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Polansky v. McCoole.

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

January 20, 2016

Christopher Polansky,
Ann Marie McCoole.

MEMORANDUM ORDER Opinion No. 2016 DNH 012.

JOSEPH N. LAPLANTE, District Judge.

This civil rights action turns squarely on the requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), that an inmate exhaust the Department of Corrections's formal grievance process prior to seeking recovery under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court. By his Amended Complaint, the plaintiff, Christopher Polansky, seeks to recover for damages he allegedly suffered as a result of inadequate medical care during a one-month stay in the Residential Treatment Unit (RTU) at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord. He asserts an Eighth Amendment civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state-law claims for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. This court has subject-matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (federal question) and 1367 (supplemental jurisdiction).

The sole defendant in this case, Ann Marie McCoole, a registered nurse and Nursing Coordinator employed by the New Hampshire Department of Corrections, moves for summary judgment, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, on Polansky's Eighth Amendment claim that she provided inadequate medical care during his stay at the RTU. After hearing oral argument, and for the reasons set forth below, the court concludes that Polansky failed to exhaust the administrative remedies available to him before filing this action, as the PLRA requires. The court therefore grants summary judgment in favor of the defendant and dismisses Polansky's Eighth Amendment claim. Having done so, the court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law negligence claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).

I. Applicable legal standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). To defeat such a motion, the party opposing summary judgment "must set forth specific facts showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to each issue upon which she would bear the ultimate burden of proof at trial." Torres-Negron v. Merck & Co., 488 F.3d 34, 39 (1st Cir. 2007) (quotations omitted). An issue is "genuine" if it may reasonably be resolved in either party's favor at trial, and "material" if it has the capacity to sway the outcome under applicable law. Vineberg v. Bissonnette, 548 F.3d 50, 56 (1st Cir. 2008) (quotations omitted). In performing these calculations, the "court must scrutinize the record in the light most flattering to the party opposing the motion, indulging all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Mulvihill v. Top-Flite Golf Co., 335 F.3d 15, 19 (1st Cir. 2003). Where, as here, the party seeking summary judgment also bears the burden of proof at trial, [1] the court will not grant summary judgment unless, based on the record taken in this light, no reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party. See E.E.O.C. v. Union Independiente de la Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados de P.R., 279 F.3d 49, 55 (1st Cir. 2002); Winnacunnet Coop. Sch. Dist. v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, 84 F.3d 32, 35 (1st Cir. 1996).

II. Background

The following background summary, drawn from the complaint and the documents submitted in support of defendant's motion for summary judgment and plaintiff's opposition thereto, takes the approach described above and draws all reasonable inferences in Polansky's favor.

While incarcerated in the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord, Polansky requested a transfer to the that facility's RTU so that he could attend counseling and group therapy sessions. During his month-long stay in the RTU, between August 21, 2012, and September 20, 2012, Polansky was housed in the RTU's Secure Psychiatric Unit (SPU) infirmary. The defendant was a Psychiatric Unit Nurse Coordinator there at that time.

As a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair, Polansky relied on equipment to move himself between his wheelchair and other surfaces, such as his bed. During the majority of his stay in the RTU, the facility provided a trapeze unit over Polansky's bed, which allowed him to change positions using his arms alone, and a slide board, along which he could slide from one surface to another. As a result of spending a significant amount of time in a wheelchair, Polansky suffered from decubitus, pressure sores, and ulcers. Upon arriving at the RTU, he told the prison staff that using a slide board would exacerbate those conditions and injure him further. He requested a Hoyer lift instead.[2] A Hoyer lift arrived in the state warehouse during the week of September 11, 2012, and was set up for Polansky's use on September 19, 2012. While waiting for the Hoyer lift, Polansky used the slide board to move between his wheelchair and other surfaces. The resulting friction led to open sores, about which Polansky complained to the prison staff. Separately, Polansky also complained of constipation that resulted in bowel blockage.

Polansky submitted two Inmate Request Slips relating to his request for a Hoyer lift and his bowel blockage during his stay at the RTU.[3] Specifically, on September 13, 2012, Polansky submitted an Inmate Request Slip addressed to a staff doctor, complaining that his "buttocks [were] pretty much shredded from using a slide board" asked for an examination and informing the staff that he had not "had a [bowel movement] now since 09-03-12." Plaintiff's Ex. A-2. He was told to speak to a nurse to schedule an examination with a provider. Id . On September 18, 2012, Polansky submitted another Inmate Request Slip, this time directed specifically to McCoole, asking for the Hoyer lift and for additional remedies for his bowel blockage. Plaintiff's Ex. A-3. The RTU staff made the Hoyer lift available to Polansky the next day. Polansky Aff't ¶ 10. He left the RTU one day later, on September 20, 2012.

After leaving the RTU, Polansky continued to file additional Inmate Request Slips complaining of pain and sores he claims were caused by using the slide board during his RTU stay. Plaintiff's Exs. A-4 (September 23, 2012), A-5 (September 24, 2012), A-6a (October 8, 2012), and A-6b (October 8, 2012). He also complained about the quality of the prison's water. Plaintiff's Exs. A-8 (January 31, 2013) and A-9 (February 5, 2013). After a slew of Inmate Request Slips cataloging various complaints, Polansky filed two second-level grievances in early 2013. The first addressed his concerns about the quality of the water, Plaintiff's Ex. A-11, and the second a previously undocumented concern about the conduct of the mail room staff, Plaintiff's Ex. A-12.

Polansky commenced this action on October 16, 2013. After a year and several amendments to his complaint, Polansky obtained counsel[4] and, on November 10, 2014, filed the operative Amended Complaint[5] asserting a single claim under the Eighth Amendment and two state law negligence claims against McCoole in her official and personal capacities. McCoole moved for summary judgment on her affirmative defense that Polansky failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing a suit in this court contesting prison conditions as required by the PLRA.

III. Analysis

The defendant's motion for summary judgment turns on whether Polansky exhausted his available administrative remedies. The exhaustion provision of the PLRA prohibits a prisoner from bringing any action "with respect to prison conditions under [42 U.S.C. § 1983], or any other Federal law, ... until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Such a requirement "allows prison officials an opportunity to resolve disputes concerning the exercise of their responsibilities before being haled into court" which "has the potential to reduce the ...

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