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Stiff v. Evans

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Pine Bluff Division

September 16, 2014

CRAIG STIFF, ADC #111330, Plaintiff,
L. EVANS, Jailer, Dermott City Jail, et al., Defendants.


J. THOMAS RAY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Craig Stiff is a prisoner in the Wrightsville Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction. He has filed this pro se action raising allegations that arose in December of 2013, while he was a pretrial detainee in the Dermott City Jail. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his constitutional rights, as protected by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and committed the state tort of negligence by refusing to allow him to bathe and failing to provide him with adequate medical care for a rash. Docs. 2 & 6.

Defendants have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of exhaustion, and Plaintiff has responded.[2] Docs. 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, & 25. For the following reasons, the Motion is denied.

I. Discussion

The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") provides that: "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). To satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement, a prisoner must: (1) fully and properly exhaust their administrative remedies as to each claim in the complaint; and (2) complete the exhaustion process prior to filing an action in federal court. Johnson v. Jones, 340 F.3d 624, 627 (8th Cir. 2003); Graves v. Norris, 218 F.3d 884, 885 (8th Cir. 2000). Claims that are not properly exhausted, pursuant to the incarcerating facility's rules, must be dismissed, without prejudice. Jones, 549 U.S. at 218; Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90 (2006).

The Dermott City Jail has a Grievance Procedure requiring detainees to file written grievances with the Jail Administrator. Doc. 19, Ex. 2. The Grievance Procedure specifies that "any jailer will provide, upon request from a detainee, a grievance form and a pencil." Id . at 1. However, detainees may also write their grievances on any available paper. Id. If the detainee is dissatisfied with the Jail Administrator's response, or does not receive a response to his grievance, he may file an appeal to the Sheriff. Id.

Defendant Chief of Police Eric Evans has filed a sworn Affidavit stating that the Grievance Procedure was explained to Plaintiff. Doc. 19, Ex. 1. Defendant Evans also avers that Plaintiff never filed a grievance, or requested to file a grievance, during his December 2013 detention at the Dermott City Jail. Id.

Plaintiff hotly contests those assertions. Doc. 25. Specifically, in his sworn Statement, Plaintiff alleges that jailers denied his "repeated requests" for a grievance form, pencil, paper or other means to file a grievance about his inability to bathe and lack of medical care for a rash. Id . at 1.

It is well settled that a lack of proper exhaustion will be excused if the prisoner demonstrates that prison officials hindered his efforts to complete exhaustion. Sergent v. Norris, 330 F.3d 1084, 1085-86 (8th Cir. 2003); Lyon v. Vande Krol, 305 F.3d 806, 808 (8thCir. 2002). In particular, the Eighth Circuit has recognized that a prisoner cannot be held to the PLRA exhaustion requirement if prison officials refused to provide him with grievance forms. Miller v. Norris, 247 F.3d 736, 740 (8th Cir. 2001).

At this point, there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Defendants prevented Plaintiff from exhausting his administrative remedies. Thus, Defendants are not entitled to summary judgment on the issue of exhaustion. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (explaining that summary judgment is appropriate only when there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law"); Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007) (explaining that the failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense that must be pled and proven by the defendants).

Neither party has requested a jury trial. If this case survives the filing of dispositive motions on the merits of Plaintiff's claims, the Court will allow Defendants to renew their exhaustion defense during the non-jury trial on the merits.

II. Conclusion

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED THAT Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ...

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