Blasingame v. Galipeau et al
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING 38 Motion for Summary Judgment for Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies filed by John Galipeau. Signed by Judge Damon R Leichty on 5/10/2022. (mrm)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
WILLIAM BLASINGAME III,
CAUSE NO. 3:21-CV-384-DRL-MGG
JOHN GALIPEAU et al.,
OPINION AND ORDER
William Blasingame III, a prisoner without a lawyer, is proceeding in this case on
two claims. First, he sued Nurse Dishita Patel “in her personal capacity for monetary
damages for denying the plaintiff adequate medical care for his eye in March and April
2021 in violation of the Eighth Amendment[.]” ECF 5 at 7. Second, he sued “Warden John
Galipeau in his official capacity for injunctive relief related to his ongoing need for
constitutionally adequate medical care for his eye[.]” Id.
On October 26, 2021, Warden Galipeau filed a motion for summary judgment,
arguing Mr. Blasingame did not exhaust his administrative remedies before filing suit.
ECF 38.1 Mr. Blasingame filed several unsigned responses to the summary judgment
motion. ECF 45, 47, 49, 54. The court entered an order striking Mr. Blasingame’s unsigned
responses and instructing him to submit one complete, signed response by January 3,
2022. ECF 55. This deadline passed over four months ago, but Mr. Blasingame has not
Nurse Patel has not moved for summary judgment.
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filed a response. The court will now rule on Warden Galipeau’s summary judgment
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 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). 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).
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 law takes a “strict
compliance approach to exhaustion.” Dole v. Chandler, 438 F.3d 804, 809 (7th Cir. 2006).
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“To 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 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.
The defendants tender Mr. Blasingame’s grievance records, which left undisputed
establish a record for summary judgment. On May 7, 2021, Mr. Blasingame submitted a
grievance, complaining he was receiving inadequate medical treatment for an ongoing
issue with his right eye. ECF 39-3 at 5. The grievance office rejected the May 7 grievance
on the grounds that it listed the wrong incident date and left blank the section describing
the requested relief. Id. at 4.
On May 27, 2021, Mr. Blasingame submitted another grievance, again complaining
he was receiving inadequate medical treatment for an ongoing issue with his right eye
and requesting he receive adequate medical care. Id. at 10. The May 27 grievance listed
an incident date of “2-24-21 and ongoing current to date.” Id. On June 8, 2021, the
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grievance office rejected the May 27 grievance on the grounds that (1) it was untimely,
(2) there was no indication Mr. Blasingame was personally affected by the action
described or the complaint was submitted on behalf of another person or group, and (3)
Mr. Blasingame had already been seen in medical for his complaints. Id. at 9.
The defendants argue Mr. Blasingame did not exhaust his administrative remedies
before filing this lawsuit because the grievance office properly rejected both his grievance
attempts. ECF 39 at 9. But the record shows the grievance office improperly rejected Mr.
Blasingame’s May 27 grievance. The grievance office didn’t provide a valid basis for
rejecting the grievance.
First, the grievance office improperly rejected the May 27 grievance as untimely.
The record shows the May 27 grievance complained of an ongoing injury. Specifically,
Mr. Blasingame complained in the May 27 grievance that he had an ongoing issue with
his right eye and was actively being denied adequate medical treatment. See Heard v.
Sheahan, 253 F.3d 316, 318 (7th Cir. 2001) (noting that every day that the defendants had
“prolonged [an inmate’s] agony by not treating his painful condition marked a fresh
infliction of punishment”); Devbrow v. Kalu, 705 F.3d 765, 770 (7th Cir. 2013) (holding that,
as long as jail officials are aware of the inmate’s need for treatment and refuse to act, the
refusal continues as long as the officials had the power to act); Weiss v. Barribeau, 853 F.3d
873, 874 (7th Cir. 2017) (determining that an examiner had failed to explain why a
grievance was untimely where the grievance complained of continuous pain resulting
from an injury). Because Mr. Blasingame alleged he was actively being denied adequate
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medical treatment for his right eye at the time he filed his May 27 grievance, the grievance
was timely submitted.
Second, the grievance office improperly rejected the May 27 grievance as raising
an issue that did not personally affect Mr. Blasingame or was submitted on behalf of
another person or group. Mr. Blasingame said he was being denied adequate medical
treatment. That issue affected him personally. He submitted the grievance as his own
complaint. This reason for rejecting the grievance thus made no sense.
Third, the grievance office improperly rejected the May 27 grievance on the
ground Mr. Blasingame already had received treatment for his complaints. Such a
determination would address the grievance’s merits, so it wasn’t a reason rejecting the
grievance, only perhaps to deny it. There is no requirement in the Offender Grievance
Process that a grievance must be meritorious to be properly submitted, else any number
of grievances would be rejected out of hand before being considered on their merits. See
ECF 39-2 at 9-10 (listing the standards of a properly submitted grievance).
Thus, the record shows the grievance office improperly rejected Mr. Blasingame’s
May 27 grievance, which made the grievance process unavailable to him. See Dole, 438
F.3d at 809 (“a remedy becomes ‘unavailable’ if prison employees do not respond to a
properly filed grievance”).
The defendants also argue that Mr. Blasingame failed to exhaust his administrative
remedies because he did not appeal the grievance office’s response to his grievances. ECF
39 at 9. But the grievance process only provides a mechanism to appeal grievances that
have been denied on the merits. ECF 39-2 at 12-13. There is no evidence the grievance
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process provided any mechanism for Mr. Blasingame to appeal the grievance office’s
rejection of the May 27 grievance. Because the record shows the grievance office made
Mr. Blasingame’s administrative remedies unavailable by improperly rejecting his May
27 grievance, Warden Galipeau has not met his burden to show failure to exhaust.
For these reasons, the court DENIES Warden Galipeau’s motion for summary
judgment (ECF 38).
May 10, 2022
s/ Damon R. Leichty
Judge, United States District Court
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