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Palmer v. Crotty


October 15, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dennis L. Beck United States Magistrate Judge


Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

I. Background

Plaintiff Steven M. Palmer ("Plaintiff"), a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on January 26, 2007. The action is proceeding on Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"), filed July 15, 2008, against Defendants Crotty and Tate. Defendant Tate filed an answer to the complaint on May 27, 2009. On May 26, 2009, Defendant Crotty ("Defendant") filed a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust, pursuant to the unenumerated portion of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b). Plaintiff has not filed a response to the motion despite the Court's order issued September 3, 2009, requiring Plaintiff to do so within twenty days.*fn1 (Doc. 38.) The motion is deemed submitted.*fn2 Local Rule 78-230(m).

II. Statutory Exhaustion Requirement

Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under [42 U.S.C. § 1983], 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). Prisoners are required to exhaust the available administrative remedies prior to filing suit. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211, 127 S.Ct. 910, 918-19 (2007); McKinney v. Carey, 311 F.3d 1198, 1199-1201 (9th Cir. 2002). Exhaustion is required regardless of the relief sought by the prisoner and regardless of the relief offered by the process, Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741, 121 S.Ct. 1819 (2001), and the exhaustion requirement applies to all prisoner suits relating to prison life, Porter v. Nussle, 435 U.S. 516, 532, 122 S.Ct. 983 (2002).

Section 1997e(a) does not impose a pleading requirement, but rather, is an affirmative defense under which Defendants have the burden of raising and proving the absence of exhaustion. Jones, 127 S.Ct. at 921; Wyatt v. Terhune, 315 F.3d 1108, 1119 (9th Cir. 2003). The failure to exhaust non-judicial administrative remedies that are not jurisdictional is subject to an unenumerated Rule 12(b) motion, rather than a summary judgment motion. Wyatt, 315 F.3d at 1119 (citing Ritza v. Int'l Longshoremen's & Warehousemen's Union, 837 F.2d 365, 368 (9th Cir. 1998) (per curium)). In deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, the Court may look beyond the pleadings and decide disputed issues of fact. Wyatt, 315 F.3d at 1119-20. If the Court concludes that the prisoner has failed to exhaust administrative remedies, the proper remedy is dismissal without prejudice. Id.

III. Discussion

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has an administrative grievance system for prisoner complaints. Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15 § 3084.1 (2009). The process is initiated by submitting a CDC Form 602. Id. at § 3084.2(a). Four levels of appeal are involved, including the informal level, first formal level, second formal level, and third formal level, also known as the "Director's Level." Id. at § 3084.5. Appeals must be submitted within fifteen working days of the event being appealed, and the process is initiated by submission of the appeal to the informal level, or in some circumstances, the first formal level. Id. at §§ 3084.5, 3084.6(c). In order to satisfy section 1997e(a), California state prisoners are required to use this process to exhaust their claims prior to filing suit. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 85-86, 126 S.Ct. 2378 (2006); McKinney, 311 F.3d at 1199-1201.

The events giving rise to the claims alleged against defendant Crotty occurred while Plaintiff was housed at California Correctional Institution ("CCI") in Tehachapi, California. (Doc. 16, SAC, pp. 2.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Crotty slammed Plaintiff into a wall, choked him, and caused him to fall down fourteen flights of steps during an escort on January 27, 2005. (Id., pp. 2-5.) Plaintiff seeks relief for use of excessive force, in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution.*fn3

Defendant Crotty moves for dismissal of the claim alleged against him on the ground that Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit. Defendant submits evidence that Plaintiff filed six separate inmate grievances at CCI that were accepted for review between April 2002 and June 2005. (Doc. 34-2, Motion, Ex. A, Sampson Dec., ¶11, Ex. E-H.) Of those grievances, only three were filed between January 27, 2005 and June 2005. (Id.) Defendants submit evidence that none of these grievances address Plaintiff's allegations against Defendant Crotty. (Id.)

The use of force incident allegedly occurred on January 27, 2005. Grievance No. CCI-3-02-1544 was submitted on December 9, 2001, four years prior to the incident involving defendant Crotty, and does not address the claims raised against him in this civil rights action. (Id., Ex.B.)

Grievance No. CCI-3-02-1933 was submitted on May 17, 2002 and concerns an overcharge in Plaintiff's account. (Id., Ex. C.) Grievance No. CCI-7-04-03126 was submitted on December 22, 2004, again prior to the January 27, 2005 incident at issue here. (Id., Ex. D.) The grievance was denied at the second level of review and not pursued further (Id., Ex. D, H.)

Grievance No. CCI-7-05-00816, submitted March 31, 2005, is a CDC 1824 form requesting reasonable modification or accommodation, wherein Plaintiff grieves that the Ad-Seg yard is not wheelchair accessible. (Id., Ex. E.) Grievance No. CCI-05-0870, submitted April 5, 2005, relates to Plaintiff's medical care. (Id., Ex. F.) Grievance No. CCI-05-1717, submitted June 14, 2005, concerns Plaintiff's property. (Id., Ex. G.) Upon review, none of these grievances address the allegations of use of excessive force by defendant Crotty.

On May 4, 2009, prior to Defendant's filing of the instant motion to dismiss, Plaintiff filed a document that the Court treats as Plaintiff's opposition. (Doc. 31.) In it, Plaintiff argues that he has exhausted administrative remedies and submits a grievance bearing Log No. CCI-05-2319. (Id., Ex. A1-A6.) In this grievance, filed July 31, 2005, Plaintiff complains that he has suffered from chronic back pain as a result of a fall from the second tier that occurred six months' prior. Plaintiff complains that he has not been provided with competent or adequate medical care. (Id., Ex. A1, A4.) Plaintiff requests an examination by a back specialist and monetary compensation. (Id. Ex. A1.)

"[T]he primary purpose of a grievance is to notify the prison of a problem, and facilitate its resolution." Griffin v. Arpaio, 5557 F.3d 1117, 1120 (9th Cir. 2009). In the absence of greater specificity required by the applicable regulations, a grievance is sufficient "'if it alerts the prison to the nature of the wrong for which redress is sought.'" Id. (quoting Strong v. David, 297 F.3d 646, 650 (7th Cir. 2002)). In California, inmates are required only to describe the problem and the action requested. Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15 § 3084.2(a) (West 2009). Although Grievance No. CCI-05-2319 received a Director's Level Review and is fully exhausted, it does not exhaust Plaintiff's complaint that Defendant Crotty used excessive force against him. Plaintiff did not alert prison officials to his problem at issue and alleged against defendant Crotty in this civil rights action. The grievance only addressed, and thus only gave prison officials notice of, Plaintiff's complaints concerning his medical care.

Accordingly, Defendant Crotty has met his burden of raising and proving the absence of exhaustion of the claim alleged against him. The Court shall recommend that the claims against him be dismissed without prejudice, and that defendant Crotty be dismissed from this action.

IV. Conclusion and Recommendation

Defendant Crotty has his burden of demonstrating that Plaintiff failed to exhaust in compliance with section 1997e(a). Therefore, the Court HEREBY RECOMMENDS as follows:

1. Defendant's motion to dismiss, filed April 20, 2009, be GRANTED, and the federal claims against him be dismissed, without prejudice, based on Plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies;

2. Plaintiff's state law claims against defendant Crotty, to the extent there are any alleged, be dismissed without prejudice; and

3.. Defendant Crotty be dismissed from this action.

These Findings and Recommendations will be submitted to the United States District Judge assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l). Within thirty (30) days after being served with these Findings and Recommendations, the parties may file written objections with the court. The document should be captioned "Objections to Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations." The parties are advised that failure to file objections within the specified time may waive the right to appeal the District Court's order. Martinez v. Ylst, 951 F.2d 1153 (9th Cir. 1991).


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