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Taylor v. Null

United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division

March 5, 2015

SAMUEL LEWIS TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID NULL, et al., Defendants.

CAROL E. JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on the motion of defendants Heather Paul and Pamela Yancey to dismiss for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), or, alternatively, for summary judgment, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The issues are fully briefed.

I. Background

Plaintiff Samuel Lewis Taylor, a Missouri prisoner, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming violation of his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment by corrections officers and nurses at the Potosi Correctional Center (PCC). Plaintiff alleges that on June 3, 2012, he was assaulted by several corrections officers, resulting in injuries to his head, face, teeth, and middle finger. Plaintiff was taken to the prison medical center where defendant Yancey, a nurse employed by Corizon, Inc., "refused to provide medical attention to [plaintiff's] middle finger in which [sic] was quite swollen." Complaint, p. 15 [ECF Doc. # 1]. On June 5, 2012, after plaintiff submitted a medical service request, defendant Paul, also a Corizon nurse, came to plaintiff's cell. However, defendant Paul "refused to come to [the] door to examine [plaintiff's] injuries or give [him] any pain medications or refer [him] to the doctor." Id.

In the complaint, plaintiff asserts a claim of excessive force against the corrections officers. His claim against defendants Paul and Yancey is that they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Paul and Yancey move to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment on the sole ground that plaintiff failed to exhaust available prison administrative remedies prior to filing suit.

II. Discussion

A. Section 1983's Exhaustion Requirement

Paul and Yancey assert that plaintiff's § 1983 claims against them fail because he did not exhaust his intra-prison administrative remedies before filing suit. A prisoner's § 1983 claim for deliberate indifference to his medical needs may only proceed if the prisoner has first exhausted all of his available intra-prison administrative remedies. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007); Leach v. Moore, 240 F.App'x 732, 733 (8th Cir. 2007) (per curiam).

Where, as here, a prisoner asserts multiple claims, he may only proceed in federal court on the claims that have been exhausted. However, "exhaustion is not per se inadequate simply because an individual later sued was not named in the grievances." Jones, 549 U.S. at 219 (emphasis added). Rather, "it is the prison's requirements, and not the [Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA)], that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion." Id. at 218. Thus, to decide whether a specific claim against a specific defendant was properly exhausted, the Court must look to the prison's grievance policy, and the facts, to determine: (1) the steps in the policy and whether the prisoner completed all of them; (2) whether the policy requires the prisoner to identify a specific defendant in his grievance and, if so, whether he did; and (3) how specific the allegations in a grievance must be (and how specific they were in the grievance the prisoner filed) to constitute exhaustion of a particular claim later raised in a § 1983 suit against a specific defendant.

A prison's grievance policy may be ambiguous regarding the steps in the process, whether a prisoner is required to name every alleged perpetrator in his grievance, and how specific the prisoner must be about his claims. Likewise, what a prisoner in a particular instance did or failed to do with regard to any of those exhaustion inquiries might also be unclear. The "failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense under the PLRA, and . . . inmates are not required to specially plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaints." Id. at 216. Instead, "the defendant has the burden to plead and to prove" a failure to exhaust. Nerness v. Johnson, 401 F.3d 874, 876 (8th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citation omitted). Therefore, Paul and Yancey bear the burden to plead and to prove that plaintiff did not follow all of the steps in the PCC's grievance procedure, or that plaintiff was required to name Paul and Yancey in his grievance but he failed to do so, or that plaintiff's grievance did not encompass claims of deliberate indifference to his medical needs.

B. The PCC Grievance Procedure

The Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) has a uniform grievance procedure for all Missouri prisons, including PCC. The MDOC procedure consists of three stages. At the first stage, a prisoner presents his complaint by filing an Informal Resolution Request (IRR) within 15 days of the circumstances giving rise to the complaint. The IRR is then reviewed and a written response is given to the prisoner. At the second stage, a prisoner who is dissatisfied with the response to the IRR may file an Offender Grievance within seven days of the conclusion of the entire IRR review process. The grievance is then reviewed and a written response is provided to the prisoner. Finally, at the third stage, a prisoner who is dissatisfied with the response to the grievance may file an Offender Grievance Appeal within seven days of the conclusion of the entire grievance review process. The appeal is then reviewed and a written response is provided to the prisoner. Copies of the IRR, the grievance, and the appeal, as well as the prison's response to each, are retained by the prison.

The MDOC procedure does not require, explicitly or implicitly, that a prisoner identify by name every prison official who was involved in an alleged violation of his rights. See Jones, 549 U.S. at 219. Likewise, the MDOC procedure does not require a prisoner to file separate IRRs for each claim against each prison official arising out of an "alleged incident"; a prisoner need only state "the subject of the complaint" in the IRR. [Doc. #79-1, at 52] The MDOC procedure contemplates that a single IRR might describe an "alleged incident" that is of such complexity that the IRR spans more than six pages. Such an incident might, of course, involve claims against more than one prison official, and for more than one violation of the prisoner's rights. Moreover, a grievance officer, not the prisoner, determines if a particular complaint is so complex that it warrants filing multiple IRRs, instead of a single IRR. Thus, the MDOC procedure anticipates that a prisoner may file a single IRR that identifies by name multiple perpetrators (though he is not required to) ...


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