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Garland v. California Department of Corrections

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 29, 2017

THOMAS GARLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          ALLISON CLAIRE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Thomas Garland is a state prisoner under the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), currently incarcerated at Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI). Plaintiff proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis with his original complaint filed in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See ECF No. 1.

         Plaintiff commenced this action in August 2016, while incarcerated at the Sacramento County Jail (SCJ), where he remained until April 27, 2017. Upon screening the original complaint pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. 1915A(a), this court found the allegations therein sufficient to state cognizable Eighth Amendment claims against defendant correctional officers Rashev and Pierce, for the use of excessive force against plaintiff on July 25, 2015, when plaintiff was previously incarcerated at California State Prison Sacramento (CSP-SAC). See ECF Nos. 1, 8.

         Presently pending is defendants' motion for summary judgment premised on plaintiff's alleged failure to exhaust his administrative remedies before commencing this action. See ECF No. 19. This matter is referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 302(c). For the reasons that follow, this court recommends that defendants' motion for summary judgment be denied.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         I. Legal Standards for Exhausting Administrative Remedies

         “The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA) mandates that an inmate exhaust ‘such administrative remedies as are available' before bringing suit to challenge prison conditions.” Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1854-55 (June 6, 2016) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)). “There is no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA[.]” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007) (citation omitted) (cited with approval in Ross, 136 S.Ct. at 1856). The PLRA also requires that prisoners, when grieving their appeal, adhere to CDCR's “critical procedural rules.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 91 (2006). “[I]t is the prison's requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion.” Jones, 549 at 218.

         The exhaustion requirement is based on the important policy concern that prison officials should have “an opportunity to resolve disputes concerning the exercise of their responsibilities before being haled into court.” Jones, 549 U.S. at 204. The “exhaustion requirement does not allow a prisoner to file a complaint addressing non-exhausted claims.” Rhodes v. Robinson, 621 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 2010); McKinney v. Carey, 311 F.3d 1198, 1199 (9th Cir. 2002) (per curiam) (“a prisoner does not comply with [the exhaustion] requirement by exhausting available remedies during the course of the litigation”).

         Regardless of the relief sought, a prisoner must pursue an appeal through all levels of a prison's grievance process as long as some remedy remains available. “The obligation to exhaust ‘available' remedies persists as long as some remedy remains ‘available.' Once that is no longer the case, then there are no ‘remedies . . . available, ' and the prisoner need not further pursue the grievance.” Brown v. Valoff, 422 F.3d 926, 935 (9th Cir. 2005) (original emphasis) (citing Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 739 (2001)). “The only limit to § 1997e(a)'s mandate is the one baked into its text: An inmate need exhaust only such administrative remedies as are ‘available.'” Ross, 136 S.Ct. at 1862.

         Thus, “an inmate is required to exhaust those, but only those, grievance procedures that are ‘capable of use' to obtain ‘some relief for the action complained of.'” Ross, 136 S.Ct. at 1859 (quoting Booth, 532 U.S. at 738). The United States Supreme Court has made clear that The Supreme Court has clarified that there are only “three kinds of circumstances in which an administrative remedy, although officially on the books, is not capable of use to obtain relief.” Ross, 136 S.Ct. at 1859. These circumstances are as follows: (1) the “administrative procedure . . . operates as a simple dead end - with officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates;” (2) the “administrative scheme . . . [is] so opaque that it becomes, practically speaking, incapable of use . . . so that no ordinary prisoner can make sense of what it demands;” and (3) “prison administrators thwart inmates from taking advantage of a grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation.” Id. at 1859-60 (citations omitted). Other than these circumstances demonstrating the unavailability of an administrative remedy, the mandatory language of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) “foreclose[es] judicial discretion, ” which “means a court may not excuse a failure to exhaust, even to take [special] circumstances into account.” Id., at 1856-57.

         Failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense that must be raised by defendants and proven on a motion for summary judgment. See Albino v. Baca, 747 F.3d 1162, 1172 (9th Cir. 2014), cert. denied sub nom. Scott v. Albino, 135 S.Ct. 403 (2014).

         If a court concludes that a prisoner failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies, the proper remedy is dismissal without prejudice. See Jones, 549 U.S. at 223-24; Lira v. Herrera, 427 F.3d 1164, 1175-76 (9th Cir. 2005).

         II. Legal Standards for Summary Judgment

         The Ninth Circuit has laid out the analytical approach to be taken by district courts in assessing the merits of a motion for summary judgment based on the alleged failure of a prisoner to exhaust his administrative remedies. As set forth in Albino, 747 F.3d at 1172 (citation and internal quotations omitted):

[T]he defendant's burden is to prove that there was an available administrative remedy, and that the prisoner did not exhaust that available remedy. . . . Once the defendant has carried that burden, the prisoner has the burden of production. That is, the burden shifts to the prisoner to come forward with evidence showing that there is something in his particular case that made the existing and generally available administrative remedies effectively unavailable to him. However, . . . the ultimate burden of proof remains with the defendant.

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party “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). Under summary judgment practice, the moving party “initially bears the burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Nursing Home Pension Fund, Local 144 v. Oracle Corp. (In re Oracle Corp. Securities Litigation), 627 F.3d 376, 387 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The moving party may accomplish this by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admission, interrogatory answers, or other materials” or by showing that such materials “do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c)(1)(A), (B).

         When the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, “the moving party need only prove that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Oracle Corp., 627 F.3d at 387 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. In such a circumstance, summary judgment should be granted, “so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for entry of summary judgment ... is satisfied.” Id. at 323.

         If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the allegations or denials of its pleadings but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 n.11. Moreover, “[a] [p]laintiff's verified complaint may be considered as an affidavit in opposition to summary judgment if it is based on personal knowledge and sets forth specific facts admissible in evidence.” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1132 n.14 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).[1]

         The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Assoc., 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, see Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1433, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987).

         In the endeavor to establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that “the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 631. Thus, the “purpose of summary judgment is to ‘pierce the pleadings and to assess the ...


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