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Townsend v. Ouellette

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

February 11, 2019

MARGARET OUELLETTE, et al., Defendants.

          Hon. Paul L. Maloney Judge


          Ray Kent United States Magistrate Judge

         This is a pro se civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by plaintiff Lorenzo Townsend, a state prisoner at a Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) facility. This matter is now before the Court on motions for summary judgment based on failure to exhaust filed by defendants John Curley and David M. Leach (ECF No. 19) and Daphne M. Johnson (ECF No. 22).

         I. Background

         During the initial screening of plaintiff's complaint, the Court dismissed all defendants except for MDOC Special Activities Coordinator (SAC) David M. Leach, MDOC Assistant Deputy Director (ADD) John Curley, and MDOC Administrator Daphne M. Johnson. See Opinion (ECF No. 10). Plaintiff states that he is a Buddhist monk. See Certificate (ECF No. 1-1, PageID.36). Plaintiff's only claim remaining before the Court is that three MDOC officials, defendants Leach, Curley, and Johnson, refused to permit him to obtain vegan-compliant vitamin B-12 in violation of his rights under the First Amendment and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a)(1)-(2). Opinion at PageID.128. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages against the three defendants in the amount of $255, 000.00 and a court order directing defendants to either provide him with vegan-compliant vitamin B-12 supplements or to allow him to buy the vitamins. Compl. (ECF No. 1, PageID.11).

         II. Defendants' motions for summary judgment

         A. Legal standard for summary judgment

         Defendants seek summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing this lawsuit. "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Rule 56 further provides that a party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:

(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or
(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1).

         In Copeland v. Machulis, 57 F.3d 476 (6th Cir. 1995), the court set forth the parties' burden of proof in a motion for summary judgment:

The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Once the moving party has met its burden of production, the nonmoving party cannot rest on its pleadings, but must present significant probative evidence in support of the complaint to defeat the motion for summary judgment. The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence to support plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.

Copeland, 57 F.3d at 478-79 (citations omitted). “In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court views the factual evidence and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” McLean v. 988011 Ontario Ltd., 224 F.3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000).

         B. Failure to Exhaust

         1. Exhaustion requirement

         The PLRA provides that a prisoner bringing an action with respect to prison conditions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must first exhaust available administrative remedies. See Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516 (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 741. One reason for creating prisoner grievance procedures under the PLRA was to create an administrative record for the court.

Requiring exhaustion allows prison officials an opportunity to resolve disputes concerning the exercise of their responsibilities before being haled into court. This has the potential to reduce the number of inmate suits, and also to improve the quality of suits that are filed by producing a useful administrative record.

Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 204 (2007). In order to properly exhaust administrative remedies, prisoners must complete the administrative review process in accordance with the deadlines and other applicable procedural rules. Id. at 218; Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90-91 (2006). “Compliance with prison grievance procedures, therefore, is all that is required ...

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