United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
Brock, a Pennsylvania state prisoner, filed this amended 42
U.S.C. § 1983 complaint alleging that numerous
defendants violated his rights during his incarceration at
Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution Huntingdon. (Doc.
11). Brock's claim relates primarily to what he alleges
was inadequate psychological treatment, including the failure
to prescribe medications that would not cause side effects,
the failure to treat him for anxiety, depression, paranoia,
and mood swings, and his removal from the prison's mental
health roster. Id.
filed two motions to dismiss asserting that the amended
complaint should be dismissed because Brock failed to exhaust
his administrative remedies. (Docs. 36, 37). Brock did not
respond to either motion. Because Defendants' motions to
dismiss relied in part on the contention that Brock failed to
exhaust his administrative remedies, this Court issued an
order, pursuant to Paladino v. Newsome, 885 F.3d
203, 211 (3rd Cir. 2018), that converted the motions to
motions for summary judgment and permitted the parties to
supplement the record with any pertinent documents or
arguments related to that issue. (Doc. 40). Brock did not
respond to that Order, although DOC Defendants submitted a
timely supplemental brief and statement of facts. (Docs. 41,
42, 43). The motions are now ripe for consideration.
judgment is appropriate when, drawing all reasonable
inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, the movant shows
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and
thus the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Minarsky v. Susquehanna Cty., 895 F.3d
303, 309 (3d Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted).
“A dispute is genuine if a reasonable trier-of-fact
could find in favor of the non-movant, and material if it
could affect the outcome of the case.” Bradley v.
W. Chester Univ. of Pa. State Sys. of Higher Educ., 880
F.3d 643, 650 (3d Cir.) (internal quotation marks omitted),
cert. denied, 139 S.Ct. 167 (2018). In considering a
motion for summary judgment, “the court need consider
only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials
in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).
Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C.
§ 1997e, requires that prisoners exhaust all available
administrative remedies prior to filing suit in federal
court. Rinaldi v. United States, 904 F.3d 257,
264-65 (3d Cir. 2018). “Exhaustion is thus a
non-jurisdictional prerequisite to an inmate bringing suit
and, for that reason, . . . it constitutes a threshold issue
that courts must address to determine whether
litigation is being conducted in the right forum at the right
time.” Id. at 265 (internal quotation marks
omitted). “[T]o properly exhaust administrative
remedies prisoners must complete the administrative review
process in accordance with the [prison's] applicable
procedural rules.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S.
199, 218 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted).
relevant procedural rules governing Pennsylvania state
prisons require that prisoners file an initial grievance with
the Facility Grievance Coordinator within fifteen working
days of the event of which the prisoner complains. (Doc. 36-1
at 6-7). If the prisoner is unsatisfied with the response to
his initial grievance, he may appeal that decision to the
Facility Manager within fifteen working days of the response.
(Id. at 16). If that appeal is denied, the prisoner
may file a final appeal to the Secretary's Office of
Inmate Grievances and Appeals (“SOIGA”) within
fifteen working days of the Facility Manager's decision.
(Id. at 19). “[A] prisoner must follow each of
these steps to properly exhaust his administrative remedies
under the PLRA.” Harris v. Hyde, 709 Fed.Appx.
144, 147 n.6 (3d Cir. 2017).
containing a strict exhaustion requirement, “[t]he PLRA
requires only ‘proper exhaustion,' meaning
exhaustion of those administrative remedies that are
‘available.'” Rinaldi, 904 F.3d at
266 (quoting Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93
the Supreme Court [has] identified “three kinds of
circumstances in which an administrative remedy, although
officially on the books, ” is not
“available” because it is “not capable of
use to obtain relief”: (1) when “it operates as a
simple dead end-with officers unable or consistently
unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates”;
(2) when it is “so opaque that it becomes, practically
speaking, incapable of use, ” such as when no ordinary
prisoner can discern or navigate it; or (3) when
“prison administrators thwart inmates from taking
advantage of a grievance process through machination,
misrepresentation, or intimidation.”
Id. at 266-67 (quoting Ross v. Blake, 136
S.Ct. 1850, 1859-60 (2016)).
burden to plead and prove failure to exhaust as an
affirmative defense rests on the defendant.”
Id. at 268. “But once the defendant has
established that the inmate failed to resort to
administrative remedies, the onus falls on the inmate to show
that such remedies were unavailable to him.”
records demonstrate that Brock utilized the final step of the
administrative grievance process seven times, but that none
of the appeals to SOIGA involved allegations related to his
mental health treatment. (See Doc. 36-1 at 38- 77).
Brock asserts in his complaint that he filed one initial
grievance related to his mental health treatment, but that
grievance was rejected. (Doc. 1 at 3; Doc. 11 at 6). Dorina
Varner, SOIGA's Chief Grievance Officer, provided an
unsworn declaration attesting that Brock never appealed the
rejection of that grievance to SOIGA. (Doc. 42-2 at 2-7).
uncontroverted evidence therefore establishes that Brock did
not exhaust his administrative remedies, and Defendants have
met their initial burden of proof. In response, Brock
provides no argument or evidence demonstrating that
administrative remedies were unavailable, and none is
apparent from the record. Consequently, the Court concludes
that Brock failed to exhaust his administrative remedies ...