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Toran v. Coakley

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division

March 8, 2017

JAMES ALBERT TORAN, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH COAKLEY, Warden, Defendant.

          PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          Omar J. Aboulhosn, United States Magistrate Judge

         On August 5, 2014, Plaintiff, acting pro se and incarcerated at FCI Beckley in Beaver, West Virginia, filed his Application to Proceed in Forma Pauperis and Complaint claiming entitlement to relief pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act [FTCA], 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b) and 2671, et seq., and for alleged violations of his constitutional rights pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 395-97, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971).[1] (Document Nos. 1 and 2.) Plaintiff names Warden Joseph Coakley as the Defendant. (Id.) In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges as follows:

On 8-14-12, Plaintiff was returning from an outside medical trip in a transport vehicle that was “clipped” by another vehicle on the driver's side, while enroute back to the FCI on Route 19, near Cherry Creek Dip. On 8-15-12, Plaintiff went for a follow-up, where he complained of neck stiffness, lower back pain, and left wrist pain. Plaintiff has had continued lower back pain since this accident occurred and has had medical problems revolving around this incident in similar areas, which he has brought to the attention of the medical staff on numerous occasions since this incident. (Medical Reports from this incident are attached). Plaintiff was a passenger in this matter.

(Document No. 2, pp. 4 - 5.) As relief, Plaintiff requests compensatory damages. (Id., p. 5.) As Exhibits, Plaintiff attaches a copy of his pertinent medical records. (Id., pp. 8 - 13.)

         STANDARD

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court is required to screen each case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. On screening, the Court must recommend dismissal of the case if the complaint is frivolous, malicious or fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. A “frivolous” complaint is one which is based upon an indisputably meritless legal theory. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 112 S.Ct. 1728, 118 L.Ed.2d 340 (1992). A “frivolous” claim lacks “an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 1831 - 32, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989). A claim lacks an arguable basis in law when it is “based on an indisputably meritless legal theory.” Id., 490 U.S. at 327, 109 S.Ct. at 1833. A claim lacks an arguable basis in fact when it describes “fantastic or delusional scenarios.” Id., 490 U.S. at 327 -328, 109 S.Ct. at 1833. A complaint therefore fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted factually when it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. With these standards in mind, the Court will assess Plaintiff's allegations in view of applicable law.

         DISCUSSION

         1. Bivens Claim:

         A. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies.

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)(1996), requires that inmates exhaust available administrative remedies prior to filing civil actions though the administrative process may not afford them the relief they might obtain through civil proceedings.[3] Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 126 S.Ct. 2378, 2382-83, 165 L.Ed.2d 368 (2006); Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 122 S.Ct. 983, 152 L.Ed.2d 12 (2002)(The Prison Litigation Reform Act'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.); Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 121 S.Ct. 1819, 1820, 149 L.Ed.2d 958 (2001)(“Under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), an inmate seeking only money damages must complete any prison administrative process capable of addressing the inmate's complaint and providing some form of relief, even if the process does not make specific provision for monetary relief.”). Exhaustion of administrative remedies is also required when injunctive relief is requested. Goist v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 2002 WL 32079467, *4, fn.1 (D.S.C. Sep 25, 2002), aff'd, 54 Fed.Appx. 159 (4th Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 538 U.S. 1047, 123 S.Ct. 2111, 155 L.Ed.2d 1088 (2003). “[T]here is no futility exception to the PLRA's exhaustion requirement.” Massey v. Helman, 196 F.3d 727, 733 (7th Cir. 1999). But the plain language of the statute requires that only “available” administrative remedies be exhausted. A grievance procedure is not “available” if prison officials prevent an inmate from using it. Dale v. Lappin, 376 F.3d 652, 656 (7th Cir. 2004); Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 529 (3d Cir. 2003)(inmate lacked available administrative remedies for exhaustion purposes where inmate was unable to file a grievance because prison officials refused to provide him with the necessary grievance forms); Miller v. Norris, 247 F.3d 736, 740 (8th Cir. 2001)(allegations that prison officials failed to respond to his written requests for grievance forms were sufficient to raise an inference that inmate had exhausted his available administrative remedies.)

         If an inmate exhausts administrative remedies with respect to some, but not all, of the claims he raises in a Section 1983, Bivens or FTCA action, the Court must dismiss the unexhausted claims and proceed with the exhausted ones. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 127 S.Ct. 910, 913, 166 L.Ed.2d 798 (2007)(“The PLRA does not require dismissal of the entire complaint when a prisoner has failed to exhaust some, but not all, of the claims included in the complaint. * * * If a complaint contains both good and bad claims, the court proceeds with the good and leaves the bad.”) It appears to be the majority view as well that exhausting administrative remedies after a Complaint is filed will not save a case from dismissal. See Neal v. Goord, 267 F.3d 116, 121-22 (2d Cir. 2001)(overruled on other grounds), a Section 1983 action, citing numerous cases. The rationale is pragmatic. As the Court stated in Neal, allowing prisoner suits to proceed, so long as the inmate eventually fulfills the exhaustion requirement, undermines Congress' directive to pursue administrative remedies prior to filing a complaint in federal court. Moreover, if during the pendency of a suit, the administrative process were to produce results benefitting plaintiff, the federal court would have wasted its resources adjudicating claims that could have been resolved within the prison grievance system at the outset. Neal, 267 F.3d at 123. In Freeman v. Francis, 196 F.3d 641, 645 (6th Cir. 1999), the Court stated: “The plain language of the statute [§ 1997e(a)] makes exhaustion a precondition to filing an action in federal Court.. . .The prisoner, therefore, may not exhaust administrative remedies during the pendency of the federal suit.” Thus, the PLRA requires that available administrative remedies must be exhausted before the filing of a suit in Federal Court. It is further clear that the PLRA does not require that an inmate allege or demonstrate that he has exhausted his administrative remedies. See Jones v. Bock, supra; Anderson v. XYZ Correctional Health Services, 407 F.3d 674, 677 (4th Cir. 2005). Failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense. Prison officials have the burden of proving that the inmate had available remedies which he did not exhaust. See Dale v. Lappin, 376 F.3d 652, 655 (7th Cir. 2004)(“Although exhaustion of administrative remedies is a precondition to a federal prisoner filing a Bivens suit, [citations omitted] failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense that the defendants have the burden of pleading and proving.” (Citations omitted)) The Court is not precluded, however, from considering at the outset whether an inmate has exhausted administrative remedies. The Fourth Circuit stated in Anderson, 470 F.3d at 683, as follows:

[A]n inmate's failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense to be pleaded and proven by the defendant. That exhaustion is an affirmative defense, however, does not preclude the district court from dismissing a complaint where the failure to exhaust is apparent from the face of the complaint, nor does it preclude the district court from inquiring on its own motion into whether the inmate exhausted all administrative remedies.

         For Bivens purposes, proper exhaustion of available administrative remedies requires that “a prisoner must submit inmate complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison's administrative rules require.” Dale v. Lappin, 376 F.3d at 655 (internal citations omitted); also see Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 126 S.Ct. 2378, 2382, 165 L.Ed.2d 368 (2006)(stating that “[p]roper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules because no adjudicative system can function effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings”). The Federal Bureau of Prisons [BOP] has established an Administrative Remedy Program, 28 C.F.R. § 542.10, et seq., through which an inmate may seek formal review of issues or complaints relating to confinement. Depending upon at what level an inmate initiates it, the BOP's Administrative Remedy Program is a three-step or four-step grievance procedure. As a general matter, a federal inmate is required first to attempt to resolve his complaints informally by the submission of an “Inmate Request to Staff Member” form. 28 C.F.R. § 542.13. The inmate's request may be rejected if improper, and the inmate will then be advised of the proper administrative procedure. Id. Within 20 days after the circumstances occurred which are the subject of the inmate's complaints, the inmate must complete this first step and submit a formal “Administrative Remedy Request” on a BP-9 form to an institution staff member designated to receive such Requests, 28 C.F.R. § 542.14(a) and (c)(4), or under exceptional circumstances to the appropriate Regional Director. Id., § 542.14(d). The Warden of the institution and the Regional Director must respond to the inmate's Request within 20 and 30 days respectively. Id., § 542.18. If the inmate's Request was directed to the Warden of the institution and the Warden's response is unfavorable, the inmate may appeal within 20 days to the Regional Director on a BP-10. Id., § 542.15(a) and (b). If the Regional Director's response is unfavorable, the inmate may appeal to General Counsel on a BP-11 form within 30 days after the Regional Director signed the response. Id., § 542.15(a). General Counsel has 40 days to respond to the inmate's appeal. Id., § 542.18. The administrative process is exhausted when General Counsel issues a ruling on the inmate's final appeal. Id., § 542.15(a). The entire process takes about 120 days to complete. An inmate's submission may be rejected at any level for failure to comply with the administrative remedy requirements or if the submission is written in an obscene or abusive manner. Id., § 542.17(a). The inmate will be provided with notice of any defect and whether the defect is correctable. Id., § 542.17(b). If a request or appeal is rejected and the inmate is not given an opportunity to correct the defect and resubmit, the inmate may appeal the rejection to the next appeal level. Id., § 542.17(c).

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff acknowledges that he did not fully exhaust his administrative remedies. (Document No. 2, p. 3.) Concerning his attempts to exhaust, Plaintiff merely states that he “did not have enough time to exhaust administrative remedies without going over the statute of limitations (2 years) for his matter.” (Id.) To the extent that Plaintiff claims that he should be excused from exhaustion, his claim is without merit. First, Plaintiff fails to explain why he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies during the statute of limitation period. Next, the United States Supreme Court has stated that it “will not read futility or other exceptions into statutory exhaustion requirements. . . .”[6]Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 741, n. 6, 121 S.Ct. 1819, 1825, 149 L.Ed.2d 958 (2001); also see Massey, 196 F.3d at 727(“[T]here is no futility exception to the PLRA's exhaustion requirement.”); Jacocks v. Hedrick, 2006 WL 2850639, * 5 (W.D.Va. Sept. 29, 2006)(finding that inmate's alleged pain and suffering after the loss of his eye were not special circumstances that would excuse his failure to exhaust where he had filed prior grievances complaining of other matters). Based on the foregoing, the undersigned recommends that ...


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