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Simmons v. Sheckler

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 26, 2018

MARIO SIMMONS, Plaintiff,
v.
CORRECTION OFFICER SHECKLER, Defendant.

          RULING RE: MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. NO. 42)

          JANET C. HALL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Mario Simmons (“Simmons”) brings this action pursuant to sections 1983 and 1988 of title 42 of the United States Code against defendant Correction Officer Sheckler (“Sheckler”), alleging violations of his Eighth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. See generally Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. No. 1). According to the Complaint, the violations took place on August 2, 2013, at the State of Connecticut's Robinson Correctional Institution, where Simmons was an inmate and Sheckler worked as a correction officer. Id. at ¶ 3, 4, 6. At approximately 11:40 a.m., an inmate assaulted Simmons. Id. at ¶ 6. Several correction officers, including Sheckler, responded to the assault, at which time Sheckler allegedly used excessive force against Simmons. Id. at 7, 8. Sheckler now moves for summary judgment, solely on the grounds that Simmons failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. See generally Motion for Summary Judgment (“Def.'s Mot.”) (Doc. No. 42).

         For the following reasons, the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 42) is granted.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         On a motion for summary judgment, the burden is on the moving party to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986); Wright v. N.Y. State Dep't of Corr., 831 F.3d 64, 71-72 (2d Cir. 2016). Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, and present “such proof as would allow a reasonable juror to return a verdict in [its] favor, ” Graham v. Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 2000). “An issue of fact is genuine and material if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Cross Commerce Media, Inc. v. Collective, Inc., 841 F.3d 155, 162 (2d Cir. 2016).

         In assessing the record to determine whether there are disputed issues of material fact, the trial court must “resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought.” LaFond v. Gen. Physics Servs. Corp., 50 F.3d 165, 175 (2d Cir. 1995). “Where it is clear that no rational finder of fact ‘could find in favor of the nonmoving party because the evidence to support its case is so slight,' summary judgment should be granted.” F.D.I.C. v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 607 F.3d 288, 292 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994)). On the other hand, where “reasonable minds could differ as to the import of the evidence, ” the question must be left to the finder of fact. Cortes v. MTA N.Y. City Transit, 802 F.3d 226, 230 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting R.B. Ventures, Ltd. v. Shane, 112 F.3d 54, 59 (2d Cir. 1997)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The sole question before the court is whether Simmons properly exhausted his administrative remedies prior to commencing this suit. See Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Def.'s Mem.”) (Doc. No. 42-1) at 1.

         Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), inmates may not bring an action under federal law until they exhaust “such administrative remedies as are available.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). “[T]he PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). Moreover, “the PLRA exhaustion requirement requires proper exhaustion, ” meaning that “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.” Johnson v. Killian, 680 F.3d 234, 238 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93 (2006); Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007)).

         In Ross v. Blake, the Supreme Court identified a single, “textual exception” to the PLRA exhaustion requirement, namely: while inmates must always exhaust available remedies, they need not exhaust remedies that are “unavailable” to them. 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1858 (2016). The court recognized three circumstances in which “an administrative remedy, although officially on the books, is not capable of use to obtain relief.” Id. at 1859. Specifically, exhaustion may be excused when (1) a procedure “operates as a simple dead end - with officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates”; (2) “an administrative scheme [is] so opaque that it becomes, practically speaking, incapable of use, ” because “no ordinary prisoner can discern or navigate it”; or (3) “prison administrators thwart inmates from taking advantage of a grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation.” Id. at 1859-60.

         “Because failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense, defendants bear the initial burden of establishing, by pointing to legally sufficient sources such as statutes, regulations, or grievance procedures, that a grievance process exists and applies to the underlying dispute.” Hubbs v. Suffolk Cty. Sheriff's Dep't, 788 F.3d 54, 59 (2d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks, citations, and alterations omitted). However, once the defendant has established that “an administrative remedy was available in the sense that a grievance policy or procedure existed and covered the dispute at hand, ” the burden shifts to the plaintiff to prove an exception to exhaustion by showing that a grievance procedure is unavailable. Id. at 61 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Scott v. Kastner-Smith, 298 F.Supp.3d 545, 554 (W.D.N.Y. 2018) (“After the defendant satisfies its burden, the plaintiff may attempt to overcome the PLRA's exhaustion requirement by demonstrating . . . [an] exception[ ].”) (quoting Powell v. Schriro, No. 14 Civ. 6207 (KPF), 2015 WL 7017516, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 12, 2015)) (internal alterations omitted).

         In this case, Simmons was required to comply with the grievance procedures set forth in the Connecticut Department of Correction Administrative Directive 9.6 (“Directive 9.6”).[1] Shehan v. Erfe, No. 3:15-CV-1315 (MPS), 2017 WL 53691, at *6 (D. Conn. Jan. 4, 2017). Specifically, Simmons's excessive force claims were grievable using the Inmate Grievance Procedure outlined in section 6 of Directive 9.6. See Directive 9.6, § 4(A) (“The Inmate Grievance Procedure provides an administrative remedy for all matters subject to the Commissioner's authority that are not specifically identified in Sections 4(B) through 4(I) of this Directive.”). Prior to filing an inmate grievance, the Inmate Grievance Procedure requires that the inmate seek informal resolution, first by attempting to resolve the issue verbally and then by submitting a written Inmate Request Form. Directive 9.6, §6 (A). If the inmate is not satisfied with the informal resolution offered, the inmate may file a written grievance within thirty calendar days of the occurrence or discovery of the cause of the grievance. Id. at § 6(C). If the inmate is not satisfied with the response to his grievance, the inmate may file an appeal. Id. at § K.

         Sheckler argues that Simmons failed to exhaust his administrative remedies because he did not file a grievance within thirty calendar days of August 2, 2013, the date of the incident. See Def.'s Mem. at 6. As support, Sheckler provides the Affidavits of prison officials who are responsible for maintaining inmate grievance records at each of the correctional institutions that housed Simmons since August 2, 2013.[2]See generally Affidavit of Kim Casey-Cortes (“Casey-Cortes Aff.”) (Doc. No. 42-2); Affidavit of Brian Nolan (“Nolan Aff.”) (Doc No. 42-2); Affidavit of Louis Kopacz (“Kopacz Aff.”) (Doc No. 42-2). These officials attest that they diligently searched the records for grievances and appeals filed by Simmons, but found none relating to his claims against Sheckler. See Casey-Cortes Aff. at ¶ 4; Nolan Aff. at ¶ 4; Kopacz Aff. at ¶¶ 18, 20. Notably, their search did reveal that Simmons attempted to file two grievances regarding other aspects of the inmate assault on August 2, 2013. See Defendant's Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement (“Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1”) (Doc. No. 42-2) at ¶ 24; Plaintiff's Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement (“Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2”) (Doc. No. 46-1) at ¶ 24. However, as Simmons concedes, neither of these two grievances concerned Simmons's excessive force claims against Sheckler. See Def.'s L.R. 56(a)1 at ¶ 26; Pl.'s L.R. 56(a)2 at ¶ 26. Thus, they cannot provide Simmons with a basis for exhausting his claims against Sheckler, as an “inmate must exhaust his administrative remedies for each claim he asserts in federal court.”[3]Shehan, 2017 WL 53691, at *6; see also Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 219-20, 223-24 (2007) (directing courts to evaluate PLRA exhaustion using a claim-by-claim approach, and observing that “[a]ll agree that no unexhausted claim may be considered.”). Accordingly, the court concludes that Shecker has discharged his initial burden of proving that Simmons failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. See Khudan v. Lee, No. ...


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