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Pledger v. C.B.M. Food Vendors

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 29, 2018

JEREMEL PLEDGER, Plaintiff
v.
C.B.M. FOOD VENDORS, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          William J. Nealon, United States District Judge.

         I. Background

         On August 15, 2016, Plaintiff, Jeremel Pledger, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. He complains of incidents which occurred at his prior place of confinement, the Lackawanna County Prison. Named as Defendants are the Lackawanna County Prison and the following Lackawanna County Prison employees: Captain Shanley and Officer Michael Esposito. (Doc. 1, complaint). Plaintiff also names C.B.M. Food Vendors and Benjamin O'Leary, an employee of C.B.M. Id.

         Plaintiff alleges that he was “hired to work in the kitchen without being medically cleared” and “was made to work 7 days a week with no days off from 6 am to 6 pm, sometimes later until 9 pm.” (Doc. 1). He states that he “worked for 87 days from March 6th until May 31st.” Id. He claims that “on January 29th the doctor of Lackawanna County Prison deemed [him] no work no recreation.” Id. Finally, Plaintiff states that “on May 24th [he] strained his back while working” and “C.B.M. workers Kevin Mones, Ben O'Leary and Kitchen Officer told [Plaintiff] that if he reported his injury he would be fired because he was not suppose to be working.” Id. Plaintiff was then transferred to SCI-Graterford, where he claims he “received an increase in medication on 7/9/16 after leaving the Lackawanna County Prison.” Id.

         On August 15, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant action in which he seeks compensatory and punitive damages for “lack of medical attention, increase of depression, violation of inmate workers rights” and “for mental anguish in delaying [him] from proper health care” Id. Plaintiff also seeks to recover for “negligence of grievance procedures.” Id.

         On May 1, 2017, Defendants C.B.M. Food Vendors and Benjamin O'Leary filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint, and supporting brief, arguing, inter alia, dismissal for lack of jurisdiction due to Plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies. (Docs. 16, 17). On June 21, 2017, the remaining Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, supported by a statement of material facts, exhibits and supporting brief. (Docs. 21-3). Although Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss, Plaintiff has failed to oppose the motion for summary judgment. As such, the motion is treated as unopposed. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment.

         II. Motion to Dismiss

         Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Under Rule 12(b)(6), we must “accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008)). While a complaint need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), a complaint must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[L]abels and conclusions” are not enough, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, and a court “is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Id. (quoted case omitted). Thus, “a judicial conspiracy claim must include at least a discernible factual basis to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal.” Capogrosso v. The Supreme Court of New Jersey, 588 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2009) (per curiam).

         In resolving the motion to dismiss, we thus “conduct a two-part analysis.” Fowler, supra, 578 F.3d at 210. First, we separate the factual elements from the legal elements and disregard the legal conclusions. Id. at 210-11. Second, we “determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a “plausible claim for relief”. Id. at 211 (quoted case omitted).

         In addition, because Plaintiff complains about “prison conditions, ” the screening provisions of 42 U.S.C. §1997e apply, as do the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. §1915(e), given that he was granted in forma pauperis status to pursue this suit. The court's obligation to dismiss a complaint under the PLRA screening provisions for complaints that fail to state a claim is not excused even after defendants have filed a motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126 n. 6 (9th Cir. 2000). Hence, if there is a ground for dismissal which was not relied upon by a defendant in a motion to dismiss, the court may nonetheless sua sponte rest its dismissal upon such ground pursuant to the screening provisions of the PLRA. See Lopez; Dare v. U.S., Civil No. 06-115E, 2007 WL 1811198, at *4 (W.D. Pa. June 21, 2007), aff'd, 264 Fed App'x. 183 (3d Cir. 2008).

         Exhaustion

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act requires that inmates exhaust the administrative remedies that are available to them prior to bringing suit in federal court. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Specifically, the PLRA provides that “[n]o 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 have been exhausted.” Id.

         The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed that “[t]here is no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA.” Ross v. Blake, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1856, 195 L.Ed.2d 117 (2016), quoting Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 85 (2006), accord Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007). “And that mandatory language means a court may not excuse a failure to exhaust, even to take [ ] [special] circumstances into account.” Ross at 1856.

         Because the PLRA is a statutory exhaustion provision, “Congress sets the rules-and courts have a role in creating exceptions only if Congress wants them to. For that reason mandatory exhaustion statutes like the PLRA establish mandatory exhaustion regimes, foreclosing judicial discretion.” Id. at 1857. Accordingly, exhaustion is required regardless of the availability of the requested relief, and regardless of the nature of the underlying claim, whether it arises from excessive force, or a violation of the constitution. Id., citing, Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001); Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 520 (2002); Woodford, 548 U.S. at 91.

         Additionally, exhaustion must be “proper, ” which “demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules.” Woodford, at 90. This serves to protect “administrative agency authority” over the matter, giving an agency “an opportunity to correct its own mistakes ... before it is haled into federal court, ” and “discourages ‘disregard of [the agency's] procedures.” Id. at 89, quoting McCarthy v. Madigan, 503 U.S. 140, 145 (1992).

         The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections' administrative remedies for inmate grievances are provided for in Department of Corrections Administrative Directive 804. See www.cor.state.pa.us, DOC Policies, DC-ADM 804, Inmate Grievance System Policy (“DC-ADM 804"). This policy establishes the Consolidated Inmate Grievance Review System, through which inmates can seek to resolve issues relating to their incarceration. Id. The first step in the inmate grievance process is initial review. Id. Grievances must be submitted for initial review within 15 working days after the event upon which the grievance is based. Id. After initial review, the inmate may appeal to the superintendent of their institution. Id. Upon completion of the initial review and the appeal from the initial review, an inmate may seek final review. Id.

         Defendants C.B.M. Food Vendors and Benjamin O'Leary have properly raised the matter of exhaustion of administrative remedies made available to inmates confined within the Lackawanna County Prison. Defendants argue that Plaintiff's own complaint reveals that Plaintiff “filed grievances at Lackawanna County Prison got no response” and that he “filed a grievance to PA DOC grievance department on 8-4-16.” (Doc. 1 at 2). However, while it is apparent that Plaintiff started the grievance process at both the Lackawanna County Prison and the State Correctional Institution he was subsequently transferred to, he failed to finish the grievance process. To the extent that Plaintiff submitted a grievance to the appropriate official and did not receive a response, the procedure contemplates several tiers of review and the grievance review system is not exhausted when an inmate files a grievance and then takes no other action through established channels when a grievance is not resolved to his satisfaction.

         Plaintiff's next step would have been to appeal any decision, or lack of one, to the next level of review. It is clear from the face of Plaintiff's complaint that he failed to properly exhaust administrative remedies. Plaintiff does not refute this. Thus, the failure to pursue the appropriate ...


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