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Baldwin v. Kenny

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

August 23, 2013

Christopher Baldwin, Plaintiff,
Officer Kenny, et al., Defendants.


JACK ZOUHARY, District Judge.


Pending before this Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 25), Plaintiff's Opposition (Doc. 29), and Defendants' Supplemental Memorandum (Doc. 32). For the reasons stated below, this Court finds Defendants' Motion to be well-taken and grants summary judgment.


Pro se Plaintiff Christopher Baldwin, a prisoner in state custody, filed a Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants Kenney, Johnson, and Hostetler, former corrections officers at Toledo Correctional Institution ("TCI"), violated his Eighth Amendment rights on June 28, 2011, when they forced him into a segregation cell with another inmate who intended to and did harm Plaintiff (Doc. 1 at ¶ 67). All other defendants and claims have been dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) (Doc. 4 at 12).


Pursuant to Federal Civil Rule 56(a), summary judgment is appropriate where there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact" and "the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." This burden "may be discharged by showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). When considering a motion for summary judgment, this Court must draw all inferences from the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). This Court is not permitted to weigh the evidence or determine the truth of any matter in dispute; rather, this Court determines only whether the case contains sufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986).


The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") provides 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 confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." Napier v. Laurel County, Ky., 636 F.3d 218, 222 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)). To satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement, a prisoner must "complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules." Peterson v. Cooper, 463 F.Appx. 528, 530 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88 (2006)). "Compliance with prison grievance procedures, therefore, is all that is required by the PLRA to properly exhaust.'" Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007). Failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense. Napier, 636 F.3d at 225. Summary judgment is appropriate if Defendants "establish the absence of a genuine dispute as to any material fact' regarding non-exhaustion." Risher v. Lappin, 639 F.3d 236, 240 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Federal Civil Rule 56(a)).

Ohio's Inmate Grievance Procedure is a three-step process. See Ohio Admin. Code 5120-9-31(K). Step one is filing an Informal Complaint Resolution ("ICR") within fourteen calendar days of the event that is the subject of the complaint. Id. at (K)(1). An inmate next files a Notice of Grievance ("NOG") if he is dissatisfied with the response to the ICR, or if step one has been waived. Id. at (K)(2). He must do so within fourteen calendar days of the response or waiver. Id. If the inmate is dissatisfied with the response to his NOG, or step two has been waived, he may file an appeal to the chief inspector within fourteen calendar days of the NOG disposition or waiver. Id. at (K)(3). "Informal complaints and grievances must contain specific information; dates, times, places, the event giving rise to the complaint and, if applicable, the name or names of personnel involved and the name or names of any witnesses." Id. at (K). If the inmate does not know the identity of the personnel involved, he may file a "John/Jane Doe" complaint and must include a physical description of the unknown personnel. Id. Beyond the three-step procedure outlined above, "[g]rievances against the warden or inspector of institutional services must be filed directly to the office of the chief inspector within thirty calendar days of the event giving rise to the complaint." Ohio Admin. Code 5120-9-31(M).

Defendants claim they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing the instant suit (Doc. 25 at 7). First, they claim Plaintiff did not file a proper ICR or NOG against Defendants, failing to identify the individual corrections officers responsible for the alleged assault (Doc. 25 at 7). Second, Defendants argue that although Plaintiff filed a Direct Grievance, it "is improper as it pertains to Defendants" because Direct Grievances may only be filed against an institution's Warden or Institutional Inspector (Doc. 25 at 7).

Defendants are correct that Plaintiff never named them or gave physical descriptions of them in written grievances related to the assault, as required by the Ohio Inmate Grievance Procedure. See Ohio Admin. Code 5120-9-31(K). The closest Plaintiff came to naming Defendants is the ICR which describes the officers involved in the assault as three second-shift officers (Doc. 29-1 at 5). Further, Plaintiff's first mention of Defendants in relation to the assault was in that same ICR, dated November 28, 2011, a full five months after the alleged assault ( id. ). Consequently, Plaintiff has failed to exhaust the grievance process as established in Ohio Administrative Code 5120-9-31(K).

However, Plaintiff claims he "sought all remedies that were available to him, but was denied relief" under the circumstances because he feared retaliation (Doc. 29 at 2). He claims it was clear to him Defendants "would have hurt him again (or worse) if he snitched' about the incident to the officers['] supervisor" (Doc. 29 at 3). Further, because Defendants and another guard "ruthlessly threatened and constantly intimidated" him, he dared not mention them in complaints until it was safe to do so ( id. ). Due to Defendants' threats, intimidation, and retaliation, Plaintiff feels he was precluded from using the grievance system ( id. at 5).

Plaintiff relies on cases outside this Circuit to support his assertion that the grievance system was actually unavailable to him because of Defendants' actions ( id. at 4-5). See Hemphill v. New York, 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir. 2004) (holding that "in some circumstances, the behavior of the defendants may render administrative remedies unavailable, " making the PLRA's exhaustion requirement inapplicable); Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077, 1085 (11th Cir. 2008) (holding that a "prison official's serious threats of substantial retaliation against an inmate for lodging or pursuing in good faith a grievance make the administrative remedy unavailable'"). However, the Sixth Circuit requires that a prisoner at least make "affirmative efforts to comply with the administrative procedures" before analyzing whether those "efforts to exhaust were sufficient under the circumstances." Risher, 639 F.3d at 240 (quoting Napier, 636 F.3d at 224). "[T]he Court will not consider exceptions to exhaustion where the plaintiff has not shown that she at least attempted to ...

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