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Morgan v. Commonwealth

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

February 2, 2018



          Joseph H. McKinley, Jr., Chief Judge

         This matter is before the Court on a motion to dismiss 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 22.) Also before the Court is a motion for reconsideration by plaintiffs Robert Morgan and Leonard Andrew (DN 23), asking the Court to reconsider its November 3, 2017 memorandum opinion and order. (DN 20.) These matters are ripe for decision.

         I. Background

         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. (DN 10.) 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.) In its November 3 memorandum opinion and order, the Court granted in part the motion for summary judgment. The Court found that Morgan and Andrew had failed to exhaust their internal prison remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), as they failed to adhere to the KSR grievance policy of naming all individuals related to the issue in their grievances. (DN 20, at 12.) The only exceptions were Morgan's claims against “Officer Jones, ” who was named in the grievance, and the negligence claims against all defendants, as the PLRA does not govern state-law claims by inmates. (Id. at 12-13.)

         The defendants have now moved to dismiss the negligence claims due to Morgan and Andrew's failure to exhaust their remedies in accordance with KRS § 454.415. (DN 22.) Morgan and Andrew have responded (DN 24), and they have also moved for reconsideration of the Court's prior order granting summary judgment. (DN 23). The defendants have not responded to the motion for reconsideration.

         II. Motion for Reconsideration

         A. Standard of Review

         The Sixth Circuit recognizes that a district court has authority both under common law and under Rule 54(b) “to reconsider interlocutory orders and to reopen any part of a case before entry of final judgment.” Rodriguez v. Tenn. Laborers Health & Welfare Fund, 89 F. App'x 949, 959 (6th Cir. 2004). “Traditionally, courts will find justification for reconsidering interlocutory orders when there is (1) an intervening change of controlling law; (2) new evidence available; or (3) a need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice.” Id. (citing Reich v. Hall Holding Co., 990 F.Supp. 955, 965 (N.D. Ohio 1998)). A motion to reconsider under Rule 54(b) may not, however, “serve as a vehicle to identify facts or raise legal arguments which could have been, but were not, raised or adduced during the pendency of the motion of which reconsideration [is] sought.” Owensboro Grain Co., LLC v. AUI Contracting, LLC, 2009 WL 650456, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Mar. 10, 2009).

         B. Analysis

         Morgan and Andrew make several arguments in seeking reconsideration of the Court's prior order. The Court begins with two arguments that are without merit. First, Morgan asks the Court to reconsider its conclusion that his grievance did not sufficiently identify the individuals who are now defendants in this action, as the grievance provided enough information for KSR to discern who those individuals were.[1] The Court must reject this argument, as the Supreme Court has clearly stated that “it is the prison's requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion” of a grievance. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007). KSR's grievance policy requires that the grievance name all individuals. (DN 13-2 ¶ II.J.1.a.5.) Morgan did not name the individuals he now seeks to sue in his grievance, with the exception of Officer Jones. Therefore, Morgan did not properly exhaust his grievance against the other individuals, even if he provided enough information that KSR could likely determine their identities. Accord Bloxson v. Thompson, 2012 WL 590139, at *1 (W.D. Mich. Feb. 22, 2012) (finding failure to exhaust remedies against defendant who was not named in grievance, as “[t]he fact that Plaintiff did not have actual knowledge that Defendant Martin was the decision maker when the 2165 Grievance was filed does not change this result”).

         Next, Morgan asks the Court to reconsider its conclusion that the exception to the exhaustion requirement outlined in Reed-Bey v. Pramstaller, 603 F.3d 322 (6th Cir. 2010), does not apply to this case.[2] In Reed-Bey, the Sixth Circuit held that, when a prison ignores its own grievance policy that requires an inmate to name all individuals and considers the deficient grievance on the merits, a court may conclude that the prison has waived its requirement that all individuals be named and refuse to enforce it as a bar to the prisoner's suit. Id. at 325. The Court previously determined that the Reed-Bey exception was not applicable in this case, since both Morgan and Andrew's grievances were deemed to pertain to “non-grievable” issues at the first stage of review and were never given consideration on their merits. Morgan argues that this conclusion was incorrect because, as the Court understands his argument, it assumes that KSR would not have considered the grievance on its merits had it not been improperly deemed non-grievable. However, the Court made no assumption on what would have happened had KSR properly applied its own grievance policies. The Court concluded that, for the Reed-Bey exception to apply, the grievance must be considered on the merits. Here, Morgan's grievance did not receive merits consideration but was improperly dismissed on the procedural ground of grieving a non-grievable issue. It does not matter what would have happened had the policy been properly applied; all that matters is the grievance did not receive merits consideration. Therefore, the Court cannot conclude that KSR waived its requirement of naming all individuals.

         However, Morgan and Andrew have raised arguments that the Court finds persuasive. First, they argue that summary judgment was inappropriate against defendants Tilley and Erwin since the internal prison grievance procedure was not an “available” forum in which to raise complaints against state officials located outside the prison. While the Court specifically noted in its prior order that Morgan and Andrew had not made this argument in their response to the motion for summary judgment (DN 20, at 7 n. 1), the Court will nevertheless consider it under its inherent authority to reconsider its own interlocutory orders, especially since the defendants have not voiced any opposition to the motion for reconsideration. See Mallory v. Eyrich, 922 F.2d 1273, 1282 (6th Cir. 1991) (“District courts have inherent power to reconsider interlocutory orders and reopen any part of a case before entry of a final judgment”) (citations omitted).

         Under the PLRA, an inmate “must exhaust available remedies, but need not exhaust unavailable ones.” Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1858 (2016). In determining if a remedy is actually “available, ” the Court must take into account “the real-world workings of prison grievance systems” and examine whether the remedy, while “officially on the books, is not capable of use to obtain relief.” Id. at 1859. Morgan and Andrew argue that summary judgment was inappropriate because there is a genuine dispute as to whether the KSR grievance system would ...

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