APPEARANCES: ERIC CASEY Plaintiff pro se 1881 Pitkin Avenue, Apt. 1C Brooklyn, NY 11212 HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN Attorney General for the State of New York Counsel for Defendants The Capitol Albany, NY 12224 OF COUNSEL: RYAN E. MANLEY, ESQ.
APPEARANCES: ERIC CASEY
Plaintiff pro se
1881 Pitkin Avenue, Apt. 1C
Brooklyn, NY 11212 HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN
Attorney General for the State of New York
Counsel for Defendants
Albany, NY 12224 OF COUNSEL: RYAN E. MANLEY, ESQ. THÉRÈSE WILEY DANCKS, United States Magistrate Judge ORDER AND REPORT- RECOMMENDATION
This pro se prisoner civil rights action, commenced pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, has been referred to me for Report and Recommendation on the issue of exhaustion of administrative remedies by the Honorable David N. Hurd, United States District Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3(c). (Dkt. No. 49.) Plaintiff Eric Casey asserts the following claims: (1) Eighth Amendment claim resulting from excessive force used against him in violation of his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment; and (2) Eighth Amendment violation resulting from the failure to provide adequate medical care. (Dkt. No. 1 at 10-13.)
Page numbers in citations to the amended complaint refer to the page numbers assigned by the Court's electronic filing system rather than to page numbers in the original document.
Currently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 37.) For the reasons that follow, the Court recommends that Defendants' motion to dismiss be granted without prejudice as to all defendants.
At the time this action was commenced Plaintiff was a prison inmate in Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS") custody being held at Great Meadow Correctional Facility ("GMCF"). (Dkt. No. 1 at 5.) On May 22, 2013, at approximately 5:00 p.m., Plaintiff claims that he was returning to his cell and was "hit from behind in the back of [his] head with a hard object" as he entered the stairwell area. (Dkt. No. 1 at 7.) Plaintiff claims that he "fell to the floor and was brutally beaten" by Defendant correctional officers M. Brockley ("Brockley"), H. Colvin ("Colvin"), A. Mayo ("Mayo"), C. Goodrich ("Goodrich"), and Wanninger. (Dkt. No. 1 at 7.) Plaintiff claims that he was "kicked, stomped, sexually humiliated, and beat[en] with sticks all over [his] body . . . ." (Dkt. No. 1 at 7.) Plaintiff claims that he was referred to as "'Rodney King' and other racial and sexual slurs" while the beating took place. (Dkt. No. 1 at 7.) Specifically, Plaintiff makes the following claims: Colvin and Goodrich held Plaintiff's legs open so Brockley could kick him the groin; Wanninger struck Plaintiff multiple times with her baton; and Mayo beat Plaintiff's knees, shins, and ribs with a cudgel. (Dkt. No. 1 at 8.) Plaintiff claims that the beating lasted approximately five minutes. (Dkt. No. 1 at 8.)
Plaintiff was taken to a facility hospital and was treated by Defendant Registered Nurses Boyce ("Boyce") and Clapper ("Clapper"). (Dkt. No. 1 at 8.) Clapper prepared an injury report that indicated Plaintiff had only "superficial abrasions." (Dkt. No. 1 at 30.) Plaintiff claims that Clapper and Boyce "intentionally downplayed the severity of [his] injuries while disregarding the more serious ones . . . " since they were not mentioned in the injury report. (Dkt. No. 1 at 8.) Plaintiff claims that Clapper only "questioned [him] from afar" and that Boyce only "electronically check[ed] [his] vital signs." (Dkt. No. 1 at 9.) Plaintiff claims that Defendant Registered Nurse Hermance "utilized her time falsifying business records . . . " to indicate that Colvin, Mayo, and Brockley suffered injuries rather than providing medical care. (Dkt. No. 1 at 8.) Photographs of Plaintiff were taken prior to leaving the hospital. (Dkt. No. 1 at 33-39.)
Plaintiff claims that, in addition to what was indicated on the injury report, he suffered the following injuries: (1) swelling above his left eye; (2) three linear-shaped abrasions above left eye swelling; (3) bruise on the left side of his face; (4) swelling to the left side of his face; (5) swelling above his right eye; (6) swelling to his upper right forehead; (7) swelling near the center of his back; (8) linear-shaped laceration on his left shin; (9) left shin bone injury; (10) right knee injury; (11) left pinky bone injury; and (12) left rib injury. (Dkt. No. 1 at 10.)
On June 3, 2013, Plaintiff filed Inmate Grievance Complaint GM-55615-13, alleging "cruel and unusual punishment, excessive force, and inadequate medical care." (Dkt. No. 1 at 18-19.) After receiving no response from then GMCF superintendent Defendant S. Racette ("Racette"), within the allotted twenty-five day time period, Plaintiff appealed to the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC"). (Dkt. No. 1 at 4.) On July 22, 2013, S. Pelo ("Pelo"), the grievance supervisor, asked Plaintiff for an extension to the investigation period "to allow for a proper investigation." (Dkt. No. 1 at 22.) Pelo also informed Plaintiff that "CORC will still have to wait for the investigation [to be completed] before they can render a decision." (Dkt. No. 1 at 22.) Plaintiff denied Pelo's extension request citing his "statutory right to appeal." (Dkt. No. 1 at 4.) On August 7, 2013, Pelo confirmed that the appeal had been submitted to CORC and notified Plaintiff that a decision was forthcoming. (Dkt. No. 1 at 23.) On October 15, 2013, after not receiving a response from CORC within the allotted thirty day time period, Plaintiff commenced this action. (Dkt. No. 1 at 4.)
The Court is unaware whether CORC has issued a response to Plaintiff's grievance.
III. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS
A. Rule 12(b)(6) motion
A defendant may move to dismiss a complaint "for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted" under Rule 12(b)(6). The motion tests the formal legal sufficiency of the complaint by determining whether it conforms to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), which requires that a complaint include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Bush v. Masiello, 55 F.R.D. 72, 74 (S.D.N.Y. 1972). Satisfaction of the requirement that a plaintiff "show" that he or she is entitled to relief requires that the complaint "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . requires the . . . court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense . . . . [W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not shown - that the pleader is entitled to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (internal citation and punctuation omitted).
A complaint may be dismissed, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), only where it appears that there are not "enough facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face." Twombley. 550 U.S. at 570. While Rule 8(a)(2) "does not require detailed factual allegations, . . . it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-harmed-me-accusation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint which "tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement'" does not suffice. Id. (citation omitted).
"In reviewing a complaint for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Hernandez v. Coughlin, 18 F.3d 133, 136 (2d Cir. 1994) (citation omitted). However, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Where a party is proceeding pro se, the court is obliged to "read [the pro se party's] supporting papers liberally, and . . . interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." See Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted); see also Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) (courts remain obligated to construe pro se complaints liberally even after Twombly).
Where a pro se complaint fails to state a cause of action, the court generally "should not dismiss without granting leave to amend at least once when a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated." Cuoco v. Moritsugu, 222 F.3d 99, 112 (2d Cir. 2000) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). An opportunity to amend is not required where "the problem with [the plaintiff's] causes of action is substantive" such that "better pleading will not cure it." Id. (citation omitted).
B. The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996
As succinctly outlined by my colleague, Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles:
The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 ("PLRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), which imposes several restrictions on the ability of prisoners to maintain federal civil rights actions, expressly requires that no action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, 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 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. An inmate plaintiff's complaint is subject to dismissal if the evidence establishes that he or she failed to properly exhaust available remedies prior to commencing the action . . . . Proper exhaustion requires a plaintiff to procedurally exhaust his or her claims by complying with the system's critical procedural rules. Complete exhaustion has not occurred, for purposes of the PLRA, until all of the steps of that available process have been taken.
Bailey v. Fortier, 09-CV-0742 (GLS/DEP), 2012 WL 6935254, at *4, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185178, at *11-13 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 4, 2012) (citations and punctuation omitted). "[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). In order to properly exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA, inmates are required to complete the administrative review process in accordance with the rules applicable to the particular institution in which they are confined. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007) (citing Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88 (2006)). If a prisoner has failed to properly follow each of the applicable steps prior to commencing litigation, he has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Woodford, 548 U.S. at 93.
The Court will provide Plaintiff with copies of all unpublished decisions cited in this Order in accordance with the Second Circuit's decision in Lebron v. Sanders, 557 F.3d 76 (2d Cir. 2009) (per curiam).
"[A]n inmate would be well advised to take advantage of internal prison procedures for resolving inmate grievances. When those procedures produce results, they will typically do so faster than judicial processes can. And even when they do not . . . , the inmate's task in court will obviously be much easier." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 847 (1994).
C. Inmate Grievance Program
Exhaustion for a prison inmate in DOCCS custody is normally achieved through the Inmate Grievance Program ("IGP"). 7 N.Y. COMP. CODES. R. & REGS. tit. 7, §701.1 (2012). The IGP involves a three-step process. Id. at §701.5. First, the prison inmate must submit a grievance to the clerk within twenty-one days of the alleged action. Id. at §701.5(a)(1). The Inmate Grievance Program Committee ("IGPC") must hold a hearing within sixteen days and issue a written decision within two days of the hearing. Id. at §§ 701.5(b)(2)(i), (ii). Second, the prison inmate may appeal the IGPC's decision, within seven days of receipt, to the facility superintendent. Id. at §701.5(c)(1). Third and finally, the prison inmate may appeal the facility superintendent's decision to CORC, within seven days of receipt. Id. at §§ 701.5(d)(i), (ii). CORC has thirty days to review the appeal and issue a decision. Id. at § 701.5(d)(2)(ii).
D. Hemphill v. State of New York
Because failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense, defendants bear the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that a plaintiff has failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies. See Murray v. Palmer, No. 9:03-CV-1010 (GTS/GHL), 2010 WL 1235591, at *4, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32014, at *16 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2010); Bailey, 2012 WL 6935254, at *6 (the party asserting failure to exhaust bears the burden of proving its elements by a preponderance of the evidence); see also Andrews v. Whitman, No. 06-2447-LAB (NLS), 2009 WL 857604, at *6, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30017, at *16 (S.D. Cal. Mar. 27, 2009) (defendant must prove non-exhaustion of administrative remedies by a preponderance of the evidence).
If a defendant meets that burden, however, a plaintiff's failure to exhaust does not end the review. "[O]nce a defendant has adduced reliable evidence that administrative remedies were available to Plaintiff and that Plaintiff nevertheless failed to exhaust those administrative remedies, Plaintiff must then 'counter' Defendants' assertion by showing exhaustion unavailability, estoppel, or 'special circumstances' [under Hemphill v. State of New York, 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir. 2004)]." Murray, 2010 WL 1235591, at *4. Hemphill sets forth a three-part inquiry for district courts. First, courts must determine if administrative remedies were in fact available to plaintiff. In Hemphill, the Second Circuit stated that "[t]he test for deciding whether the ordinary grievance procedures were available must be an objective one: that is, would 'a similarly situated individual of ordinary firmness' have deemed them available." Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 688. Courts have found administrative grievance procedures unavailable where an inmate was prevented from filing a grievance. See, e.g., Sandlin v. Poole, 575 F. Supp. 2d 484, 488 (W.D.N.Y. 2008) (The facility's "failure to provide grievance deposit boxes, denial of forms and writing materials, and a refusal to accept or forward plaintiff's appeals . . . effectively rendered the grievance appeal process unavailable to him.").
Second, courts must determine if the defendants are estopped from presenting non-exhaustion as an affirmative defense because they prevented the plaintiff inmate from exhausting his administrative remedies by "'beating him, threatening him, denying him grievance forms and writing implements, and transferring him to another correctional facility.'" Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 688 (citing Ziemba v. Wezner, 366 F.3d 161, 162 (2d Cir. 2004)). Generally, defendants cannot be estopped from asserting a non-exhaustion affirmative defense based upon the actions or inaction of other individuals. Murray, 2010 WL 1235591, at *5 & n.26 (collecting cases); McCloud v. Tureglio, No. 07-CV-0650, 2008 WL 1772305, at *12, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124388, at *44 (N.D.N.Y. Apr. 15, 2008) (Lowe, M.J.) ("None of those documents allege facts plausibly suggesting that Defendant's own actions inhibited Plaintiff's exhaustion of remedies during the time in question.").
Third, the Second Circuit explained in Hemphill that there are certain "special circumstances" in which even though administrative remedies may have been available and the defendants may not be estopped from asserting a non-exhaustion defense, the inmate's failure to exhaust may be justified. Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686. "Special circumstances" have been found to include an incorrect but reasonable interpretation of the applicable grievance process or failing to file a grievance in the precise manner prescribed by the process as a result of threats. See, e.g., Giano v. Goord, 380 F.3d 670, 675-76 (2d Cir. 2004) (failure to exhaust was justified where plaintiff inmate's interpretation of regulations was reasonable and prison official threatened inmate).
Subsequent to Hemphill, the Supreme Court decided Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81 (2006). The question addressed in Woodford was whether "a prisoner can satisfy the [PLRA's] exhaustion requirement by filing an untimely or otherwise procedurally defective administrative grievance or appeal." Id. at 83-84. The Supreme Court resolved the question in the negative, explaining that the PLRA requires "proper exhaustion" - "using all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that the agency addressed the issues on the merits)." Id. at 90 (citation omitted). Although the Second Circuit has acknowledged that there is some question as to whether the estoppel and special circumstances inquiries in Hemphill survived Woodford, the Court has as yet found it unnecessary to decide the issue and appears to still be considering all three Hemphill inquiries in exhaustion cases. See, e.g., Amador v. Andrews, 655 F.3d 89, 102-03 (2d Cir. 2011) (finding it unnecessary to decide whether Hemphill is still good law because plaintiff had failed to establish that defendants were estopped from raising non-exhaustion as an affirmative defense). --------
A. Plaintiff Failed to Properly Exhaust Administrative Remedies
If a prison inmate fails to follow each of the applicable steps prior to commencing litigation, he has failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies. Woodford, 548 U.S. at 90 (the PLRA requires "proper exhaustion" - "using all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly so that the agency addressed the issues on the merits"). Receiving a decision from CORC after commencing litigation does not satisfy PLRA's requirement that administrative remedies be exhausted before filing suit, and any claim not exhausted prior to commencement of the suit must be dismissed without prejudice. Neal v. Goord, 267 F.3d 116, 122-23 (2d Cir. 2001), overruled on other grounds, Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516 (2002). Because Plaintiff commenced this action before CORC issued a decision on his appeal, the Court finds that he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.
B. Hemphill Analysis
As noted above, an exhaustion review does not end when, as in this case, defendants are found to have met the burden of establishing a plaintiff's failure to exhaust because the Court must still undertake an analysis of the Hemphill factors. See Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686
Here, there is no dispute that at all relevant times, DOCCS had the IGP available for Plaintiff and other prison inmates. See 7 N.Y. COMP. CODES. R. & REGS. tit. 7, §701.1 (2012); Taylor v. Chalom, No. 9:10-CV-1494 (NAM/DEP), 2011 WL 6942891, at *4, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150512, at *12 (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 13, 2011) (The IGP is "recognized as an 'available' remedy for purposes of the PLRA."). Plaintiff undoubtedly had administrative remedies available to him since, on June 3, 2013, he filed Inmate Grievance Complaint GM-55615-13 alleging "cruel and unusual punishment, excessive force, and inadequate medical care." (Dkt. No. 1 at 18-19.) Plaintiff does not allege that his failure to properly exhaust available administrative remedies was due to administrative remedies being unavailable to him. (Dkt. No. 39.) Plaintiff also does not allege that the named Defendants prevented him from properly exhausting available administrative remedies and should thus be estopped from asserting the defense. (Dkt. No. 39.)
Finally, there are no special circumstances that would justify Plaintiff's failure to properly exhaust available administrative remedies. (Dkt. No. 39.) Plaintiff argued that his administrative remedies were sufficiently exhausted because his CORC appeal was not decided in a timely manner. Justification "must be determined by looking at the circumstances which might understandably lead . . . uncounseled prisoners to fail to grieve in the normally required way." Giano, 380 F.3d at 678. As noted above, generally, the "special circumstances" doctrine is applied where a prisoner has been threatened with physical retaliation for exhausting administrative remedies or where the prisoner reasonably misinterprets the statutory requirements of the appeals process. Id. at 676. CORC's failure to act within the time frame set out in the regulations does not constitute a special circumstance justifying the failure to exhaust. See Ford v. Smith, No. 9:12-CV-1109 (TJM/TWD), 2014 WL 652933, at *3, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20581, at *8-9 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 16, 2014) (citations omitted). Rodriguez v. Rosner, No. 9:12-CV-958, 2012 WL 7160117, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 186228 (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 5, 2012) (dismissing complaint for failure to exhaust where prisoner filed appeal with CORC on May 4, filed federal civil rights complaint on June 10, and received CORC response dated September 26).
The Second Circuit "has recognized that failure to exhaust administrative remedies is usually a 'curable procedural flaw' that can be fixed by exhausting those remedies and then reinstituting suit." Neal, 267 F.3d at 123 (citing Snider v. Melindez, 199 F3d 108, 11-12 (2d Cir. 1999). The Court finds dismissal without prejudice for failure to exhaust to be proper in this case.
The parties have not provided information to the Court regarding if and when CORC issued a decision on Plaintiff's appeal. If CORC issued a response to Plaintiff's grievance subsequent to the commencement of this action on October 15, 2013, the Court recommends that the complaint be dismissed without prejudice for failure to exhaust and that Plaintiff be granted leave to refile his complaint upon the filing of a Decision and Order by the District Court on this Court's Report and Recommendation. If CORC has not as yet issued a response, the Court recommends that the complaint be dismissed without prejudice, that CORC be directed to render a decision on Plaintiff's pending grievance appeal within thirty days of the filing of the District Court's Decision and Order on this Report-Recommendation, and that upon CORC's failure to do so, Plaintiff's administrative remedies be deemed unavailable to him and he be allowed to refile this suit indicating such.
ACCORDINGLY, it is hereby
RECOMMENDED that Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint (Dkt. No. 37) in this action be GRANTED, and that the complaint (Dkt. No. 1) be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE, based upon Plaintiff's failure to fully exhaust his administrative remedies; and it is further
RECOMMENDED that: (1) in the event CORC has rendered a decision on Plaintiff's appeal on Inmate Grievance Complaint GM-55615-13, Plaintiff be granted leave to refile this suit upon the filing of a Decision and Order by the District court on this Court's Report-Recommendation; and (2) in the event CORC has not rendered a decision on Plaintiff's appeal, that CORC be directed to render a decision on Plaintiff's pending grievance within thirty days of the filing of the District Court's Decision and Order on this Report-Recommendation; and (3) if Plaintiff does not receive a decision from CORC within that time, administrative remedies may be deemed unavailable to him and he may therefore be excused from exhausting his administrative remedies and may refile this suit indicating such; and it is
ORDERED that the Clerk provide Plaintiff with a copy of this Order and Report-Recommendation, along with copies of the unpublished decisions cited herein in accordance with the Second Circuit decision in Lebron v. Sanders, 557 F.3d 76 (2d Cir. 2009) (per curiam).
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the parties have fourteen days within which to file written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections shall be filed with the Clerk of the Court. FAILURE TO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WITHIN FOURTEEN DAYS WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85 (2d Cir. 1993) (citing Small v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 892 F.2d 15 (2d Cir. 1989)); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72. Dated: November 9, 2015
Thérèse Wiley Dancks
United States Magistrate Judge