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Richards v. Hogans

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

April 17, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [28] filed by Defendant Richard Pennington, in this action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, James Richards, has not responded to the motion. The Court has held an Omnibus Hearing in this matter, at which time the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, and the District Judge subsequently entered an Order of Reference. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. Richards is proceeding in this matter in forma pauperis and pro se.

         I. CLAIMS

         Richards alleges that the defendants violated his constitutional rights during his confinement at East Mississippi Correctional Facility (“EMCF”). In his Complaint [1], Richards alleges a myriad of claims regarding the conditions of confinement at EMCF against a number of Defendants. According to the Complaint, Defendant Pennington is the Director of the Administrative Remedy Program (“ARP”) and Rules Violation Reports (“RVR”) appeals at EMCF, id. at 4, and is employed by the State of Mississippi. See Answer [21]. Richards has sued Pennington in his individual and official capacities, but has not specifically alleged claims against Pennington related to his conditions of confinement. Instead, Richards's claims against Pennington relate solely to the ARP and RVR appeals process. In his Complaint, Richards asserts that Pennington wrongly rejected his appeal of an RVR as untimely, that Pennington and other Defendants conducted unfair disciplinary procedures, and that Pennington participated in a conspiracy with other Defendants to write false RVRs. Id. at 11, 14. Plaintiff's claims against other Defendants will be addressed by separate order.

         Defendant Pennington asserts that he is entitled to dismissal on two bases. First, Pennington argues that Richards has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies regarding his claims against him prior to filing this action. Second, Pennington argues that Richards has failed to state any actionable claim against him. Pennington has supported these arguments with a sworn affidavit, which recounts that two of Richards's grievances, EMCF-15-2245 and EMCF-15-2246, were rejected as untimely, and that his office has no record of an ARP grievance against Pennington regarding his rejection of Richards's ARPs. [28-1].

         Richards has failed to file a written response to this Motion, but the Court heard his testimony regarding the Motion during the omnibus hearing. At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that he had sued Pennington because he had rejected Richards's RVRs. Additionally, Richards acknowledged that Pennington was not personally involved in the alleged constitutional violations related to his conditions of confinement claims.


         Statutory and case law require a prisoner to exhaust administrative remedies, regardless of the relief sought, before bringing a § 1983 action in federal court. The relevant portion of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, as amended by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), states the following:

No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, 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)(Supp. 2000). In Booth v. Churner, 121 S.Ct. 1819 (2001), the Supreme Court held that 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, revised as a part of the PLRA, requires an inmate to exhaust administrative remedies before bringing an action with respect to prison conditions, regardless of the relief offered through administrative procedures. Booth, 121 S.Ct. at 1825. The United States Supreme Court further explained that the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is mandatory and 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. See Porter v. Nussle, 122 S.Ct. 983 (2002); see also Jones v. Bock, 127 S.Ct. 910 (2007)(reaffirming that exhaustion is mandatory; stating that it is an affirmative defense).

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has reiterated the principles found in these cases. In Gonzales v. Seal, 702 F.3d 785 (5th Cir. 2012), the Fifth Circuit recognized that exhaustion of administrative remedies prior to suit is mandatory, and that district courts have no discretion to stay ' 1983 prisoner cases when they are filed before prisoners have exhausted administrative remedies. The Fifth Circuit concluded, as follows:

District courts have no discretion to excuse a prisoner's failure to properly exhaust the prison grievance process before filing their complaint. It is irrelevant whether exhaustion is achieved during the federal proceeding. Pre-filing exhaustion is mandatory, and the case must be dismissed if available administrative remedies were not exhausted.

Id. at 788. Moreover, “[i]t 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.” Walker v. East Miss. Corr. Facility, 2013 WL 4833901 (S.D.Miss. Sept. 11, 2013)(citing Wright v. Hollingsworth, 260 F.3d 357, 358 (5th Cir. 2001)(finding that filing an initial grievance, without more, did not equate to exhaustion)); see also Tompkins v. Holman, 2013 WL 1305580 (S.D.Miss. Mar. 26, 2013)(dismissing ' 1983 complaint for failure to exhaust administrative remedies when prisoner filed a grievance, but did not complete the ARP before filing his lawsuit).

         In this case, Richards does not allege that he suffered from any ailment which prohibited him from pursuing administrative remedies. See Ferrington v. Louisiana Dep=t of Corr., 315 F.3d 529 (5th Cir. 2002)(Plaintiff-inmate's blindness did not excuse him from exhausting administrative remedies.); see also Days v. Johnson, 322 F.3d 863 (5th Cir. 2003)(excusing non-exhaustion of administrative remedies because of physical injury and subsequent rejection of grievance due to untimeliness). Exhaustion is mandatory, “irrespective of the forms of relief sought and offered through administrative avenues.” Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 739 (2001). Put another way, “[t]he requirement of exhaustion applies regardless of Plaintiff's opinion on the ...

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