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Townsend v. Murphy

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 31, 2018

Jacob James Townsend Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
Terry Murphy, Water Treatment Supervisor, ADC Tucker Unit; Richard Romine, Water Treatment/Outside Maintenance Supervisor; David White, Warden, Tucker Unit Defendants-Appellees

          Submitted: April 11, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Pine Bluff

          Before COLLOTON, SHEPHERD, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.

          STRAS, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Jacob Townsend, an inmate at Arkansas's Tucker Unit prison, sued three prison officials for requiring him to work with deadly chlorine gas without proper training and safety gear. The district court granted summary judgment to the officials based on Townsend's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies. Because an administrative remedy was unavailable against one of the officials, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         I.

         To comply with the first step of the prison's administrative procedures, Townsend submitted an informal written complaint to Sergeant Jeavon Perry, one of the prison's assigned "problem solvers." Townsend alleged that Terry Murphy, his supervisor at the prison's water-treatment plant, had required him to work with chlorine gas without safety training and equipment. Six weeks later, after having not received a response to his informal complaint, Townsend filed a formal grievance.

         The prison rejected Townsend's filing, which according to an administrative directive was due six business days after he submitted his informal complaint. Because Townsend missed the six-day deadline by over five weeks, the prison refused to consider the merits of his grievance.

         After failing to obtain administrative relief, Townsend filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that prison officials had violated his constitutional rights by requiring him to work under dangerous conditions. The three officials he named as defendants were Murphy, his direct supervisor; Richard Romine, the plant's outside maintenance supervisor; and David White, the warden. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the theory that Townsend failed to exhaust his administrative remedies because he filed his grievance after the six-day deadline had expired. In addition, Romine and White argued that Townsend's failure to specifically identify them in his informal written complaint required dismissal of the claims against them, separate and apart from Townsend's delay in filing a formal grievance.

         In response to the defendants' summary-judgment motion, Townsend submitted a sworn declaration stating that Sergeant Perry repeatedly told him, including just three days after he filed his informal complaint, not to file a formal grievance until he received a response to his informal complaint. According to the declaration, the prison also ignored his serial requests to visit the prison's library to review the only available copy of the administrative directive, the contents of which were not "common knowledge." Townsend claimed that his inability to access the prison's library and Perry's misleading advice rendered the formal-grievance procedure "unavailable." The defendants did not respond to Townsend's declaration with their own evidence.

         The district court granted summary judgment to all three defendants, concluding that Townsend's failure to follow the administrative directive was fatal to his lawsuit. Townsend appeals the court's summary-judgment ruling, specifically the conclusion that he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.

         II.

         We review a grant of summary judgment de novo. See Porter v. Sturm, 781 F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2015). Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is ...


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