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Williams v. Phillps

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 20, 2018



          JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR., United States District Judge


         Plaintiff Jason Edward Williams initiated this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants George Croak and J. Phillips, correctional officers at the Bucks County Correctional Facility, Doylestown, Pennsylvania for alleged assaults and sexual harassment beginning in April 2017. See Compl., ECF No. 9. Croak has filed a Motion to Dismiss based on Williams's alleged failure to exhaust administrative remedies. See Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 25.[2] For the reasons set forth below, because it is not clear from the face of the Complaint that Williams did not exhaust administrative remedies, the Motion to Dismiss is denied.


         In rendering a decision on a motion to dismiss, this Court must “accept all factual allegations as true [and] construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Only if “the ‘[f]actual allegations . . . raise a right to relief above the speculative level'” has the plaintiff stated a plausible claim. Id. at 234 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 540, 555 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Id. (explaining that determining “whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense”). The defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that a plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)).


         In the Complaint, Williams details numerous incidents of alleged physical abuse by Croak between April 20, 2017, and August 29, 2017, while he was incarcerated at the Bucks County Correctional Facility. See Compl. He also alleges that Croak hit him in the private area on more than one occasion, unsnapped his jumper on another date, grabbed his nipple on yet another occasion while telling Williams that he liked that sh*t, and called him a faggot on several other dates. See Compl. supp. pages.

         When responding to why he did not file a grievance, Williams states: “I only filed a grievance for the Officer Phillips matters all other incidents I reported to staff members and no one did anything about it.” Compl. 5. He further explains, “I reported it to my DNA counselor Isabella Evans and her boss.” Id.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Croak argues that it is clear from the Complaint Williams failed to file a grievance regarding the claims against him and the federal claim must be dismissed as unexhausted.[3]

         “The Prison Litigation Reform Act (‘PLRA') prohibits an inmate from bringing a civil rights suit alleging specific acts of unconstitutional conduct by prison officials ‘until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.'” Oriakhi v. United States, 165 Fed.Appx. 991, 993 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)). “Although exhaustion is not a pleading requirement under the PLRA, a court may dismiss claims if the complaint is clear on its face that the plaintiff did not exhaust available administrative remedies.” Livingston v. Appel, No. 11-2764, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 168579, at *10 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 5, 2014) (citing Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 214-15 (2007)).

         Despite Croak's suggestion, this Court does not find that Williams's failure to exhaust administrative remedies is clear from the face of the Complaint. Although Williams states that he only filed a grievance regarding the Phillips matters, he also states that he reported all other matters to staff members. Drawing all reasonable inferences in the Complaint in the light most favorable to Williams, all other matters includes allegations that Croak sexually harassed[4] him, sexually abused[5] him, and physically abused[6] him. These types of complaints may be reported verbally to a staff member, and there is no requirement that an inmate file a written grievance. See DC-ADM 001; DC-ADM 008.

         Pursuant to the Policy Statement of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”), [7] an inmate who is a victim of sexual abuse or sexual harassment by a staff member may report the abuse by making “a verbal report to a staff member.” See DC-ADM 008, Section 3(B)(4).[8] This Policy Statement specifically provides that “[i]nmates shall not utilize the inmate grievance system to report sexual abuse or sexual harassment by a staff member. . . .” DC-ADM 008, Section 3(B)(6). See also DC-ADM 804 (stating that the Inmate Grievance System is not meant to address allegations of sexual abuse and that such allegations “must be addressed through Department policy DC-ADM 008, Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)” (emphasis in original)). Although inmates may use the grievance system to report allegations of excessive or improper force by a corrections officer, inmates may also report such abuse verbally to any staff member. See DC-ADM 001(IV)(D)(1)-(2). See also Daniel v. Wetzel, No. 1:15-cv-00850, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39547, at *14-16 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 24, 2016) (“Grievances alleging abuse of an inmate by a staff member or other noninmate may be addressed through the DC-ADM 804 grievance process, or they may also be addressed by alternative reporting methods set forth in DC-ADM 001.”).

         At this stage of the case, the Court finds that because Williams alleges that he reported the allegations of abuse and harassment by Croak to a staff member, which is consistent with the available reporting options in DC-ADM 001 and DC-ADM 008, it is not clear from the face of the Complaint that his claims are not exhausted. Moreover, because DC-ADM 804 states that the Inmate Grievance System is not available to address allegations of sexual abuse, the grievance procedure was not “available” to Williams regarding these claims. See Oriakhi, 165 Fed.Appx. at 993 (holding that the PLRA requires an inmate to exhaust “such administrative remedies as are available”); Sarvey v. Wetzel, No. 16-157ERIE, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51487, at *12-13 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 28, 2018) (finding that the opaqueness ...

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