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Burton v. Chenoweth

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 3, 2014

HARRISON BURTON, Plaintiff,
v.
J. CHENOWETH, [1] Defendant.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

EDMUND F. BRENNAN, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges that defendant Chenoweth used excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment when he sprayed plaintiff with pepper spray on June 26, 2012. Defendant moves to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b), which for the reasons discussed below the court treats as a motion for summary judgment, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d), on the ground that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit.[2] ECF No. 33. Plaintiff opposes defendant's motion. ECF No. 38. For the following reasons, defendant's motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, must be granted.

I. Exhaustion under the PLRA

The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") provides that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions [under section 1983 of this title] until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). "Prison conditions" subject to the exhaustion requirement have been defined broadly as "the effects of actions by government officials on the lives of persons confined in prison...." 18 U.S.C. § 3626(g)(2); Smith v. Zachary, 255 F.3d 446, 449 (7th Cir. 2001); see also Lawrence v. Goord, 304 F.3d 198, 200 (2d Cir. 2002). To satisfy the exhaustion requirement, a grievance must alert prison officials to the claims the plaintiff has included in the complaint, but need only provide the level of detail required by the grievance system itself. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218-19 (2007); Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524-25 (2002) (purpose of exhaustion requirement is to give officials "time and opportunity to address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a federal case").

Prisoners who file grievances must use a form provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which instructs the inmate to describe the problem and outline the action requested. The grievance process, as defined by California regulations, has three levels of review to address an inmate's claims, subject to certain exceptions. See Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.7. Administrative procedures generally are exhausted once a plaintiff has received a "Director's Level Decision, " or third level review, with respect to his issues or claims. Id. § 3084.1(b).

Proper exhaustion of available remedies is mandatory, Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001), and "[p]roper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules[.]" Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90 (2006). For a remedy to be "available, " there must be the "possibility of some relief...." Booth, 532 U.S. at 738. Relying on Booth, the Ninth Circuit has held:

[A] prisoner need not press on to exhaust further levels of review once he has received all "available" remedies at an intermediate level of review or has been reliably informed by an administrator that no remedies are available.

Brown v. Valoff, 422 F.3d 926, 935 (9th Cir. 2005).

Failure to exhaust is "an affirmative defense the defendant must plead and prove." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 204, 216 (2007). To bear this burden:

a defendant must demonstrate that pertinent relief remained available, whether at unexhausted levels of the grievance process or through awaiting the results of the relief already granted as a result of that process. Relevant evidence in so demonstrating would include statutes, regulations, and other official directives that explain the scope of the administrative review process; documentary or testimonial evidence from prison officials who administer the review process; and information provided to the prisoner concerning the operation of the grievance procedure in this case.... With regard to the latter category of evidence, information provided [to] the prisoner is pertinent because it informs our determination of whether relief was, as a practical matter, "available."

Brown, 422 F.3d at 936-37 (citations omitted).

A motion asserting an affirmative defense such as failure to exhaust may be brought under Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 56 depending on whether the factual predicate for the motion is based on the text of the pleading or instead depends upon evidence submitted with the motion. See Albino v. Baca, 747 F.3d 1162, 1166 (9th Cir. 2014) ( en banc ); Jones, 549 U.S. at 215 ("A complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim if the allegations, taken as true, show the plaintiff is not entitled to relief."). Here, defendant has included with his motion to dismiss certain affidavits and exhibits to establish the factual predicate for the motion. Resolution of the motion necessarily requires the court to consider those affidavits and exhibits for the purpose of determining whether plaintiff has, in fact, failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Such a motion must be treated as a motion for summary judgment. Fed. R Civ. P. 12(d). The court therefore construes defendant's motion as a motion for summary judgment. If under the Rule 56 summary judgment standard, the court concludes that plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative remedies, the proper remedy is dismissal without prejudice. Wyatt v. Terhune, 315 F.3d 1108, 1120, overruled on other grounds by Albino, 747 F.3d 1162.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when 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). Summary judgment avoids unnecessary trials in cases in which the parties do not dispute the facts relevant to the determination of the issues in the case, or in which there is insufficient evidence for a jury to determine those facts in favor of the nonmovant. Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 600 (1998); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-50 (1986); Nw. Motorcycle Ass'n v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 18 F.3d 1468, ...


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