United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
February 25, 2004.
RONALD WESLEY, Plaintiff,
DONALD VAUGHN, et al., Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES KELLY, Senior District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants
Superintendent Donald Vaughn ("Vaughn") and Unit Manager William Lee
("Lee") (collectively, "Defendants") requesting that this Court dismiss
the Complaint filed by pro se Plaintiff Ronald Wesley
("Plaintiff"), an inmate currently incarcerated at the State Correctional
Institution at Graterford, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Graterford"), for failure
to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
Plaintiff's Complaint contains a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983")
claim for violation of his rights under the First and Fourteenth
Amendment of the United States Constitution, and other state
constitutional and "tort law" claims, for Defendants' involvement in an
alleged conspiracy against Plaintiff for having previously filed a
lawsuit against SCI-Graterford employees. Plaintiff filed a response to
the Motion, Defendants filed their reply thereto, and, with leave of this
Court, Plaintiff filed a supplemental response. For the following
Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.
For purposes of this Motion, we recount the facts as Plaintiff alleges
them. Previously, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in this Court, docketed at
Civil Action No. 99-1228, against "W. Conrad, J. Riddick & R.
Eldridge" and "Eric Thompson," who are employees of SCI-Graterford.
Conrad, Riddick and Eldridge failed to appear for a March 26, 2001 trial
date in that suit, as Superintendent Vaughn instructed them not to appear
at trial. Thompson, however, appeared, as did Vaughn and Lee, who were
not named as defendants. Counsel for the Commonwealth in that case
informed the Court that she failed to serve notice of the scheduled trial
date on Conrad, Riddick and Eldridge, but counsel for the parties,
including Plaintiff's court-appointed counsel nevertheless agreed to
proceed with trial without those three defendants present.*fn1 Plaintiff
alleges that, sometime during the trial, Vaughn consulted with Lee for
the purpose of retaliating against Plaintiff for filing that suit.
The following day, Lee ordered Chuck Bobb, Plaintiff's prison
counselor, to prepare Plaintiff's institutional file in
anticipation of a staffing meeting to discuss Plaintiff's housing
accommodations. The meeting took place the following day, without
providing Plaintiff notice or the opportunity to attend.
Twelve days later, Plaintiff was informed that he was being moved to a
new unit, run by non-defendant Unit Manager Dennis, where Plaintiff would
have to share a cell with another inmate and sleep on the top bunk.
Plaintiff's former Unit Manager, Lee, knew that Plaintiff had a medical
restriction against sleeping on the top bunk. Plaintiff complained and
was immediately moved to another cell, which he also had to share.
Plaintiff's new cellmate, however, was an "admitted smoker of tobacco
products." Plaintiff also had a medical restriction against sharing a
cell with a smoker, and immediately complained to non-defendant Sergeant
Cunningham, to no avail.
Later, non-defendant Officer Leveque reprimanded Plaintiff for taking a
short-cut to the dining hall from the Unit, rather than the circuitous
route mandated by SCI-Graterford procedure. Officer Leveque threatened
Plaintiff with disciplinary action if he did not take the longer route,
even though the longer route had stairs and Plaintiff had a medical
restriction allowing for "light-duty" only. Plaintiff complained to
non-defendant Unit Manager Dennis, to no avail.
Plaintiff became "frustrated and angry" and, after making several
complaints about being double-celled with a smoker, and having to take
the long way to the dining hall, he received a
misconduct and was placed in restricted custody.
In response to his situation, Plaintiff attempted to file a grievance
through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
grievance system. The parties to this matter agree that the Consolidated
Inmate Review System consists of a three-part administrative process,
which includes filing of an initial grievance with a grievance
coordinator, an appeal of the grievance determination to appropriate
intermediate review personnel, and a final review by the Central Office
Review Committee. See Booth v. Churner, 206 F.3d 289, 293 n.2
(3d Cir. 2000) (outlining the grievance review process generally).
On April 10, 2001, Plaintiff submitted a grievance, which was rejected
on April 12, 2001 for his failure to file separate grievances based upon
different events. On April 13, 2001, Plaintiff re-submitted the
grievance, which was again rejected on April 17, 2001 for the same
reason. The grievance coordinator further directed: "You have not
indicated that you have requested an exception from the Unit Manager to
be permitted to use the alternative route to the dining area. Send a
request slip." Plaintiff then submitted the grievance for the third time
on April 19, 2001, and, on April 27, 2001, the grievance coordinator
directed Plaintiff again to file separate grievances for different
events, and also instructed: "An attempt should be made to contact Deputy
Lorenzo who will investigate this matter. If no response you can
By letter dated May 1, 2001, Plaintiff requested that Deputy
Superintendent Lorenzo conduct an investigation. By letter dated May 28,
2001, Plaintiff re-submitted his grievance to the grievance coordinator
for Deputy Superintendent Lorenzo's failure to respond to Plaintiff's May
1, 2001 letter. On May 30, 2001, Plaintiff's grievance was denied, noting
as follows: "You can appeal to the Superintendent. You failed to show how
you have been harassed." Plaintiff did not appeal this decision to
Superintendent Vaughn or to the Central Office Review Committee.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint.
Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). We
therefore accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and
give the pleader the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be
fairly drawn therefrom. Wisniewski v. Johns-Manvilie Corp.,
759 F.2d 271, 273 (3d Cir. 1985). We are not, however, required to accept
legal conclusions either alleged or inferred from the pleaded facts.
Kost, 1 F.3d at 183. In considering whether to dismiss a complaint,
courts may consider those facts alleged in the complaint as well as
matters of public record, orders, facts in the record and exhibits
attached to a complaint. Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbone, Sedan &
38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994). A court may dismiss a complaint only
if the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would entitle him to
relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).
Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint for several reasons.
First, Defendants claim that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his
administrative remedies. Second, Defendants argue that one prong of
Plaintiff's two-prong conspiracy claim is moot. Third, Defendants contend
that Vaughn and Lee lack personal involvement in the alleged illegal act
as required for a Section 1983 claim. Fourth, Defendants claim that
sovereign immunity bars Plaintiff's state law claims. Finally, Defendants
assert that Plaintiff has not suffered any physical injury in connection
with his claims. Because we agree with Defendants that Plaintiff has
failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, and, accordingly, grant
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, we do not address Defendants' remaining
arguments in support of dismissal.
Section 1997e(a) of Title 42 of the United States Code requires
prisoners to exhaust administrative remedies before initiating a lawsuit
pursuant to Section 1983:
No action shall be brought with respect to prison
conditions under section 1983 of this title, or
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). Defendants contend that Plaintiff's
Section 1983 claim may not be brought before this Court until such time
that he has exhausted his administrative remedies as required by Section
1997e. It appears that Plaintiff started the process of administrative
review by filing a grievance according to the Consolidated Inmate
Grievance System, but that Plaintiff did not completely exhaust that
review process. While Plaintiff had made numerous attempts to file a
grievance, he repeatedly failed to follow the grievance coordinator's
instructions, which caused Plaintiff to file his grievance three times
before the coordinator denied the grievance on the merits. When Plaintiff
was instructed to appeal to Deputy Superintendent Lorenzo at the
intermediate stage of the grievance process, Plaintiff indeed wrote a
letter to Deputy Superintendent Lorenzo, but after concluding that he
failed to respond in a timely fashion, Plaintiff resubmitted the
grievance to the grievance coordinator. When the grievance coordinator
rejected the grievance again, Plaintiff made a choice to cease the
grievance review process altogether. Plaintiff never submitted a final
appeal to the Superintendent or to the Central Office Review Committee,
as required by the Consolidated Inmate Grievance System.
Plaintiff argues that he has made "good-faith attempts" to file his
grievance in accordance with the administrative review
system but that, at each turn, his grievance was rejected by the
grievance coordinator based on "unjustified reasons."*fn2 Plaintiff
"deduced" that the grievance coordinator was "running interference
against" him and that, even if the grievance was processed at that
intermediate level, the Superintendent would never properly address a
grievance that was filed against him. Taking this speculation to the
extreme, Plaintiff concluded that the Superintendent would never forward
an unflattering grievance to Central Office for final review. It appears
that Plaintiff is attempting to argue that exhaustion of his
administrative remedies would have been futile, since he believed that
the available administrative process could not have provided him with the
relief that he seeks.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has recently
rejected this argument: "we are of the opinion that Section
1997e(a) . . . completely precludes a futility exception to its mandatory
exhaustion requirement." Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65, 71 (3d
Cir. 2000). Plaintiff neither alleges nor submits any documents to
support a determination that he exhausted the three-part administrative
process, instead, arguing
to the contrary, that exhaustion of his administrative remedies
would have been futile. In accordance with Section 1997e, Plaintiff's
Section 1983 claim must be dismissed for his failure to exhaust his
available administrative remedies.*fn3
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is GRANTED. Plaintiff's
Complaint is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE for his failure to exhaust
AND NOW, this day of February, 2004, in consideration of the Motion to
Dismiss filed by Defendants Donald Vaughn and William Lee (collectively,
the "Defendants") (Doc. No. 12), the Response filed by pro se
Plaintiff Ronald Wesley ("Plaintiff") (Doc. No. 19), the Defendants'
Reply thereto (Doc. No. 18), and Plaintiff's Supplemental Response (Doc.
No. 22), IT IS ORDERED that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.
Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE for his failure to
exhaust administrative remedies.