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Murphy v. Hutchinson

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Northern Division

July 2, 2019




         The following 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 this Recommendation. By not objecting, you may waive the right to appeal questions of fact.


         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Lisa Ryan Murphy, an inmate at the Arkansas Department of Correction's (ADC) McPherson Unit, filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and an application to proceed in forma pauperis on September 14, 2018. Doc. Nos. 1 & 2. Although Murphy is a three-striker under the three-strikes provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), she was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis under the PLRA's imminent danger exception. Doc. No. 3. After screening, Murphy's amended complaint (Doc. No. 5) and an addendum (Doc. No. 6) were served on certain defendants. See Doc. No. 7. Other defendants were dismissed after screening, for failure to serve, or on Murphy's motion. See Doc. Nos. 22, 26, 88, 111 & 120. The remaining defendants are: Dr. Joseph Hughes, APN Betty Hutchinson, Dr. Donald Pate, and Dr. Jonathan Laryea.

         Murphy alleges she had surgery in June 2018, that the surgery failed, and that she subsequently began to profusely bleed and had 10 inches of her colon hanging out. Doc. No. 5 at 1-2. She claims that Dr. Laryea (originally spelled Loria) refused to see her and that Dr. Pate told her she was fine after only briefly examining her. Id. at 3-4. She further claims that medical professionals at the McPherson Unit discontinued her treatment for this issue. Id. at 4-5.

         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment, a brief in support, and a statement of facts filed by Dr. Hughes and Hutchinson (Doc. Nos. 84-86) as well as a motion for summary judgment, a brief in support, and a statement of facts filed by Drs. Pate and Laryea (Doc. Nos. 92-94). The defendants claim that Murphy did not exhaust available administrative remedies with respect to her claims against them before she filed this lawsuit. Murphy filed responses to the defendants' motions (Doc. Nos. 96-97). Drs. Pate and Laryea filed a reply (Doc. No. 98); Murphy filed another response and addendum (Doc. Nos. 99-100); Drs. Pate and Laryea filed a sur-reply (Doc. No. 103); and Murphy filed another response (Doc. No. 108). For the reasons described herein, the undersigned recommends that the defendants' motions for summary judgment be granted.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute 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(a); 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). An assertion that a fact cannot be disputed or is genuinely disputed must be supported by materials in the record such as “depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials . . .”. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). A party may also show that a fact is disputed or undisputed by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). 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

         The defendants argue they are entitled to summary judgment because Murphy failed to exhaust available administrative remedies as to her claims against them before she filed this lawsuit. In support of their motions, [1] the defendants submitted a declaration by Shelly Byers, the ADC's Medical Grievance Coordinator, and the ADC's grievance policy. Doc. No. 86-1.

         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); Burns v. Eaton, 752 F.3d 1136, 1141 (8th Cir. 2014). Exhaustion under the PLRA is mandatory. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. at 211; Hammett v. Cofield, 681 F.3d 945, 949 (8th Cir. 2012). “[T]he 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, inmates are provided Unit Level Grievance Forms as part of the Inmate Grievance Procedure. See Doc. No. 86-1 at 6. 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 7. Inmates are to “specifically name each individual involved for a proper investigation and response to be completed by the ADC.” Id. at 8. 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 7-8. A problem solver investigates the complaint and provides a written response at the bottom of the form. Id. at 8-9. If the inmate is not satisfied with the resolution or the problem solver does not respond within three working days, he may then complete Step Two of the grievance procedure and submit the form as a formal grievance. Id. at 10. If a formal grievance is medical in nature, it is forwarded to the appropriate medical personnel for response. Id. at 11. If the inmate receives no response, or if the inmate is not satisfied with the response, the inmate can appeal to the Deputy Director for Health and Correctional Programs. Id. at 12-14. Once the Deputy Director responds or the appeal is rejected, the grievance process is exhausted. Id. at 14. 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 15. 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 19.

         Murphy brings Eighth Amendment and medical negligence claims against the defendants based on an alleged denial of medical treatment after her June 21, 2018 colon surgery allegedly failed. Doc. No. 5. Byers reviewed Murphy's grievance records and found that she did not file any medical grievance after June 21, 2018, for which she received an appeal response before filing this lawsuit on September 14, 2018. ADC policy ...

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