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Douglas v. Muzzin

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

January 31, 2019

Leon Douglas, #132125, Plaintiff,
v.
Keara Muzzin, et al., Defendants.

          Honorable Robert J. Jonker Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PHILLIP J. GREEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is a civil rights action brought pro se by a state prisoner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This lawsuit arises out conditions of plaintiff's confinement in 2012 at the Michigan Reformatory, and it stems from a dispute regarding a pair of orthopedic shoes that plaintiff says were prescribed to him as a medical accommodation. The defendants are Lieutenant Keara Muzzin, Lieutenant Roger Martin, and Resident Unit Manager Kerry Gobert. Plaintiff sues defendants in their official capacities for compensatory damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. He also sues defendants Muzzin and Martin in their individual capacities for damages on plaintiff's claims that they violated his Eighth Amendment rights.[1]

         The matter is before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment based on the affirmative defense of failure to exhaust administrative remedies, as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), and qualified immunity. (ECF No. 73). Plaintiff opposes defendants' motion. (ECF No. 85). For the reasons set forth herein, I recommend that the Court grant defendants' motion with respect to plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims against defendants Muzzin and Martin, and that it deny the motion on all other claims.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals that there are no genuine issues as to any material fact in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); McKay v. Federspiel, 823 F.3d 862, 866 (6th Cir. 2016). The standard for determining whether summary judgment is appropriate is “whether ‘the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.' ” Rocheleau v. Elder Living Const., LLC, 814 F.3d 398, 400 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)). The Court must consider all pleadings, depositions, affidavits, and admissions on file, and draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the party opposing the motion. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); France v. Lucas, 836 F.3d 612, 624 (6th Cir. 2016).

         When the party without the burden of proof seeks summary judgment, that party bears the initial burden of pointing out to the district court an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, but need not support its motion with affidavits or other materials “negating” the opponent's claim. See Morris v. Oldham Cty. Fiscal Court, 201 F.3d 784, 787 (6th Cir. 2000); see also Minadeo v. ICI Paints, 398 F.3d 751, 761 (6th Cir. 2005). Once the movant shows that “there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, ” the nonmoving party has the burden of coming forward with evidence raising a triable issue of fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To sustain this burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on the mere allegations of his pleadings. See Ellington v. City of E. Cleveland, 689 F.3d 549, 552 (6th Cir. 2012). The motion for summary judgment forces the nonmoving party to present evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of fact for trial. Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1478 (6th Cir. 1990); see Newell Rubbermaid, Inc. v. Raymond Corp., 676 F.3d 521, 533 (6th Cir. 2012). “A mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient; ‘there must be evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant].' ” Dominguez v. Correctional Med. Servs., 555 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252); see Lossia v. Flagstar Bancorp, Inc., 895 F.3d 423, 428 (6th Cir. 2018).

         A moving party with the burden of proof faces a “substantially higher hurdle.” Arnett v. Myers, 281 F.3d 552, 561 (6th Cir. 2002); Cockrel v. Shelby Cty. Sch. Dist., 270 F.3d 1036, 1056 (6th Cir. 2001). “[W]here the moving party has the burden - the plaintiff on a claim for relief or the defendant on an affirmative defense - his showing must be sufficient for the court to hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party.” Calderone v. United States, 799 F.2d 254, 259 (6th Cir. 1986) (citation and quotation omitted). In other words, the movant with the burden of proof “ ‘must show that the record contains evidence satisfying the burden of persuasion and that the evidence is so powerful that no reasonable jury would be free to disbelieve it.' ” Arnett, 281 F.3d at 561 (quoting 11 James William Moore, et al., Moore's Federal Practice' 56.13[1], at 56-138 (3d ed. 2000)); see Surles v. Andison, 678 F.3d 452, 455-56 (6th Cir. 2012); Cockrel, 270 F.2d at 1056. Accordingly, summary judgment in favor of the party with the burden of proof “is inappropriate when the evidence is susceptible of different interpretations or inferences by the trier of fact.” Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 553 (1999).

         Standards Applicable to the Affirmative Defense of Failure to Exhaust Remedies

         Defendants have asserted the affirmative defense of plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies. A prisoner bringing an action with respect to prison conditions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 “or any other Federal law” must exhaust available administrative remedies. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); see Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 220 (2007); Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002); Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731 (2001). A prisoner must exhaust available administrative remedies, even if the prisoner may not be able to obtain the specific type of relief he seeks in the state administrative process. See Porter, 534 U.S. at 520; Booth, 532 U.S. at 734. “This requirement is a strong one. To further the purposes behind the PLRA, exhaustion is required even if the prisoner subjectively believes the remedy is not available, even when the state cannot grant the particular relief requested, and even where the prisoner[ ] believes the procedure to be ineffectual or futile.” Napier v. Laurel County, Ky., 636 F.3d 218, 222 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         In Jones v. Bock, the Supreme Court held that “exhaustion is an affirmative defense, and prisoners are not required to specifically plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaints.” 549 U.S. at 216. The burden is on defendants to show that plaintiff failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies. The Supreme Court reiterated that “no unexhausted claim may be considered.” 549 U.S. at 220. The Court held that when a prisoner complaint contains both exhausted and unexhausted claims, the lower courts should not dismiss the entire “mixed” complaint, but are required to dismiss the unexhausted claims and proceed to address only the exhausted claims. 549 U.S. at 219-24.

         In order to exhaust administrative remedies, prisoners must complete the administrative review process in accordance with the deadlines and other applicable procedural rules established by state law. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. at 218-19. In Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81 (2006), the Supreme Court held that the PLRA exhaustion requirement “requires proper exhaustion.” 548 U.S. at 93. “Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules.” Id. at 90; see Scott v. Ambani, 577 F.3d 642, 647 (6th Cir. 2009). Thus, when a prisoner's grievance is rejected by the prison as untimely because it was not filed within the prescribed period, the prisoner's claim is not “properly exhausted” for purposes of filing a section 1983 action in federal court. 548 U.S. at 90-93; Siggers v. Campbell, 652 F.3d 681, 692 (6th Cir. 2011); see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).

         MDOC Policy Directive 03.02.130 (effective July 9, 2007) sets forth the applicable grievance procedures.[2] In Sullivan v. Kasajaru, 316 Fed.Appx. 469, 470 (6th Cir. 2009), the Sixth Circuit held that this policy directive “explicitly required [the prisoner] to name each person against whom he grieved, ” and it affirmed the district court's dismissal of a prisoner's claim for failure to properly exhaust his available administrative remedies. Id. at 470.

         The Sixth Circuit has “clearly held that an inmate does not exhaust available administrative remedies when the inmate fails entirely to invoke the grievance procedure.” Napier, 636 F.3d at 224. An argument that it would have been futile to file a grievance does not suffice. Assertions of futility do not excuse plaintiff from the exhaustion requirement. See Napier, 636 F.3d at 224; Hartsfield v. Vidor, 199 F.3d 305, 309 (6th Cir. 1999) (“[A]n inmate cannot simply fail to file a grievance or abandon the process before completion and claim that he has exhausted his remedies or that it is futile for him to do so because his grievance is now time-barred under the regulations.”); see also Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. at 741 n.6 (“[W]e will not read futility or other exceptions into statutory exhaustion requirements where Congress has provided otherwise.”).

         Qualified Immunity

         Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. “Once [an] official[ ] raise[s] the qualified immunity defense, the plaintiff bears the burden to ‘demonstrate that the official [is] not entitled to qualified immunity.' ” LeFever v. Ferguson, 645 F. App=x 438, 442 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting Silberstein v. City of Dayton, 440 F.3d 306, 311 (6th Cir. 2006)).

         “A government official sued under section 1983 is entitled to qualified immunity unless the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct.” Carroll v. Carman, 135 S.Ct. 348, 350 (2014); see Taylor v. Barkes, 135 S.Ct. 2042, 2044 (2015). The first prong of qualified immunity analysis is whether the plaintiff has alleged facts showing that defendant's conduct violated a constitutional or statutory right. See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). The second prong is whether the right was “clearly established” at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct. Id. Trial courts are permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).

         A qualified immunity defense can be asserted at various stages of the litigation, including the summary judgment stage. See English v. Dyke, 23 F.3d 1086, 1089 (6th Cir. 1994). The qualified immunity inquiry at the summary judgment stage is distinguished from the Rule 12(b)(6) stage in that generalized notice pleading no longer suffices, and the broader summary judgment record provides the framework within which the actions of each individual defendant must be evaluated. At the summary judgment stage, “the plaintiff must, at a minimum, offer sufficient evidence to create a ‘genuine issue of fact,' that is, ‘evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.' ” Thompson v. City of Lebanon, Tenn., 831 F.3d 366, 370 (6th Cir. 2016).

         In Brosseau v. Haugen, the Supreme Court examined the underlying purpose of the requirement that ...


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