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Bradley v. Crowther

United States District Court, D. Utah

September 27, 2017

VICTOR R. BRADLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT CROWTHER, RICHARD GARDEN, DOE PRISON MEDICAL PROVIDERS 1-10, DOE DIALYSIS TECHNICIANS 11-12, ARSALAN HABIB, DOE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH HEALTHCARE MEDICAL PROVIDERS 13-20, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS RICHARD GARDEN AND SCOTT CROWTHER'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Ted Stewart United States District Judge.

         District Judge Ted Stewart This matter is before the Court on Defendants Richard Garden and Scott Crowther's (collectively “Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment Limited to the Issue of Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts relevant to this Motion are as follows. Plaintiff Victor R. Bradley (“Plaintiff”) pleaded guilty to a first degree felony in 1984 and was subsequently placed at Utah State Prison (“USP”), where he is currently an inmate. Plaintiff began receiving dialysis treatments at some point during his incarceration at USP. These dialysis treatments are critical to Plaintiff's health.

         As a result of alleged misconduct and/or miscommunications by the defendants in this action, Plaintiff and several other USP inmates did not receive their scheduled dialysis treatments at USP on April 3, 2015, and on April 4, 2015. The missed dialysis treatments allegedly caused Plaintiff to suffer three strokes and a heart attack.

         USP has a written internal grievance policy in place to assist inmates in seeking resolution to problems that arise during their incarceration. The grievance policy is made available to all inmates regardless of status or classification, [1] and the procedures “do not set any limit on existing administrative discretion or powers.”[2] There are three levels of the internal grievance process. At Level One, the inmate is directed to obtain, complete, and submit the requisite form “[w]ithin seven working days of an incident or seven working days from the time the inmate knew or should have known about a grievable incident.”[3] The facility or bureau responsible for addressing the grievance then has twenty-one working days from the date the grievance is received to respond.

         If resolution fails, the inmate initiates Level Two proceedings in which he has five working days to complete and submit the requisite form to be reviewed by the Warden. The Warden then has twenty-one working days from the date of receipt to provide a written response to the inmate.[4] If the inmate is unsatisfied with the Warden's decision, he is then directed to appeal the decision to the department's Hearing Office within five working days, which initiates Level Three proceedings.[5] The Hearing Office then has twenty-one working days from the date it receives the appeal to assign a hearing officer, review the grievance, and provide a written response to the inmate or schedule a hearing.[6] “There is no further administrative appeal from the Hearing Office level. The Level Three decision is final.”[7] The written policy states that “it is the policy of the Department that the inmate grievance system is not required as a matter of constitutional law, but is provided as an aid to inmates and DIO management to resolve conflict and problems.”[8]

         The parties do not dispute that Plaintiff complied with the procedures of Levels One and Two. However, after receiving unfavorable written responses at each of the first two levels, Plaintiff failed to file an appeal of the Warden's decision to the Hearing Office to initiate the Level Three proceedings. Defendants argue that this failure to exhaust all available administrative remedies is grounds for dismissal.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[9] Here, the facts relevant to the resolution of this matter are not in dispute. The issue before the Court is limited to whether Plaintiff's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies through USP's internal grievance procedures merits granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants as a matter of law and dismissing the case.

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”)[10] states that “[n]o 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.”[11]

         The Supreme Court has emphasized that the exhaustion provision of the PLRA is mandatory and should be broadly construed.

Once within the discretion of the district court, exhaustion in cases covered by § 1997e(a) is now mandatory. All “available” remedies must now be exhausted; those remedies need not meet federal standards, nor must they be “plain, speedy, and effective.” Even when the prisoner seeks relief not available in grievance proceedings, notably money damages, exhaustion is a prerequisite to suit. And unlike the previous provision, which encompassed only § 1983 suits, exhaustion is now required for all “actions brought with respect to prison conditions, ” whether under § 1983 or “any other Federal law.”[12]

         Plaintiff puts forth three arguments as to why this case should not be dismissed for his failure to exhaust all administrative remedies available to him under USP's internal grievance policy. First, Plaintiff argues that a section of USP's written policy “essentially nullifies the requirements of the PLRA.”[13] Second, Plaintiff argues the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is applicable only to grievances concerning “prison conditions, ” and Plaintiff's grievance is about matters unrelated to “prison conditions.”[14] Finally, Plaintiff argues that the exhaustion requirement of the PLRA does not apply to him because USP was not capable of providing Plaintiff with a “sensible remedy.”[15] Each of these arguments fail.

         a. USP's written policy does not nullify the PLRA

         USP's written policy states, “it is the policy of the Department that the inmate grievance system is not required as a matter of constitutional law, but is provided as an aid to inmates and DIO management to resolve conflict and problems.”[16] Plaintiff argues this provision nullifies the PLRA and excuses him from the exhaustion requirement. This argument fails for two reasons.

         First, whether or not USP considers its grievance policy to be mandatory is irrelevant in light of the language of § 1997e(a). The PLRA states that a prisoner must exhaust all administrative remedies “available” to them within the prison system before bringing the matter to court. Where the statutory construction is at issue, the Court begins “by analyzing the statutory language, assuming that the ordinary meaning of that language accurately expresses the legislative purpose.”[17] In interpreting the PLRA, the Supreme Court has held that “the ordinary meaning of the word ‘available' is ‘capable of use for the accomplishment of a purpose, ' and that which ‘is accessible or may be obtained.'”[18]

         USP's written internal grievance policy states that the grievance procedures are available to all inmates incarcerated at USP.[19] Plaintiff does not dispute that the policy is available. Notably, Plaintiff took advantage of the first two levels of USP's internal grievance procedures prior to filing this lawsuit. Therefore, it is not relevant that USP does not consider its grievance policy to be constitutionally mandated. The fact that the procedures were available to Plaintiff means he must have completed each of the three levels of USP's internal grievance policy to fully comply with the exhaustion requirement of the PLRA.

         Second, the PLRA is a federal statute enacted by Congress for the purpose of reducing the quantity of prisoner litigation cases being filed in federal court.[20] To suggest USP's internal policy could legally “nullify” a mandatory provision of a federal statute lacks merit.

         If Plaintiff was purposely misled by USP officials to believe he did not need to conform with the exhaustion requirement of the PLRA in order to pursue his claims in federal court, either by reference to the written internal grievance policy or otherwise, Plaintiff may be able to circumvent the exhaustion requirement.[21] However, no such facts have been alleged here.

         b. Plaintiff's grievance is regarding “prison conditions” for purposes of the PLRA

         Plaintiff next argues that the language of § 1997e(a), requiring exhaustion only for complaints relating to “prison conditions, ” does not apply because his claims are about USP's failure to provide necessary medical treatment, which, he argues, is not related to “prison conditions.” In Porter v. Nussle the Supreme Court interpreted the term “prison conditions” broadly, holding that “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 ...


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