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Cooper v. Ashia James, Co.

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

August 10, 2018

ASHIA JAMES, CO, Tucker Unit; CLIFFORD SIMS, Lieutenant, Tucker Unit; and RAMONA HUFF, Assistant Head of Medical Dept., Tucker Unit DEFENDANTS


         The following Recommended Disposition ("Recommendation") has been sent to United States District Judge James M. Moody Jr. 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 the date of this Recommendation. If you do not file objections, Judge Moody can adopt this Recommendation without independently reviewing all of the evidence in the record. By not objecting, you may waive the right to appeal questions of fact.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Shane Cooper ("Cooper") is a prisoner in the North Central Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction ("ADC"). He has filed a pro se § 1983 Complaint and three Amended Complaints alleging that Defendants violated his constitutional rights while he was incarcerated in the ADC's Tucker Unit. Docs. 2, 5, 15 & 47.

         During 28 U.S.C. § 1915A screening, the Court dismissed Cooper's claims against Defendants Deputy Warden Michelle Gray, ADC Director Wendy Kelley, and Inmate Charles Sanders, because his allegations against them failed to state a claim for relief. Docs. 6 & 8. On January 5, 2018, the Court: (1) denied Motions to Dismiss filed by Defendants Lieutenant Clifford Sims (“Sims”) and Assistant Head of Medical Department Ramona Huff (“Huff”); and (2) granted Defendant Correctional Officer Ashia James's (“James”) Motion to Dismiss Cooper's claim for injunctive relief against her, but allowed his damages claim against her to proceed. Docs. 49 & 53. Finally, on March 19, 2018, the Court dismissed Cooper's claims against Defendant Medical Department Administrator Tim Fuloon and Defendant Does due to lack of service. Doc. 64.

         Thus, Cooper's only remaining claims are against Defendants James, Sims, and Huff. Those claims are as follows: (1) on December 29, 2016, James and Sims denied him medical care for facial and eye injuries he received after being assaulted by another inmate; and (2) Huff failed to take corrective action after reading his grievances complaining about the lack of medical care for his injuries. As a result of the delay in Cooper receiving medical care for his injuries, he alleges that he has suffered "visual and nerve damage" to his right eye.

         Defendants James and Sims have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, a Brief in Support, a Statement of Facts, and a Reply, arguing that Cooper's claims against them should be dismissed because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to the inadequate and delayed medical care claims he is now asserting against them. Docs. 54, 55, 56 & 65. Defendant Huff has filed a separate Motion for Summary Judgment, a Brief in Support, a Statement of Facts, and a Reply, which argues that Cooper's claim against her also should be dismissed based on his failure to exhaust his administrative remedies. Docs. 57, 58, 59 & 81. Cooper has filed Responses to both Motions, along with Briefs in Support and a Statement of Facts. Docs. 61, 62, 63, 77 & 78. Thus, the issues are joined and ready for disposition.[1]

         II. Discussion

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) calls for prisoners to exhaust their administrative remedies before filing a § 1983 action: “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). The purposes of the exhaustion requirement include “allowing a prison to address complaints about the program it administers before being subjected to suit, reducing litigation to the extent complaints are satisfactorily resolved, and improving litigation that does occur by leading to the preparation of a useful record.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 219 (2007); see also Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93-95 (2006).

         The PLRA requires inmates to: (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. Jones, 549 U.S. at 211, 219-20, 223-24; Woodford, , 548 U.S. at 93-95; Burns v. Eaton, 752 F.3d 1136, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 2014). Importantly, “it is the prison's requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion.” Jones, 549 U.S. at 218; see also Woodford, 548 U.S. at 90 (explaining that administrative exhaustion “means using all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly so that the agency addresses the issues on the merits”). Thus, to satisfy the PLRA, a prisoner must fully and properly comply with the exhaustion requirements of the incarcerating facility before filing suit.

         To fully and properly exhaust administrative remedies, an ADC prisoner must file: (1) a “Step One” informal resolution raising the claim with the designated unit-level problem-solver; (2) a “Step Two” formal grievance raising that claim; and (3) an appeal to the appropriate ADC Chief Deputy/Deputy/Assistant Director. Doc. 54, Ex. B at 5-13 (ADC Adm. Dir. 14-16 § IV(E) through (G)). The ADC's exhaustion policy requires that, in connection with each claim, an inmate must "specifically name each individual involved," and must include a “brief statement that is specific as to the substance of the issue or complaint to include the date, place [and] personnel involved or witnesses.” Id., Ex. B at 4-6 (§§ IV(C)(4) & (E)(2)) (emphasis added). The grievance forms themselves repeat these instructions to ensure prisoners are aware of them. Doc. 59, Ex. A at 21 (“[B]e specific as to the complaint, date, place, name of personnel involved and how you were affected.”). Finally, the ADC's exhaustion policy cautions prisoners that, if they "fail to name all parties during the grievance process … their lawsuit or claim [may be] dismissed by the court … for failure to exhaust against all parties." Doc. 54, Ex. B at 5 (§ IV(C)(4)).

         Here, the parties agree that Grievance TU-17-00011 is the only grievance that Cooper fully exhausted in connection with the claims he is asserting in this case. Doc. 54, Ex. C; Doc. 59 ¶ 12; Doc. 77 ¶ 3; Doc. 78 ¶ 1. In his informal resolution (Step One), dated January 3, 2017, Cooper stated:

On 12-29-16 I was assaulted, proper protocol was not followed as I did not receive any medical attention. As a result of the assault [by another prisoner] my right eye and cheek were swollen and bruised, my eye was swollen shut on 12/30/2016 to the point I could not leave the barracks. I am suffering constant headaches and dizziness. My swelling has went down and I am in pain. My eye has blood in the white part. Sgt. Hudson was notified on 1-2-2017 to no medical attention given and checked and seen I was telling the truth.

Doc. 54, Ex. C at 3 (emphasis added).

         On January 4, 2017, Defendant Huff responded to Cooper's informal resolution and noted that he was “seen 1-2-17 [by an infirmary nurse] and referred to the provider [a CCS physician].”[2] The same day, Cooper filed a formal unit-level grievance (Step Two). Id. The next day, January 5, 2017, a CCS physician saw Cooper and evaluated his injuries. Doc. 78, at 5.

         On January 23, 2017, a non-party deputy warden issued a decision on Cooper's Step Two formal grievance, stating:

According to information obtained from Sgt. Hudson, on 12/[29]/16, you were taken to the infirmary by security, photos were taken and you were placed on the ward. On 1/2/17 you advised Sgt. Hudson that you were never seen on 12/[29]/16, therefore, you were escorted to the infirmary [on January 2, 2017], your eye was checked out and you were ...

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