Woods v. Crossroads Correctional Center et al
ORDER ADOPTING 46 FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS in full. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss 21 , as construed as a motion for summary judgment, is DENIED. Signed by Judge Donald W. Molloy on 11/4/2014. Mailed to Woods. (TAG, )
NOV 0; 201;
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MONTANA
GREAT FALLS DIVISION
JEREMY C. WOODS,
Clerk, u.s. District Court
District Of Montana
CENTER, et aI.,
Plaintiff Jeremy Woods, appearing pro se, alleges Defendants failed to
protect him from an assault by another inmate in violation of the Eighth
Amendment. (Complaint, Doc. 6.) Magistrate Judge Keith Strong ordered
Defendants to respond to the Complaint. (Doc. 19.) Defendants moved to dismiss
the case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) and 42 U.S.C. §
1997e(a) for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. (Doc. 21.) After the
Ninth Circuit's decision in Albino v. Baca, 747 F.3d 1162 (9th Cir. 2014), the
motion was construed as a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 26.) Judge
Strong entered Findings and Recommendations recommending the motion be
denied. (Doc. 46.) Neither party has filed objections to Judge Strong's Findings
The court reviews findings and recommendations on nondispositive motions
for clear error. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1 )(A); McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Commodore Bus. Mach., Inc., 656 F.2d 1309,1313 (9th Cir. 1981). On
dispositive motions, the parties are entitled to de novo review of the specified
findings or recommendations to which they object, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b )(1);
McDonnell Douglas Corp., 656 F.2d at 1313, and where there are no objections,
the court is to give the level of consideration it deems appropriate, Thomas v. Arn,
474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985) ("It does not appear that Congress intended to require
district court review of a magistrate's factual or legal conclusions, under a de novo
or any other standard, when neither party objects to those findings."). This Court
reviews for clear error. Clear error exists if the court is left with a "definite and
firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. Syrax, 235
F.3d 422,427 (9th Cir. 2000).
The Court finds no clear error with Judge Strong's determination that
Woods sufficiently satisfied all exhaustion requirements, and the Findings and
Recommendations are adopted in full. As the parties are familiar with the factual
and procedural background, it will not be restated here.
Summary Judgment Standard
A party is entitled to summary judgment if it can demonstrate 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). Summary judgment is warranted where
the documentary evidence produced by the parties permits only one conclusion.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986). Once the moving
party has satisfied its initial burden with a properly supported motion, summary
judgment is appropriate unless the non-moving party designates by affidavits,
depositions, answers to interrogatories or admissions on file "specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 324 (1986). The Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to
the non-moving party and draw all justifiable inferences in the non-moving party' s
favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Filings by pro se litigants are entitled to special
deference and are not held to the standards of filings of attorneys. Eldridge v.
Block, 832 F.2d 1132, 1137 (9th Cir. 1987).
Prison Litigation Reform Act Exhaustion Requirement
The Prison Litigation Reform Act's exhaustion requirement states:
No 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.
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); see also Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516,524-25 (2002).
This means a prisoner must "compl[y] with an agency's deadlines and other
critical procedural rules" before bringing suit in federal court. Woodford v. Ngo,
548 U.S. 81,90 (2006). Exhaustion is mandatory. Porter, 534 U.S. at 524.
Exhaustion Procedure at Crossroads Correctional Center
The administrative exhaustion procedure at Crossroads Correctional Center
is Montana State Prison Procedure 3.3.3, which covers the four-step grievance
process. (Crossroads's SUF, Doc. 36 at, 4.) First, in order to exhaust the
grievance process, an inmate must submit an Inmate/Offender Informal Resolution
form within five working days of the event complained of. (Doc. 36 at , 9;
Procedure 3.3.3, Doc. 23-1 at 2.) Second, if the inmate is not satisfied with the
informal resolution process, he must then file an Inmate/Offender Grievance form
within five working days of receipt of the response to his informal resolution
attempt. (Doc. 36 at, 10; Doc. 23-1 at 3.) Third, ifthe inmate is not satisfied
with the response to the formal grievance, he must then appeal to the Warden by
submitting an Inmate/Offender Grievance Appeal to Warden/Administrator form
within five working days of receipt of the response to the formal grievance. (Doc.
36 at, 11; Doc. 23-1 at 4.) Finally, if the inmate is not satisfied with the appeal
decision, he must then appeal to the Director of the Montana Department of
Corrections by submitting an Inmate/Offender Grievance Appeal to Corrections
Director form within five working days of receipt of the Warden's appeal
decision. (Doc. 36 at, 11; Doc. 23-1 at 6.) The Procedure further provides, "If an
inmate fails to receive a timely response from a staff member as set forth in this
operational procedure, the inmate may file the appropriate forms to advance to the
next level of the grievance program." (Doc. 23-1 at 2.)
Defendants argue Woods failed to properly exhaust his administrative
remedies because he did not timely complete the first and final steps of the
First Informal Resolution Step
There is no clear error with Judge Strong's conclusion that Woods satisfied
the first step of the grievance procedure. On August 14,2012, Woods submitted a
CCAICrossroads Correctional Center Inmate Letter (Kite) stating that on August
11, 2012, he had been assaulted and requesting a meeting with staff to discuss the
situation. (Doc. 36 at, 15; Letter, Doc. 23-3.) Four staffmembers met with
Woods on August 17, 2012. (Id.) But this letter was not part ofthe grievance
procedure. Instead, Woods started the grievance procedure on September 25,
2012, by submitting an Inmate/Offender Informal Resolution fonn pertaining to
the August 11,2012 assault. (Doc. 36 at ~ 16; Infonnal Resolution Fonn, Doc.
23-4.) Woods submitted the fonn well outside the five working days time limit.
However, on October 2,2012, Defendants responded to Woods's infonnal
resolution fonn on the merits rather than denying it as untimely. (Id.)
Defendants conceded in their opening brief that Woods satisfied the first
step and did not argue otherwise until their reply brief. See Zamani v. Carnes, 491
F.3d 990, 997 (9th Cir. 2007) ("The district court need not consider arguments
raised for the first time in a reply brief."). Additionally, there is persuasive
authority that a prison's response to an inmate's untimely grievance on the merits
satisfies the administrative exhaustion requirement. Reed-Bey v. Prams taller, 603
F.3d 322, 325 (6th Cir. 2010) ("When prison officials decline to enforce their own
procedural requirements and opt to consider otherwise-defaulted claims on the
merits, so as a general rule will we."); Riccardo v. Rausch, 375 F.3d 521, 524 (7th
Cir. 2004) (overlooking the untimeliness of a grievance, over the objection of the
defendants, where prison officials reviewed grievance on the merits); Ross v.
County o/Bernalillo, 365 F.3d 1181, 1186 (lOth Cir. 2004) (same), abrogated on
other grounds by Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007); Camp v. Brennan, 219 F.3d
279,281 (3d Cir. 2000) (overlooking failure to file grievance with the proper
officials, over the objection ofthe defendants, where officials ultimately reviewed
grievance on the merits}; see also Jones v. Stewart, 457 F. Supp. 2d 1131, 1136
(D. Nev. 2006) (a response on the merits of an untimely grievance serves the
underlying purposes of the administrative exhaustion requirement). There is no
clear error with Judge Strong's conclusion that Woods exhausted the first step.
Final Appeal to the Corrections Director Step
There is no clear error with Judge Strong's determination that Woods
submitted a timely Corrections Director appeal to satisfy the final step of the
grievance procedure. On November 7,2012, Woods submitted an
Inmate/Offender Grievance Appeal to the Warden/Administrator form. (Doc. 36
at ~ 18; Warden Appeal Form, Doc. 23-6.} Defendants produced a response to
Woods's Warden appeal dated November 19,2012, but it is not signed by Woods.
(Id.) Woods maintains he did not receive the response. (Woods SDF, Doc. 39 at ~
II.) Woods produced an Inmate/Offender Grievance Appeal to Corrections
Director form dated December 14,2012, (Doc. 39 at ~ 12; Director Appeal Form,
Doc. 38-6), but Defendants maintain this appeal was both untimely and never
Despite not having received the response to his Warden appeal, Woods had
25 days after the Warden received his appeal form to appeal to the Corrections
Director because the Warden has 20 working days from receipt of the appeal form
to provide a written response, (Doc. 23-1 at 4), and inmates have five working
days from receipt ofthe response to appeal to the next level, (Doc. 23-1 at 5). (See
Doc. 23-1 at 2 ("If an inmate fails to receive a timely response from a staff
member as set forth in this operational procedure, the inmate may file the
appropriate forms to advance to the next level of the grievance program.").)
Woods's Warden appeal was stamped received on November 9,2012, (Doc. 23-6),
and 25 working days from that date was December 14,2012. There is no clear
error with Judge Strong's determination that Woods's Director appeal was timely.
Woods's copy of his Director appeal form is dated December 14,2012, and
has a hand-written notation indicating he handed the form to the Grievance
Coordinator, Officer Crandall, that day at 2:45 p.m. (Doc. 38-6; Doc. 39 at ~ 12.)
Woods produced a December 15, 2012, handwritten letter to his children in which
he stated he submitted his Director appeal that week. (Doc. 41-2.) Woods also
presented testimony that there was turnover in the Grievance Coordinator position
during the time period in which he submitted his Director appeal, which could
explain a misplaced appeal form. (Woods Aff., Doc. 38-1 at,-r 22.) On January
24,2013, Woods wrote to Officer Crandall inquiring about a response to his
Director appeal, and on February 27, 2013, Officer Crandall responded explaining
no Director appeal had been received, (Memo., Doc. 23-7). The court must
determine this disputed issue of fact. Albino, 747 F.3d at 1170. Given the
credible evidence presented by Woods and the lack of rebuttal evidence presented
by Defendants, and viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Woods,
there is no clear error with Judge Strong's determination that Woods submitted a
Director appeal to Officer Crandall on December 14,2012.
Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that the Findings and Recommendations
(Doc. 46) are ADOPTED IN FULL.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 21),
as construed as a motion for summary judgment, is DENIED.
~day of November, 2014.
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