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Chaney v. Straughn

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

February 23, 2018




         The following proposed Findings and Recommendation have been sent to United States District Judge Kristine G. Baker. You may file written objections to all or part of this Recommendation. If you do so, those objections must: (1) specifically explain the factual and/or legal basis for your objection, and (2) be received by the Clerk of this Court within fourteen (14) days of this Recommendation. By not objecting, you may waive the right to appeal questions of fact.


         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Randall Chaney filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on June 16, 2017, alleging that Defendants violated his constitutional rights (Doc. No. 1). Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, a brief in support, and a statement of facts claiming that Chaney had not exhausted his claims against them before he filed this lawsuit (Doc. Nos. 51-53). Chaney filed responses to Defendants' motion and statement of facts (Doc. Nos. 56-57). Defendants filed a Reply to both of Chaney's responses (Doc. Nos. 58 & 59). The Defendants' statement of facts, and the other pleadings and exhibits in the record, establish that the material facts are not in dispute and that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits or declarations, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 321 (1986). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Naucke v. City of Park Hills, 284 F.3d 923, 927 (8th Cir. 2002). The nonmoving party may not rely on allegations or denials, but must demonstrate the existence of specific facts that create a genuine issue for trial. Mann v. Yarnell, 497 F.3d 822, 825 (8th Cir. 2007). The nonmoving party's allegations must be supported by sufficient probative evidence that would permit a finding in his favor on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or fantasy. Id. (citations omitted). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party; a fact is material if its resolution affects the outcome of the case. Othman v. City of Country Club Hills, 671 F.3d 672, 675 (8th Cir. 2012). Disputes that are not genuine or that are about facts that are not material will not preclude summary judgment. Sitzes v. City of West Memphis, Ark., 606 F.3d 461, 465 (8th Cir. 2010).

         III. Analysis

         Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because Chaney failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to them before he filed this lawsuit. In support of their motion for summary judgment, Defendants submitted: a copy of Administrative Directive 14-16 which outlines the ADC inmate grievance procedure; a declaration of Barbara Williams, the ADC's Grievance Compliance Officer; documents pertaining to Chaney's two relevant grievances, CU-17-00420 and CU-17-00850; a declaration of Nurzuhal Faust, a Warden of the Ouachita River Correctional Unit; a copy of the ADC's orientation program checklist; and a copy of the Ouachita River Correctional Unit Inmate and Handbook Acknowledgement form signed by Chaney (Doc. Nos. 51-1 - 51-4 & 58-1 - 58-3).

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires an inmate to exhaust prison grievance procedures before filing suit in federal court. See 42 U.S.C. §1997e(a); Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 202 (2007); Jones v. Norris, 310 F.3d 610, 612 (8th Cir. 2002). Exhaustion under the PLRA is mandatory. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. at 211. The PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). The PLRA does not prescribe the manner in which exhaustion occurs. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. at 218. It merely requires compliance with prison grievance procedures to properly exhaust. See id. Thus, the question as to whether an inmate has properly exhausted administrative remedies will depend on the specifics of that particular prison's grievance policy. See id.

         Pursuant to the ADC's grievance policy (Administrative Directive 14-16), inmates are provided Unit Level Grievance Forms as part of the Inmate Grievance Procedure. See Doc. No. 51-1 at 4. To resolve a problem, an inmate must first seek informal resolution by submitting a Step One Unit Level Grievance Form within 15 days after the occurrence of the incident. Id. at 5. Inmates are to “specifically name each individual involved for a proper investigation and response to be completed by the ADC.” Id. at 4. An inmate must be “specific as to the substance of the issue or complaint to include the date, place, personnel involved or witnesses, and how the policy or incident affected the inmate submitting the form.” Id. at 5-6. A problem solver investigates the complaint and provides a written response at the bottom of the form. Id. If the inmate is not satisfied with the resolution, he may then complete Step Two of the grievance procedure and submit the form as a formal grievance. Id. at 8. If the inmate receives no response, or if the inmate is not satisfied with the response, the inmate can appeal to the appropriate Chief Deputy/Deputy/Assistant Director. Id. at 10-11. Once that person responds, the grievance process is exhausted. Id. at 12. According to the ADC's grievance policy, the entire grievance procedure should be completed within 76 working days absent an extension or unforeseen circumstances. Id. at 13. The grievance policy specifically states that inmates must exhaust administrative remedies at all levels of the procedure before filing a federal civil rights lawsuit. Id. at 17.

         Chaney alleges in his complaint that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to protect him from two separate attacks by other inmates while he was housed at the Cummins Unit. The first assault occurred on February 1, 2017, and the second occurred on March 10, 2017. See Doc. No. 1 at 4-6. According to Williams' declaration, Chaney failed to exhaust because he did not complete the grievance process with respect to the grievances he filed related to the subject of this lawsuit. See Doc. No. 51-2 at 3. In his complaint and response to Defendants' motion for summary judgment, Chaney acknowledges that he did not exhaust his two grievances by appealing to all levels within the grievance procedure. See Doc. Nos. 1 & 56. He appears to claim, however, that he was prevented from complying with the grievance procedure because he was not given a copy of the rules applicable to the process. Doc. No. 56, page 1.

         The first grievance related to Chaney's complaint, CU-17-00420, was filed March 17, 2017. Doc. No. 51-3. In it, Chaney states:

I don't want to cell with anyone due to the fact there is a hit out on me because I have a sex charge on 2-1-17. I was beat down by 5 people and on 3-10-17 another inmate tried to fight me. I am in fear for my life and I am letting you know if ...

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