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Cooper v. Vincent

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

October 28, 2019



          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge.

         This 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.


         Plaintiff 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 99].


         Summary 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).

         Additionally, 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).


         Defendants 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.

         I. Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

         A. Rejection of Plaintiff's Magazines

         The 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).

         According 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.

         In 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.

         The 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 separate ...

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