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Justus v. Stamps

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division

May 14, 2019

HARRY JUSTUS, JR., Plaintiff,
DR. RUANNE STAMPS, et al., Defendants.



         This case is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Daryl Taylor, Joshua Crader, and Tammi Gittemeier (Doc. 53) and the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint filed by the same defendants (Doc. 57). The motions have been fully briefed, and the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment will be granted and the motion to dismiss will be denied as moot.

         I. Factual Background[1]

         Plaintiff Harry Justus, Jr. is an offender in the Missouri Department of Corrections (“MDOC”). At all times relevant to this action, he was incarcerated at the Moberly Correctional Center (“MCC”) in Moberly, Missouri. Defs.' SUMF ¶ 1. Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against five defendants: Dr. Ruanne Stamps and Kayla Nivert, who were medical professionals working at MCC; and Darryl Taylor, Joshua Crader, and Tammy Gittemeier (collectively, the “Moving Defendants”), who were employed by MDOC and working at MCC. In his Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges a single count of deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's medical condition against each defendant, asserting that each defendant responded inadequately or inappropriately to his complaints of severe abdominal pain in or around October 2017.

         MDOC Department Procedure D5-3.2 (“Offender Grievance”) provides the appropriate process for an offender at MCC to pursue a grievance. Defs.' SUMF ¶ 17. An Informal Resolution Request (“IRR”) must be filed within fifteen days of the alleged incident. Defs.' SUMF ¶ 18. If an IRR is not resolved by discussion, it is investigated, and a proposed response is prepared for approval by the Functional Unit Manager. Defs.' SUMF ¶ 19. The offender is given the opportunity to review the response and state whether it is satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Defs.' SUMF ¶ 20. If the offender is not satisfied, he may file a grievance. Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 21-22. The grievance is investigated, a response is prepared and approved by the warden, and the response is delivered to the offender. Defs.' SUMF ¶ 23. The offender may appeal the denial of the grievance. Defs.' SUMF ¶ 24. Once the grievance appeal is investigated and responded to, the offender has exhausted the grievance process. Defs.' SUMF ¶ 25.

         On or about October 30, 2017, Plaintiff filed an IRR complaining of deliberate indifference to his medical needs related to his complaints of abdominal pain. Defs.' SUMF ¶ 9; Pl's SOF ¶ 1. On or about November 13, 2017, Plaintiff's IRR was denied. Defs.' SUMF ¶ 11. On or about November 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed a grievance, arguing that the IRR response did not address the harm that resulted to him. Defs.' SUMF ¶ 13. On or about December 18, 2017, Plaintiff filed a grievance appeal. Defs.' SUMF ¶ 14. On or about December 29, 2017, Plaintiff filed a grievance appeal. Defs.' SUMF ¶ 15. On March 20, 2018, the grievance appeal was denied. Defs.' SUMF ¶ 16.

         Plaintiff filed his original pro se prisoner civil rights complaint in this Court on November 16, 2017. (Doc. 1). The Court subsequently appointed counsel for Plaintiff. Through appointed counsel, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint on July 5, 2018 (Doc. 23) and a Second Amended Complaint on August 6, 2018 (Doc. 25). On February 27, 2019, the Moving Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment, arguing that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the claims against them because Plaintiff failed to exhaust the prison grievance procedure prior to filing his initial complaint in this case. After that motion was filed, Plaintiff filed a Third Amended Complaint (Doc. 56), which was substantively identical to the Second Amended Complaint except that it corrected the name of one of the defendants who is not a Moving Defendant. The Moving Defendants then filed a Motion to Dismiss the Third Amended Complaint for the same reasons stated in their Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows 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). See also Hill v. Walker, 737 F.3d 1209, 1216 (8th Cir. 2013). The movant “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion” and must identify “those portions of [the record] . . . which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant does so, the nonmovant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (quotation marks omitted). “On a motion for summary judgment, ‘facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts.'” Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         III. Discussion

         In their Motion for Summary Judgment, the Moving Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims against them must be dismissed because Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies prior to his initial filing of the case. As the Moving Defendants point out, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) states, “No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). See also Porter v. Sturm, 781 F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2015) (“An inmate must exhaust all available administrative remedies before bringing a § 1983 suit.”). To properly exhaust available administrative remedies, prisoners must “complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007) (quoting Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88 (2006)). Those rules “are defined not by the PLRA, but by the prison grievance process itself.” Id.; accord Burns v. Eaton, 752 F.3d 1136, 1141 (8th Cir. 2014). “An inmate satisfies § 1997e(a) by pursuing ‘the prison grievance process to its final stage' to ‘an adverse decision on the merits.'” Porter, 781 F.3d at 451 (quoting Burns, 752 F.3d at 1141). “Nonexhaustion is an affirmative defense, and defendants have the burden of raising and proving the absence of exhaustion.” Id. at 451 (citing Jones, 549 U.S. at 211-12).

         The Eighth Circuit has made it clear that exhaustion of administrative remedies under the PLRA must have occurred before the lawsuit was initially filed; it is not sufficient for the prisoner to exhaust his or her administrative remedies after filing suit. Johnson v. Jones, 340 F.3d 624, 627 (8th Cir. 2003). In Johnson, the Eighth Circuit stated:

Under the plain language of section 1997e(a), an inmate must exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit in federal court. Thus, in considering motions to dismiss for failure to exhaust under section 1997e(a), the district court must look to the time of filing, not the time the district court is rendering its decision, to determine if exhaustion has occurred. If exhaustion was not completed at the time of filing, dismissal is mandatory.

340 F.3d at 627 (emphasis added). See also Harrison v. Sachse, No. 4:15-CV-631-AGF, 2016 WL 728306, at *3-4 (E.D. Mo. Feb. 24, 2016) (relying on Johnson to dismiss a complaint where the plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies only after the filing of his complaint; stating, “It does not matter if the plaintiff was able to fully exhaust ...

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