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McClane v. Casas

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 5, 2019

G. CASAS, et al., Defendants.


         Plaintiff Matthew McClane is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel with this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. McClane alleges that defendants, who are employees of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”), violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to protect him from a violent cellmate. See ECF No. 9. On September 13, 2018, defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that McClane failed to properly exhaust administrative remedies. See ECF No. 30. McClane filed an opposition on October 30, and the defendants filed a reply on November 2. See ECF Nos. 35 and 36.[1]

         I recommend granting defendants' motion for summary judgment. McClane did not ` exhaust all available administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). McClane did not obtain a decision on the merits at all three levels of administrative review because he filed an untimely initial complaint.

         I. Undisputed Facts

         In January 2016, McClane asked defendants to move cells because he was having difficulties with his cellmate. See ECF No. 9 at 14; see also ECF No. 30-2 at 2. The defendants did not accommodate McClane's request. ECF No. 9 at 14-26; ECF No. 30-2 at 2. On January 27, 2016, McClane's cellmate attacked and injured him. ECF No. 9 at 5; ECF No. 30-2 at 2.

         The CDCR administrative appeals system has three levels. McClane submitted an initial administrative grievance on March 21, 2016. ECF No. 9 at 5. He received a first-level administrative response on April 22 and a second-level response on July 26, 2016. See id. at 8 and 10. The first- and second-level responses considered the merits of McClane's grievance. Id.

         McClane received a third-level response on February 22, 2017. This response did not consider the merits of the grievance, but instead informed McClane that he had not filed his grievance “within the prescribed time constraints” of the administrative process and, thus, his appeal would be canceled. Id. at 13. The response concluded by informing McClane that “a separate appeal can be filed on the cancellation decision.” Id. McClane did not appeal this cancellation decision. See, e.g., ECF No. 35 at 10. Instead, he proceeded to federal court.

         II. Standard of Review

         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). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of either party at trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). The disputed fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” See Id. at 248.

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the ` absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party may not rest on the allegations or denials in its pleading, Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, but “must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         In making a summary judgment determination, a court “may not engage in credibility determinations or the weighing of evidence, ” Manley v. Rowley, 847 F.3d 705, 711 (9th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted), and it must view the inferences drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (per curiam); Orr v. Bank of America, NT & SA, 285 F.3d 764, 772 (9th Cir. 2002).

         III. Analysis

         The PLRA requires that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner . . . until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Exhaustion under the PLRA “demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules because no adjudicative system can function effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90-91 (2006). Here, California law required that McClane file his grievance within thirty days of the alleged events. See Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.8(b)(1)(2). The relevant events-the denial of McClane's request for different housing and the attack-took place in January of 2016. McClane's initial grievance, submitted on March 21, 2016, was thus untimely.

         While the issue isn't raised in the briefs, McClane's case is complicated by the fact that his grievance received two initial responses on the merits before it was canceled on procedural grounds. Under some circumstances, a prison's failure to invoke a procedural bar can result in an inmate satisfying the exhaustion requirement, even if that inmate's original complaint was procedurally flawed. See Reyes v. Smith, 810 F.3d 654, 658 (9th Cir. 2016) (“When prison officials opt not to enforce a procedural rule but instead decide an inmate's grievance on the merits, the purposes of the PLRA exhaustion requirement have been fully served.”); see also` Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 125 (2d ...

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