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Sepulveda v. County of Wayne

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

October 25, 2019

Jordan Sepulveda, et al. Plaintiffs,
County of Wayne, et al., Defendants.

          Elizabeth A. Stafford U.S. Magistrate Judge


          Arthur J. Tarnow Senior United States District Judge

         This is the fourth in a series of cases challenging the constitutionality of the policy and practice of the Wayne County Jail system's strip-searching procedures. As in the companion case, Woodall v. Wayne County, No. 2:17-13707-AJT-EAS, Plaintiffs are women formerly incarcerated by the Wayne County Sherriff. They allege that they were subjected to demeaning, unsanitary, abusive, and invasive group strip searches, and they seek relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         This case differs from Woodall in at least one important respect. Plaintiffs - Jordan Sepulveda, Krista Anson, and Nicole Thomas - were all incarcerated at the time that they filed their Complaint. As a result, they may have standing to seek injunctive relief, unlike the Woodall Plaintiffs.[1] Also as a result, Plaintiffs are subject to the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”), which requires incarcerated persons to exhaust their administrative remedies before filing suit. Defendants have moved to dismiss [21] on the basis of the PLRA's exhaustion requirement.

         Because none of the three Plaintiffs exhausted their administrative remedies prior to filing suit, Defendants' Motion will be granted.

         Standard of Review

         The PLRA provides, “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under § 1983…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) (2000). “[T]o properly exhaust administrative remedies prisoners must ‘complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules,' rules that are defined not by the PLRA, but by the prison grievance process itself.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007) (quoting Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88 (2006)).

         The “dominant concern” of the PLRA is “to promote administrative redress, filter out groundless claims, and foster better prepared litigation of claims aired in court.” Napier v. Laurel Cty., Ky., 636 F.3d 218, 222 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 528 (2002)). Prisoners must exhaust a grievance procedure so long as it is “available.” Whether or not such procedure is “available” is not affected by the subjective beliefs of the inmate. Id. (citing Brock v. Kenton County, 93 Fed.Appx. 793, 798 (6th Cir. 2004) (prisoner must take affirmative steps to file grievance and be thwarted; simple belief that a grievance would be futile is not sufficient to waive exhaustion requirement)).


         All three plaintiffs filed grievances according to the procedures of the Wayne County Jails. None of the Plaintiffs waited for the final disposition of those grievances before filing suit.

         Plaintiffs present three counterarguments to Defendants' motion. First, they argue that the Wayne County Jail grievance procedure did not govern the complaints in this case. Second, they argue that the procedure was permissive, not mandatory. Third, they argue that Plaintiffs had no duty to appeal the denial of their grievances. For the purposes of this motion, the Court will assume that the Wayne County Jail Operations Manual controlled the grievance process.[2]

         I. The Applicability of the Grievance Procedure to Strip Searches and Uniform Exchanges.

         The Wayne County Jail Operations Manual (“the Jail Operations Manual”) lists the following as non-grievable issues: “Content of Administrative Rules, Policy Directives, Operating Procedures” and “Issues, which may affect the entire population or a significant number of the inmates.” (Dkt. 24-5; PageID 637). Plaintiffs argue that because issues arising from strip searches and uniform exchanges affect all the inmates and are related to the Jail's policy and custom, such issues are non-grievable. If Plaintiffs are right, no remedy would have been available to them, and they would not have needed to file grievances prior to filing suit.

         To start, the fact that Plaintiffs did grieve their complaints, and that jail officials did respond to these grievances on the merits, undercuts Plaintiffs' arguments that the issues raised are non-grievable. Moreover, this issue had already been settled by Weathington v. Cnty. Of Wayne, No. 12-13573, 2015 WL 3771460 (E.D. Mich. May 22, ...

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