Williams v. State of California et al

Filing 46

ORDER GRANTING 8 MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT. ***Civil Case Terminated.*** Signed by Judge Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr. on 11/6/2017. (ndrS, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 11/6/2017)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 DWAIN WILLIAMS, Plaintiff, 8 v. 9 10 ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Re: Dkt. Nos. 6, 8 STATE OF CALIFORNIA, et al., Defendants. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California Case No. 17-cv-02511-HSG 12 Pending before the Court is Defendants’ combined motion for summary judgment and 13 14 motion to dismiss. Dkt. Nos. 6, 8 (motion and amended motion). For the reasons detailed below, 15 the Court finds that Plaintiff has not exhausted his administrative remedies and, therefore, 16 GRANTS the motion for summary judgment. 17 I. BACKGROUND 18 A. 19 Plaintiff Dwain Williams, a California prisoner currently incarcerated at the California Factual Background 20 Health Care Facility, alleges that he was transferred to Soledad Correctional Training Facility on 21 December 23, 2015, because he had received death threats while in custody at the Chowchilla 22 Correctional Training Facility. Dkt. No. 1-1 ¶ 11 (“Compl.”). On January 16, 2016, Plaintiff 23 alleges that he was unprotected by prison guards or other staff when he was thrown over a railing. 24 Id. He sustained “severe injuries” as a result, including “severe head trauma and fractured limb 25 [sic].” Id.¶¶ 11, 17. 26 B. 27 On February 15, 2017, the Monterey Superior Court appointed Sharyn Williams as 28 Plaintiff’s Guardian ad Litem. Compl., Ex. A at 17–18. That same day, Plaintiff, by and through Procedural Posture 1 his Guardian ad Litem, filed this action in Monterey Superior Court seeking monetary damages for 2 his injuries. Id. On May 2, 2017, Defendants removed the action to federal court on the basis of 3 federal question jurisdiction. See Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff alleges that the railings on the Soledad 4 Correctional Training Facility’s stairwells and landings are dangerously low. See Compl. ¶ 14. 5 On this basis, he brings a premises liability claim against Defendants State of California, 6 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”), and Soledad Correctional 7 Training Facility (“CTF”) (collectively, “State Defendants”). He also brings a negligence claim 8 and a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his Eighth Amendment rights against all 9 Defendants, including the CTF warden and watch commander (collectively, “Individual 10 Defendants”). United States District Court Northern District of California 11 On May 10, 2017, Defendants moved for summary judgment, contending that Plaintiff 12 failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Dkt. Nos. 6, 8. On October 27, 2017, the Court 13 held an evidentiary hearing regarding Defendants’ exhaustion defense. See Dkt. No. 19, 41; see 14 also Albino v. Baca, 747 F.3d 1162, 1168 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc) (permitting limited 15 preliminary proceedings to “decide disputed questions of fact”). 16 17 II. LEGAL STANDARD A. Summary Judgment 18 Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, discovery and affidavits show there is 19 “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of 20 law.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case. 21 See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is 22 genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving 23 party. Id. 24 The Court shall grant summary judgment “against a party who fails to make a showing 25 sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that 26 party will bear the burden of proof at trial [,]. . . since a complete failure of proof concerning an 27 essential element of the nonmoving party’s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” 28 See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23 (1986). The moving party bears the initial 2 1 burden of identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue 2 of material fact. Id. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to “go beyond the pleadings 3 and by [his] own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on 4 file,’ designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’” Id. at 324 (citing 5 Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) (amended 2010)). For purposes of summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most 7 favorable to the nonmoving party; if the evidence produced by the moving party conflicts with 8 evidence produced by the nonmoving party, the court must assume the truth of the evidence 9 submitted by the nonmoving party. See Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1158 (9th Cir. 1999). 10 The Court’s function on a summary judgment motion is not to make credibility determinations or 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 6 weigh conflicting evidence with respect to a disputed material fact. See T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc., v. 12 Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass’n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). 13 B. Prison Litigation Reform Act 14 The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”) amended 42 U.S.C. § 1997e to 15 provide that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under [42 U.S.C. 16 § 1983], or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional 17 facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). 18 Although previously within the discretion of the district court, exhaustion in prisoner cases 19 covered by § 1997e(a) is now mandatory. Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002). Exhaustion 20 is a prerequisite to all inmate lawsuits pertaining to prison life, whether they involve general 21 circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other 22 wrong. Id. at 532. 23 The exhaustion requirement of the PLRA is intended to serve a number of purposes, 24 including providing an opportunity for corrections officials to address complaints internally, 25 deterring frivolous lawsuits, and creating an administrative record allowing courts to evaluate the 26 relative merits of claims. See Porter, 534 U.S. at 525. The grievance should include sufficient 27 information “to allow prison officials to take appropriate responsive measures.” Griffin, 557 F.3d 28 at 1120 (quotation omitted). 3 1 The failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense that may be raised 2 in a motion for summary judgment. See Albino, 747 F.3d at 1166. In bringing such a motion, the 3 defendant has the initial burden to prove “that there was an available administrative remedy, and 4 that the prisoner did not exhaust that available remedy.” Id. at 1172. If the defendant carries that 5 burden, “the burden shifts to the prisoner to come forward with evidence showing that there is 6 something in his particular case that made the existing and generally available administrative 7 remedies effectively unavailable to him.” Id. However, the ultimate burden of proof remains with 8 the defendant. Id. “If material facts are disputed, summary judgment should be denied, and the 9 district judge rather than a jury should determine the facts.” Id. at 1166. C. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 CDCR provides its inmates and parolees the right to appeal administratively “any policy, Inmate Appeals Process 12 decision, action, condition, or omission by the department or its staff that the inmate or parolee 13 can demonstrate as having a material adverse effect upon his or her health, safety, or welfare.” 15 14 Cal. Code Regs. § 3084.1(a). Inmates proceed through three levels of appeal to exhaust the appeal 15 process: (1) formal written appeal on a CDC 602 inmate appeal form; (2) second level appeal to 16 the institution head or designee; and (3) third level appeal to the CDCR director. 15 Cal. Code 17 Regs. §§ 3084.1(b), 3084.7. Under specific circumstances, the first level review may be bypassed. 18 Id. The third level of review constitutes the decision of the Secretary of the CDCR and exhausts a 19 prisoner’s administrative remedies. Id. § 3084.7(d)(3). A California prisoner is required to submit 20 an inmate appeal at the appropriate level and proceed to the highest level of review available to 21 him. Butler v. Adams, 397 F.3d 1181, 1183 (9th Cir. 2005); Bennett v. King, 293 F.3d 1096, 1098 22 (9th Cir. 2002). 23 III. 24 ANALYSIS Defendants’ sole argument in support of summary judgment is that Plaintiff failed to 25 exhaust his administrative remedies. See Dkt. Nos. 6, 8, 13. The PLRA requires exhaustion of 26 administrative remedies “as are available.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); cf. Sapp v. Kimbrell, 623 F.3d 27 813, 823 (9th Cir. 2010) (holding administrative remedies “effectively unavailable” due to 28 inadequate screening of an inmate’s grievances). Plaintiff argues in response that no 4 1 administrative remedies were “available” to him because he was incapacitated following his fall 2 and therefore could not file an appeal. 3 4 A. Available Remedies On October 26, 2017, the day before the evidentiary hearing, Defendants filed a 5 supplemental declaration from Jennifer Truett, an Inmate Appeals Coordinator for the Correctional 6 Training Facility. See Dkt. No. 40. Attached to Ms. Truett’s declaration was inmate appeal CTF 7 S17-01112. See Dkt. No. 40-4, Ex. D. The appeal indicated that on April 25, 2017, Plaintiff filed 8 an appeal regarding CDCR’s alleged failure to protect him when he was thrown over the third 9 floor railing and sustained “severe and permanent injuries.” Id. On May 16, 2017, Ms. Truett canceled the appeal as untimely, citing that the incident occurred in January 2016. Id. Defendants 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 fail to explain why they did not attach this appeal to their initial motion for summary judgment, 12 but regardless, it was admitted into evidence at the evidentiary hearing. At the hearing, Ms. Truett 13 also testified that there is no record of Plaintiff appealing this cancellation decision or filing a 14 subsequent appeal. 15 The Court finds that inmate appeal CTF S17-01112 indicates that Plaintiff, either alone or 16 with assistance, began the CDCR appeals process. Cf. Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.2 (“An 17 inmate or parolee or other person may assist another inmate or parolee with preparation of an 18 appeal . . . .”). But he failed to complete it. See Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.1(b) (“[A] 19 cancellation or rejection decision does not exhaust administrative remedies.”). As the cancellation 20 advised, although Plaintiff could not appeal the cancellation directly, he could file a separate 21 appeal of the cancellation decision. See Dkt. No. 40-4, Ex. D; see also Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, 22 § 3084.6(e). He did not do so. The Court does not now make any determination about Plaintiff’s 23 incapacity prior to filing this appeal. Nevertheless, at least as of April 25, 2017, he was 24 represented by counsel and began the CDCR appeals process, meaning that the CDCR process 25 was “available” to him. Plaintiff has made no contrary showing that he could not exhaust before 26 filing suit. Cf. Albino, 747 F.3d at 1172 (shifting burden to the plaintiff to provide evidence that 27 “there is something in his particular case that made the existing and generally available 28 administrative remedies effectively unavailable to him”). 5 B. 2 To the extent Plaintiff suggests that his claim filed with the Victim Compensation and 3 Government Claims Board should constitute compliance or otherwise estop Defendants from 4 raising an exhaustion defense, see Dkt. No. 10 at 5–6, the Court is not persuaded. The PLRA 5 requires “proper exhaustion” of all available administrative remedies. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 6 81, 93 (2006). “Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency’s deadlines and other 7 critical procedural rules because no adjudicative system can function effectively without imposing 8 some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings.” Id. at 90–91. Whether an inmate’s 9 grievance satisfies the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement is determined by the prison’s own 10 grievance process. Griffin v. Arpaio, 557 F.3d 1117, 1120 (9th Cir. 2009). Underlying the 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 1 exhaustion requirement is a desire to “affor[d] corrections officials time and opportunity to 12 address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a federal case.” Id. (quotation 13 omitted). Consequently, complying with the Government Claims Act, the procedure for bringing 14 claims against public entities, is no substitute. See McPherson v. Alamo, No. 15-CV-03145-EMC, 15 2016 WL 7157634, at *6 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 8, 2016); Gallegos v. Troncoso, No. EDCV 12-00547- 16 GW MAN, 2013 WL 6732870, at *5 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 19, 2013); accord Parthemore v. Col, 221 17 Cal. App. 4th 1372, 1382 (Cal. Ct. App. 2013). 18 Exhaustion Plaintiff must finish appealing his claim through the third level of appeal to the CDCR 19 director prior to refiling this action. See McKinney v. Carey, 311 F.3d 1198, 1199–1201 (9th Cir. 20 2002). The Court notes that if Plaintiff appeals the cancellation decision and CDCR continues to 21 deny the appeal as untimely, Plaintiff has a strong argument that the untimeliness of his appeal 22 should be excused due to the injuries he sustained from his fall and the assistance he required to 23 file the appeal. See Marella v. Terhune, 568 F.3d 1024, 1027 (9th Cir. 2009) (remanding for 24 district court to consider whether plaintiff had the opportunity to file a grievance within 15 days 25 after assault where his injuries and subsequent segregation rendered grievance form inaccessible); 26 see also Days v. Johnson, 322 F.3d 863, 867–68 (5th Cir. 2003) (holding remedies were 27 “unavailable” when inmate’s grievance was rejected as untimely and untimeliness was due to a 28 physical injury). Even the limited evidence adduced at the October 27 evidentiary hearing 6 1 regarding Plaintiff’s physical condition underscored the strength of Plaintiff’s incapacity claim. 2 The Court notes that the appeals coordinator is only permitted to reject an untimely appeal if 3 “[t]ime limits for submitting the appeal are exceeded and the appellant had the opportunity to file 4 within the prescribed time constraints.” Marella, 568 F.3d at 1027; see also Cal. Code Regs. tit. 5 15, §§ 3084.6(c)(4). 6 IV. CONCLUSION 7 The Court finds that Plaintiff did not properly exhaust his administrative remedies. 8 Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motion for summary judgment without prejudice 9 to Plaintiff filing a new action after exhausting California’s prison administrative process. See, e.g., McKinney, 311 F.3d at 1200–01. The clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 Defendants and to close the file. 12 13 14 15 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: 11/6/2017 ______________________________________ HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR. United States District Judge 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 7

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