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Dixon v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 24, 2019

DENISE DIXON, Plaintiff,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.

          Mariani Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Susan E. Schwab Chief United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction.

         This is a civil rights case in which the plaintiff, Denise Dixon (“Dixon”), alleges that she was injured by a defective dishwasher while she was incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy, Pennsylvania (“SCI Muncy” or “the prison”). Dixon raises claims arising out of her initial injuries and her subsequent medical care while at the prison.

         The case is presently before the court on two motions for summary judgment, both of which assert that Dixon failed to exhaust her administrative remedies before filing suit in this case.[1] After those motions were filed, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a precedential decision in Garrett v. Wexford Health, __ F.3d __, No. 17-3480, 2019 WL 4265187 (3d Cir. Sept. 10, 2019), in which the court held that former prisoners are not subject to the Prison Litigation Reform Act's administrative exhaustion requirement. Id. at *8. Under Garrett, an inmate who files a complaint while in custody and subsequently files an amended complaint after she is released from custody cannot have her amended complaint dismissed for failure to exhaust. Id. at *8, 14.

         We find that this case is directly controlled by the Third Circuit's holding in Garrett because Dixon was released from prison on November 27, 2017 and she filed her amended complaint on February 28, 2018. Accordingly, we recommend that both motions for summary judgment be denied.

         II. Background and Procedural History.

         Dixon initiated this case by filing a complaint on October 5, 2017. Doc. 1. Shortly after filing her complaint, Dixon was released from the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”) on November 27, 2017. Doc. 98. We granted Dixon leave to file an amended complaint on January 31, 2018, and she did so on February 28, 2018. Docs. 27-28.

         Defendants Correct Care Solutions (“Correct Care”), Freeland, and Rishel[2]filed a motion to dismiss Dixon's amended complaint on April 18, 2018. Doc. 40. Defendants Blair-Morrison, Anthony, Frantz, Lowe, Minnig, Nicholas, Oppman, Schaeffer, Smith, Wetzel, Young, and the DOC[3] filed a motion to dismiss Dixon's amended complaint on April 30, 2018. Doc. 42. We denied these motions on June 29, 2018 (doc. 65), after which the defendants filed answers to Dixon's amended complaint. See docs. 68, 69, 73. On March 21, 2019, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of all claims against defendant ITW Food Equipment Group, LLC. Doc. 78.

         On April 25, 2019, counsel for the Commonwealth Defendants advised the court that all remaining defendants planned to argue that Dixon had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. Doc. 82. In response to that letter, we issued an amended case management order on April 29, 2019 in which we allowed the defendants to file dispositive motions on the issue of exhaustion on or before July 31, 2019. Doc. 83 at 1. We specified that any dispositive motions filed by that date were to be limited to the issue of whether Dixon had exhausted her administrative remedies and that the defendants would have an opportunity to raise other arguments in dispositive motions at a later date. Id. We then issued another order vacating and holding in abeyance all case management deadlines pending the filing of dispositive motions on the issue of exhaustion. Doc. 85.

         The Medical Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on July 26, 2019, along with a statement of material facts and a supporting brief. Docs. 86-88. The Commonwealth Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, a statement of material facts, and a supporting brief on July 29, 2019. Docs. 89-91. Dixon filed a brief in opposition to the Medical Defendants' motion on August 16, 2019, along with a statement of material facts in response to the Medical Defendants' statement. Docs. 92-93. She filed a brief in opposition to the Commonwealth Defendants' motion and a statement of material facts on August 19, 2019. Docs. 94-95. The Commonwealth Defendants filed a reply brief on August 29, 2019. Doc. 96.

         Following the Third Circuit's decision in Garrett, we issued an order in which we noted that the date on which Dixon was released from prison was unclear from the record and accordingly ordered the parties to inform the court of that date. Doc. 97 at 1-2. The parties did so on September 16, 2019, stating that Dixon had been released from DOC custody on November 27, 2017. Doc. 98.

         III. Discussion.

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) specifies that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, 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). “[T]he PLRA requires what is known as ‘proper exhaustion,' meaning that inmates must comply with the rules and procedures of prison administrative systems.” Shifflett v. Korszniak, 934 F.3d 356, 364 (3d Cir. 2019) (citing Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90-91 (2006)). The procedural requirements that a prisoner must ...


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