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Sledge v. Trate

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 9, 2019

LARRY SLEDGE, Plaintiff,
WARDEN TRATE, et al, Defendants.




         On September 17, 2018, Plaintiff Larry Sledge, a former inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution at McKean in Bradford, Pennsylvania (“FCI-McKean"), brought this pro se civil rights action against three staff members at FCI-McKean: Warden Bradley Tate ("Tate"), Corrections Officer Cory Hendrickson (erroneously identified by Plaintiff as "Lt. Hendricksen") ("Hendrickson"), and Unit Manager Shaun Nink ("Nink"). Plaintiff alleges that, from August 7, 2018 to August 28, 2018, Defendant Hendrickson "made rude sexual remarks" to him, pushed him around, and "trie[d] to provoke [him] ... into a fight" (ECF No. 6, at Section IV.C). Plaintiff alleges further that, in retaliation for his filing of a grievance against Defendant Hendrickson and other FCI-McKean staff, Defendant Nink denied his request for a transfer to a Residential Reentry Center ("RRC") (Id.). Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Tate allowed the conduct of Defendants Hendrickson and Nink, and also "allow[ed] smoking by staff on federal property" (Id.). As relief for his claims, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages.

         On April 19, 2019, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment [ECF No. 13], arguing, inter alia, that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Plaintiff has failed to file a response to Defendants' motion.[1] This matter is now ripe for consideration.


         Defendants contend that Plaintiffs complaint should be dismissed for failure to comply with the exhaustion requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) ("PLRA"), which provides:

no action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title ... by a prisoner confined in any jail, prisons, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.


         A. Exhaustion Standard

         The requirement that an inmate exhaust administrative remedies applies to all inmate suits regarding prison life, including those that involve general circumstances as well as particular episodes. Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516 (2002); Concepcion v. Morton, 306 F.3d 1347 (3d Cir. 2002) (for history of exhaustion requirement). Administrative exhaustion must be completed by a prisoner prior to filing an action regardless of the relief sought. Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001).[3] The exhaustion requirement is not a technicality, rather it is federal law that federal district courts must follow. Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65, 73 (3d Cir. 2000) (by using language "no action shall be brought," Congress has "clearly required exhaustion").[4] The PLRA also requires "proper exhaustion" meaning that a prisoner must complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules of that grievance system. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 87-91 (2006) ("Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules...."). Importantly, the exhaustion requirement may not be satisfied "by filing an untimely or otherwise procedurally defective . . . appeal." Id. at 83; see also Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 228-30 (3d Cir. 2004) ("Based on our earlier discussion of the PLRA's legislative history, [. . .] Congress seems to have had three interrelated objectives relevant to our inquiry here: (1) to return control of the inmate grievance process to prison administrators; (2) to encourage development of an administrative record, and perhaps settlements, within the inmate grievance process; and (3) to reduce the burden on the federal courts by erecting barriers to frivolous prisoner lawsuits.").

         B. The Administrative Process Available to Federal Inmates

         So then, no analysis of exhaustion may be made absent an understanding of the administrative process available to state inmates. "Compliance with prison grievance procedures, therefore, is all that is required by the PLRA to 'properly exhaust.' The level of detail necessary in a grievance to comply with the grievance procedures will vary from system to system and claim to claim, but it is the prison's requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion." Jones v. Bock, 107 U.S. at 217.

         The Bureau of Prisons has established a multi-tier system whereby a federal prisoner may seek formal review of any aspect of his imprisonment. 28 C.F.R. §§ 542.10-542.19 (1997). First, "an inmate shall... present an issue of concern informally to staff, and staff shall attempt to informally resolve the issue before an inmate submits a Request for Administrative Remedy." 28 C.F.R. § 542.13(a). Second, if an inmate at an institution is unable to informally resolve his complaint, he may file "a formal written Administrative Remedy Request, on the appropriate form (BP-9), [within] 20 calendar days following the date on which the basis for the Request occurred." 28 C.F.R. § 542.14(a). The warden has twenty (20) days in which to respond. 28 C.F.R. § 542.18. An inmate who is not satisfied with the warden's response may submit an appeal, on the appropriate form (BP-10), to the appropriate Regional Director within twenty (20) calendar days from the date the warden signed the response. 28 C.F.R. § 542.15(a). An inmate who is not satisfied with the Regional Director's response may submit an ...

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