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Moore v. Schram

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Northern Division

February 28, 2017

UNKNOWN SCHRAM, et al., Defendants.



         On January 20, 2017, Magistrate Judge Timothy Greeley issued a Report and Recommendation (R & R) recommending that the Court grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment based on Plaintiff's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies. In his R & R, the magistrate judge noted that Defendants Rasmussen, McTiver, and Schram conceded that Plaintiff exhausted his claims against them arising, respectively, on May 22, 2014, December 17, 2013, and March 25, 2014. The magistrate judge concluded that Defendants' motion should be granted with regard to Plaintiff's claims: (1) against Defendant Scott; (2) that Defendant Semansky retaliated against Plaintiff on December 18, 2013, by threatening that Plaintiff would be kicked out of the unit for filing grievances; (3) that Defendant Rasmussen retaliated against Plaintiff on May 7, 2014; and (4) that Defendants Lagina and Thomma conducted a retaliatory search of Plaintiff's cell on May 14, 2014. The magistrate judge recommended that Defendants' motion be denied with regard to all other claims. (ECF No. 35 at PageID.580.)

         Plaintiff and Defendants have both filed Objections to the R & R. After conducting a de novo review of the R & R, the parties' Objections, and the pertinent portions of the record, the Court concludes that the R & R should be adopted in part and rejected in part.

         1. Grievance Nos. LMF 140577117b and LMF 140583217b

          The magistrate judge concluded that Plaintiff failed to show he exhausted these grievances: LMF 140577117b regarding Plaintiff's May 7, 2014 retaliation claim against Defendant Rasmussen, and LMF 140583217b against Defendants Lagina and Thomma. In their Objections, Defendants concede that Plaintiff exhausted grievance LMF 140583217b, which was apparently changed during the grievance process to LMF 140583217i. (ECF No. 39 at PageID.612.) Thus, Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Lagina and Thomma regarding the May 14, 2014, cell search may proceed.

         With regard to grievance LMF 140577117b, Plaintiff states in his Objections that the magistrate judge failed to consider Plaintiff's statements in his declaration in response to Defendants' motion that after receiving responses at Steps I and II, Plaintiff requested a disbursement of funds to send a Step III grievance to the Director's office for grievance LMF 140577117b. (ECF No. 36 at PageID.583.) In his declaration, Plaintiff stated that he submitted a disbursement form and mailed the Step I and Step II responses, along with his Step III grievance, to the Directors' office. (ECF No. 31 at PageID.486.) Plaintiff attached a copy of the disbursement form to his response. (ECF No. 31-5.) Plaintiff also stated in his declaration that he did not receive a response within the 120 calendar days, and therefore treated the non-response as a denial. (ECF No. 31 at PageID.468.) Defendants failed to present any evidence contradicting Plaintiff's declaration and evidence. Because “administrative remedies are exhausted when prison officials fail to timely respond to a properly filed grievance, ” Boyd v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 380 F.3d 989, 996 (6th Cir. 2004), Defendants have not shown that Plaintiff failed to exhaust grievance LMF 140577117b against Defendant Rasmussen regarding the alleged retaliation on May 7, 2014. Accordingly, the Court will reject the R & R as to these two grievances.

         2. Grievance No. 14010112e-4

          This grievance pertained to Defendant Scott. Defendants argued that Plaintiff's Step III grievance was untimely, but the magistrate noted that Defendants failed to attach the Step III response to their brief. However, the magistrate concluded that Plaintiff failed to exhaust because the Step I response established that Plaintiff failed to attempt to resolve the grievance with Defendant Scott. (ECF No. 35 at PageID.578.)

         In their Objections, Defendants state that the Step III response was in fact attached to Defendants' brief.[1] Defendants continue to argue that Plaintiff's Step III grievance was untimely. However, a review of the Step III response shows that it was not rejected as untimely; it was considered and denied on the merits. (ECF No. 30-1 at PageID.442.) “When prison officials decline to enforce their own procedural requirements and opt to consider otherwise-defaulted claims on the merits, so as a general rule will we.” Reed-Bey v. Pramstaller, 603 F.3d 322, 325 (6th Cir. 2010); see also Applewhite v. Mich. Dep't of Corr., No. 1:07-CV-656, 2008 WL 4136513, at *4 (W.D. Mich. Sept. 3, 2008) (“Because the MDOC did not reject this grievance as untimely or improperly filed, but addressed the merits of the grievance at all three steps of the appeal procedure in accordance with its Policy Directives, this grievance was exhausted.”).

         As for the magistrate judge's conclusion that the Step I response established that Plaintiff failed to attempt to resolve the grievance with Defendant Scott, Plaintiff argues that the Step I grievance was not rejected on a procedural ground but instead was addressed and denied on the merits. Plaintiff argues that this is why he proceeded to Step II, which was also denied on the merits. Based on its review of the Step I response, the Court agrees with Plaintiff that his Step I grievance was denied on the merits and not on a procedural basis. Therefore, Plaintiff exhausted his claim against Defendant Scott.

         3. Grievance LMF 140587128A

          Defendants argued that this grievance, which was filed against Defendants Thomma and Rasmussen, was rejected as duplicative of grievance LMF 140586617a. The magistrate judge concluded that since the grievance was rejected as duplicative, Plaintiff likely exhausted these claims in a previous grievance. In their Objections, Defendants provide the documents pertaining to grievance LMF 140586617a. These documents show that Plaintiff exhausted the first grievance through all three steps and that the grievance was considered and denied on the merits at each step. Defendants argue that the Court should conclude that Plaintiff did not properly exhaust LMF 140586617a because that grievance did not name Defendants Thomma and Rasmussen. Defendants failed to properly develop this argument in their motion because, as the magistrate judge noted and Defendants impliedly concede in their Objections, Defendants failed to provide the earlier grievance documents to allow the magistrate judge to compare the first and second grievances to determine whether they were properly rejected as duplicative. See Johannes v. Washington, No. 14-111691, 2016 WL 1253266, at *6 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 31, 2016) (“[T]o carry their summary-judgment burden, Defendants must compare the issues grieved in the first grievance to those grieved in the 12 allegedly-duplicative grievances and show that every reasonable jury would think the rejections were proper.”); Johnson v. Corr. Med. Servs., Inc., No. 4:06-CV137, 2008 WL 878767, at *5 (W.D. Mich. Mar. 3, 2008) (noting that it was necessary to compare the issues stated in the two grievances to determine whether the second grievance was properly rejected as duplicative). In any event, having compared the two grievances, the Court concludes that grievance LMF 140587128A was improperly rejected as duplicative. In grievance LMF 140586617a, Plaintiff complained about RUM Lindemuth's failure to supervise her subordinates and subjecting Plaintiff to a hostile environment, while in grievance 140587128A Plaintiff complained about Defendants Thomma and Rasmussen. (ECF No. 30-1 at PageID.436.) Moreover, as noted, even if the grievance was properly rejected as duplicative, grievance LMF 140586617a was considered on the merits at all levels. Thus, Defendants fail to show that Plaintiff has not properly exhausted his claims against Defendants Thomma and Rasmussen for the May 19, 2014 cell search.

         4. Grievances LMF 140696817I, 140696917I, and 20140699417I

         Defendant Lagina argued that these grievances were not properly exhausted because they included multiple unrelated issues and/or were duplicative. The magistrate judge rejected these arguments because each of these grievances was decided on the merits through Step III. Defendant Lagina does not dispute that these grievances were decided on the merits. Instead, Defendant Lagina merely repeats the same procedural arguments that the magistrate judge addressed. As noted above, when a grievance is considered on the merits and not rejected for a procedural ground, the grievance is deemed properly exhausted. See Grear v. Gelabert, No. 1:07-CV-203, ...

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