United States District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky, Northern Division, Ashland
BRANDON R. BRUIN, Plaintiff,
WARDEN JOSEPH P. MEKO, et ah, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Henry R. Wllhoit, Jr. United District Judge.
The Court considers the Motion for Summary Judgment [D. E. No. 19] filed by Defendants Carl Bossio, Adam Bear, Justin Leach, Matthew Fyffe, and Jackie Reynolds, all of whom are, or were, officials employed at the Little Sandy Correctional Complex ("LSCC") located in Sandy Hook, Kentucky; the Response filed by Plaintiff Brandon R. Bruin [D. E. No. 21]; and the Defendants' Reply [D. E. No. 22] to Bruin's Response. As explained below, the Court will grant the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.
Bruin is an inmate confined by the Kentucky Department o:f Corrections ("KDOC") in the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex ("EKCC") which is located in West Liberty, Kentucky. In April 2014, Bruin, proceeding without counsel, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action in which he alleged that between September 2013 and January 2014, he was confined in the LSCC, and that while confined there, various LSCC officials violated his federal constitutional rights. [D. E. No. 1; supplemented at D. E. No. 4] On September 8, 2014, the Court screened Bruin's § 1983 complaint and dismissed several claims which Bruin had asserted, but directed Defendants Bossio, Bear, Leach, Fyffe, and Reynolds to respond to Bruin's claim that they had improperly handled his incoming legal mail in violation of his rights guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. [D. E. No. 9]
The Defendants have now filed a motion seeking summary judgment, asserting therein two arguments. Their first argument is that Bruin failed to comply with the grievance process set forth in the KDOC's Corrections Policies and Procedure ("CPP") 14.6 § II (J)(1)-(4),  which lists the administrative steps that KDOC inmates must pursue prior to filing a lawsuit. The Defendants assert that the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), and a long line of United States Supreme Court decisions that have interpreted the PLRA, require prisoners to exhaust prison grievance procedures before filing suit, and that Bruin's documented failure to comply with all of the steps set forth in CPP 14.6 § II (J) prevents this Court from addressing the merits of his First Amendment claim.
In support of this argument, the Defendants have attached the sworn Affidavit of John M. Dunn, the Central Office Ombudsman for the KDOC. [D. E. No. 19-4] Dunn states that he is the custodian of grievances which the KDOC maintains in its Central Office in its regular course of its business, id., p. 1, ¶¶ 1-4; that in his capacity as Ombudsman, he has access to the records of all grievances which the KDOC Commissioner has received during the inmate appeal process, id.; and that the KDOC's records contain no grievance appeals filed by Bruin concerning the handling of his legal mail. [Id., ¶ 5]
The defendants assert that Bruin may have initiated the KDOC's grievance process as to his First Amendment claim, but that based on Dunn's Affidavit, Bruin did not complete the administrative review process by following all of the required steps set forth in CPP 14.6 § II(J); specifically, Bruin did not appeal his grievance to KDOC Commissioner in compliance with CPP 14.6 § II (J)(1)-(4). The defendants therefore assert that because Bruin did not properly exhaust his First Amendment claims in compliance with the KDOC's applicable regulations, he did not properly exhaust his claims under the PLRA, and that his claims for money damages against them should therefore be dismissed.
The Defendants' second argument is that Bruin's request for injunctive relief regarding the handling of his mail at the LSCC has become moot because Bruin is now incarcerated in the EKCC. They cite Sixth Circuit cases which they contend stand for the proposition that an inmate's transfer renders moot his request for injunctive relief from the institution in which he was previously confined.
Bruin's response [D. E. No. 21-1] is not a model of clarity, but he appears to be claiming that he was not required to plead in his complaint facts relating to the issue of exhaustion, and that the exhaustion issue is only an affirmative defense; (2) that he was transferred to the EKCC "...to avoid litigation and the exposure of Official Misconduct of the Defendants acts and Omissions, " id. p. 2; that his subsequent transfer to the EKCC prevented him from complying with the KDOC's administrative grievance process; and (4) that he filed a grievance and received a Memorandum dated March 17, 2014 from the LSCC Internal Affairs Department dated [D. E. No. 21-3] relative to his First Amendment mail-handling claims. Bruin presumably contends that the March 17, 2014, Internal Affairs Memorandum documents that he administratively exhausted his First Amendment claims challenging the Defendants' handling of his inmate mail.
In their Reply [D. E. No. 22], the Defendants reiterate that Bruin's demand for injunctive relief was rendered moot by reason of his subsequent transfer to the EKCC; that the March 17, 2014, Internal Affairs Memorandum which Bruin has provided is merely the LSCC's written response to a letter which Bruin sent to Adam Bear; that the Internal Affairs Memorandum does not demonstrate that Bruin complied with CPP 14.6 § II (J); and that Bruin provided no documentation substantiating his broad assertion that he properly exhausted his First Amendment claim. On the latter issue, the Defendants explain that Bruin's actions of merely initiating the grievance process and/or sending an informal letter of complaint to Defendant Adam Bear is not same as complying with the specific administrative exhaustion steps set forth in CPP 14.6 § II (J) (1)-(4).
Finally, the Defendants contend that Bruin's transfer to the EKCC did not prevent him from exhausting his First Amendment claims, noting that CPP 14.6 § II (M) specifically addresses transfers, and provides that if an inmate is transferred from the institution for any reason, he may appoint another inmate to act in his place by submitting the appointment to the Grievance Coordinator in writing.
The Court will first address the Defendants' argument that Bruin's request for injunctive relief as to the handling of his inmate mail became moot by reason of his subsequent transfer to the EKCC, and Bruin's response that such claims have not become moot. In short, any request for injunctive and/or declaratory relief from LSCC officials became moot when Bruin was transferred from the LSCC to the EKCC. See Nunez v. FCI-Elkton, 32 F.App'x 724, 726 (6th Cir. 2002) ("To the extent that Nunez asse1ied a claim for injunctive relief against the defendants based upon their alleged failure to open his legal mail in his presence, his claim is moot in light of his transfer from FCI Elkton to MDC Brooklyn."); Hayes v. Berguis, 40 F.App'x 18, 21 (6th Cir. 2002) (transfer mooted prisoner's demand for injunctive relief); Kensu v. Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1996) (same).
The second and final issue which the Court must address is whether Bruin fully and properly exhausted his First Amendment claims against the Defendants. As an initial matter, Bruin correctly notes that a prisoner is not be required to specifically plead or demonstrate exhaustion in his complaint, see Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 1278 (2007), and that a prisoner's failure to exhaust under § 1997e(a) is an affirmative defense on which the defendant bears the burden of proof. Id. However, these undisputed facts do not assist Bruin here, because the when Court conducted the initial screening of his § 1983 complaint on September 8, 2014, it ...