United States District Court, E.D. California
MARIO K. MOORE, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL McDONALD, et al., Defendants.
ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
KENDALL J. NEWMAN, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff is a state prisoner, proceeding without counsel. This action proceeds on plaintiff's complaint against defendants D. Davey and E. Callison. Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the issue of exhaustion of administrative remedies is before the court. As set forth more fully below, the undersigned finds that defendants' motion for summary judgment should be granted.
II. Plaintiff's Verified Complaint
Plaintiff alleges that defendant Davey falsely accused plaintiff in a rules violation report charging plaintiff with participating in a prison riot because plaintiff filed a civil rights complaint alleging deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. Plaintiff claims he was unable to participate in the riot because he does not have the ability to stand or walk without a walker and was not involved. Plaintiff was placed in administrative segregation on November 4, 2011, where he was allegedly forced to live "without functioning utilities, no electrical outlets, no lockers, no table, [and] a clogged up facial sink, filled with black toxic scum water for 25 days before repairing." (ECF No. 1 at 5.) Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal regarding the living conditions, and plaintiff alleges that in reprisal for such appeal, defendant Callison: (1) cut the power to plaintiff's cell for four hours, (2) threw plaintiff's breakfast on the floor on November 24, 2011, and (3) threw a carton of milk inside plaintiff's cell "as if the milk was a baseball" on December 30, 2011. (ECF No. 1 at 6.) On December 16, 2011, plaintiff alleges that defendant Davey and other unnamed officers told plaintiff to withdraw his appeal and when he refused, Davey and these officers surrounded plaintiff "as if [he] would be assaulted if [he] would not withdraw the appeal." (ECF No. 1 at 7.) Plaintiff alleges he was forced against his will to withdraw the appeal by intimidation and to prevent plaintiff from exhausting his administrative remedies.
III. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment
Defendants move for summary judgment on the grounds that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing the instant action.
A. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") provides that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 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). "[T]he PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002).
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). The Supreme Court has also cautioned against reading futility or other exceptions into the statutory exhaustion requirement. See Booth, 532 U.S. at 741 n.6. Moreover, because proper exhaustion is necessary, a prisoner cannot satisfy the PLRA exhaustion requirement by filing an untimely or otherwise procedurally defective administrative grievance or appeal. See Woodford, 548 U.S. at 90-93. "[T]o properly exhaust administrative remedies prisoners must complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules, '  - rules that are defined not by the PLRA, but by the prison grievance process itself." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007) (quoting Woodford, 548 U.S. at 88). See also Marella v. Terhune, 568 F.3d 1024, 1027 (9th Cir. 2009) ("The California prison system's requirements define the boundaries of proper exhaustion.'") (quoting Jones, 549 U.S. at 218).
In California, prisoners may appeal "any policy, decision, action, condition, or omission by the department or its staff that the inmate or parolee can demonstrate as having a material adverse effect upon his or her health, safety, or welfare." Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.1(a). On January 28, 2011, California prison regulations governing inmate grievances were revised. Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.7. Now, inmates in California proceed through three levels of appeal to exhaust the appeal process: (1) formal written appeal on a CDC 602 inmate appeal form, (2) second level appeal to the institution head or designee, and (3) third level appeal to the Director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR"). Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.7. Under specific circumstances, the first level review may be bypassed. Id. The third level of review constitutes the decision of the Secretary of the CDCR and exhausts a prisoner's administrative remedies. See id. § 3084.7(d)(3). Since 2008, medical appeals have been processed at the third level by the Office of Third Level Appeals for the California Correctional Health Care Services. A California prisoner is required to submit an inmate appeal at the appropriate level and proceed to the highest level of review available to him. Butler v. Adams, 397 F.3d 1181, 1183 (9th Cir. 2005); Bennett v. King, 293 F.3d 1096, 1098 (9th Cir. 2002). Since the 2011 revision, in submitting a grievance, an inmate is required to "list all staff members involved and shall describe their involvement in the issue." Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.2(3). Further, the inmate must "state all facts known and available to him/her regarding the issue being appealed at the time, " and he or she must "describe the specific issue under appeal and the relief requested." Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, §§ 3084.2(a)(4). An inmate now has thirty calendar days to submit his or her appeal from the occurrence of the event or decision being appealed, or "upon first having knowledge of the action or decision being appealed." Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.8(b).
Failure to exhaust is "an affirmative defense the defendant must plead and prove." Jones, 549 U.S. at 204, 216. In Albino, the Ninth Circuit agreed with the underlying panel's decision "that the burdens outlined in Hilao [v. Estate of Marcos, 103 F.3d 767, 778 n.5 (9th Cir. 1996), ] should provide the template for the burdens here." Albino v. Baca, 747 F.3d 1162, 1172 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc). A defendant need only show "that there was an available administrative remedy, and that the prisoner did not exhaust that available remedy." Albino, 747 F.3d at 1172. Once the defense meets its burden, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that the administrative remedies were unavailable. See Albino, 697 F.3d at 1030-31.
A prisoner may be excused from complying with the PLRA's exhaustion requirement if he establishes that the existing administrative remedies were effectively unavailable to him. See Albino, 747 F.3d at 1172-73. When an inmate's administrative grievance is improperly rejected on procedural grounds, exhaustion may be excused as effectively unavailable. Sapp v. Kimbrell, 623 F.3d 813, 823 (9th Cir. 2010); see also Nunez v. Duncan, 591 F.3d 1217, 1224-26 (9th Cir. 2010) (warden's mistake rendered prisoner's administrative remedies "effectively unavailable"); Brown v. Valoff, 422 F.3d 926, 940 (9th Cir. 2005) (plaintiff not required to proceed to third level where appeal granted at second level and no further relief was available).
Where a prison system's grievance procedures do not specify the requisite level of detail for inmate appeals, Sapp, 623 F.3d at 824, a grievance satisfies the administrative exhaustion requirement if it "alerts the prison to the nature of the wrong for which redress is sought." Griffin v. Arpaio, 557 F.3d 1117, 1120 (9th Cir. 2009). "A grievance need not include legal terminology or legal theories unless they are in some way needed to provide notice of the harm being grieved. A grievance also need not contain every fact necessary to prove each element of an eventual legal claim. The primary purpose of a grievance is to alert the prison to a problem and facilitate its resolution, not to lay groundwork for litigation." Griffin, 557 F.3d at 1120.
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.
B. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment
Summary judgment is appropriate when it is demonstrated that the standard set forth in Federal Rule of Civil procedure 56 is met. "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the ...