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Bell v. Management & Training Corp.

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

December 7, 2017




         This cause is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment [Doc. 34] filed by Defendant Management & Training Corporation (“MTC”). Having considered the motion, Plaintiff Jonsha Bell&#39');">39;s response, applicable statutory and case law, and being otherwise fully informed in the premises, the Court finds as follows:

         I. BACKGROUND

         A prisoner sued the for-profit operator of a Mississippi prison, alleging civil rights violations and negligence, after inmates attacked him in his cell early one morning. The prison operator moves for summary judgment, pointing to the prisoner&#39');">39;s failure to exhaust administrative remedies pre-suit. The prisoner rejoins that the suit should proceed because he has exhausted all such remedies available to him. Whether the suit should indeed proceed turns on the interplay between the Prison Litigation Reform Act and the grievance procedures adopted by the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

         Defendant MTC is a national for-profit prison operator. [Doc. 1');">1, ¶5] It contracted with the Mississippi Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) to operate the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility (“WCCF”). [Doc. 1');">1, ¶5]

         Plaintiff Jonsha Bell was a WCCF inmate in late 2');">201');">15. [Doc. 1');">1, ¶4] He alleges that around 4:00 A.M. one morning, he was “beaten and stabbed repeatedly” by other WCCF inmates. [Doc. 1');">1, ¶¶ 7-9] Faulting MTC for creating an unsafe prison environment, Bell sued it for (1');">1) civil rights violations under 42');">2 U.S.C. § 1');">1983; (2');">2) negligent hiring and supervision; and (3) vicarious liability. [Doc. 1');">1, ¶¶ 2');">20-2');">28]

         In his Complaint, Bell catalogs a pattern of security-related oversight at WCCF - a pattern he contends culminated in his attack. Bell alleges for example that MTC employees emboldened an already-unruly prison gang population by helping inmates sell contraband and by ignoring homemade weapons. [Doc. 1');">1, ¶¶1');">12');">2-1');">16] Prison security was further compromised, Bell submits, by MTC&#39');">39;s failure to ensure that cell-doors locked and its disinclination to discipline inmates for roaming the prison halls after-hours. [Doc. 1');">1, ¶¶1');">13-1');">14]

         Before suing MTC, Bell submitted a “Request for Administrative Remedy” to the MDOC. [Doc. 34-1');">1, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2] In it, he described his attack and asked the MDOC to re-evaluate security measures at MTC facilities, award him damages for stolen property and personal injury, and prosecute his attackers. [Doc. 34-1');">1, 2');">2');">p. 2');">2]

         The MDOC rejected Bell&#39');">39;s request. [Doc. 34-1');">1, p. 1');">1] Bell learned his request was rejected through a form completed by Administrative Remedy Program Director Pennington. [Doc. 34-1');">1, p. 1');">1] The form explains that Bell&#39');">39;s request was rejected because it asked for relief “beyond the power of the [MDOC] to grant.” [Doc. 34-1');">1, p. 1');">1]

         The parties dispute the legal significance of this rejection in the context of the Prison Litigation Reform Act. MTC insists that Bell should have “appealed” the rejection, and because he failed to do so, he cannot sue in this Court. Bell rejoins that the rejection removed his complaint from the MDOC&#39');">39;s administrative remedy procedure entirely, leaving him with no choice but to sue. The Court addresses each contention in turn.


         A prisoner cannot bring a 42');">2 U.S.C. § 1');">1983 suit challenging prison conditions unless he first exhausts available administrative remedies. See 42');">2 U.S.C. § 1');">1997e(a). So holds the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), which forms the basis of the motion before the Court.

         Congress created the PLRA to “reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits.” Porter v. Nussle, 1');">16');">534 U.S. 51');">16, 52');">24 (2');">2002');">2). The PLRA borrows the concept of exhaustion from administrative law. Woodford v. Ngo, 1');">1');">548 U.S. 81');">1, 93 (2');">2006). Exhaustion doctrine generally holds that “no one is entitled to judicial relief for a supposed or threatened injury until the prescribed administrative remedy has been exhausted.” Id. at 89.

         Exhaustion is a threshold issue. And the Court must address it to determine whether this litigation is proceeding in the right forum at the right time. Dillon v. Rogers, 596 F.3d 2');">260, 2');">271');">1 (5th Cir. 2');">201');">10). Translated to the prison context, exhaustion requires a prisoner to follow a prison&#39');">39;s internal grievance procedures before suing in court. The purpose of PLRA exhaustion is to give “officials ‘time and opportunity to address complaints ...

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