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HANSON v. CHESNEY

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania


February 25, 1999

ROBERT HANSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOSEPH CHESNEY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anita B. Brody, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Robert Hanson ("Hanson"), an inmate at SCI-Frackville, brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against corrections officers ("COs") Gerald Knarr and Robert Shaffer.*fn1 Hanson alleges that the defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to protect him against an attack by a fellow prisoner. Defendants have moved to dismiss based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies, failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and qualified immunity. Because plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative remedies, as mandated by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), I will grant defendants' motion to dismiss.

I. FACTS

When ruling on a motion to dismiss, I take the facts presented in plaintiff's complaint as true, Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984), and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Rocks v. Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989). On February 18, 1998, Hanson was playing dominoes in the inmate activity area in C-Building at the Frackville facility. The defendants were the COs on duty at the time. An inmate named Medina approached Hanson from behind, and without warning, slashed Hanson across the left side of the neck with a razor. After a struggle, during which Hanson was slashed again, Hanson managed to pin Medina on the floor. This part of the struggle took approximately five minutes. When the defendants arrived, they verbally ordered both of the inmates to stop. Hanson responded by letting Medina's hand go free, and Medina slashed Hanson again. Hanson re-pinned Medina's hand on the floor. One of the defendants shouted another order to stop. Hanson complied and relaxed his grip, and Medina slashed him yet again. The defendants then physically intervened, restrained Medina and knocked the razor from his hand. Both prisoners were then handcuffed. After two and one-half minutes, Hanson was taken to the control station, where he was questioned for five minutes before being taken to the medical department. As a result of his injuries, Hanson received sixty-eight stitches. A misconduct report was issued against both prisoners. Hanson was charged with fighting and refusing to obey an order. The latter charge was dismissed, however, and Hanson was given thirty days for fighting. He was also removed from the job he had held in the prison kitchen.

Hanson claims that the defendant COs failed to follow proper procedure in monitoring the inmate activity area, because both were stationed at the front desk, rather than having one of the COs walking the periphery of the activity area to watch over the inmates. He claims that if the COs had been following proper procedure, Medina would not have attacked him. He also claims that the defendants should have immediately intervened physically, rather than verbally ordering the prisoners to stop fighting, and that he was slashed twice as a result of the defendants' failure to intervene. Hanson requests damages — in the form of lost wages following his removal from his kitchen job and punitive damages; and injunctive relief — in the form of "cosmetic surgery at the cost of the facility during the plaintiff [sic] confinement there"*fn2 and an order transferring him from SCI-Frackville.

II. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

In the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"),*fn3 Congress mandated that prisoners exhaust administrative remedies before bringing suit in federal court over prison conditions.

  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). In this case, plaintiff does not contend that he has exhausted administrative remedies.*fn4 Instead, he simply asserts that there is no administrative relief available for addressing the claim and relief he seeks, specifically monetary damages and "cosmetic surgical relief."

There is a significant split among the courts which have addressed the issue as to whether § 1997e(a)'s exhaustion requirement applies to claims for monetary damages. Compare Garrett v. Hawk, 127 F.3d 1263 (10th Cir. 1997)(federal prisoners seeking purely monetary damages need not exhaust administrative remedies) with Alexander v. Hawk, 159 F.3d 1321 (11th Cir. 1998)(suggesting that exhaustion is required even if prisoner seeks only monetary damages). The rationale for allowing a suit seeking purely monetary damages to go forward without requiring exhaustion is that, if the administrative proceedings do not provide for money damages, there is no "available" administrative procedure to exhaust. See, e.g., Whitley v. Hunt, 158 F.3d 882, 886-87 (5th Cir. 1998). Some courts have reasoned that Congress did not intend for prisoners to pursue pointless administrative remedies before bringing suit in federal court. See id.

Without commenting on the merits of those arguments, I find they are not applicable here, where the plaintiff has requested both damages and injunctive relief. Hanson's only pure claim for monetary relief is his request for punitive damages. His other "damages" claim — for back pay — is based upon his being removed from his job in the prison kitchen following the fight with Medina. He appears to believe that he was wrongfully removed from this job based on the misconduct report. This claim could probably be addressed to prison officials, even if there is no procedure for awarding back pay. With regard to his claim for cosmetic surgery — if he truly wants the surgery, and is not claiming damages for future medical treatment — he has not demonstrated that there are no avenues of administrative relief available to him. Finally, he asks me to issue an order transferring him from SCI-Frackville, but has failed to specifically state why he cannot first address this request to prison officials. Allowing Hanson to escape the exhaustion requirement of § 1997e(a) on these claims because he has included a claim for monetary damages would eviscerate § 1997e(a). Finally, in the face of § 1997e(a)'s command that "No action . . . shall be brought . . . until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted," Hanson's bald, unsupported assertion that there are no administrative remedies available is not sufficient to withstand dismissal.

III. Conclusion

Because plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative procedures prior to bringing this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as mandated by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), defendants' motion is granted and this case is dismissed.


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