisoner must now exhaust all administrative remedies ...


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