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Carroll v. Lee

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greeville Division

June 22, 2017

MICHAEL D. CARROLL PLAINTIFF
v.
SUPERINTENDENT EARNEST LEE, DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MICHAEL P. MILLS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on the pro se prisoner complaint of Michael D. Carroll, who challenges the conditions of his confinement under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the purposes of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the court notes that the plaintiff was incarcerated when he filed this suit. The plaintiff has brought the instant case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a federal cause of action against “[e]very person” who under color of state authority causes the “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff alleges that the defendants have failed to protect him from attack by other inmates, then retaliated against him for seeking relief through the Administrative Remedy Program and other channels. The defendants have moved [19] for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff did not exhaust the grievance process before filing suit. The plaintiff has not responded to the motion, and the deadline to do so has expired. For the reasons set forth below, the motion by the defendants for summary judgment will be granted and the case dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the “materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials” show that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) and (c)(1). “The moving party must show that if the evidentiary material of record were reduced to admissible evidence in court, it would be insufficient to permit the nonmoving party to carry its burden.” Beck v. Texas State Bd. of Dental Examiners, 204 F.3d 629, 633 (5th Cir. 2000) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 1066 (1988)). After a proper motion for summary judgment is made, the burden shifts to the non-movant to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Beck, 204 F.3d at 633; Allen v. Rapides Parish School Bd., 204 F.3d 619, 621 (5th Cir. 2000); Ragas v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998). Substantive law determines what is material. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id., at 248. If the non-movant sets forth specific facts in support of allegations essential to his claim, a genuine issue is presented. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 327. “Where the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Federal Savings and Loan, Inc. v. Krajl, 968 F.2d 500, 503 (5thCir. 1992). The facts are reviewed drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Allen, 204 F.3d at 621; PYCA Industries, Inc. v. Harrison County Waste Water Management Dist., 177 F.3d 351, 161 (5th Cir. 1999); Banc One Capital Partners Corp. v. Kneipper, 67 F.3d 1187, 1198 (5th Cir. 1995). However, this is so only when there is “an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994); see Edwards v. Your Credit, Inc., 148 F.3d 427, 432 (5th Cir. 1998). In the absence of proof, the court does not “assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts.” Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 (emphasis omitted).

         Undisputed Material Facts

         Carroll alleges that he was attacked in the prison kitchen on April 15, 2016. He submitted a handwritten grievance on April 18, 2016, regarding the assault to the Administrative Remedy Program (ARP). See Ex. A[1] at “Carroll 3.” However, under ARP procedures, Carroll's grievance regarding the assault could not be processed because Carroll had a backlog of previously filed grievances. See Ex. A at “Carroll 5.” Carroll was told on April 26, 2016, that if he wished to immediately pursue his latest grievance, then he must first withdraw, in writing, all pending grievances. Id. Carroll did so and received his first step response to the assault grievance denying his request on June 13, 2016 See Ex. A at “Carroll 7.” He appealed this denial to the second step on July 3, 2016. Id. Carroll then filed the instant suit on July 5, 2016. Doc. 1. Superintendent Lee then denied relief on the second and final step of the grievance process on August 22, 2016, and Carroll signed for receipt of the Second Step Response Form on August 26, 2016. See Ex. A at “Carroll 10.”

         Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         As set forth below, the instant case must be dismissed because Mr. Carroll did not exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit in federal court. Although exhaustion of administrative remedies is an affirmative defense, normally to be pled by a defendant, the court may dismiss a pro se prisoner case if failure to exhaust is apparent on the face of the complaint. Carbe v. Lappin, 492 F.3d 325 (5th Cir. 2007). Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. §1997e et seq. - including its requirement that inmates exhaust their administrative remedies prior to filing suit - in an effort to address the large number of prisoner complaints filed in federal courts. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 202 (2007). Congress meant for the exhaustion requirement to be an effective tool to help weed out the frivolous claims from the colorable ones:

Prisoner litigation continues to ‘account for an outsized share of filings' in federal district courts. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 94, n. 4, 126 S.Ct. 2378 (2006) (slip op., at 12, n.4). In 2005, nearly 10 percent of all civil cases filed in federal courts nationwide were prisoner complaints challenging prison conditions or claiming civil rights violations. Most of these cases have no merit; many are frivolous. Our legal system, however, remains committed to guaranteeing that prisoner claims of illegal conduct by their custodians are fairly handled according to law. The challenge lies in ensuring that the flood of non-meritorious claims does not submerge and effectively preclude consideration of the allegations with merit. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989).
Congress addressed that challenge in the PLRA. What this country needs, Congress decided, is fewer and better prisoner suits. See Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524, 122 S.Ct. 983, 152 L.Ed.2d 12 (2002) (PLRA intended to “reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits”). To that end, Congress enacted a variety of reforms designed to filter out the bad claims and facilitate consideration of the good. Key among these was the requirement that inmates complaining about prison conditions exhaust prison grievance remedies before initiating a lawsuit.

Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 203 (2007).

         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. The exhaustion requirement protects administrative agency authority, promotes efficiency, and produces “a useful record for subsequent judicial consideration.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S.81, 89 (2006). A prisoner cannot satisfy the exhaustion requirement “by filing an untimely or otherwise procedurally defective administrative grievance or appeal” because “proper exhaustion of administrative remedies is necessary.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 83-84 (2006); see also Johnson v. Ford, 261 F. App'x 752, 755 (5th Cir. 2008)(the Fifth Circuit takes “a strict approach” to the PLRA's exhaustion requirement)(citing Days v. Johnson, 322 F.3d 863, 866 (5th Cir. 2003)); Lane v. Harris Cty. Med. Dep't, No. 06-20935, 2008 WL 116333, at *1 (5th Cir. Jan.11, 2008)(under the PLRA, “the prisoner must not only pursue all available avenues of relief; he must also comply with all administrative deadlines and procedural rules”). Indeed, “a prisoner must now exhaust administrative remedies even where the relief sought - monetary damages - cannot be granted by the administrative process.” Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 739 (2001).

         The requirement that claims be exhausted prior to the filing of a lawsuit is mandatory and non-discretionary. Gonzalez v. Seal, 702 F.3d 785 (5th Cir.2012). “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). As “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. The Supreme Court has also recognized the need for a prisoner to face a significant consequence for deviating from the prison grievance procedural rules:

The benefits of exhaustion can be realized only if the prison grievance system is given a fair opportunity to consider the grievance. The prison grievance system will not have such an opportunity unless the grievance complies with the system's critical procedural rules. A prisoner who does not want to participate in the prison grievance system will have little incentive to ...

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