Taylor v. Indiana Department of Corrections et al
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING 55 Motion for Summary Judgment filed by A Belhumeur and DENYING AS MOOT 76 and 80 Motion's to Stay this case and conduct discovery, filed by Greg Taylor. Signed by Chief Judge Jon E DeGuilio on 5/10/2022. (mrm)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
CAUSE NO. 3:19-CV-1155-JD-MGG
OPINION AND ORDER
Greg Taylor, a prisoner without a lawyer, is proceeding in this case against
Officer Amanda Belhumeur “for compensatory and punitive damages for permitting
him to have a razor blade with which he attempted suicide on June 4, 2019, in violation
of the Eighth Amendment[.]” ECF 38 at 3. Officer Belhumeur filed a motion for
summary judgment, arguing Taylor did not exhaust his administrative remedies before
filing this lawsuit. ECF 55. Taylor filed a response. ECF 59. Officer Belhumeur has not
filed a reply, and the time for doing so has expired. The court will now rule on Officer
Belhumeur’s summary judgment motion.
Summary judgment must be granted when “there is no genuine dispute as to
any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists when “the
evidence is such that a reasonable [factfinder] could [find] for the nonmoving party.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). To determine whether a genuine
issue of material fact exists, the court must construe all facts in the light most favorable
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to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor. Heft v.
Moore, 351 F.3d 278, 282 (7th Cir. 2003). However, a party opposing a properly
supported summary judgment motion may not rely merely on allegations or denials in
its own pleading, but rather must “marshal and present the court with the evidence she
contends will prove her case.” Goodman v. Nat’l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th
Cir. 2010). “[I]nferences relying on mere speculation or conjecture will not suffice.”
Trade Fin. Partners, LLC v. AAR Corp., 573 F.3d 401, 407 (7th Cir. 2009).
Prisoners are prohibited from bringing an action in federal court with respect to
prison conditions “until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.”
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). “[A] suit filed by a prisoner before administrative remedies have
been exhausted must be dismissed; the district court lacks discretion to resolve the claim
on the merits, even if the prisoner exhausts intra-prison remedies before judgment.”
Perez v. Wisconsin Dep’t of Corr., 182 F.3d 532, 535 (7th Cir. 1999) (emphasis added).
Nevertheless, “[f]ailure to exhaust is an affirmative defense that a defendant has the
burden of proving.” King v. McCarty, 781 F.3d 889, 893 (7th Cir. 2015). The Seventh
Circuit has taken a “strict compliance approach to exhaustion.” Dole v. Chandler, 438
F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006). Thus, “[t]o exhaust remedies, a prisoner must file
complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison’s administrative rules
require.” Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1025 (7th Cir. 2002).
Inmates are only required to exhaust administrative remedies that are
“available.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 102 (2006). The availability of a remedy is not a
matter of what appears “on paper,” but rather whether the process was in actuality
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available for the prisoner to pursue. Kaba v. Stepp, 458 F.3d 678, 684 (7th Cir. 2006). Thus,
when prison staff hinder an inmate’s ability to use the administrative process,
administrative remedies are not considered “available.” Id. In essence, “[p]rison officials
may not take unfair advantage of the exhaustion requirement . . . and a remedy
becomes ‘unavailable’ if prison employees do not respond to a properly filed grievance
or otherwise use affirmative misconduct to prevent a prisoner from exhausting.” Dole,
438 F.3d at 809.
Officer Belhumeur argues Taylor did not exhaust his administrative remedies
prior to filing this lawsuit because there is no record he ever submitted a formal
grievance regarding her alleged conduct of permitting him to have a razor with which
he attempted suicide on June 4, 2019. ECF 56 at 7-8. Specifically, Officer Belhumeur
provides an affidavit from Miami Correctional Facility’s (“MCF”) Grievance Specialist,
who attests there is no record Taylor submitted any accepted or rejected formal
grievances at MCF in 2019. ECF 55-1 at 6.
In his response, Taylor concedes he did not exhaust a grievance at MCF. ECF 59.
Instead, he argues his administrative remedies were unavailable because he never had
an opportunity to submit a grievance. Id. Specifically, Taylor alleges he was unable to
submit a grievance for several weeks after his June 4, 2019, suicide attempt because he
was placed on suicide watch during that time and was unable to access writing utensils.
Id. at 1-2. On June 10, 2019, he was transferred from MCF to the New Castle Psychiatric
Unit (“New Castle”). Id. at 2. He wrote a grievance as soon as he was taken off suicide
watch at New Castle and sent the grievance to MCF, but never received any response.
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Id. at 2-3. Because Officer Belhumeur does not respond to these assertions, the court
accepts them as undisputed.
Here, the undisputed facts show Taylor never had any opportunity to submit a
grievance. Specifically, it is undisputed Taylor never had an opportunity to submit a
grievance at MCF between June 4, 2019, and June 10, 2019, because he was on suicide
watch during that time and denied access to writing utensils. Moreover, once Taylor
was transferred to New Castle on June 10, 2019, the Offender Grievance Process did not
allow Taylor to submit a grievance at New Castle complaining of conduct that occurred
at MCF. Specifically, the Offender Grievance Process provides that an offender may
pursue a formal written grievance at a facility from which he has been transferred only
if (a) the formal grievance was initiated prior to the transfer, or (b) the grievance
complains of a transfer of property or funds and is initiated within 20 working days
from the date of transfer. ECF 55-2 at 14. Because Taylor’s complaint against Officer
Belhumeur did not meet either of these requirements, Taylor never had an available
administrative remedy at New Castle to complain of conduct that occurred at MCF.
Thus, because Taylor never had an opportunity to submit a grievance at either MCF or
New Castle, he never had an available administrative remedy to exhaust. Accordingly,
Officer Belhumeur has not met her burden to show failure to exhaust. See Woodford, 548
U.S. at 102. Her summary judgment motion must be denied.
Lastly, Taylor has filed motions to stay this case and conduct discovery, asserting
he needs to obtain evidence regarding the availability of his administrative remedies.
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ECF 76, 80. Because the court concludes Officer Belhumeur has not met her burden to
show failure to exhaust, these motions will be denied as moot.
For these reasons, the court DENIES Officer Belhumeur’s motion for summary
judgment (ECF 55) and DENIES AS MOOT Taylor’s motions to stay this case and
conduct discovery (ECF 76, 80).
SO ORDERED on May 10, 2022
/s/JON E. DEGUILIO
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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