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Bullock v. Sheela

United States District Court, E.D. California

February 28, 2018

BROCK SHEELA, et al., Defendants.


         I. BACKGROUND

         Gordon Bullock (“Plaintiff”) is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff filed the complaint commencing this action on December 24, 2013. (ECF No. 1).

         This action now proceeds with Plaintiff's Fourth Amended Complaint for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment against Defendants C. Rios and Brock Sheela, and for retaliation in violation of the First Amendment against Defendant Sheela. (ECF Nos. 25, 26).

         On July 27, 2017, Brock Sheela and C. Rios (“Defendants”) filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies before filing suit. (ECF No. 62). On August 7, 2017, Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 66). On August 15, 2017, Defendants filed their reply. (ECF No. 67). On August 31, 2017, Plaintiff filed a sur-reply.[1] (ECF No. 69).

         On January 16, 2018, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment, arguing that Defendants have admitted issues of material fact. (ECF No. 78). Defendants filed an opposition to the motion on February 6, 2018. (ECF No. 81).

         The motions for summary judgment are now before the Court. After consideration of all the materials presented, as well as the applicable law, the Court will recommend that Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied. The Court will also recommend that Defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted in part and denied in part, as there are genuine disputes of material fact regarding whether Plaintiff properly filed a grievance that prison officials failed to process. The Court will further recommend that Defendants be given an opportunity to request an evidentiary hearing on the disputed facts.



         Summary judgment is appropriate when it is demonstrated 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); Albino v. Baca (“Albino II”), 747 F.3d 1162, 1172 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc) (“If there is a genuine dispute about material facts, summary judgment will not be granted”). A party asserting that a fact cannot be disputed must support the assertion 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), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, or showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

         A party moving for summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). If a party moves for summary judgment on the basis that a material fact lacks any proof, the Court must determine whether a fair-minded fact-finder could reasonably find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986) (“The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the [fact-finder] could reasonably find for the plaintiff.”). “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         “Once the moving party meets its initial burden, the non-moving party must ‘go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by ‘the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.''” Burch v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 433 F.Supp.2d 1110, 1125 (E.D. Cal. 2006) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). “[C]onclusory allegations unsupported by factual data” are not enough to rebut a summary judgment motion. Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989), citing Angel v. Seattle-First Nat'l Bank, 653 F.2d 1293, 1299 (9th Cir. 1981).

         In reviewing a summary judgment motion, the Court may consider other materials in the record not cited to by the parties, but is not required to do so. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3); Carmen v. San Francisco Unified School Dist., 237 F.3d 1026, 1031 (9th Cir. 2001). In judging the evidence at the summary judgment stage, the Court “must draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Comite de Jornaleros de Redondo Beach v. City of Redondo Beach, 657 F.3d 936, 942 (9th Cir. 2011). It need only draw inferences, however, where there is “evidence in the record . . . from which a reasonable inference . . . may be drawn”; the court need not entertain inferences that are unsupported by fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 330 n. 2 (quoting In re Japanese Electronic Products Antitrust Litigation, 723 F.2d 238, 258 (1983)).

         B. EXHAUSTION

         Section 1997e(a) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”) provides that “[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).

         “The California prison grievance system has three levels of review; an inmate exhausts administrative remedies by obtaining a decision at each level.” Reyes v. Smith, 810 F.3d 654, 657 (9th Cir. 2016) (citing Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.1(b) (2011) & Harvey v. Jordan, 605 F.3d 681, 683 (9th Cir. 2010)); see also Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.7(d)(3) (“The third level review constitutes the decision of the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on an appeal, and shall be conducted by a designated representative under the supervision of the third level Appeals Chief or equivalent. The third level of review exhausts administrative remedies . . . .”).

         Prisoners are required to exhaust the available administrative remedies prior to filing suit. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007); McKinney v. Carey, 311 F.3d 1198, 1199-1201 (9th Cir. 2002) (per curiam). “If, however, a plaintiff files an amended complaint adding new claims based on conduct that occurred after the filing of the initial complaint, the plaintiff need only show that the new claims were exhausted before tendering the amended complaint to the clerk for filing.” Akhtar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 1210 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing Rhodes v. Robinson, 621 F.3d 1002, 1007 (9th Cir. 2010).

         The exhaustion requirement applies to all prisoner suits relating to prison life. Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). Exhaustion is required regardless of the relief sought by the prisoner and regardless of the relief offered by the process, unless “the relevant administrative procedure lacks authority to provide any relief or to take any action whatsoever in response to a complaint.” Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 736, 741 (2001); Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1857, 1859 (2016).

         An untimely or otherwise procedurally defective appeal will not satisfy the exhaustion requirement. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90-91 (2006). However, “a prisoner exhausts ‘such administrative remedies as are available, ' 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), under the PLRA despite failing to comply with a procedural rule if prison officials ignore [a] procedural problem and render a decision on the merits of the grievance at each available step of the administrative process.” Reyes, 810 F.3d at 658.

         “Under the PLRA, a grievance ‘suffices if it alerts the prison to the nature of the wrong for which redress is sought.' Sapp v. Kimbrell, 623 F.3d 813, 824 (9th Cir.2010) (quoting Griffin, 557 F.3d at 1120). The grievance ‘need not include legal terminology or legal theories, ' because ‘[t]he 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. The grievance process is only required to ‘alert prison officials to a problem, not to provide personal notice to a particular official that he may be sued.'” Reyes, 810 F.3d at 659.

         As discussed in Ross, there are no “special circumstances” exceptions to the exhaustion requirement. 136 S.Ct. at 1862. The one significant qualifier is that “the remedies must indeed be ‘available' to the prisoner.” Id. at 1856. The Ross Court described this qualification as follows:

[A]n administrative procedure is unavailable when (despite what regulations or guidance materials may promise) it operates as a simple dead end-with officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates. See 532 U.S., at 736, 738, 121 S.Ct. 1819. Suppose, for example, that a prison handbook directs inmates to submit their grievances to a particular administrative office-but in practice that office disclaims the capacity to consider those petitions. The procedure is not then “capable of use” for the pertinent purpose. In Booth 's words: “[S]ome redress for a wrong is presupposed by the statute's requirement” of an “available” remedy; “where the relevant administrative procedure lacks authority to provide any relief, ” the inmate has “nothing to exhaust.” Id., at 736, and n. 4, 121 S.Ct. 1819. So too if administrative officials have apparent authority, but decline ever to exercise it. Once ...

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