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Newsome v. Fairley

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

January 28, 2019




         BEFORE THE COURT are the following Motions: a Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 31) filed by Defendant Gia McLeod and a Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 33) filed by Defendants Bobby Fairley, Terry Rogers, and Eric Richard. Both Motions allege that Newsome has not exhausted his available administrative remedies. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the record, and relevant legal authority, the Undersigned United States Magistrate Judge recommends that McLeod's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 31) be granted and Fairley, Rogers, and Richard's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 33) be granted in part and denied in part. However, the Undersigned also finds that Newsome's remaining claims are without merit and therefore recommends that this case be dismissed in its entirety.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Newsome is a postconviction inmate in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), currently housed at the South Mississippi Correctional Institute (SMCI) in Leakesville, Mississippi. However, most of his claims relate to events that allegedly occurred while he was housed at the George- Greene County Regional Correctional Facility (George County) in Lucedale, Mississippi. Plaintiff filed his initial Complaint (ECF No. 1-1) in the Circuit Court of Greene County, Mississippi on August 30, 2017. Defendants Fairley, Rogers, and Richard removed the case to this Court on October 4, 2017 (ECF No. 1), and Defendants McLeod and Eugene Wigelsworth joined in the removal (ECF No. 3). Thereafter, on October 19, 2017, Newsome filed an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 5) against the five Defendants.

         Plaintiff seeks damages and injunctive relief from Fairley, the Warden at George County; Rogers, the Facility Administrative Assistant and “Inmate Legal Assistant Program Designee” at George County; Richard, the Chaplain at George County; McLeod, the Inmate Legal Assistance Program (ILAP) Director for MDOC; and Wigelsworth, the Chaplaincy Department Director for MDOC (ECF No. 5). Newsome's claims can be broken down into three categories.

         First, he claims he was denied religious accommodations in violation of the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Newsome states that he is a member of the Natsarim Faith and contends he was denied a yeast free diet during Passover, the right of immersion baptism, and religious counseling. Second, he contends that his right to access the courts was denied due to the inadequate law library and the confiscation, misappropriation or destruction of his legal documents. Finally, Newsome contends that as a result of his attempts to exercise his First Amendment rights and to utilize the prison grievance system, he was retaliated against. He contends the Defendants removed him from educational and rehabilitative services at George County and then transferred him to SMCI in retaliation (ECF No. 5).

         It appears that Newsome is suing Fairley, Richard, and Wigelsworth for the denial of religious accommodations; Rogers and McLeod for the denial of access to the courts; and Fairley, Rogers, Richard and McLeod for retaliation. Currently pending before the Court are two Motions for Summary Judgment based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies. McLeod alleges that Newsome failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to the retaliatory transfer claim. The Motion itself does not address Newsome's other claims for retaliation or his claim for denial of court access (ECF No. 31). However, the attached affidavit of Richard Pennington, the Director of the Administrative Remedy Program for MDOC, states that Newsome did not exhaust any retaliation claims, claims of inadequate legal assistance, or claims related to the confiscation or destruction of documents (ECF No. 31-1). Fairley, Rogers, and Richard allege that Newsome failed to exhaust administrative remedies with respect to all of his claims against them (ECF No. 33).


         A. Motions for Summary Judgment Based on Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

         1. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is mandated “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); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A motion for summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows 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). When evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe “all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” McFaul v. Valenzuela, 684 F.3d 564, 571 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Dillon v. Rogers, 596 F.3d 260, 266 (5th Cir. 2010)).

         The movant “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). If the movant carries this burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to show that summary judgment should not be granted. Id. at 324. “The non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts indicating a genuine issue for trial to avoid summary judgment.” Abarca v. Metro Transit Auth., 404 F.3d 938, 940 (5th Cir. 2005) (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324). In the absence of any proof, the Court will not assume that the Plaintiff “could or would prove the necessary facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990)).

         Because Newsome is a prisoner pursuing a civil action seeking redress from government employees, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) applies and requires that this case be screened. The PLRA provides that “the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Accordingly, the statute “accords judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.” Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)).

         The PLRA also requires prisoners to exhaust available administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). This 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) (quoting McCarthy v. Madigan, 503 U.S. 140, 145 (1992)). A prisoner's failure to exhaust available administrative remedies undermines these purposes.

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 grievant 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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