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Morgan v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

November 3, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment by all named defendants: the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Secretary John Tilley, Commissioner James Erwin, Warden Aaron Smith, Julie Barber, Carton Jobe, Alvin Brown, Denny Acosta, Darrell Bratton, and an “Officer Jones.” (DN 13.) Also before the Court is a motion for leave to file a surreply by plaintiffs Robert Morgan and Leonard Andrew. (DN 17.) Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for decision.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs Morgan and Andrew are inmates who were incarcerated at Kentucky State Reformatory (“KSR”) in La Grange, Kentucky. (Pl.'s Amend. Compl. [DN 10] ¶¶ 2-3.) Both allege that, on separate occasions, they were assaulted and seriously injured by other inmates at KSR. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 30, 38.) Their amended complaint details the conditions of their confinement that they believe caused their injuries: that KSR was overpopulated and understaffed (id. ¶ 17), that prison staff members were aware of the frequency at which inmate-on-inmate violence was occurring and the risk it posed (id. ¶¶ 21, 34), that certain staff members were specifically told by Morgan that he feared for his safety (id. ¶¶ 15, 20, 25, 27), and that no staff members intervened during either assault to render aid to Morgan or Andrew. (Id. ¶¶ 31-33, 39.)

         Morgan and Andrew assert five claims in their amended complaint. They make claims for violations of their Eighth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts I-III), as well as state-law negligence claims (Count IV) while seeking injunctive relief as well (Count V). After the Court screened the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (DN 9), the defendants moved for summary judgment on the grounds that both Morgan and Andrew had failed to exhaust their internal prison remedies. (DN 13.) Morgan and Andrew responded with evidence that they had filed grievances with KSR (DN 15), and the defendants replied. (DN 16.) Morgan and Andrew then sought leave to file a surreply (DN 17, 19-1), to which the defendants have responded. (DN 18.)

         II. Motion for Leave to File Surreply

         Beginning with the plaintiffs' motion for leave to file a surreply, the Court will grant the motion. A brief summary of the parties' arguments best explains why. The defendants' original motion for summary judgment argues that Morgan and Andrew failed to exhaust their internal prison remedies, as there was no record of either individual having appealed any grievances to the commissioner of the Department of Corrections, the highest level of appeal an inmate can pursue. (Dunn Aff. [DN 13-3] ¶ 4.) In response, the plaintiffs note that they had in fact filed grievances; however, these grievances were rejected for pertaining to “non-grievable” issues. (Andrew Grievance [DN 15-1] at 1; Morgan Grievance [DN 15-2] at 1.) Because the prison's internal grievance procedures provide no method for appealing a determination that an issue is non-grievable, the plaintiffs argue that they have in fact exhausted their remedies. In reply, the defendants continue to argue that the plaintiffs have not exhausted their remedies. But now facing the grievances Morgan and Andrew filed related to the assaults, the defendants argue that these grievances were inadequate to exhaust the plaintiffs' remedies as to the claims asserted in the present litigation. (DN 16.) The tendered surreply responds to these latest arguments regarding the adequacy of the grievances, which were not presented in the original motion for summary judgment and could not have been addressed in the plaintiffs' response. Therefore, the motion for leave to file a surreply (DN 17) is GRANTED.

         III. Motion for Summary Judgment

         A. Standard of Review

         Before the Court may grant a motion for summary judgment, it must find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of specifying the basis for its motion and identifying that portion of the record that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies this burden, the non-moving party thereafter must produce specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).

         Although the Court must review the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the non-moving party must do more than merely show that there is some “metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require the non-moving party to present specific facts showing that a genuine factual issue exists by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         Finally, in a case such as this one where “the defendants in prisoner civil rights litigation [have] move[d] for summary judgment on administrative exhaustion grounds, they must prove that no reasonable jury could find that the plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies.” Mattox v. Edelman, 851 F.3d 583, 590 (6th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted).

         B. Analysis

         There is no general requirement that a plaintiff must exhaust any available administrative remedies before bringing a claim for constitutional violations pursuant to § 1983. Patsy v. Bd. of Regents, 457 U.S. 496, 507 (1982). However, Congress created an exception to this rule for claims brought by prisoners when it passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). Under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” While this edict that a prisoner must exhaust his remedies before filing suit appears simple, this case demonstrates the complexities lurking behind almost every word of § 1997e.

         The statute requires exhaustion of internal remedies for “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). To meet this requirement, an inmate must “properly exhaust” his remedies, which requires strict compliance with the grievance process provided by the prison. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93-94 (2006). But an inmate need only exhaust those remedies that are actually “available;” if an administrative ...

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