United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania
CHIEF DISTRICT JUDGE JOY FLOWERS CONTI
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
LISA PUPO LENIHAN CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
It is respectfully recommended that the Motions to Dismiss, which have been converted into Motions for Summary Judgment, filed by the Allegheny County Defendants (ECF No. 320) and the Nurse Defendants (ECF No. 321) should be denied to the extent Defendants seek revocation of Plaintiff’s in forma pauperis status for violation of the “three strikes rule” codified in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). To the extent Defendants seek dismissal for Plaintiff’s failure to exhaust his administrative remedies pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), it is recommended that ruling on the Motions be denied without prejudice and refiled closer to the trial of the matter for the Court to conduct an evidentiary hearing and made a determination as to the factual disputes on this issue.
Plaintiff, Andre Jacobs, is a state prisoner who alleges that his constitutional rights were violated while he was being held at the Allegheny County Jail between an unspecified date in April, 2005, and September 27, 2006. (ECF No. 55 at ¶ 19.)
A. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Among the arguments that the Defendants make in support of their respective Motions is that Plaintiff did not properly exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit as he was required to do pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996). Through the PLRA, Congress amended 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) to prohibit prisoners from bringing an action with respect to prison conditions pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or any other federal law, until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted. Specifically, the act provides in pertinent part as follows:
No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1979 of the Revised Statutes of the United States (42 U.S.C. § 1983), 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). Exhaustion is required under this provision regardless of the type of relief sought and the type of relief available through administrative procedures. See Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001). In addition, the exhaustion requirement applies to all claims relating to prison life that do not implicate the duration of the prisoner’s sentence, including those that involve general circumstances as well as particular episodes. See Porter v. Nussle, 524 U.S. 516, 532 (2002).
The PLRA also mandates that inmates “properly” exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit in federal court. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93 (2006). “Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency’s deadlines and other critical procedural rules because no adjunctive system can function effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings.” Id. at 90-91. Such requirements “eliminate unwarranted federal-court interference with the administration of prisons, and thus seek to ‘affor[d] corrections officials time and opportunity to address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a federal case.’” Id. at 93 (quoting Porter, 534 U.S. at 525). Courts have concluded that inmates who fail to fully, or timely, complete the prison grievance process are barred from subsequently litigating claims in federal courts. See, e.g., Booth v. Churner, 206 F.3d 289 (3d Cir. 2000); Bolla v. Strickland, 304 F. App’x 22 (3d Cir. 2008); Jetter v. Beard, 183 F. App’x 178 (3d Cir. 2006).
This broad rule favoring full exhaustion has one, narrowly defined exception. If the actions of prison officials directly caused the inmate’s procedural default on a grievance, the inmate will not be held to strict compliance with this exhaustion requirement. See Camp v. Brennan, 219 F.3d 279 (3d Cir. 2000) (Section 1997e(a) only requires that prisoners exhaust such administrative remedies “as are available”). However, case law recognizes a clear “reluctance to invoke equitable reasons to excuse [an inmate’s] failure to exhaust as the statute requires.” Davis v. Warman, 49 F. App’x 365, 368 (3d Cir. 2002). Thus, an inmate’s failure to exhaust will only be excused “under certain limited circumstances, ” Harris v. Armstrong, 149 F. App’x 58, 59 (3d Cir. 2005), and an inmate can defeat a claim of failure to exhaust only by showing that “he was misled or that there was some extraordinary reason he was prevented from complying with the statutory mandate.” Davis, 49 F. App’x at 368; see also Brown v. Croak, 312 F.3d 109, 110 (3d Cir. 2002) (assuming that prisoner with failure to protect claim is entitled to rely on instruction by prison officials to wait for outcome of internal security investigation before filing grievance); Camp, 219 F.3d at 281 (exhaustion requirement met where Office of Professional Responsibility fully examined merits of excessive force claim and correctional officers impeded filing of grievance).
In the absence of competent proof that an inmate was misled by corrections officials, or some other extraordinary circumstances, inmate requests to excuse a failure to exhaust are frequently rebuffed by the courts. Thus, an inmate cannot excuse a failure to timely comply with these grievance procedures by simply claiming that his efforts constituted “substantial compliance” with this statutory exhaustion requirement. Harris, 149 F. App’x at 59. Nor can an inmate avoid this exhaustion requirement by alleging that the prison’s policies were not clearly explained to him. Davis, 49 F. App’x at 368. Thus, an inmate’s confusion regarding the grievance procedures does not, standing alone, excuse a failure to exhaust. Casey v. Smith, 71 F. App’x 916 (3d Cir. 2003). Moreover, an inmate cannot cite to alleged staff impediments to grieving a matter as grounds for excusing a failure to exhaust, if it also appears that the prisoner did not pursue a proper grievance once those impediments were removed. Oliver v. Moore, 145 F. App’x 731 (3d Cir. 2005) (failure to exhaust not excused if, after staff allegedly ceased efforts to impede grievance, prisoner failed to follow through on grievance).
In the case sub judice, Defendants maintain that administrative remedies were available to Plaintiff at the ACJ and because Plaintiff was aware of ACJ’s grievance process, given that he expressly references it in his Complaint, and did not file any grievances prior to filing this lawsuit in 2008, this case should be dismissed. In support of this argument, they submit affidavits from Captain Robyn McCall and Sergeant Smarra who attest that they searched the grievance records at ACJ and did not find any grievance that was filed ...