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Flowers v. Lawrence

United States District Court, D. Arizona

August 17, 2016

Eulandas J Flowers, Plaintiff,
v.
Sandra Lawrence, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          James A. Teilborg Senior United States District Judge.

         On April 25, 2016, the Court denied Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the issue of whether Plaintiff Eulandas J. Flowers failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies in accordance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (2012) (the “PLRA”). (Doc. 109). The Court thereafter set for trial the issue of exhaustion, (Doc. 116), which was held on June 16, 17, and August 2, 2016. The Court hereby finds and concludes the following.

         I. Legal 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.

         II. Findings of Fact

         Prior to setting forth the findings of fact, the Court must reiterate exactly what the disputed issues of material fact were that necessitated a bench trial on the issue of exhaustion: (1) “whether Sergeant [(now Lieutenant) Jason] Johnson told Plaintiff that he could orally file an emergency grievance via videotape while Plaintiff was on defecation watch”; (2) “whether Plaintiff relied on that alleged assertion to believe that he was properly exhausting and did not need to follow the general grievance process”; and (3) “whether Plaintiff made such a recording of his grievances relating to his claims of assault and denial of medical care and necessities.” (Doc. 109 at 14 n.5). The Court will restrict its findings and conclusions to the disputed factual issues previously identified as material.

         The Arizona Department of Corrections (“ADOC”) provides a grievance procedure to all incarcerated inmates, [1] including Plaintiff. This procedure permits inmates to bring to the attention of ADOC problems or complaints so that they may be investigated, substantiated, and resolved. The first step in resolving a complaint is, within ten workdays of the action which caused the complaint, for the inmate to discuss the issue with staff in the area most responsible for the complaint or through submission of an Informal Complaint Resolution Form. (DO 802.02, Id. at 5-6). If an inmate is unable to informally resolve the complaint, the inmate must submit the Informal Complaint Resolution form to the CO III in their unit; a response must be provided in 15 days. (Id.). If the inmate is dissatisfied with the response, he may submit a formal grievance. (Id. at 6).

         For non-medical claims, the inmate may file a formal grievance within five workdays from the receipt of the response to the Grievance Coordinator. (DO 802.03, Id. at 6). Within 15 workdays, the Deputy Warden shall issue a written response to the inmate. (Id.). Within 5 workdays, the inmate may appeal the decision to the Warden. (DO 802.04, Id. at 6-7). Within 20 workdays, the Warden shall issue a written response. (Id. at 7.). Within 5 workdays from the Warden’s response, the inmate may appeal to the Director. (DO 802.05, Id. at 7). The decision of the Director is final and constitutes exhaustion of all remedies within the Department. (Id.).

         For medical grievances, the inmate may file a formal grievance if unable to resolve the complaint informally within five workdays from the response to the informal grievance. (DO 802.06, Id. at 7). Within fifteen workdays, the Facility Health Administrator must prepare a response to the grievance. (Id.). Within five workdays from the response, the inmate may appeal to the Director. (DO 802.07, Id. at 8). The decision of the Director is final and constitutes exhaustion of all remedies within the Department. (Id. at 9).

         From at least March 26, 2014, through April 21, 2014, Plaintiff was housed in the Kaibab Unit at ASPC-Winslow. On March 26, 2014, Plaintiff was assigned to defecation watch upon suspicion of possessing contraband. While on defecation watch, inmates are allowed no personal property and are required to eliminate in a container, rather than a toilet, so that whatever contraband they pass may be retrieved by staff. On April 5, 2014, Plaintiff was released from defecation watch and returned to regular maximum custody detention status. In maximum custody, inmates have access upon request to writing materials, golf style pencils, and standard forms, including inmate letters, informal resolutions, and inmate grievances.

         Nowhere in the ADOC regulations does it state that an individual may file an informal or formal grievance by utilizing a video camera or a prison facility’s closed circuit camera system.

         III. Analysis and Conclusions of Law

         As previously noted, the burden lies with Defendants to establish that Plaintiff failed to exhaust available administrative remedies prior to filing suit in federal court. Albino, 747 F.3d at 1172. Plaintiff argument, as evinced from his testimony at the bench trial, is that Sgt. Johnson informed him that while he was on defecation watch, he could file a grievance by speaking into a video camera that had been installed in front of his cell window. Thus, Plaintiff contends, he was led to reasonably believe that he could comply with ADOC ...


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