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Mowry v. Knight

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 8, 2014

Arron Eugene Mowry, Plaintiff,
v.
Sergeant Knight, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

STEPHEN M. McNAMEE, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff Arron Eugene Mowry brought this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Arizona Department of Corrections ("ADOC") Officers Evans and Knight and an unidentified nurse. (Doc. 1.) Before the Court is Defendants Evans and Knight's Motion for Summary Judgment on the ground that Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies. (Doc. 45.) Plaintiff opposes the motion. (Doc. 51.)

The Court will grant the Motion and terminate the action.

I. Background

Plaintiff's claim arose during his confinement at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence ("ASPC-Florence"), Central Unit. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff asserted seven separate counts against Sergeant Knight, Lieutenant Evans and an unidentified male nurse for an incident on October 4, 2012. Plaintiff alleged that Knight used excessive force against him by kicking Plaintiff's feet out from under him while Plaintiff was handcuffed with his hands behind his back and then getting on top of Plaintiff, grabbing Plaintiff's previously injured wrist and bending and twisting it. Plaintiff further alleged that Evans was present and witnessed Knight attacking Plaintiff but did not intervene to stop the attack. Plaintiff was transported on a gurney to medical with his hands cuffed behind his back. Plaintiff alleged that the unidentified nurse jerked Plaintiff's arm around "to show off to the other officers that he is not going to treat [Plaintiff] with any respect either." ( Id. ) Plaintiff also alleged that Knight and Evans lied and falsified documentation and manipulated disciplinary proceedings related to the incident. Plaintiff alleged that, as a result of the attack, he sustained injuries to his mid-back, lower back, right elbow, right shoulder, nerve damage to his legs and feet, has a scar on the right side of his back, exacerbated injuries to his right wrist, and psychological, mental, and emotional trauma.

Plaintiff sued for compensatory and punitive damages, costs, and injunctive relief.

On screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), the Court determined that Plaintiff stated Eighth Amendment claims in Counts One and Two against Knight and Evans and directed them to answer those claims. (Doc. 7.) The Court also determined that Plaintiff stated an Eighth Amendment claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need against the unidentified nurse, but did not order service on the anonymous Defendant. The Court advised Plaintiff that if he discovered the identity of the male nurse, he should promptly file a motion to amend his Complaint to name the anonymous Defendant and submit a proposed amended complaint. The Court dismissed the remaining claims. ( Id. )

On May 16, 2014, Defendants Knight and Evans filed their Motion for Summary Judgment on Exhaustion, arguing that Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies as required under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). (Doc. 45.)[1] Plaintiff filed his "Answer" to Defendants' Motion (hereinafter, "Response") on June 19, 2014 (Doc. 51), and Defendants[2] filed their Reply on July 21, 2014 (Doc. 59).

II. Summary Judgment Standard

A court must grant summary judgment "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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The movant bears the initial responsibility of presenting the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record, together with affidavits, that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

If the movant fails to carry its initial burden of production, the nonmovant need not produce anything. Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Fritz Co., Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102-03 (9th Cir. 2000). But if the movant meets its initial responsibility, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to demonstrate the existence of a factual dispute and that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 250 (1986); see Triton Energy Corp. v. Square D. Co., 68 F.3d 1216, 1221 (9th Cir. 1995). The nonmovant need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor, First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968); however, it must "come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal citation omitted); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

At summary judgment, the judge's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. In its analysis, the court must believe the nonmovant's evidence and draw all inferences in the nonmovant's favor. Id. at 255. The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider any other materials in the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).

III. Exhaustion

A. Governing Standard

Under the PLRA, a prisoner must exhaust "available" administrative remedies before filing an action in federal court. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Vaden v. Summerhill, 449 F.3d 1047, 1050 (9th Cir. 2006); Brown v. Valoff, 422 F.3d 926, 934-35 (9th Cir. 2005). The prisoner must complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable rules. See Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 92 (2006). Exhaustion is required for all suits about prison life, Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 523 (2002), regardless of the type of relief offered through the administrative process, Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001).

The defendant bears the initial burden to show that there was an available administrative remedy and that the prisoner did not exhaust it. Albino v. Baca, 747 F.3d 1162, 1169, 1172 (9th Cir. 2014); see Brown, 422 F.3d at 936-37 (a defendant must demonstrate that applicable relief remained available in the grievance process). Once that showing is made, the burden shifts to the prisoner, who must either demonstrate that he, in fact, exhausted administrative remedies or "come forward with evidence showing that there is something in his particular case that made the existing and generally available administrative remedies effectively unavailable to him." Albino, 747 F.3d at 1172. The ultimate burden, however, rests with the defendant. Id. Summary judgment is appropriate if the undisputed evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the prisoner, shows a failure to exhaust. Id. at 1166, 1168; see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

If summary judgment is denied, disputed factual questions relevant to exhaustion should be decided by the judge; a plaintiff is not entitled to a jury trial on the issue of exhaustion. Albino, 747 F.3d at 1170-71. But if a court finds that the prisoner exhausted administrative remedies, that administrative remedies were not available, or that the failure to exhaust administrative remedies should be excused, the case proceeds to the merits. Id. at 1171.

B. Applicable Grievance Procedure

The undisputed and disputed relevant facts are derived from Defendants' Statement of Facts ("DSOF") and supporting exhibits (Doc. 46), Plaintiff's Response and attached exhibits (Doc. 51), and Plaintiff's Statement of Facts ("PSOF") (Doc. 52).[3]

Both parties cite to Department Order ("DO") 802, and do not appear to dispute that DO 802 is the established ADOC grievance process. (Doc. 46, DSOF ¶¶ 4-6; Doc. 51, Exs. 2-7.)[4] There are four levels of review in the DO 802 grievance process. First, an inmate is directed to attempt to resolve a complaint informally by, for example, having a discussion with staff "in the area most responsible for the complaint or the submission of Inmate Letters." (Doc. 46, DSOF ¶ 8; Doc. 12-1 at 22 (DO 802.01 §1.1).) If that approach is unsuccessful, within 10 workdays of the complained-of action, an inmate may submit an Informal Complaint on an Inmate Letter to the Correctional Officer (CO) III assigned to his unit. (Doc. 46, DSOF ¶ 9; Doc. 12-1 at 22 (DO 802.02 § 1.2).) The CO III has 15 workdays to respond to the Informal Complaint. (Doc. 46, DSOF ¶ 10; Doc. 12-1 at 22 (DO 802.02 § 1.3).) If the inmate is dissatisfied with the CO III's response, he may file a Formal Grievance within 5 workdays to the grievance coordinator. (Doc. 46, DSOF ¶ 11; Doc. 12-1 at 22 (DO 802.02 § 1.4).) The Deputy Warden must issue a written response to the Formal Grievance within 15 workdays. (Doc. 46, DSOF ¶ 12; Doc. 12-1 at 23 (DO 802.03 §1.5).) The inmate may appeal the Deputy Warden's Formal Grievance response to the Warden within 5 workdays of receiving the response. (Doc. 46, DSOF ¶ 13; Doc. 12-1 at 24 (DO 802.05 § 1.1).) The Warden has 20 workdays to issue a written response that either affirms or reverses the Deputy Warden's decision. (Doc. 46, DSOF ¶ 14; Doc. 12-1 at 24 (DO 802.05 § 1.3).)

If dissatisfied with the Warden's response, the inmate may appeal to the ADOC Director within 5 workdays. (Doc. 46, DSOF ¶ 15; Doc. 12-1 at 25 (DO 802.07 § 1.1).) Inmates may not appeal to the Director "until the Grievance Procedure within their assigned unit and institution has been exhausted." (Doc. 12-1 at 25 (DO 802.07 § 1.1).) The Central Office Appeals Officer may return an appeal to the unit for further investigation or if the appeal does not meet the requirements of DO 802. (Doc. 12-1 at 25 (DO 802.07 § 1.3).) Within 30 days of receiving the appeal, the Central Office Appeals Officer is to prepare a response and submit it to the Director for signature.[5] (Doc. 46, DSOF ¶ 16; Doc. 12-1 at 25 (DO 802.07 § 1.4).) If an inmate does not receive a response within the specified time period under DO 802, he may proceed to the next stage of the grievance process. (Doc. 46, DSOF ¶ 17; Doc. 12-1 at 9.)

C. Plaintiff's Attempt to Grieve

The documentary evidence shows that on October 11, 2012, Plaintiff submitted a timely four-page Inmate Letter, or informal complaint, (i.e., within ten days of the October 4, 2012 incident), which was addressed to CO III Bar. (Doc. 51, Ex. 1 at 1-2.) The informal complaint complained about the alleged use of excessive force by Defendant Knight on October 4, 2012, Defendant Evans' witnessing the incident but not intervening, and the lack of medical care for Plaintiff's injuries. ( Id. ) Plaintiff only retained copies of the first two pages of his informal complaint because those were the only pages that had carbon copies. (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 3.) Under DO 802, CO III Bar had until November 1, 2012 to respond to Plaintiff's informal complaint. (Doc. 46, DSOF ¶ 23; see also Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 4.)

On October 29, 2012, before receiving a response to his informal complaint, Plaintiff was transferred from ASPC-Florence, Central Unit, to ASPC-Yuma, Dakota Unit.[6] (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 6.) Although CO III Bar's response to Plaintiff's informal complaint was due by November 1, Plaintiff was aware that if he did not receive a response by the deadline, he was "to proceed to the next level in the grievance process within the time frame" which was "5 days from the day that the time frame would have closed if the CO III has not responded." (Doc. 51, ¶ 5; see also Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 5.) Because Plaintiff was transferred, his property had to be inventoried. (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 9.)[7] By the time Plaintiff got his property, "the time frame for [him] to go to the next step in the grievance process had passed" and he did not know what to do. ( Id., PSOF ¶ 10.)[8] Plaintiff, therefore, waited to see if he would get a response through the re-route mail. ( Id., PSOF ¶ 13.)[9]

Plaintiff was moved to another unit on December 17, 2012. (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 14.)[10] Because he had not received a response to his informal complaint, Plaintiff submitted his grievance to the grievance coordinator in his new unit, CO III Wilcox, that same day. ( Id., PSOF ¶ 14; Doc. 51, Ex. 1 at 4-5.) Plaintiff explained in his grievance that he submitted a four-page informal complaint and never received a response; therefore, he asked the grievance coordinator to accept his grievance "in good faith as [he had] been patiently waiting for a response to [his] informal." (Doc. 51, Ex. 1 at 4-5.)

Plaintiff did not receive a response to his grievance within the timeframe and so, on January 15, 2013, he submitted a grievance appeal to the Complex Warden, explaining that he did not receive responses to either his informal complaint or his grievance. (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 15; Doc. 51 ¶¶ 15-16.) On or about January 16, 2013, Plaintiff received a response to his grievance from CO III Wilcox. (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 16.) The response, with the subject line, "UNPROCESSED GRIEVANCE, " states that Plaintiff's grievance was being returned unprocessed; the following two statements were noted as the reasons for Plaintiff's grievance being returned: (1) "You are past the time frames (05 calendar days) for filing an appeal. Your appeal should be addressed to the unit which it originated, however you are past timeframes for filing an appeal."; and (2) "Failed to attempt to resolve a complaint informally prior to filing a formal grievance. You have not provided a copy of your attempt to informally resolve the issue." (Doc. 51, Ex. 1 at 7 (emphasis in original).)

On January 23, 2013, Plaintiff submitted an appeal to ADOC Director Charles Ryan "explaining everything." (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 22; Doc. 51, Ex. 1 at 8-10.) On March 11, 2013, Plaintiff received a response, dated January 29, 2013, to the grievance packet that he had sent to Director Ryan. (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 24; Doc. 51, Ex. 1 at 11.)[11] The response was from CO III Wilcox who returned Plaintiff's grievance unprocessed, noting that Plaintiff had filed his informal resolution on October 11, 2012, was transferred to Dakota Unit on October 29, 2012, and did not submit a grievance until December 17, 2012. (Doc 51, Ex. 1 at 11.) Wilcox wrote that "[s]ince your grievance originated at Central Unit that is where it was supposed to be sent and to whom it should have been addressed" and that any additional appeals would need to be addressed to Central Unit. ( Id. ) In addition, Wilcox wrote that "[s]ince you are out of timeframes you may need to write to Central [U]nit grievance coordinator and request to waive the timeframes." ( Id. )

On March 15, 2013, Plaintiff submitted an inmate letter to the ASPC-Florence, Central Unit grievance coordinator, asking to waive the time frames and "explaining everything" and attaching "everything" to the form, including a copy of his grievance packet. (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 25; Doc. 51, Ex. 1 at 12-13.)[12] At this time, Plaintiff was housed at ASPC-Lewis, and he submitted an inmate letter to CO III Frazier asking her to make a copy of his grievance packet and to forward all of the originals to the grievance coordinator at the Central Unit. (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 27; Doc. 51, Ex. 1 at 14.) Frazier did what Plaintiff requested. (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 27.)

Plaintiff was eventually transferred back to ASPC-Florence, Central Unit, where he "continued to exhaust, " and on July 5, 2013, Plaintiff submitted an inmate letter to CO IV Anderson, the grievance coordinator, asking about the grievance packet and inmate letter that he had sent to her from ASPC-Lewis. ( Id., PSOF ¶ 29; Doc. 51, Ex. 1 at 15.) Around July 8, 2013, Plaintiff received a response from Anderson stating that she never received the grievance packet and the only thing she received was the January 29, 2013 response from CO III Wilcox. (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 31; Doc. 51, Ex. 1 at 17-18.)

On July 10, 2013, Plaintiff submitted another inmate letter to CO IV Anderson "addressing the entire issue" and attaching another copy of the grievance packet. (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 34; Doc. 51, Ex. 1 at 19-20.) Anderson responded on July 29, 2013, stating that she and Deputy Warden Fizer "saw no justifiable reason to waive time frames." (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 35.) Before Plaintiff received the response from Anderson, he submitted another appeal and grievance packet to Director Ryan "exhausting the administrative remedies once again.'" ( Id., PSOF ¶ 36; Doc. 51, Ex. 1 at 21.) On July 15, 2013, Plaintiff received a response to his appeal from CO IV Anderson, stating that she was returning Plaintiff's appeal unprocessed and informing Plaintiff that he cannot appeal an unprocessed grievance. (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 37; Doc. 51, Ex. 1 at 22.)

D. Discussion

The Court finds that Defendants have established the availability of an administrative remedy procedure and that Plaintiff was aware of the procedure.

There is no dispute that Plaintiff filed a timely informal complaint on an Inmate Letter on October 11, 2012 regarding the October 4, 2012 incident and that he did not receive a response by the November 1 deadline.[13] Further, there is no dispute that, without a response, Plaintiff needed to file a grievance within five work days of the November 1 deadline, which was November 8, 2012. There is no dispute that Plaintiff did not file a grievance until December 17, 2012.

Plaintiff asserts that, thereafter, he appealed his grievance, and he argues that because he submitted appeals to the Director twice, he has exhausted his administrative remedies and "there should be records of this" at the Central Office. (Doc. 51 at 10; see also Doc. 53 ("Declaration of Arron Mowry") at 1-2.) Defendants assert that Plaintiff's grievance and subsequent appeals were not processed because they were outside the timeframes and, therefore, the Central Office did not have a record of his grievance in its files. (Doc. 59 at 4-5, 7.)

As stated, Plaintiff was required to comply with the procedural rules governing the grievance process; this includes deadlines. See Woodford, 548 U.S. at 81. The issue presented here is whether Plaintiff's failure to file his grievance by the November 8, 2012 deadline is excused by the fact that he was transferred to a different prison on October 29, 2012 before receiving a response to his informal complaint. There are certain instances in which a prisoner's failure to exhaust may be excused if he demonstrates that the grievance process is unavailable to him. Such instances include, for example, the inability to obtain the required forms, misinformation from prison officials about when a prisoner could file a grievance, and threats of retaliation for filing a grievance. Nunez v. Duncan, 591 F.3d 1217, 1224 (9th Cir. 2010).

Plaintiff asserts that once he received his property after his arrival at ASPC-Yuma, Dakota Unit, he knew that he was out of the timeframe to submit his grievance, but he did not know what to do. (Doc. 51 at 3.) He contends there was no grievance process he could follow at that point and that DO 802 does not state what he should do if he is transferred while attempting to exhaust his grievance. (Doc. 52, PSOF ¶ 11.) Instead, Plaintiff waited until December 17, 2012 to submit his grievance, after he was transferred to a different unit. Defendants object to PSOF ¶ 11 as "untrue and unsupported, " asserting that "[t]here is no special grievance process when an inmate is transferred" and that DO 802 "applies to all grievances and the process is the same regardless of whether an inmate has been transferred." (Doc. 59 at 13, citing Doc. 12-1 at 8, DO 802.01 § 1.6 ("Inmates may utilize the Inmate Grievance Procedure regardless of any disciplinary status, housing location or classification.").) Defendants' objection is sustained. Nothing in DO 802 suggests that the grievance process ends or a different grievance procedure sets in upon an inmate's transfer to another unit or facility.

Defendants argue that there is no evidence that Plaintiff "ever attempted to proceed with his grievance or obtain assistance or instruction from his CO III or the grievance coordinator while he was at Dakota Unit. In fact, he explicitly states that he did not attempt to proceed with his grievance while at Dakota Unit, even though he was there for approximately a month and a half." (Doc. 45 at 9.) Defendants further argue that Plaintiff fails to explain "why he ignored the first response from CO III Wilcox that advised he needed to address his grievance to [ASPC-Florence] Central Unit and instead tried to appeal his unprocessed grievance to the Director." ( Id. at 11.)

Plaintiff appears to argue that his transfer from ASPC-Florence to ASPC-Yuma rendered the grievance procedure unavailable. Generally, exhaustion requires proper completion of each step in the agency's grievance procedure, see Woodford, 548 U.S. at 92; however, completing every step is not required "when circumstances render administrative remedies effectively unavailable.'" Sapp v. Kimbrell, 623 F.3d 813, 822 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Nunez, 591 F.3d at 1226). However, the mere transfer to a different ADOC prison or unit does not render a grievance procedure unavailable. See Cohea v. Jones, 2008 WL 114956, at *5 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 11, 2008) (finding that the transfer to another prison within the same prison system did not excuse plaintiff's failure to properly exhaust his administrative remedies); Howse v. Walker, 2007 WL 201161, at *4 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 24, 2007) (finding that plaintiff's transfer to another facility operated by the same sheriff's department did not make the grievance process unavailable to plaintiff).

The Court is persuaded that the grievance process found in DO 802 was still applicable and available to Plaintiff after his transfer to ASPC-Yuma, Dakota Unit. Although Plaintiff claims he did not know what to do upon his transfer to a different prison operated by ADOC, he also claims to be familiar with the grievance process and knew that he could proceed to the next level of the grievance process once the timeframe had expired at the prior level. Plaintiff has not presented any evidence or argument that he was unable to grieve his claims after his transfer to ASPC-Yuma on October 29, 2012. Moreover, Plaintiff claims that he decided to wait to see if a response to his informal complaint would arrive in the re-route mail, which he says could take a couple of weeks, but he does not explain why, if he received no response by mid-November even, he did not go ahead and submit a grievance asking that the timeframe be waived due to his transfer and waiting for the re-route mail. Instead, Plaintiff waited another month-until mid-December-before attempting to file a grievance. Even then, he did not comply with the requirement to attach a copy of his attempt at informal resolution. Although Plaintiff explains that he only had the first two of four pages of his informal complaint and he did not want to lose those two pages, he does not say that he ever requested anyone make copies of those two pages so that he could at least attach those two pages to his grievance.

Defendants argue that Plaintiff "clearly knew that he could proceed with his grievance because he did so once transferred in December 2012" and that "if he truly did not know what to do or how to proceed, he could have requested assistance or guidance from his CO III or the grievance coordinator after his first transfer in October 2012." (Doc. 45 at 11.) Defendants further argue that Plaintiff's "own actions show that he was well aware that he could request assistance with the grievance process." (Doc. 59 at 6 (citing to Doc. 51 at 11, ¶¶ 23, 25, in which Plaintiff states that on March 15, 2013, he submitted an inmate letter asking CO III Frazier to make a complete copy of his grievance packet and to forward it to the Central Unit and that on July 5, 2013, he asked CO IV Anderson about the grievance packet and inmate letter).) The Court agrees that Plaintiff offered no evidence or plausible explanation of why he waited over a month past the deadline to submit his grievance, or why, even then, he only submitted an incomplete grievance.

Accordingly, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.

IT IS ORDERED:

(1) The reference to the Magistrate Judge is withdrawn as to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 45).

(2) Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 45) is granted; Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed without prejudice for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

(3) The Clerk of Court must enter judgment accordingly and terminate the action.


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