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Greathouse v. Compton

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

July 19, 2019




         The following Recommendation has been sent to United States District 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 Arlis Dale Greathouse filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and an application to proceed in forma pauperis on November 7, 2018. Doc. Nos. 1 & 2. Greathouse was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis and ordered to file an amended complaint identifying claims relating to only one issue. See Doc. No. 4. He filed an amended complaint on December 3, 2018, limiting his claims to those against Mental Health Supervisor Donald Compton. (Doc. No. 6). The Court recommended that all defendants except Compton be dismissed from this case and that only Greathouse's Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claims be allowed to proceed. Doc. No. 8. The Court further recommended that Greathouse's due process claims based on Compton's alleged violation of prison procedure be dismissed because prisoners do not have a federally protected due process right to require prison officials to comply with internal rules or procedures. Id. (citing Phillips v. Norris, 320 F.3d 844, 847 (8th Cir. 2003); Gardner v. Howard, 109 F.3d 427, 430 (8th Cir. 1997)). The Court's recommendation was subsequently adopted. See Doc. No. 9. Accordingly, the only remaining defendant is Compton.

         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment, a brief in support, and a statement of facts filed by Compton, claiming that Greathouse did not fully exhaust his available administrative remedies before he filed this lawsuit (Doc. Nos. 29-31). Greathouse filed a response to the defendant's motion, a statement of disputed facts, and a declaration (Doc. Nos. 33-35). For the reasons described herein, the undersigned recommends that Compton's motion 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

         Compton argues that he is entitled to summary judgment because Greathouse failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to his claims against Compton before he filed this lawsuit. See Doc. No. 29. In support of his motion, Compton submitted the ADC's grievance policy (Doc. No. 31-1); the declaration of Shelly Byers, the custodian of the ADC's medical grievance records (Doc. No. 31-2); and a copy of grievance VSM18-01683 (Doc. No. 31-3).

         A. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         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. 31-1 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 6. 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. at 6-7. 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 8. If a formal grievance is medical in nature, it is forwarded to the appropriate medical personnel for response. Id. at 9. If the inmate receives no response, or if the inmate is not satisfied with the response, the inmate can appeal to the Deputy Director. Id. at 10-12. Once the Deputy Director responds or the appeal is rejected, 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.

         The ADC grievance policy requires inmates to name each individual involved. See Doc. No. 31-1 at 5-6. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has determined that failure to name specific defendants can be a procedural deficiency, and prison officials' acceptance and resolution of a procedurally deficient grievance serves to establish proper exhaustion. See Hammett v. Cofield, 681 F.3d 945, 947 (8th Cir. 2012) (PLRA's exhaustion requirements are satisfied if grievance is considered on the merits, even if it could have been denied for procedural deficiencies). See also Bower v. Kelley, 494 Fed.Appx. 718 (8th Cir. 2012) (unpublished per curiam). The failure to name a defendant as required by the ADC grievance policy may constitute a procedural defect that is waived if the defendant's conduct forming the basis of the claim against him or her is adequately described in the grievance and the failure to name the defendant does not prevent the ADC from investigating the grievance on the merits. See Daniels v. Hubbard, No. 5:14CV00360 BSM, 2015 WL 9222627, at *1-2 (E.D. Ark. Dec. 17, 2015). This is a fact-intensive analysis. For example, in Burns v. Eaton, the Court affirmed the dismissal of a claim against a defendant who was not named in the grievance and whose conduct was not addressed in the grievance. 752 F.3d 1136 (8th Cir. 2014). However, the relevant grievance specifically named another individual, and was therefore proper under ADC policy. Id. at 1141-1142. Prison officials were able to investigate the conduct of the named individual, and had no reason to question whether other individuals or claims should have been investigated. Id. In other cases, a plaintiff's failure to name a ...

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