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Lee v. M.C.C.V.

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

April 16, 2018

SAM W. LEE PLAINTIFF
v.
M.C.C.V./M.T.C., ET AL. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MICHAEL P. MILLS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the court on the pro se prisoner complaint of Sam W. Lee, 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 defendant Bernice Brown denied him access to the courts by failing to timely mail legal documents to the Mississippi Court of Appeals. The defendants have moved for summary judgment; the plaintiff has responded, and the defendants have replied. The matter is ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the motion by the defendants for summary judgment will be granted, and the instant case will be 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[1]

         On May 2, 2012, Sam W. Lee was convicted by a jury in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court on two counts of shooting into a dwelling and one count of burglary of a dwelling with intent to commit assault. Lee v. State, 134 So.3d 834 (Miss. Ct. App. 2014). As a result of his convictions, Lee was sentenced to a total of 33 years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Id. Lee appealed his convictions, arguing that he had been denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial. Id. On March 25, 2014, the Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed Lee's convictions. Id.

         Mr. Lee received an order from the Mississippi Court of Appeals dated June 17, 2015, notifying him that his deadline for filing a motion for rehearing in his criminal appeal had been extended until 30 days after the date the order was issued. See ECF Doc. 1, at 5. Lee claims that on July 8, 2015, he sent a request to the Inmate Legal Assistance Program (“ILAP”) at the Marshall County Correctional Facility (“MCCF”) regarding his deadline. Id. The ILAP clerk Bernice Brown did not come to his zone until July 21, 2015, some four days after his deadline had expired. Id. Ms. Brown told Lee that the court did not count holidays or weekends in calculating his extension. Id., at 6. Brown returned to his zone on July 23, 2015, notarized his motion for rehearing, and made copies of it. Id. According to Mr. Lee, Ms. Brown was supposed to mail out his motion immediately. Id.

         On July 28, 2015, the Mississippi Court of Appeals issued the mandate regarding its order affirming Lee's convictions. See ECF Doc. 1 at 6. On January 11 or January 14, 2016, he presented Mr. Brown another copy of his motion for rehearing for mailing to the Court of Appeals. Id. On February 3, 2016, the Court of Appeals issued its order rejecting Lee's motion for rehearing because it was not timely filed. Id. at 7. The Court of Appeals further noted that although Lee's motion for rehearing had been signed and notarized on July 23, 2015, it had not been filed until January 19, 2016. Id. Mr. Lee argues that this delay shows that Ms. Brown never mailed his motion for rehearing on July 23, 2015, as requested. Id., at 7-8.

         Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         Mr. Lee has not exhausted the administrative remedies available to him regarding this issue as required under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. 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 ...

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