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Arellano v. Ojeda

United States District Court, S.D. California

April 25, 2017

RAUL ARELLANO, JR., Plaintiff,
E. OJEDA, et al., Defendants.


          MICHAEL M. ANELLO United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Raul Arellano, Jr. is a state prisoner proceeding pro se in this civil rights action filed pursuant to the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants E. Ojeda and L. Helmick move for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. See Doc. Nos. 34, 39. Defendants argue that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing this lawsuit, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion, to which Defendants replied. See Doc. Nos. 37, 42. In addition, the Court permitted Plaintiff to file a sur-reply. See Doc. No. 48. The Court took the motion under submission on the briefs and without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1.d.1. See Doc. No. 43. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Defendants' motion.


         This action arises out of events occurring on or about April 17, 2014 through April 22, 2014, at R. J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California. According to Plaintiff, during that time he was housed in solitary confinement. On the evening of April 17, 2014, Plaintiff alleges that the toilet in his cell overflowed. Due to the persistence of the problem, and the resulting unsanitary conditions in his cell, Plaintiff asked Defendant Lieutenant Helmick for assistance. Defendant Helmick told Plaintiff to unclog the toilet with his hands. At Defendant Helmick's suggestion, Plaintiff submitted a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) Form 22 Inmate/Parolee Request for Interview, Item or Service on April 20, 2016. The request was filled out to the attention of Defendant Sergeant Ojeda. On April 23, 2016, Defendant Ojeda responded to the request, noting that the toilet was no longer clogged. Ojeda advised Plaintiff to request cleaning supplies from the floor officers.

         Legal Standard

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), inmates seeking relief from prison conditions must exhaust available administrative remedies prior to bringing any suit challenging prison conditions. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (“No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions . . . until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.”); Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002) (“exhaustion is mandatory . . . unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court”). “[T]he prison's requirements . . . define the boundaries of proper exhaustion.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007). “[T]he exhaustion question in PLRA cases should be decided as early as feasible.” Albino v. Baca, 747 F.3d 1162, 1170 (9th Cir. 2014).

         In the Ninth Circuit, a motion for summary judgment is generally the appropriate vehicle for raising the plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies because “failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense under the PLRA, and . . . inmates are not required to specially plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaints.” Jones, 549 U.S. at 216; Albino, 747 F.3d at 1170 (“[A] motion for summary judgment, as opposed to an unenumerated Rule 12(b) motion, [is the proper procedural device] to decide exhaustion”). The burden is on the defendant to prove that there was an available administrative remedy that the plaintiff failed to exhaust. See Albino, 747 F.3d at 1172. If the defendant meets that burden, the burden shifts to the prisoner to present evidence showing that there is something in his particular case that made the existing and generally available administrative remedies effectively unavailable to him. Id.

         The Court must draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and determine whether a genuine issue of material fact precludes entry of judgment. Comite de Jornaleros de Redondo Beach v. City of Redondo Beach, 657 F.3d 936, 942 (9th Cir. 2011) (quotation marks and citation omitted), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 1566 (2012). The Court determines only whether there is a genuine issue for trial and, in doing so, it must liberally construe Plaintiff's filings because he is a pro se prisoner. Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks and citations omitted).


         The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) provides its prisoners the right to appeal administratively “any departmental decision, action, condition or policy perceived by those individuals as adversely affecting their welfare.” Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.1(a). It also provides them the right to file appeals alleging misconduct by correctional officers and/or officials. Id. § 3084.1(e). On January 28, 2011, the inmate appeals process was modified and limited to three levels of review with provisions allowing the first level to be bypassed under specific circumstances. Id. § 3084.7. If a prisoner is not satisfied with the response he receives at the first level of review, he may submit his appeal to the second level of review, after which he may appeal to the third and final level. Id. § 3084.7. 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 (2006). Proper exhaustion requires using all steps of an administrative process and complying with “deadlines and other critical procedural rules.” Id. at 90.

         1. Plaintiff's Inmate Appeals

         On November 26, 2014, the R. J. Donovan Inmate Appeals Office (“IAO”) received Plaintiff's Inmate 602 Appeal, Log No. 14-4202, regarding the toilet incident.

         In this appeal, Plaintiff stated:

On May 1, 2014 I send a 602 to Appeal Coordinator raising the same issue I'll be raising here. I then have been waiting till this day for a response. I didn't send another 602 sooner because it can get cancel [sic] due to Title 15 rules for duplication. Since it doesn't say how much time it has to pass in order to file another 602, that is why I ...

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