United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
KAROLINE MEHALCHICK United States Magistrate Judge
the Court are two motions for summary judgment (Doc.
127; Doc. 145) filed by the Defendants to this
§ 1983 action; each motion argues that pro
se Plaintiff Sean Pressley failed to exhaust
administrative remedies prior to initiation of this lawsuit.
Defendants argue that exhaustion cannot be accomplished under
DC-ADM 001 (Doc. 128) and that Pressley did not
pursue relief to final review as required for exhaustion
under DC-ADM 804 (Doc. 146). For the rationale
contained in this Report and Recommendation, the Court
recommends finding that Pressley failed to exhaust under
DC-ADM 804, but that he did exhaust under DC-ADM 001.
However, Pressley failed to identify some of the Defendants
to this action, as required for proper exhaustion.
Background and Procedural History
March 3, 2008, Pressley initiated this § 1983
action for excessive force and failure to protect under the
Eighth Amendment and a violation of his due process rights
under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Doc. 1; Doc. 1-2). In
his complaint,  Pressley asserts that on October 30, 2006,
Defendants Huber and Zimmerman attacked him without
provocation; punching him in the face, head, and upper body.
(Doc. 1-2, ¶ 13-14). After the initial attack,
Defendants Yohn, Gerber, Ayers, Tabias, and Taylor joined in.
(Doc. 1-2, ¶ 15 - as amended by Doc.
31). This attack resulted in “swelling of the face
and head, a fracture or partial fracture to a tooth,
lacerations to his lips, and back and chest pains.”
(Doc. 1-2, ¶ 16).
nearly three years, Pressley had warned Defendants
Steigerwalt, Marsh, Jr., Chambers, Taggart, Kelchner,
O'Hara, and Beard that Defendant Huber was stalking and
harassing him. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 18). Pressley
asserts each is liable for a failure to protect him from
Huber, who was involved in “many” incidents of
abuse on the cell block prior to the one at the heart of this
action. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 20-22). Pressley seeks
compensatory and punitive damages, as well as costs for
litigation. (Doc. 1-2, at 6).
collective Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on
July 16, 2015; arguing Pressley failed to exhaust his claims
through the prison's administrative grievance process.
(Doc. 99; Doc. 100). Pressley did not
respond, despite Court Order (Doc. 103), instead
filing a motion to stay (Doc. 105) received by the
Court on October 9, 2015; the same day that the Court issued
a Report and Recommendation to grant the motion for summary
judgment. (Doc. 104). The District Court denied
Pressley's motion to stay, but also declined to adopt the
Report and Recommendation in order to allow for Pressley to
respond. (Doc. 113). The parties filed their brief
in opposition and reply on March 7, 2016, and March 21, 2016,
respectively. (Doc. 118; Doc. 120).
the benefit of additional briefing, the Court granted summary
judgment on the failure to protect and due process claims for
Pressley's failure to exhaust, but denied summary
judgment without prejudice on exhaustion of Pressley's
claims of excessive force. (Doc. 122; Doc. 123). The
Court allowed a renewed summary judgment motion to be filed
within 30 days. On May 8, 2017, Pressley filed a
“motion for relief from Order”, which the Court
considered a motion for reconsideration on the basis of newly
discovered evidence. (Doc. 126). The Defendants
filed their renewed summary judgment motion on May 22, 2017,
addressing only exhaustion under DC-ADM 001. (Doc.
127; Doc. 128). The parties fully briefed the
motion for summary judgment, however the Court found merit to
Pressley's motion for reconsideration and vacated the
portion of the March 21, 2017, Order entering summary
judgment on Pressley's claims for a failure to protect.
(Doc. 141; Doc. 142). The Court ordered any
desired additional motion and briefing on the issue of
exhaustion under DC-ADM 804 in light of the newly discovered
evidence to be submitted by September 6, 2017. (Doc.
Defendants complied on August 25, 2017. (Doc. 145;
Doc. 146). Therein they argue that Pressley failed
to exhaust his claims under DC-ADM 804 because he failed to
request monetary relief, failed to follow proper procedures
in his initial appeal, failed to pursue his appeal to the
final stage, and failed to name parties in his grievances
that are now parties to this action. (Doc. 146, at
9-11). Pressley responds he did not have current prisoner
handbooks and thus did not have available administrative
remedies to pursue, that D.O.C. policy does not consider a
failure to request relief as a procedural default, that his
grievance was improperly denied because he was forced to
combine all his pending grievances into one appeal, and that
prison officials prevented his attempts at appealing to final
review. (Doc. 153, at 2-4). The Defendants respond
Pressley's arguments are belied by his prior assertions,
that what D.O.C. policy dictates is distinct from the
requirements for a federal lawsuit, and that the final appeal
document is fabricated because it is addressed to someone who
did not work at the prison until seven months after the
purported appeal is dated. (Doc. 154, at 3-5).
briefed, the matter is now ripe for review.
Standard of Review
the evidentiary support for evaluating whether Pressley
failed to exhaust administrative remedies has changed, the
standards for evaluating exhaustion provided in the
Court's prior Report and Recommendation have not.
Prison Litigation Reform Act provides that “[n]o action
shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under . .
. [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). Section 1997e's exhaustion requirement
applies to a wide-range of inmate complaints, including
damages complaints like those made here grounded in alleged
violations of the Eighth Amendment. See Spruill
v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218 (3d Cir. 2004); Booth v.
Churner, 206 F.3d 289 (3d Cir. 2000).
the exhaustion requirement is not a jurisdictional bar to
litigation, this requirement is strictly enforced by the
courts. The plaintiff must exhaust administrative remedies
prior to bringing a civil rights action, not while the action
is pending. Millbrook v. United States, 8 F.Supp.3d
601, 611 (M.D. Pa. 2014) (citations omitted). This rigorous
enforcement is mandated by a fundamental recognition that
§ 1997e's exhaustion requirement promotes
important public policies. As the United States Court of
Appeals for the Third Circuit has noted:
[c]ourts have recognized myriad policy considerations in
favor of exhaustion requirements. They include (1) avoiding
premature interruption of the administrative process and
giving the agency a chance to discover and correct its own
errors; (2) conserving scarce judicial resources, since the
complaining party may be successful in vindicating his rights
in the administrative process and the courts may never have
to intervene; and (3) improving the efficacy of the
administrative process. Each of these policies, which
Congress seems to have had in mind in enacting the PLRA, is
advanced by the across-the-board, mandatory exhaustion
requirement in § 1997e(a). ... [A]
comprehensive exhaustion requirement better serves the policy
of granting an agency the “opportunity to correct its
own mistakes with respect to the programs it administers
before it is haled into federal court.” Moreover,
“even if the complaining prisoner seeks only money
damages, the prisoner may be successful in having the
[prison] halt the infringing practice” or fashion some
other remedy, such as returning personal property, reforming
personal property policies, firing an abusive prison guard,
or creating a better screening process for hiring such
guards. And when a prisoner obtains some measure of
affirmative relief, he may elect not to pursue his claim for
damages. In either case, local actors are given the chance to
address local problems, and at the very least, the time frame
for the prisoner's damages is frozen or the isolated acts
of abuse are prevented from recurring. An across-the-board
exhaustion requirement also promotes judicial efficiency.
… Moreover, even if only a small percentage of cases
settle, the federal courts are saved the time normally spent
hearing such actions and multiple appeals thereto. …
In cases in which inmate-plaintiffs exhaust their remedies in
the administrative process and continue to pursue their
claims in federal court, there is still much to be gained.
The administrative process can serve to create a record for
subsequent proceedings, it can be used to help focus and
clarify poorly pled or confusing claims, and it forces the
prison to justify or explain its internal procedures. All of
these functions help courts navigate the sea of prisoner
litigation in a manner that affords a fair hearing to all
Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65, 75-76 (3d Cir. 2000)
of the important policies fostered by mandating exhaustion,
it has been held that there is no futility exception to
§ 1997e's exhaustion requirement.
Nyhuis, 204 F.3d at 71. Instead, courts have
typically required across-the-board administrative exhaustion
by inmate plaintiffs who seek to pursue claims in federal
court. Moreover, courts have also imposed a procedural
default component on this exhaustion requirement, holding
that inmates must fully satisfy the administrative
requirements of the inmate grievance process before
proceeding into federal court. Spruill, 372 F.3d at
230. Applying this procedural default standard to §
1997e's exhaustion requirement, courts have
concluded that inmates who fail to fully, or timely, complete
the prison grievance process are barred from subsequently
litigating claims in federal court. See, e.g.,
Booth v. Churner, 206 F.3d 289, 300 (3d Cir. 2000);
Bolla v. Strickland, 304 F.App'x 22, 23 (3d Cir.
2008) (not precedential); Jetter v. Beard, 183 F.
App'x 178, 180 (3d Cir. 2006) (not precedential).
Furthermore, applying this procedural default component to
the exhaustion requirement, it has been held that:
[a]s for the failure to the identify named defendants on the
grievance form, . . . to the extent the identity of a
defendant was “a fact relevant to the claim, ” .
. . in the absence of any justifiable excuse, a[n]
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) (not
precedential).Thus, “it is clear, regardless of the
purpose of the requirement, that Spruillrequires the
prisoner-grievant-plaintiff to name in the grievance those he
eventually sues, upon pain of procedural default.”
Hemingway v. Ellers, No. 07-1764, 2008 WL 3540526,
*11 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 12, 2008).
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) (finding
administrative remedies “unavailable” when
correctional officers told prisoner that his grievances would
not reach the Grievance Coordinator). 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
“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 defendants
did not “refute” prisoner's account of the
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
merely alleging that the Department of Corrections policies
were not clearly explained to him. Davis, 49 F.
App'x at 368. Furthermore, an inmate's confusion
regarding these grievances 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
of whether Pressley exhausted his claims pursuant to
administrative remedies provided in D.O.C. policy is governed
by two provisions; DC-ADM 804 and DC-ADM 001. As summarized
in the March 21, 2017 Memorandum allowing supplemental
briefing on the issue of exhaustion:
[t]he Pennsylvania DOC has established several methods by
which Pennsylvania inmates can grieve their claims of abuse
before seeking redress in federal court. First, the
Pennsylvania DOC has an “Inmate Abuse Allegation
Monitoring” policy expressing the principle that an
inmate should “not [be] subjected to corporal or
unusual punishment, or personal abuse or injury.” DOC
Policy Statement DC-ADM 001, “Inmate Abuse Allegation
Monitoring, ” Part V, “Policy, ” available
at http://www/cor.state.pa.us (emphasis in
original). In part, “abuse” is defined in the
policy as “[c]onduct by an employee ... that involves
... the use of excessive force ...