United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
B. Russell, Senior Judge.
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for
Summary Judgment. [DN 99]. Pro se Plaintiff Michael Cooper
responded, [DN 102], and filed a Motion for Leave to File
Excess Pages, [DN 103]. Defendants have not responded and the
deadline to do so has passed. This matter is ripe for
adjudication. For the reasons stated herein: Defendants'
Motion for Summary Judgment, [DN 99], is GRANTED and
Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Excess Pages, [DN
103], is GRANTED.
Michael Cooper is a prisoner incarcerated in the Kentucky
State Penitentiary (“KSP”). [DN 1]. He filed a
Complaint and an Amended Complaint against a variety of KSP
officials pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [DN 1; DN 6].
The Court conducted an initial review and allowed the
following claims to continue: 1) Defendants White, Ford, and
Vinson violated Plaintiff's First Amendment rights by
rejecting magazines mailed to Plaintiff; 2) Defendants Belt,
Rodriguez, Beavers, Peede, Coombs, Bauer, Beeler, and Grief
retaliated against Plaintiff; 3) Defendants Peede and Coombs
violated Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights by
exercising excessive force against Plaintiff; and 4)
Defendants White, Grief, Belt, and Beeler violated
Plaintiff's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by
placing him in long-term segregation. [See DN 10].
Subsequently, the Court granted Plaintiff's motions to
file supplemental complaints and the following claims were
added: 5) Defendants Deboe, Coombs, and Inglish violated
Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights during an altercation
on July 13, 2017; 6) Defendants Patton, White, Vinson,
Yeager, Grief, and Beavers violated Plaintiff's First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights by rejecting legal books mailed
to Plaintiff. [See DN 67]. Defendants then filed the
Motion for Summary Judgment currently before the Court. [DN
judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party, reveals “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). A genuine dispute of material fact exists
where “there is sufficient evidence favoring the
nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that
party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The Court “may not make
credibility determinations nor weigh the evidence when
determining whether an issue of fact remains for
trial.” Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, 746 F.3d
714, 726 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Logan v. Denny's,
Inc., 259 F.3d 558, 566 (6th Cir. 2001); Ahlers v.
Schebil, 188 F.3d 365, 369 (6th Cir. 1999)). “The
ultimate question is ‘whether the evidence presents a
sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or
whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a
matter of law.'” Back v. Nestlé USA,
Inc., 694 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52). The moving party must
shoulder the burden of showing the absence of a genuine
dispute of material fact as to at least one essential element
of the nonmovant's claim or defense. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c);
see also Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). Assuming
the moving party satisfies its burden of production, the
nonmovant “must-by deposition, answers to
interrogatories, affidavits, and admissions on file-show
specific facts that reveal a genuine issue for trial.”
Laster, 746 F.3d at 726 (citing Celotex
Corp., 477 U.S. at 324).
the Court acknowledges that pro se pleadings are to
be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings
drafted by attorneys. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S.
519 (1972). The duty to be less stringent with pro
se complainants, however, “does not require [the
Court] to conjure up unpled allegations, ” McDonald
v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979) (citation
omitted), nor to create a claim for a pro se
plaintiff, Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life Ins.
Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975).
argue that the Court should grant their Motion for Summary
Judgment on four separate grounds: 1) Plaintiff did not
exhaust administrative remedies relating to the rejection of
his magazines; 2) Plaintiff did not exhaust administrative
remedies relating to his Eighth Amendment claim against
Defendants Coombs and Inglish; 3) Defendants Vinson, White,
and Ford are entitled to qualified immunity for claims
arising out of the rejection of Plaintiff's magazines;
and 4) Defendants Patton, White, Yeager, Grief, and Beavers
are entitled to qualified immunity for claims arising out of
the rejection of Plaintiff's legal books. [DN 99-1]. The
Court will address each argument in turn.
Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies
Rejection of Plaintiff's Magazines
Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) bars a
civil rights action challenging prison conditions until the
prisoner exhausts “such administrative remedies as are
available.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); see also
Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007) (“There is
no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA and
that unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court.”).
In order to exhaust administrative remedies, prisoners must
complete the administrative review process in accordance with
the deadlines and other applicable procedural rules
established by state law. Jones, 549 U.S. at 218-19.
“Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an
agency's deadlines and other critical procedural
rules.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90
(2006). However, “failure to exhaust administrative
remedies under the PLRA is an affirmative defense that must
be established by the defendants.” Napier v. Laurel
Cty. Ky., 636 F.3d 218, 225 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing
Jones, 549 U.S. at 204).
to the “Inmate Grievance Procedure, ” contained
within the Kentucky Corrections Policies and Procedures
(“CPP”), the “Inmate Grievance
Process” involves four steps for the filing and
adjudication of inmate grievances. [DN 99-2 at 767] At the
first step, an informal resolution attempts to resolve the
inmate's properly filed grievance. Id. The
policy requires that the initial grievance must be filed
within 5 days after the complained-of incident occurs.
Id. at 768. If a grievant is dissatisfied after step
1, he may request a review by the Grievance Committee.
Id. at 770. At this second step, the Grievance
Committee reviews the grievance and makes a written
recommendation. Id. at 771. If a grievant still is
dissatisfied, he may appeal the grievance to the Warden at
step 3. Id. at 772. Finally, to conclude the
process, if the grievant is dissatisfied with the
Warden's decision, at step 4 he may appeal to the
Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Corrections.
Id. The Inmate Grievance Procedure applies to
“any aspect of an inmate's life in prison that is
not specifically identified as a non-grievable issue.”
Id. at 762. Grievable issues include personal
actions by staff, staff conflict, and health care concerns.
Id. Non-grievable issues include Parole Board
decisions, sentence calculations, and central to this case,
rejected mail. Id.
Figel v. Bouchard, the Sixth Circuit held that
plaintiffs “cannot be required to exhaust
administrative remedies regarding non-grievable
issues.” Figel v. Bouchard, 89 Fed.Appx. 970,
971 (6th Cir. 2004). In that case, the plaintiff filed a
civil rights complaint alleging that Michigan prison
officials held him in his cell without adequate heating and
ventilation. Id. The district court dismissed the
complaint for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.
Id. However, the Sixth Circuit reversed the decision
pursuant to the Michigan Department of Correction's
policy that identified “issues which affect the entire
prisoner population or significant numbers of
prisoners” as non-grievable. Id.; see Doe
v. Michigan Dep't of Corr., No. 13-14356, 2016 WL
465496, at *7 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 8, 2016). Specifically, the
Court noted, “plaintiff's complaints involving the
heat and ventilation in his cell were non-grievable under
prison policy because they involve a significant number of
prisoners.” Figel, 89 Fed.Appx. at 971. Given
the “group” nature of the grievance, it should
have been categorically rejected by prison officials.
Id. Thus, the Court concluded that the plaintiff was
not required to exhaust administrative remedies regarding the
non-grievable issue. Id.
Court finds that the current case is distinguishable from
Figel. Although Kentucky's CPP identifies the
rejection of mail as an issue that should not be raised under
its four-step Inmate Grievance Process, the rules provide a