GAINES v. CORIZON HEALTH et al
Entry Discussing State Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment - Plaintiff Deangelo Gaines, who at all relevant times was incarcerated at Putnamville Correctional Facility ("Putnamville"), brought this civil rights action pro se purs uant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Corizon, Inc., individual medical providers at Putnamville, and three other employees at Putnamville. As to the latter three employees, Michael Raines, S. Hughes, and B. Oliver (the "State Defendants" ;), Mr. Gaines alleges that they impeded his ability to obtain pain medication from the commissary in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The State Defendants contend that Mr. Gaines failed to exhaust his administrative remedies regarding this clai m before bringing this action as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"). Mr. Gaines has responded, and the State Defendants have replied. The State Defendants' motion for summary judgment, dkt. 56 , is denied, the ex haustion defense rejected, and Mr. Gaines's claims against the State Defendants will proceed to the merits. The Court will set out how this action shall proceed by separate entry. (See Entry.) Signed by Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson on 6/28/2017. (RSF)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
TERRE HAUTE DIVISION
CORIZON HEALTH, et al.
Entry Discussing State Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
Plaintiff Deangelo Gaines, who at all relevant times was incarcerated at Putnamville
Correctional Facility (“Putnamville”), brought this civil rights action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 against Corizon, Inc., individual medical providers at Putnamville, and three other
employees at Putnamville. As to the latter three employees, Michael Raines, S. Hughes, and B.
Oliver (the “State Defendants”), Mr. Gaines alleges that they impeded his ability to obtain pain
medication from the commissary in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The State Defendants
contend that Mr. Gaines failed to exhaust his administrative remedies regarding this claim before
bringing this action as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). 1 Mr. Gaines has
responded, and the State Defendants have replied. For the reasons explained in this Entry, the
State Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, dkt. , is denied, the exhaustion defense
rejected, and Mr. Gaines’s claims against the State Defendants will proceed to the merits.
The other defendants did not raise exhaustion as an affirmative defense.
Standard of Review
Summary judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that 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 “material fact” is one that “might affect the outcome of the suit.” Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court views the facts in the light most favorable to
the non-moving party and all reasonable inferences are drawn in the non-movant’s favor. Ault v.
Speicher, 634 F.3d 942, 945 (7th Cir. 2011).
As stated, the State Defendants move for summary judgment on the ground that Mr.
Gaines’s claims against them are barred under the exhaustion provision of the PLRA. See 42
U.S.C. § 1997e. That provision requires a prisoner to first exhaust his available administrative
remedies before filing a lawsuit in court. The parties both present evidence supporting their
respective positions. The following evidence is undisputed.
The Indiana Department of Correction (“IDOC”) has an Offender Grievance Process (or
“grievance policy”) through which inmates can grieve issues related to their conditions of
confinement, such as the claims at issue here. The Offender Grievance Process in effect at all
times relevant to this action consisted of three steps: (1) informal grievance; (2) formal grievance;
and (3) grievance appeal. 2
Much of the State Defendants’ evidence regarding the grievance policy and Mr. Gaines’s use of
it is introduced through the declaration of Chris Williams, who at all relevant times was the
Grievance Specialist at Putnamville. See Filing No. 56-1. Mr. Gaines objects to this declaration
on the ground that it contains legal conclusions. This objection is sustained insofar as any legal
conclusion in the declaration will not be considered by the Court.
Mr. Gaines has filed numerous grievances during his time at Putnamville. The parties’
dispute here centers on Mr. Gaines’s grievance identified as Grievance 90567. Mr. Gaines filed
an informal grievance, Grievance 90567, on December 9, 2015. See Filing No. 56-1 at 44. The
informal grievance form has a blank for an inmate to “List the department OR the name of the
staff person(s) about which you are complaining, if any,” and Mr. Gaines wrote “Policy 04-01104 ‘Inmate Trust Fund.’” Id. Then, in the space provided for the inmate to “[p]rovide a brief
explanation of your complaint,” Mr. Gaines wrote the following:
Policy section on “Withholding funds” subsection restitution: XV. (C) states that
in spite of owing restitution I will be able to purchase “personal hygiene items” and
that I would be periodically notified about the status of my restitution. I have been
notified about nothing and after numerous requests have been denied purchasing
personal hygiene items. . . . I wrote the business office but was told I was wrong
about the policy. I would like to purchase personal hygiene items and a periodic
update on my account.
The Grievance Specialist, Chris Williams, responded in relevant part as follows: “If you
owe restitution that is a disciplinary issue and is not a grievable issue through the grievance
process. The trust fund office leaves at least $5.00 on an offender[’]s account for him to purchase
personal hygiene items.” Id. Mr. Gaines checked the box stating that he disagreed with the
resolution offered by Mr. Williams. Id.
Mr. Gaines next filed a formal grievance. The form contains a blank for the inmate to
“[p]rovide a brief, clear statement of your complaint or concern. Include any information that may
assist staff in responding to your grievance.” Filing No. 56-1 at 38. In that blank, Mr. Gaines
wrote the following:
I owe restitution because of a conduct report sanction. . . . The Inmate Trust Fund
Policy 04-01-104 states that despite owing restitution, offender will be allowed to
purchase personal hygiene items. For close to three years I was denied this
opportunity. Since filing my informal complaint $5.00 has been posted on my
account. I have put in an order on the kiosk (JPay machine). I only ordered
personal hygiene: a bar of soap, toothpaste, and a toothbrush (total $4.96).
I received an email telling me my order was processed but I never received the
order. I checked with commissary and my name was not on the list and no order
came for me. I also emailed JPay who said they had no control over my issue.
Finally I wrote Ms. Hughes. Her reply was “to get commissary you must have
money first.” Totally inappropriate but true. So whose job is it to ensure I can
order hygiene items from the Commissary per Inmate Trust Fund Policy 04-01104?
Id. The form also instructs an inmate to state the relief he is seeking, and Mr. Gaines wrote, “I
would like to order personal hygiene items from the commissary as per Inmate Trust Fund Policy
04-01-104. (I truly would like for these various forms of retaliation to cease. None of this would
be happening if not for my complaints regarding my medical treatment and P.C.F.s and ADA
Mr. Gaines received a response to his formal grievance from defendant S. Hughes, who is
the Business Office Administrator at Putnamville. She acknowledged that Mr. Gaines has a
restitution order and that he is “considered to be indigent.” Filing No. 56-1 at 40. She further
explained that, since he is considered indigent and “do[es] not have the funds to order personal
hygiene supplies, they are made available to you through the following procedure outline[d] in
policy 02-01-101 ‘offender grooming, clothing and hygiene.’” Id. According to this policy, she
explained, he shall receive a personal hygiene kit “on an as needed basis” that will “[m]inimally”
include a toothbrush, toothpaste or powder, denture supplies if necessary, a comb, bath soap,
deodorant, shampoo, and shaving supplies if authorized. Id.
Mr. Gaines next filed a grievance appeal. On the grievance appeal form there is a space
for the inmate to state the “reason for an appeal,” and Mr. Gaines wrote the following bullet points:
I was in PLUS 6-6-14 [through] 7-4-15 receiving state pay, and never was able to
purchase “personal hygiene items.”
I now work in the PDR and when I get my 1st state pay I will see if this policy is
The indigent kits are inadequate containing no:
o Fingernail/toe nail clippers
o Cotton swabs
o Wash towel
Am I to bite my nails or stick an object in my ear? Or do you follow the policy and
allow me to order ‘personal hygiene items’?
Medical nurses, doctors continuously instruct me to purchase pain meds,
hydrochoritizon (sic) cream, etc from commissary but I can’t.
Filing No. 56-1 at 36. Mr. Gaines received a response denying the appeal, which stated that the
reviewing officer agrees with the response to the formal grievance and that he is “considered
indigent” so “personal Hygiene items will be provided to you.” Filing No. 56-1 at 37.
The PLRA provides that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions
under section 1983 . . . until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42
U.S.C. § 1997e; see Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524-25 (2002). The exhaustion requirement
“is an affirmative defense that a defendant has the burden of proving.” King v. McCarty, 781 F.3d
889, 893 (7th Cir. 2015). “[T]he PLRA’s exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about
prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they
allege excessive force or some other wrong.”
Porter, 534 U.S. at 532 (citation omitted).
Moreover, the “exhaustion requirement is strict. A prisoner must comply with the specific
procedures and deadlines established by the prison’s policy.” King, 781 F.3d at 893. “The level
of detail necessary in a grievance to comply with the grievance procedures will vary from system
to system and claim to claim, but it is the prison’s requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the
boundaries of proper exhaustion.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007).
The material evidence submitted by the parties is undisputed. Although they agree that
Mr. Gaines filed Grievance 90567 at each of the three necessary levels, they disagree as to whether
the contents of his grievances were sufficient to exhaust his claim against the State Defendants
that they were deliberately indifferent to his need to obtain pain medications from commissary.
The State Defendants argue that Mr. Gaines’s informal and formal grievances were insufficient to
put them on notice that he was complaining about the inability to buy pain medications from
The State Defendants’ overall position and specific arguments are unavailing. First, the
State Defendants take issue with the fact that Mr. Gaines’s informal and formal grievances do not
mention pain medications at all. Mr. Gaines’s informal grievance states that he believes prison
policy requires that he be able “to purchase ‘personal hygiene items’” from commissary despite
the significant sum he owes in restitution, and concludes by requesting that he “would like to
purchase personal hygiene items and a periodic update on [his restitution] my account.” Filing
No. 56-1 at 44. As Mr. Gaines points out (and the State Defendants acknowledge in reply), pain
medications are in the “Hygiene” category of items at commissary. See Filing No. 86-1 at 35.
Thus a request to purchase hygiene items from commissary would include the ability to purchase
“The exhaustion requirement’s primary purpose is to alert the state to the problem and
invite corrective action.” Turley v. Rednour, 729 F.3d 645, 650 (7th Cir. 2013) (citation, quotation
marks, and alteration omitted); see Riccardo v. Rauch, 375 F.3d 521, 524 (7th Cir. 2004)
(describing the function of the grievance process as “alerting the state [to the issue] and inviting
corrective action”). And this is precisely what Mr. Gaines did when he informed him that he could
not purchase any hygiene items from commissary even though he was entitled to do so. Simply
put, if Mr. Gaines stated he cannot buy hygiene items, by inclusion he is alerting prison staff that
he cannot purchase pain medication.
The State Defendants next focus on Mr. Gaines’s formal grievance, in which he specifically
states that an order for a bar of soap, a toothbrush, and toothpaste from commissary was never
delivered. This, says the State Defendants, “does not put [them] on notice that [Mr.] Gaines is in
pain due to his back condition and that he has been instructed to purchase pain medication from
the commissary.” Filing No. 59 at 11. But read in totality, Mr. Gaines’s formal grievance raised
the same global issue that his informal grievance did—namely, that IDOC policy is being violated
because he cannot purchase hygiene items from commissary. The formal grievance both begins
and ends with this policy concern. See Filing No. 56-1 at 38. The specific reference to the denial
of an order of non-pain medication hygiene items does not limit his otherwise generally stated
complaint to the items in that particular order. This is especially true given that the formal
grievance specifically noted his inability to purchase any hygiene items for “close to three years,”
id., which makes clear that his complaint is much broader than the one recently denied commissary
purchase order he referenced.
The Seventh Circuit has made clear that, “[i]n order to exhaust their remedies, prisoners
need not file multiple, successive grievances raising the same issue (such as prison conditions or
policies) if the objectionable condition is continuing.” Turley, 729 F.3d at 650. 3 Yet to accept the
State Defendants’ position here, the Court would have to conclude that Mr. Gaines’s could not
Mr. Gaines argues that Turley supports his position, but the State Defendants do not confront this
argument or otherwise discuss Turley in reply.
simply complain, as he did, that he could not purchase any personal hygiene items from
commissary. Contrary to Turley, this would require him to file “multiple, successive grievances
raising the same issue” that was “continuing,” id.—namely, his inability to purchase hygiene items
from commissary—every time it occurred. When, as here, an inmate challenges an ongoing policy
violation, the PLRA does not require him to exhaust every distinct violation of that policy. See
Turley, 729 F.3d at 650 (holding that the prisoner exhausted his administrative remedies regarding
his challenge to the prison’s lockdown policy even though he did not grieve every specific
lockdown incident that formed the basis of his claims, and reasoning that “once a prison has
received notice of, and an opportunity to correct, a problem, the prisoner has satisfied the purpose
of the exhaustion requirement. Here, [the inmate’s] complaints centered around continuing prison
policies, including allegedly illegal lockdowns, and one occurrence of notice from [the inmate]
was sufficient to give the prison a chance to correct the problems”). Given this, Mr. Gaines’s
grievances regarding his three-year, ongoing inability to purchase hygiene items from commissary
sufficed to exhaust any and all specific instances where this occurred.
The State Defendants take issue with the fact that Mr. Gaines only specifically noted his
inability to buy pain medication from commissary in his grievance appeal. They argue that this
was impermissible because the grievance policy does not permit inmates to “raise new or unrelated
issues” in their grievance appeal. Filing No. 56-1 at 28. But as Mr. Gaines points out, the
grievance policy permits the grievance appeal to “contain additional facts or information regarding
the original issue.” Id. When his informal and formal grievances both complained of his inability
to purchase hygiene items from commissary, and his grievance appeal notes that he is unable to
purchase one such item—pain medication—from commissary, this is undoubtedly permitted under
the grievance policy. That is, his inability to purchase pain medication is clearly an “additional
fact or information regarding the original issue,” rather than an “unrelated issue.” Id.
There is a second difficulty with the State Defendants’ argument, and it concerns notice.
As discussed above, Mr. Gaines’s grievances concerned his inability to purchase any hygiene items
from commissary. That was the sole issue raised in his informal grievance, and his formal
grievance raised the same issue again, noting that he had been prevented from doing so for three
years and giving a specific example of a hygiene commissary purchase order that was recently not
provided to him. Given the general issue he was grieving, he reasonably and correctly believed
that he could provide additional facts related to this issue in his grievance appeal—namely, that
another hygiene item he could not purchase from commissary was pain medication. The appellate
review officer clearly did not take issue with these additional facts, given that the appeal was
rejected on the merits for the same reasons the formal grievance was, without at all addressing his
inability to buy pain medication.
Notably, Mr. Gaines was not informed that the appellate review officer viewed his specific
complaint regarding pain medication in his grievance appeal as a “new or unrelated issue” that was
procedurally improper for him to raise pursuant to the grievance policy. But Mr. Gaines had no
way to know his grievance appeal was procedurally deficient and thus his complaints about pain
medication not considered exhausted—as the State Defendants argue—if he was not told so at the
time. If the Court were to accept the State Defendants’ position that Mr. Gaines’s raising of the
pain medication issue was procedurally deficient, it would be the first time Mr. Gaines was made
aware of this, and likely too late for him to go back and properly grieve the issue. The Seventh
Circuit has rejected similar arguments, and the Court does so here. See Maddox v. Love, 655 F.3d
709, 722 (7th Cir. 2011) (“Where prison officials address an inmate’s grievance on the merits
without rejecting it on procedural grounds, the grievance has served its function of alerting the
state and inviting corrective action, and defendants cannot rely on the failure to exhaust defense.”);
id. at 721 (rejecting the defendants’ argument that the plaintiff’s grievances were procedurally
deficient because the plaintiff’s procedural “compliance with the grievance process was never
[previously] in question”). 4 Procedural deficiencies with a grievance cannot be overlooked or
ignored during administrative review and then raised for the first time during litigation once the
opportunity to cure them has long passed.
In sum, the Court concludes that Mr. Gaines has exhausted his administrative remedies
with respect to his claims against the State Defendants regarding his inability to purchase pain
medication from the commissary. “The exhaustion requirement’s primary purpose is to alert the
state to the problem and invite corrective action.” Turley, 729 F.3d at 650. Mr. Gaines’s
grievances alerted prison officials that he could not purchase any hygiene items from commissary.
Given that pain medication is considered a hygiene item by the prison, prison officials were on
notice that he could not purchase pain medication from commissary. Because his inability to
purchase pain medication from commissary forms the basis of his claims against the State
Defendants in this action, Mr. Gaines has exhausted his administrative remedies.
The Court notes again that Mr. Gaines relied on Maddox to support his position, and the State
Defendants did not address his reliance on Maddox in reply.
For the reasons set forth above, the State Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, dkt.
, is denied. Mr. Gaines’s claims against the State Defendants shall proceed to the merits. The
Court will set out how this action shall proceed by separate entry.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Carol A. Dillon
BLEEKE DILLON CRANDALL, P.C.
Benjamin Myron Lane Jones
INDIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL
OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
PLAINFIELD - CF
PLAINFIELD CORRECTIONAL FACILITY
Electronic Service Participant – Court Only
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