Brown v. Camp Hill et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry).Signed by Honorable A. Richard Caputo on 9/5/2017. (bg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CHARLES EDWARD BROWN,
CAMP HILL, et al.,
CIVIL NO. 3:CV-10-2612
Presently before the Court is Defendants’ motion for summary judgment based on
Mr. Brown’s failure to properly exhaust his available administrative remedies concerning his
retaliatory transfer from SCI-Dallas to SCI-Smithfield.
(ECF No. 81.)
In lieu of an
opposition brief, Plaintiff has filed a cross motion for summary judgment alleging that prison
officials interfered with his exhaustion efforts. (ECF No. 87.)
For the following reasons, both motions for summary judgment will be denied. This
matter will be set for trial at the convenience of the Court.
Summary Judgment Standard of Review
Summary judgment is proper where “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). The court must determine “whether the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits show that there is no genuine
issue of material fact and whether the moving party is therefore entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.” MacFarlan v. Ivy Hill SNF, LLC, 675 F.3d 266, 271 (3d Cir. 2012)(citing
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)).
“[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between
the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment;
the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 - 48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2509 - 10, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
“A genuine issue is present when a reasonable trier of fact, viewing all of the record
evidence, could rationally find in favor of the non-moving party in light of his burden of
proof.” Doe v. Abington Friends Sch., 480 F.3d 252, 256 (3d Cir. 2007) (internal citations
omitted). Material facts are those which “might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing substantive law.” Scheidemantle v. Slippery Rock Univ. State Sys. of Higher
Educ., 470 F.3d 535, 538 (3d Cir. 2006). Where contradictory facts exist, the court may not
make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.
See Reeves v. Sanderson
Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 - 51, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 2110, 147 L.Ed.2d 105
(2000) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); Paradisis v. Englewood Hosp. Med.
Ctr., 680 F. App’x 131, 135 (3d Cir. Feb. 24, 2017). In reviewing a motion for summary
judgment, the court must view all facts and draw all reasonable inferences “in the light most
favorable to the party opposing the motion.” Blunt v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 767 F.3d
247, 265 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted).
To prevail on summary judgment, the moving party must affirmatively identify those
portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.
Santini v. Fuentes, 795 F.3d 410 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct.
2553). “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the
assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record ... or showing that the
materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an
adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(c)(1)(A) - (B). To withstand summary judgment, the non-moving party must “go beyond
the pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’”
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S. Ct. at 2553 (citation omitted). The non-moving party “may
not rest on speculation and conjecture in opposing a motion for summary judgment.”
Ramara, Inc. V. Westfield Ins. Co., 814 F.3d 660, 666 (3d Cir. 2016). In deciding the merits
of a party's motion for summary judgment, the court's role is not to evaluate the evidence
and decide the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for
trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. at 2511. Credibility determinations are the
province of the factfinder. Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358,
1363 (3d Cir. 1992).
Statement of Undisputed Facts
From the pleadings, declarations and exhibits submitted therewith, the following
facts are ascertained as undisputed or, where disputed, reflect Mr. Brown’s version of the
facts, pursuant to this Court’s duty to view all facts and reasonable inferences in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. at 2510.
Plaintiff Charles E. Brown is a state inmate presently housed at the Smithfield State
Correctional Institution (SCI-Smithfield), in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 82, Defs.’
Statement of Material Facts (DSMF), ¶ 1.) The Defendants are the following Pennsylvania
Department of Corrections (DOC) employees: William Sprenkle, Lori Lyons, Tanya Brandt,
Michael Klopotoski, Jerome Walsh and Vincent Mooney.
(Id., ¶ 2.)
The sole issue
presented in this action is whether Mr. Brown was transferred from SCI-Dallas to SCISmithfield on December 16, 2008, in retaliation for his filing of grievances and complaints.
(ECF No. 66, Am. Compl.)
A. DOC’s Grievance Process
The DOC’s Administrative Directive DC-ADM 804 (DC-ADM 804) is known as the
Inmate Grievance System. See www.cor.state.pa.us, DOC Policies, DC-ADM 804, Inmate
Grievance System Policy; see also DSMF ¶ 5. Pursuant to DC-ADM 804, inmates must
first file a grievance with the Facility Grievance Coordinator at the facility where the events
giving rise to the grievance occurred.
The grievance must be filed within fifteen (15)
working days of the event upon which the grievance is based.
(DSMF ¶¶ 6 - 7.)
unsatisfied with the initial review of his grievance, the inmate may appeal the decision to
the Facility Manager.
(Id., ¶ 10.)
If dissatisfied with the response from the Facility
Manager, the inmate may appeal that decision to Final Review by the Secretary’s Office of
Inmate Grievance Appeals (SOIGA). (Id., ¶ 11.)
January 19, 2009, Mr. Brown filed Grievance 259990. (ECF No. 94-2, Pl.’s Ex’s in
Opp’n Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J.) In the grievance, he claims SCI-Dallas’ Grievance Officer
failed to process a December 30, 2008 grievance he forwarded to the facility challenging
his December 16, 2008 retaliatory transfer. (Id.) Plaintiff also sent a letter of complaint to
then Secretary Jeffrey Beard concerning SCI-Dallas’ failure to process his December 30,
2008 grievance. (Id., p. 6.) On February 25, 2009, Chief Grievance Officer, Dorina Varner,
responded to Mr. Brown on Sec. Beard’s behalf.
As you were informed in this office’s Action Taken Notice dated
February 4, 2009, this office was informed that institutional staff
did not receive your December 30, 2008 grievance regarding
your transfer. However, Ms. Lucas, the Facility Grievance
Coordinator, received your grievance dated January 19, 2009
regarding your concerns that the December 30, 2008 grievance
was not processed. Your January 19, 2009 grievance was
received and processed as Grievance No. 25990 on February 3,
2008 and assigned to Mr. Demming, As Mr. Demming reviewed
your January 19, 2009 grievance, it was discovered that a copy
of your December 30, 2008 transfer grievance was attached to
Grievance No. 259990. Mr. Demming then spoke to Ms. Lucas
regarding the grievance. A determination was then made that
the copy of your December 30, 2008 transfer-related grievance
that you attached to your January 19, 2009 grievance would be
assigned as Grievance No. 259990. Your December 30, 2008
transfer-related grievance and your January 19, 2009 grievance
relating to the non-receipt of the December 30, 2008 grievance
were combined. Ms. Lucas was attempting to address the main
crux of your concerns which seemed to be your alleged
Grievance No. 259990 was then reassigned to Mr. Miller to address the concerns regarding your
On February 18, 2009, Mr. Lucas sent
correspondence to you advising you that a ten-day extension
was requested and approved for staff to investigate the
concerns of Grievance No. 25990. According to institutional
staff, an initial review response was completed on February 23,
It should be noted that an actual DC-804 grievance packet
dated December 30, 2008 was never received by the institution.
It is also noted that institutional staff was not obligated to treat
your copy of your December 30, 2008 grievance as an actual
grievance. However, although somewhat confusing, institutional
staff took the above actions in an attempt to address your
concerns regarding your transfer.
(Id., p. 6.) (emphasis in the original).
Mr. Brown filed Grievance 282036 on July 20, 2009 concerning his December 16,
2008 retaliatory transfer from SCI-Dallas to SCI-Smithfield. (DSMF ¶ 13; see also ECF No.
84-2, pp. 1 - 2.)
The grievance was rejected as untimely at initial review by SCI-
Smithfield’s Grievance Coordinator. (Id., ¶ 15.) Mr. Brown’s appeal of the dismissal of his
grievance as untimely was denied by the Facility Manager. (Id., ¶¶ 16 – 17.) Mr. Brown’s
appeal was based on his filing of his grievance within “fifteen (15) working days after the
event … of Mr. Fisher failing to resolve [Plaintiff’s] concerns” voiced in his July 7, 2009
Request Slip “about his transfer”. (ECF No. 84-2, pp. 4 – 5.) Mr. Brown then filed an
appeal to SOIGA. (DSMF ¶ 18.) On September 14, 2009, Dorina Varner, Chief Grievance
Officer upheld the decision that Mr. Brown’s grievance was untimely filed. (Id., ECF No.
84-2, p. 7.)
Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), “[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.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). A prisoner must exhaust
administrative remedies as to any claim that arises in the prison setting, regardless of any
limitations on the kind of remedy that may be gained through the grievance process. See
Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532, 122 S.Ct. 983, 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 12 (2002); Booth v.
Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 n. 6, 121 S.Ct. 1819, 1825 n. 6, 149 L.Ed.2d 958 (2001).
“Exhaustion is a question of law to be determined by a judge, even if that determination
requires resolution of disputed facts.” Small v. Camden Cty., 728 F.3d 265, 269 (3d Cir.
The PLRA mandates “proper exhaustion” of the agency’s deadlines and other
procedural rules pertaining to its grievance/administrative remedy process. Woodford v.
Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 92, 126 S.Ct. 2378, 2387, 165 L.Ed.2d 368 (2006). “‘[P]rison grievance
procedures supply the yardstick’ for determining what steps are required for exhaustion.”
Williams v. Beard, 482 F.3d 637, 639 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218,
230 (3d Cir. 2004)).
“[T]o properly exhaust administrative remedies, prisoners must
‘complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural
rules’” as they are “defined ... by the prison grievance process itself.” Jones v. Bock, 549
U.S. 199, 218, 127 S.Ct. 910, 922 - 23, 166 L.Ed.2d 798 (2000) (quoting Ngo, 548 U.S. at
88, 126 S.Ct. at 2384.) Inmates who fail to fully, or timely, complete the prison grievance
process are barred from subsequently litigating claims in federal court. See Spruill, 372
F.3d at 228, 235. “As for the failure to [ ] identify [the] named defendants on the grievance
form, ... to the extent the identity of a defendant was ‘a fact relevant to the claim,’
Pennsylvania's prison grievance policy mandated that the identification be included in the
inmate's statement of facts on the grievance form. And, ... in the absence of any justifiable
excuse, a Pennsylvania inmate's failure to properly identify a defendant constituted a failure
to properly exhaust his administrative remedies under the PLRA.” Williams v. Pa. Dep't of
Corr., 146 F. App’x 554, 557 (3d Cir. 2005). The reason for this is because “the purpose of
the [grievance process] is to put the prison officials on notice of the persons claimed to be
guilty of wrongdoing. As such, the prison can excuse an inmate’s failure to do so by
identifying the unidentified persons and acknowledging that they were fairly within the
compass of the prisoner’s grievance.” Rosa Diaz v. Dow, No. 16-4349, 2017 WL 1097101,
n. 3 (3d Cir. Mar. 23, 2017) (citing Spruill, 372 F.3d at 234).
An inmate need only exhaust those administrative remedies that are “available” to
him. Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 529 (3d Cir. 2003). “Available” means “capable of
use; at hand.” Small v. Camden Cty., 728 F.3d 265, 271 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Brown v.
Croak, 312 F.3d 109, 113 (3d Cir. 2002)).
“Remedies that are not reasonably
communicated to inmates may be considered unavailable for exhaustion purposes.” (Id.)
Likewise, if the actions of prison officials directly cause the inmate’s procedural default of a
grievance, the inmate will not be held to strict compliance with the PLRA’s exhaustion
requirement. See Camp v. Brennan, 219 F.3d 279 (3d Cir. 2000).
Defendants seek summary judgment based on Mr. Brown’s failure to properly
exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing his lawsuit. Defendants argue that the
sole grievance Mr. Brown filed concerning his alleged retaliatory transfer, Grievance
282036, was untimely filed. The grievance was filed in July 2009, several months after his
December 2008 transfer, and much later than permitted by the DOC’s grievance policy.
Accordingly, Defendants have properly supported their claim that Mr. Brown did not
properly exhaust his available administrative remedy process with respect to Grievance
282036 as it was filed outside of the fifteen-day period set by the DOC’s grievance policy.
Thus, if Grievance 282036 was the sole administrative remedy Mr. Brown filed related to
his alleged retaliatory prison transfer, he failed to exhaust his claim under the PLRA and
Defendants would be entitled to summary judgment.
Mr. Brown counters that he mailed a timely grievance to SCI-Dallas officials
challenging his retaliatory transfer on December 30, 2008 but prison officials failed to
properly processes it, thus thwarting his exhaustion efforts. However, Mr. Brown has failed
to present any evidence to support his conclusory assertion of prison officials’ interference
with the timely processing of the grievance he placed in the mail on December 30, 2008.
Prison officials repeatedly advised Mr. Brown that the original of his grievance was never
received. Moreover, when the issue was raised with prison authorities, they accepted the
copy of his December 30, 2008 grievance and consolidated it with his grievance concerning
the alleged failure to process the same grievance. See ECF No. 94-2, p. 6. Mr. Brown was
advised on February 25, 2009, that the DOC would address his December 30, 2008
grievance concerning his alleged retaliatory transfer. Thus, any impediment SCI-Dallas
officials may, or may not, have placed in Mr. Brown’s way to properly exhaust his retaliatory
transfer claims was lifted.1 Thus, Mr. Brown has presented a material dispute of fact with
The issue of whether Mr. Brown properly exhausted his available administrative remedies
with respect to Grievance 259990 has not been addressed by either party. Therefore, the Court will
cannot address the issue of exhaustion with respect to this grievance.
regards to his exhaustion of his retaliatory transfer claim. He has demonstrated his July
2009 grievance (No. 282036) was not his first or sole grievance concerning his retaliatory
transfer concerning his alleged retaliatory transfer that was accepted by the DOC for
review. (Id.) (Plaintiff’s “December 30, 2008 transfer-related grievance and [his] January
19, 2009 grievance relating to the non-receipt of the December 30, 2008 grievance were
combined.”) (emphasis added).
The Defendants have the burden of proving Mr. Brown’s failure to properly exhaust
his administrative remedies concerning his December 2008 retaliatory transfer from SCIDallas to SCI-Smithfield.
In this instance, they have failed to carry that burden.
Accordingly, the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants will be denied. As
Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment exclusively addresses Defendants’ motion and fails
to raise any basis for granting summary judgment in his favor, it too will be denied.
An appropriate Order follows.
/s/ A. Richard Caputo
A. RICHARD CAPUTO
United States District Judge
DATE: September 5, 2017
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