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Evans v. Management & Training Corp.

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

January 6, 2017




         This prisoner lawsuit is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [35] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Plaintiff David Michael Evans has responded in opposition. The Court, having considered the submissions of the parties, finds that Defendants' motion should be denied as to the federal claims. As to the state-law claims, the motion is denied without prejudice, so the parties can address whether the Court should exercise supplemental jurisdiction.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         On December 31, 2013, Evans sustained injuries during a prison riot at Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, which Defendant Management Training Corporation operates on behalf of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC). Following the incident, Evans received medical treatment and was transferred to another facility. In general terms, Evans claims Defendants' policies and practices subjected him to a “substantial and obviously foreseeable risk of serious harm and injury.” Am. Compl. [13] at 5. He asserts a § 1983 claim (Count I), as well as state-law claims of negligence/gross negligence, negligent hiring and supervision, and breach of contract (Counts II, III, IV). Id. at 5-7. As relief, Evans seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

         Defendants seek summary judgment on all claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, contending that Evans failed to properly file a complaint under MDOC's Administrative Remedy Program (ARP). Evans counters that exhaustion was not required.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 56(a) when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The rule “mandates the entry of summary judgment, 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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         The party moving for summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323. The nonmoving party must then “go beyond the pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324. In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant, “but only when . . . both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (per curiam). When such contradictory facts exist, the court may “not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).

         III. Analysis

         A. Federal Claims

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) provides that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 . . . by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). “[F]ailure to exhaust is an affirmative defense under the PLRA.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007). And as such, Defendants “must establish beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the defense of exhaustion to warrant summary judgment in their favor.” Dillon v. Rogers, 596 F.3d 260, 266 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Martin v. Alamo Cmty. Coll. Dist., 353 F.3d 409, 412 (5th Cir. 2003)).

         One of those essential elements is the existence of an “available” administrative remedy. Here, Evans contends that no such remedies existed because monetary damages were unavailable; he received adequate medical care; and he was removed from the danger when transferred to another facility. Pl.'s Mem. [43] at 3-4. Defendants reject this assertion, arguing that “[e]xhaustion applies to prisoner suits even when the participation in the ARP would be futile.” Defs.' Reply [48] at 5.

         Defendants' position is correct on some level of generality, but it fails to acknowledge a well-settled exception. In Booth v. Churner, the United States Supreme Court considered “whether an inmate seeking only money damages must complete a prison administrative process that could provide some sort of relief on the complaint stated, but no money.” 532 U.S. 731, 734 (2001) (emphasis added). To answer that question, the Court explored what Congress meant when it required exhaustion of “such administrative remedies as are available.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (emphasis added). The Court observed that “[w]ithout the possibility of some relief, the administrative officers would presumably have no authority to act on the subject of the complaint, leaving the inmate with nothing to exhaust.” Booth, 532 U.S. at 741 n.4. But in Booth's case, the administrative procedures provided the possibility of relief, just not the relief he sought in his federal lawsuit-money damages. The Court therefore concluded that dismissal was appropriate for failure to exhaust. Id. at 741.

         The United States Supreme Court revisited this issue last year in Ross v. Blake, where the plaintiff contended that he could not pursue an administrative claim under Maryland law once an Internal Investigation Unit began an investigation. 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1860 (2016). Quoting Booth, the Court noted that for exhaustion to apply, ‘“[s]ome redress for a wrong is presupposed by the statute's requirement' of an ‘available' remedy; ‘where the relevant administrative procedure lacks authority to provide any relief, ' the inmate has ‘nothing to exhaust.'” Id. at 1859 (quoting Booth, 532 U.S. at 736 & n.4). With that principle in mind, the Court remanded the case for a ruling on whether, inter alia, “Maryland's standard grievance procedures potentially offer relief to” the ...

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