Valerio v. NH Department of Corrections, Commissioner et al
///ORDER granting 63 Motion for Summary Judgment. Clerk is directed to enter judgment and close the case. So Ordered by Chief Judge Landya B. McCafferty.(gla)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
Dwayne M. Valerio
Civil No. 15-cv-248-LM
Opinion No. 2019 DNH 054
William Wrenn et al.1
O R D E R
Before the court is the defendants’ motion for summary
judgment (doc. no. 63), as to the sole claim remaining in this
Plaintiff Dwayne Valerio filed an objection (doc. no. 65)
to the motion.
Defendants filed a reply (doc. no. 67) to the
objection, and Valerio filed a surreply (doc. no. 68).
The operative complaint in this matter is plaintiff’s
verified second amended complaint (doc. no. 57) (“SAC”), as
construed by the court’s November 29, 2017 Order (doc. no. 56)
approving the magistrate judge’s October 23, 2017 Report and
Recommendation (doc. no. 53) (“October 2017 R&R”).
defendants against whom this case is presently pending
are New Hampshire State Prison Corrections Officers John
Marescia and Bruce Sauerheber. All of the claims asserted
against any other defendant have been dismissed, and all of the
other defendants have been dropped as parties.
facts set forth in this section are undisputed unless
claim pending in this case, as set forth in the October 17 R&R,
is as follows:
[Corrections Officers John Marescia and Bruce
Sauerheber], on October 16, 2013, subjected Valerio to
a visual body cavity strip search, in front of forty
to fifty other inmates and a video camera that could
be monitored remotely by prison officials, without a
privacy screen, and in the absence of exigent
circumstances, in violation of Valerio’s First
Amendment right to freely exercise his religion, as it
violates Valerio’s religious beliefs to be unclothed
in the presence of other men.
October 2017 R&R, at 4.
Facts Underlying Claim
On October 16, 2013, Valerio attended an event at the New
Hampshire State Prison, where he is incarcerated, called the
Tailgate Revival, which Valerio describes as a Christian
religious event attended by forty to fifty prisoners and fifty
See SAC, 4-5 ¶ 14 (Doc. No. 57).
the event, the community volunteers were escorted out of the
gym, and the inmates remained in the gym with ten corrections
See id. at 5 ¶ 16 (Doc. No. 57).
In the SAC, Valerio set forth the following sworn facts
underlying his First Amendment claim, to which he swore in a
declaration made pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746:
The COs . . . informed the inmates that they were
stripping them out. The COs formed into three teams
of three in which two performed a strip search each
while one observed, which allowed for six inmates to
be strip searched at the same time. These searches
were conducted while the inmates being searched were
in plain view of each other and all the other inmates
awaiting to be stripped searched [sic]. The Plaintiff
was called over by [CO Marescia] and ordered to strip.
Plaintiff requested a private search due to his
religious convictions, which was denied. The search
was conducted out in the open without the use of
privacy screens and [in] direct view and proximity of
the remaining forty (40) to fifty (50) inmates waiting
to be searched.
Id. at 5 ¶¶ 16-18 (Doc. No. 57).
In the SAC, Valerio identified
CO Sauerheber as the officer who observed Valerio’s stripsearch.
See id. at 5 ¶ 19 (Doc. No. 57).
III. DOC Administrative Grievance Process
At the time the events underlying this case occurred, the
DOC employed a procedure for handling inmate grievances “through
which [inmates] seek formal review of an issue related to any
aspect of their confinement if less formal procedures have not
resolved the matter.”
DOC Policy and Procedure Directive
(“PPD”) 1.16(I) (eff. May 1, 2012) (Doc. No. 21-2, at 4).
DOC Manual for the Guidance of Inmates effective in October 2013
(“Inmate Manual”) states that before utilizing that
administrative grievance process, an inmate must “try to talk to
a staff member” about his or her complaint.
No. 21-1, at 8, 9).
Inmate Manual (Doc.
If an inmate does not receive a
satisfactory response after making an informal oral request, he
or she must then file an Inmate Request Slip (“IRS”) to an
appropriate prison official within thirty days of the date of
the incident giving rise to the complaint.
1.16(IV)(A)(1) (Doc. No. 21-2, at 5); Inmate Manual (Doc. No.
21-1, at 8).
The next step is a written grievance to the warden
of the inmate’s institution within thirty days of the date of
the response the inmate received to his or her IRS.
1.16(IV)(B) (Doc. No. 21-2, at 6); Inmate Manual (Doc. No. 21-1,
An inmate dissatisfied with the Warden’s response may
utilize the last step of the grievance procedure by sending a
grievance to the DOC Commissioner within thirty days of the date
of the Warden’s response.
See PPD 1.16(IV)(C) (Doc. No. 21-2 at
7); Inmate Manual (Doc. No. 21-1, at 9).
The timeframes set
forth in PPD 1.16 are mandatory, as is the use of appropriate
forms at each stage of the grievance process.
1.16(IV)(E)&(F) (Doc. No. 21-2, at 7, 8).
The NHSP advises incoming inmates of its administrative
grievance procedure by “issu[ing] to all inmates upon their
arrival at the NHSP a copy of the [Inmate Manual].”
2016 Decl. of Bonnie Johnson Theriault (“Theriault Decl.”) ¶ 6
(Doc. No. 21-1, at 3).
In addition to describing the grievance
process, the Inmate Manual advises inmates where IRSs and
grievance forms may be obtained, directs inmates to PPD 1.16.,
and states “The Complaint and Grievance process and its
timeframe are mandatory and must be followed explicitly.”
Inmate Manual (Doc. No. 21-1, at 9).
It is undisputed that
Valerio, like other inmates, received a copy of the Inmate
Manual upon his arrival at the NHSP.
Valerio’s Exhaustion Efforts
The parties agree that Valerio did not follow the
exhaustion procedures set forth in PPD 1.16, in that he did not
file an IRS, did not file a grievance to the Warden, and did not
file a grievance to the Commissioner concerning his complaint
that his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion
had been abridged by the post-Tailgate Revival strip search.
Instead of following those procedures, Valerio complained about
the October 2013 Tailgate Revival strip search using the process
for Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”) administrative
complaints, set forth in PPD 5.19, the DOC’s policy concerning
procedures for addressing “prison sexual assault, sexual
victimization and staff sexual misconduct aimed at [DOC
To that end, on February 2 and 3, 2015, Valerio
wrote two letters (doc. nos. 31-6, 31-7)
to the New Hampshire
Attorney General (“NH AG”), which he copied to the DOC Victim
Services Office (“VSO”), and on March 26, 2015, he sent a letter
(doc. no. 31-8) to the VSO.
In each of those letters Valerio
asserted that he had suffered “sexual victimization” during the
October 2013 post-Tailgate Revival strip search because the
defendants’ conduct constituted “voyeurism,” as defined in an
attachment to the PPD 5.19.
See PPD 5.19, Att. 5 (Doc. No. 31-
4, at 15).
Defendants do not dispute that Valerio wrote three letters
to the NH AG and the VSO in February and March 2015 alleging
that he had been subject to sexual victimization.
is undisputed that Valerio did not mention in any of the letters
that the strip search violated the First Amendment, his right to
exercise his religion, or otherwise violated his religious
Defendants move for summary judgment arguing that Valero
did not properly exhaust his available administrative remedies
for his First Amendment religious freedom claim, as he did not
utilize the grievance process outlined in PPD 1.16.
Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is warranted where “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); see also
Xiaoyan Tang v. Citizens Bank, N.A., 821 F.3d 206, 215 (1st Cir.
“An issue is ‘genuine’ if it can be resolved in favor of
either party, and a fact is ‘material’ if it has the potential
of affecting the outcome of the case.”
Xiaoyan Tang, 821 F.3d
at 215 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
obtain summary judgment, “the moving party must affirmatively
demonstrate that there is no evidence in the record to support a
judgment for the nonmoving party.”
477 U.S. 317, 332 (1986).
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
Once the moving party makes the
required showing, “‘the burden shifts to the nonmoving party,
who must, with respect to each issue on which [it] would bear
the burden of proof at trial, demonstrate that a trier of fact
could reasonably resolve that issue in [its] favor.’”
Inc. v. Airvac, Inc., 817 F.3d 849, 853 (1st Cir. 2016)
“This demonstration must be accomplished by
reference to materials of evidentiary quality,” and that
evidence must be “‘significantly probative,’” and “more than
Id. (citations omitted).
party’s failure to make the requisite showing “entitles the
moving party to summary judgment.”
PLRA Exhaustion Requirements
The exhaustion provision of the PLRA, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a),
states that “[n]o 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.”
Requiring inmates to exhaust
administrative remedies before bringing suit in federal court
“allows prison officials an opportunity to resolve disputes
concerning the exercise of their responsibilities before being
haled into court.”
Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 204 (2007).
The Supreme Court has held “that the PLRA exhaustion
requirement requires proper exhaustion.”
Woodford v. Ngo, 548
U.S. 81, 93 (2006).
“[P]roper exhaustion” refers to “using all
steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that
the agency addresses the issues on the merits).”
omitted) (emphasis in original).
“[I]t is the prison’s
requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of
Jones, 549 U.S. at 218.
The PLRA also requires that “[a]ll ‘available’ remedies
must . . . be exhausted.”
(2002) (citation omitted).
Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524,
An inmate must exhaust all of the
remedies available to him or her, whether those remedies are
optional or mandatory under the prison’s grievance process.
Johnson v. Thyng, 369 F. App’x 144, 148-49 (1st Cir. 2010)
(“[t]he emerging case law rejects [plaintiff]’s theory that an
optional level of administrative review need not be exhausted
for purposes of PLRA” (citing cases)).
Claims for which administrative remedies have not been
exhausted are subject to dismissal.
Rodríguez-Mateo, 292 F.3d 31, 36 (1st Cir. 2002).
The defendants bear the burden to show an
administrative remedy was available and that
[plaintiff] failed to exhaust it. If the defendants
make this showing, the burden shifts to the prisoner
to come forward with evidence showing there is
something in his particular case that made the
existing and generally available administrative
remedies effectively unavailable to him.
Fuqua v. Ryan, 890 F.3d 838, 844 (9th Cir. 2018) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted).
“‘Because failure to
exhaust is an affirmative defense that the defendants must plead
and prove, the ultimate burden of proof remains with the
Id. (quoting Jones, 549 U.S. at 212).
The questions before the court are whether the PPD 1.16
procedures were available to Valerio, and whether his letters
complaining about the post-Tailgate Revival strip search
constituted proper exhaustion of all of the administrative
remedies available to Valerio, with regard to Valerio’s First
Amendment Free Exercise claim.
The court need not, and does
not, consider whether the actions taken by Valerio were
sufficient to exhaust a claim of sexual victimization under
PREA, as no such claim is pending before the court.3
Valerio asserts that because he satisfied the process
outlined in PPD 5.19 for filing a complaint concerning sexual
victimization, he exhausted the First Amendment claim as that
claim arose out of the same event which gave rise to his alleged
Notifying the defendants of a complaint
by means other than the grievance process, however, does not
raised such a claim in this matter, but the claim
was dismissed as PREA does not provide for a private right of
action. See May 3, 2016 Order (Doc. No. 18) (approving Apr. 1,
2016 R&R (Doc. No. 15)).
satisfy the PLRA exhaustion requirement.
See Rachel v. Troutt,
No. 18-6053, ___ F. App’x ___, 2019 WL 1077144, at *3, 2019 U.S.
App. LEXIS 6825, at *6 (10th Cir. Mar. 7, 2019) (citation
omitted); see also Jernigan v. Stuchell, 304 F.3d 1030, 1032
(10th Cir. 2002) (“the doctrine of substantial compliance does
not apply” in context of PLRA exhaustion).
letters about sexual victimization did not raise any issues
about potential religious freedom claims.
letters did not suffice to exhaust his First Amendment claim as
a grievance must alert prison officials to the nature of the
wrong or problem at issue to facilitate its resolution.
Reyes v. Smith, 810 F.3d 654, 658-59 (9th Cir. 2016) (citing
Jones, 549 U.S. at 219).
Ambiguity, Reasonable Notice, and Availability
Valerio, while not disputing he received an Inmate Manual
prior to the October 2013 strip search, has argued in an earlier
stage of this case that the Inmate Manual itself was unclear as
to whether his complaints about the October 2013 strip search
could be the type of complaints covered by the grievance
process, as he did not know then what his rights were and thus
could not conclude if his claims were covered by the grievance
See Obj. to Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 31).
Liberally construed, Valerio’s objection to the instant motion
for summary judgment raises the same argument, which the court
addresses on the merits for the first time here.
The undisputed facts in this case show that Valerio did not
comply with any of the PPD requirements set forth in PPD 1.16,
relating to inmate request slips, grievances, and the time
limits for filing complaints.
The mere existence of an
administrative remedy process, however, does not indicate that
the process was available to the inmate.
In Ross v. Blake, 136
S. Ct. 1850, 1859 (2016), the Court noted three types of
circumstances in which an administrative remedy, “although
officially on the books,” could be deemed unavailable, thus
defeating a defense of a failure to exhaust under the PLRA.
of those categories identified by the Court is relevant to this
court’s consideration of plaintiff’s argument here:
specifically, when a grievance procedure exists, “but no
ordinary prisoner can discern or navigate it.”4
An inmate who is kept in the dark about grievance
procedures may in some circumstances succeed in showing that the
procedures are effectively unavailable.
“Remedies that are not
three types identified by the Court in Ross are: (1)
when the grievance procedure “operates as a simple dead end—with
officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any relief
to aggrieved inmates”; (2) when “some mechanism exists to
provide relief, but no ordinary prisoner can discern or navigate
it”; and (3) when “prison administrators thwart inmates from
taking advantage of a grievance process through machination,
misrepresentation, or intimidation.” Ross v. Blake, 136 S. Ct.
1850, 1859-60 (2016). There is no evidence to suggest that the
first or third type of circumstance applies in his case.
reasonably communicated to inmates may be considered unavailable
for exhaustion purposes.”
Small v. Camden Cty., 728 F.3d 265,
271 (3d Cir. 2013); Goebert v. Lee Cty., 510 F.3d 1312, 1323
(11th Cir. 2007) (“If we allowed jails and prisons to play hideand-seek with administrative remedies, they could keep all
remedies under wraps until after a lawsuit is filed and then
uncover them and proclaim that the remedies were available all
Cf. Ramirez v. Young, 906 F.3d 530, 538 (7th Cir.
2018) (“[t]he PLRA does not excuse a failure to exhaust based on
a prisoner’s ignorance of administrative remedies, so long as
the prison has taken reasonable steps to inform the inmates
about the required procedures”).
Pointing to the following language in the Inmate Manual -“If at any time you feel you have a legitimate complaint . . .”
-- Valerio has asserted that the Inmate Manual did not
reasonably apprise him of the availability of the administrative
remedies set forth in PPD 1.16 because the prison did not
explain what would constitute a “legitimate complaint,”
appropriately raised through the grievance process.5
See Obj. to
Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 31) (quoting Inmate Manual (Doc. No.
21-1, at 8).
One problem with Valerio’s argument about the lack
the section heading, “Problem Solving Steps,” the
Inmate Manual states, in part, that “[i]f at any time you feel
that you have a legitimate complaint because you have been
wrongly treated or are not receiving fair responses from your
unit staff members or other staff members, you have a right to
file a complaint.” Inmate Manual at 13 (Doc. No. 21-1, at 8).
of clarity in the phrase, “legitimate complaint,” however, is
that the term does not appear in isolation.
The phrase is
clarified by the words that follow it, specifically, an inmate
might have a “legitimate complaint” because he suffered wrongful
treatment or received an unfair response from prison staff
See Inmate Manual at 13 (Doc. No. 21-1, at 8).
other words, “legitimate” complaints can arise from staff
Further clarification comes from the remaining context.
Under the heading of “Problem Solving Steps,” the Inmate Manual
summarizes the steps required by PPD 1.16 and refers inmates
seeking “complete information” to review PPD 1.16, which the
Inmate Manual states may be found in a DOC library.
21-1, at 8, 9.
PPD 1.16, in turn, broadly states that it
applies to all inmates “for issues that arose during their
confinement,” PPD 1.16(II), and that “the request slip, and
grievance system provide methods for persons to complain about
matters which seem to impinge on their rights or to redress
wrongs,” PPD 1.16(III)(D) (Doc. No. 21-2, at 4).
notifies inmates that if an inmate request is found to contain
false information, disciplinary sanctions may be imposed, see
id. PPD 1.16(III)(D) (Doc. No. 21-2, at 5), which suggests that
the qualifier, “legitimate,” in the Inmate Manual, distinguishes
between complaints based on facts and those based on falsehoods,
and does not limit the type of issues covered by PPD 1.16.
In Ross v. Blakely, the Supreme Court clarified that courts
must apply objective standards in considering whether a lack of
clarity in the grievance procedures could be grounds for
avoiding PLRA exhaustion.
See id., 136 S. Ct. at 1859 (“when a
remedy is . . . essentially ‘unknowable’—so that no ordinary
prisoner can make sense of what it demands—then it is also
unavailable,” but “[w]hen an administrative process is
susceptible of multiple reasonable interpretations, Congress has
determined that the inmate should err on the side of
exhaustion.” (citation omitted)).
When viewed in that light,
Valerio’s arguments about the lack of clarity are unavailing;
evidence of ambiguity in a phrase in the Inmate Manual, taken
out of context, and evidence of Valerio’s uncertainty about the
type of claims that could be grieved under PPD 1.16, taken
together, do not come close to showing that the grievance
procedures communicated to him by the Inmate Manual and PPD 1.16
were “essentially ‘unknowable’” under Ross.
The undisputed facts demonstrate that the procedures
outlined in PPD 1.16 were available to Valerio.
concedes that he did not use that process to exhaust his claims.
Accordingly, the defendants have shown they are entitled to
summary judgment on their PLRA exhaustion defense.
For the foregoing reasons, the defendants’ motion for
summary judgment (doc. no. 63) is GRANTED.
The Clerk is
directed to enter judgment and close this case.
United States District Judge
March 25, 2019
Dwayne M. Valerio, pro se
Seth Michael Zoracki, Esq.
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