Appealed from No. 2012-016. Common Pleas Court of the County of Centre. Kistler, J.
Roland Kittrell, Pro se.
Joseph Fulginiti, Assistant Counsel, for appellees.
BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge.
ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge.
Roland Kittrell (Kittrell), an inmate representing himself, appeals from the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County (trial court) that dismissed his complaint pursuant to Section 6602(e) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The trial court did not address the other preliminary objections the Department of Corrections (DOC) filed on behalf of its individual employees (Respondents). On appeal, Kittrell argues he exhausted his administrative remedies based on the prisoner mailbox rule. Alternatively, he asserts Respondents precluded him from exhausting his remedies. Upon review, we vacate the trial court's order and remand so it may consider evidence pertaining to the prisoner mailbox rule and, if necessary, decide the remaining preliminary objections.
Kittrell filed a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking compensatory and punitive damages. According to his complaint, on December 31, 2009, Respondents intentionally and maliciously assaulted him, while he was handcuffed, resulting in significant injuries. Kittrell asserts he was a target for the assault based on his complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Kittrell also accuses Respondents of verbal abuse, excessive force and deliberate indifference, and a failure to protect him from a known harm in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. He further alleges that, following the attack, he was unlawfully confined in a torture cell without adequate food or medical treatment, also violating his constitutional rights.
DOC counters that Kittrell instigated the attack on an officer. Respondents reacted, attempting to subdue him and to restore order to the prison. DOC asserts Kittrell is precluded from seeking judicial relief because he did not follow the administrative process outlined in DOC's policy, DC-ADM 804 (Policy).
A. Administrative Process
Pursuant to DOC's Inmate Grievance Review System, 37 Pa. Code § 93.9 (incorporating DC-ADM 804), inmates may seek resolution of problems or issues of concern arising during the course of their confinement (Grievance Process). The Grievance Process consists of three steps. In Step 1, an inmate must submit the initial grievance to the Grievance Coordinator within 15 working days of the initial incident. The Grievance Coordinator then has 15
working days to provide a written response.
In Step 2, an inmate must appeal the grievance response to the Facility Manager or Superintendent within 15 working days of receiving it. In turn, the Manager or Superintendent must notify the inmate of his decision within 15 working days of receiving the appeal.
If still dissatisfied, an inmate in Step 3 must submit the final appeal to the Secretary's Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals (Central Office) within 15 working days of receiving an appeal response. The Central Office then has 30 working days to respond to the inmate. The Grievance Process thus culminates in the Central Office's response.
Significant to this appeal, DOC's Policy provides an exception to the timing requirements for filing inmate appeals under this process. In regards to Step 2, in the section entitled " Staff Responsibilities," it states:
[a]n exception to the 15 day filing requirement will be made only when the inmate notifies the Facility Manager/designee [Superintendent] of the reason for the delay and it is determined that the delay in filing was caused by:
(1) a temporary transfer from the facility where the grievance should have been filed;
(2) a permanent transfer to another facility from where the grievance should have been filed;
(3) Authorized Temporary Absence (ATA) for an extended period; or
(4) another delay with mail delivery.
See DC-ADM 804(A)(2)(c) (emphasis added).
B. Procedural History
Kittrell sought administrative relief through the Grievance Process. Pursuant to Step 1, he submitted a grievance on January 16, 2010. After receiving a request for clarification of that grievance, Kittrell submitted an amended grievance on January 28, 2010.
A month later, DOC acknowledged receiving his grievance, but did not respond to it. This acknowledgment stated, " [t]he investigation of your grievance is continuing. Due to the need for additional information, I cannot provide a response within the original time frame." Certified Record (C.R.), Item No. 36, ...