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Harvin v. Chapdelaine

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 29, 2017

MARCUS HARVIN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CAROL CHAPDELAINE, et al., Defendants.

          RULING AND ORDER

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Marcus T. Harvin, Nirone Hutton, Jose Ramos and Cordell L. Woolfolk (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), were each confined at the MacDougall Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut (“MacDougall”) when they initiated this action on September 26, 2016. ECF No. 1. They bring this action pro se and in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 against Warden Carol Chapdelaine, Maintenance Supervisor Street, Commissioner Semple, Counselor Supervisor Davis and the Royal Flush company (collectively, “Defendants”).

         On December 9, 2016, the Court issued an order noting that, given that all of the specific events Plaintiffs alleged in the Complaint occurred between September 9, 2016 and September 13, 2016, it was not possible for Plaintiffs to have exhausted their administrative remedies before filing the Complaint, which each of the Plaintiffs signed between September 12, 2016 and September 15, 2016, before the Court received and filed the Complaint on September 26, 2016[1]. See Order at 7-9, ECF No. 30. As the Court's previous order explained, before an incarcerated plaintiff may bring any federal lawsuit regarding “prison conditions under [42 U.S.C. § 1983] or any other Federal law, ” he or she must fully exhaust available administrative remedies. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Although it was apparent from the face of the Complaint that the Plaintiffs could not have met this requirement before filing the Complaint, the Court nonetheless gave Plaintiffs an opportunity to file a response regarding whether they had fully exhausted their administrative remedies. Order at 13.

         Plaintiffs have now filed responses to the Court's previous order. ECF No. 33 (Mr. Hutton); ECF No. 34 (Mr. Harvin); ECF No. 36 (Mr. Woolfolk); ECF No. 37 (Mr. Ramos); ECF No. 39 (Mr. Ramos, attaching exhibits). Mr. Woolfolk also filed a motion for an extension of time for an additional twenty days to exhaust his administrative remedies. ECF No. 35.

         Plaintiffs have also filed other motions that are now pending before the Court. Mr. Harvin has filed a motion to add several new parties as additional defendants in this case, signed only by himself. ECF No. 32. Mr. Hutton, Mr. Harvin, and Mr. Ramos then filed a similar motion to add some of the same new parties as additional defendants, signed by each of them, but not by Mr. Woolfolk (the “Joint Motion”). ECF No. 38.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES Mr. Woolfolk's motion for an extension of time to exhaust his administrative remedies, ECF No. 35. Mr. Harvin's individual motion to add new defendants, ECF No. 32, is DENIED to the extent that it seeks to supplement the Complaint to add Counselor Hess as a defendant and the claims against her and DENIED as moot to the extent it seeks to amend the Complaint to add the Town of Suffield, Connecticut, First Selectman of the Town of Suffield Melissa Mack and a company/corporation called SLOAN (collectively the “New Defendants”) as defendants, as this same relief is requested by the Joint Motion. The Joint Motion, ECF No. 38, is construed as a motion to amend the complaint to add the New Defendants to the Complaint is GRANTED.

         The Clerk of the Court is directed to docket the Joint Motion, ECF No. 38, as an Amended Complaint, and add the Town of Suffield, Connecticut, First Selectman of the Town of Suffield Melissa Mack and a corporation called SLOAN as defendants in this case. As the Court further explains below, however, all of the claims in this case must be dismissed. This case will, therefore, be dismissed in its entirety and judgment entered in favor of the Defendants and New Defendants.

         I. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         For the sake of clarity, the Court repeats its description of the allegations in the Plaintiffs' Complaint, though the primary issue before the Court at this time with regards to these allegations is whether Plaintiffs have met the administrative exhaustion requirement of the PLRA.

         Plaintiffs generally assert that they are all housed in the O-Pod housing unit at MacDougall. Compl. at 8, ECF No. 1. They allege that they may only flush the toilets in their cells twice during each five-minute period. Id. If an inmate flushes a third time during the five-minute period, the prison staff will, allegedly, re-set the toilet to flush again an hour later. Id.

         Plaintiffs allege that the policy of not permitting them to flush the toilet any time they choose subjects them to harsh odors and the possibility of contracting unidentified illnesses. Compl. at 8. They allege that inmates who have jobs in the unit are confined in cells with no limit on the number of times the toilet may be flushed during a five-minute period. Id. at 8-9.

         On a weekly basis, prison staff members allegedly provide the plaintiffs with a liquid solution and other supplies to clean their cells. Compl. at 9. The plaintiffs complain that the cleaning supplies are passed through the same slot or “trap” in their cell doors that are also used to pass food trays through at meal times. Id. at 9-10. They allege that this practice potentially exposes them to contaminated food. Id. at 10.

         On September 9, 2016, Mr. Harvin and Mr. Hutton, who were cellmates, allegedly reported that they needed to use the toilet, but could not flush the toilet in their cell. Compl. at 10. Officers allegedly denied the requests by Mr. Harvin and Mr. Hutton to use another toilet or to re-set the toilet in their cell. Id. at 10-11. Mr. Harvin used the toilet in the cell and he and his cellmate were allegedly subjected to the odors of feces and urine for approximately an hour and forty-five minutes. Id.

         Plaintiffs further allege that there are allegedly only five working showers available to the approximately fifty inmates housed in the O-Pod housing unit at MacDougall. Compl. at 11. On September 9, 2016, Mr. Ramos attempted to use a shower on the upper tier of the housing unit. Id. An officer allegedly warned Mr. Ramos that the shower was off limits to all inmates except inmates who worked on the tier. Id. at 11-12. On September 10, 2016, Mr. Ramos submitted an inmate request regarding this matter. Id. An officer confirmed that the upper tier shower could only be used by inmates who worked on the tier. Id.

         On September 13, 2016, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., the water supply to MacDougall was allegedly shut down. Compl. at 12. During this time period, inmates were allegedly told to use portable sanitation units that were placed in the recreation yards. Id. at 12-13. Mr. Harvin alleges that, when he was allowed to use the portable toilet, a correctional officer would not permit him to bring soap with him to sanitize the toilet. Id. There was allegedly no anti-bacterial soap in the toilet stall. Id.

         When using the toilet, Mr. Harvin noticed that it had not, he alleges, been serviced in thirty-seven days. Compl. at 12-13. Mr. Harvin alleges that the toilet had not been serviced in a timely manner and that the number of inmates using the toilet exceeded the number recommended by the company that owned the toilet, Royal Flush. Id.

         Other than in the caption of the complaint and description of the parties, one of the Plaintiffs, Mr. Woolfolk, is not otherwise mentioned in the body of the complaint. All four Plaintiffs claim that the Defendants have allegedly violated their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. They seek monetary damages. Compl. at 7.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         As the Court will explain below, the primary issue as to the allegations in the Complaint is whether Plaintiffs have met the administrative exhaustion requirement of the PLRA. Because, however, Plaintiffs also bring certain claims for which the lack of administrative exhaustion is less clear, the Court will also review certain claims to determine whether they state a claim.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review prisoner civil complaints and dismiss any portion of the complaint that is frivolous or malicious, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under 28 U.S.C § 1915(e)(2), when a plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis, then “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action . . . fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C § 1915(e)(2).

         In reviewing a pro se complaint, the Court must “liberally construe [the] pleadings, ” and interpret the complaint to “raise the strongest arguments it suggests.” Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-03 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special solicitude that courts ought to show to pro se litigants). Although detailed allegations are not required, the complaint must still include sufficient facts to afford the defendants fair notice of the claims and the grounds upon which they are based and to demonstrate a right to relief. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

         III. EXHAUSTION REQUIREMENT

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) requires prisoners to exhaust administrative remedies before filing a federal lawsuit related to prison conditions. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (“No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under [42 U.S.C. § 1983], or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.”). The administrative remedies available to inmates incarcerated by the State of Connecticut Department of Correction (“DOC”) are set forth in Administrative Directive 9.6, entitled Inmate Administrative Remedies, effective August 15, 2013. See State of Connecticut Department of Correction, Administrative Directive 9.6: Inmate Administrative Remedies (2013), http://www.ct.gov/doc/LIB/doc/PDF/AD/ ad0906.pdf. As the Court explained in its previous order, these procedures generally take at least 75 business days to fully exhaust, due to the amount of time that the DOC has to respond at each stage of the procedure. See Order at 1-5.

         This exhaustion requirement applies to “all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). Exhaustion of all available administrative remedies must occur regardless of whether the administrative procedures provide the relief that the inmate seeks. See Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001) (“[W]e think that Congress has mandated exhaustion clearly enough, regardless of the relief offered through administrative procedures.”). Furthermore, prisoners must comply with all procedural rules regarding the grievance process before commencing an action in federal court. See Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90-91, 93 (2006) (proper exhaustion requires “using all steps that the agency holds out and doing so properly” and “demands compliance with agency deadlines and other critical procedural rules”).

         Completing the exhaustion process after a federal action has been filed does not, therefore, satisfy the exhaustion requirement. See Neal v. Goord, 267 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2001) (“To begin, the plain language of § 1997e(a), providing that no action shall be brought until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted, suggests that exhaustion prior to commencement of a § 1983 action is mandated.”) (internal quotation marks omitted). “[C]ourts must take care not to frustrate the policy concerns underlying § 1997e(a) by allowing inmate-plaintiffs to file or proceed with lawsuits before exhausting administrative remedies.” Id.

         Special circumstances do not excuse an inmate's failure to meet the exhaustion requirement. Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1858 (2016) (“The PLRA's history (just like its text) thus refutes a “special circumstances” exception to its rule of exhaustion.”). An inmate's failure to exhaust administrative remedies is only excusable if administrative remedies are, in fact, unavailable. See Id. (“[T]he PLRA contains its own, textual exception to mandatory exhaustion. Under § 1997e(a), the exhaustion requirement hinges on the ‘availability' of administrative remedies.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The Court's December 9, 2016 Order noted that the Complaint did not specifically allege that any of the Plaintiffs exhausted their available administrative remedies before filing this case. See Order at 7-8. Furthermore, the Court noted that, given that all of the specific events in the Complaint allegedly occurred between September 9, 2016 and September 13, 2016, while Plaintiffs signed the Complaint between September 12, 2016 and September 15, 2016, Plaintiffs likely could not have exhausted their administrative remedies, a process that would likely take 75 business days. Id. The Court's order therefore directed each Plaintiff to respond, within twenty days, regarding whether he had exhausted his administrative remedies as required by the PLRA.

         A. Mr. Woolfolk

         Mr. Woolfolk filed two documents in response to the Court's previous order. One document, which Mr. Woolfolk signed on December 20, 2016, and which the Court filed on December 29, 2016, indicated that, “[h]onestly there was no attempt to exhaust administrative remedies, ” allegedly because Mr. Harvin had told him that “in Federal Courts there was no need to exhaust remedies, ” and stated that Mr. Woolfolk “apologize[d] for wasting the [C]ourt's time, [and] resources.” ECF No. 36. Mr. Woolfolk also filed a motion for extension of time to exhaust his administrative remedies, which Mr. Woolfolk signed on December 15, 2016, and which the Court filed on January 3, 2016. ECF No. 35. The motion for an extension of time ...


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