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Maryea v. Baggs

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

March 15, 2016

Lynette Maryea
David Baggs, et al. Opinion No. 2016 DNH 055


          LANDYA McCAFFERTY, District Judge.

         On June 9, 2010, two inmates at the Strafford County House of Corrections ("HOC") in Dover, New Hampshire assaulted Lynette Maryea, another inmate. Maryea brings federal civil rights claims and state law claims against Strafford County and Strafford County Department of Corrections ("DOC") officials based on their alleged failure to prevent the assault. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. Maryea objects.

         Standard of Review

         A movant is entitled to summary judgment where he "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [that he] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In reviewing the record, the court construes all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Kelley v. Corr. Med. Servs., Inc., 707 F.3d 108, 115 (1st Cir. 2013).


         In June 2010, Lynette Maryea was an inmate at the HOC. Maryea was housed in Unit A, a special housing unit for inmates or pre-trial detainees with mental or physical disabilities. On or around June 4, Maryea informed staff members several times that Annette Krikorian, another inmate, was harassing and provoking her. Maryea also informed staff that other inmates had warned her "that something was going to happen" to her. Maryea, however, was unable to provide any specific details to staff concerning what was going to happen to her. Although Maryea provides no evidence identifying which staff members she informed, she alleges that she told classification officers Robert Metcalf, David Baggs, and Nicole Wilkins that she was in "imminent danger." Compl. (doc. no. 1-2) ¶¶ 31-33.

         On June 9, Maryea informed classification officer William Bryant that she was having issues with another inmate and did not want to act out. Bryant reported this conversation to Lieutenant Gwen Weisgarber. Weisgarber told Bryant to have Maryea lock herself in her cell until Weisgarber could speak with her.

         When Weisgarber spoke with Maryea later in the day, Maryea informed Weisgarber that she was having issues with Krikorian, who was provoking her and instigating trouble with her. Maryea explained that she had tried to confront Krikorian concerning these issues, but Krikorian had just yelled at her, called her names, and told her that she would fight. Maryea also said that she thought Krikorian had some type of plan, but that she "didn't know what it was obviously." Maryea Dep. (doc. no. 16) 12:2-7. Maryea also explained that she did not fear Krikorian because Krikorian was so "little, I could snap her in half." Weisgarber Decl. (doc. no. 11-5) ¶ 10.

         In response, Weisgarber told Maryea that she should stay away from Krikorian to avoid getting into trouble. She reminded Maryea that if a problem did occur, Maryea could lock herself in her cell. Weisgarber also told Maryea that she should notify an officer if she was having an issue with Krikorian and should not try to handle anything herself. Finally, Weisgarber told Maryea that she would speak with Baggs, a classification officer, and that they would work on a solution to the issues between Krikorian and Maryea. Weisgarber did speak to Baggs and the two discussed options for resolving Maryea's concerns.

         Maryea stayed locked in her cell for the rest of the day until later that evening when she left to get dinner. At that time, Krikorian and another inmate, Ashley Leighton, assaulted Maryea. Maryea alleges that the assault occurred in the kitchen. Maryea concedes that there is no evidence that any defendant or other staff member witnessed the assault. See Order (doc. no. 27) 2.

         Maryea filed a complaint in state court alleging federal and state law claims against Strafford County, Weisgarber, Wilkins, Bryant, Metcalf, Baggs, and Lieutenant Donna Roy, the lieutenant that Maryea alleged was on duty during the assault.[1] Defendants removed the action to this court. Maryea brought her federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and premised them on the allegation that DOC officials were deliberately indifferent to Maryea's safety because they failed to prevent the assault.[2] Maryea brings state law claims against all defendants for negligence and against Strafford County for negligent hiring and supervision and respondeat superior.

         At the time of the assault, the DOC had a policy, which required inmates with complaints about prison conditions to submit a grievance. The grievance policy establishes a formal three-step process, including appeals, for the submission and resolution of written complaints. Generally, the grievance policy requires an inmate to "file a written/formal grievance within fourteen... days of discovery of the grievable issue." See Pelkie Decl., Ex. A (doc. no. 11-3) 2. It also permits an inmate to make a "verbal/informal initial grievance" within seven days of the discovery of a grievable issue. Id . It is undisputed that Maryea failed to file a formal, written grievance concerning the assault.


         Defendants filed two motions for summary judgment.[3] The first motion (doc. no. 11) argues that Maryea failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, a requirement for inmates bringing federal claims, and that defendants are entitled to immunity on the state law claims under N.H. Revised Statutes Annotated ("RSA") 507-B:5 and 507-B:4, IV. In the second motion (doc. no. 15), defendants argue that they are entitled to common law immunity on Maryea's state law claims and that Maryea has failed to adduce any evidence that creates a genuine issue of material fact entitling her to a jury trial on her federal claims. Maryea has objected to both motions.[4] Because, as discussed below, defendants' first motion for summary judgment disposes of Maryea's claims, the court need not address defendants' second motion.

         I. Exhaustion of Federal Claims

         Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on Maryea's federal claims under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") because Maryea did not submit a grievance concerning the assault and therefore failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. Maryea contends that she is excused from the PLRA exhaustion requirements.

         A. Legal Standard

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, "[n]o 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." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). To exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA, a prisoner "must complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). The PLRA's 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).

         Congress enacted the PLRA's exhaustion requirement "to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits." Nussle, 534 U.S. at 524. To achieve this purpose, the PLRA "afford[s] corrections officials time and opportunity to address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a federal case." Id. at 525. "In some instances, corrective action taken in response to an inmate's grievance might improve prison administration and satisfy the inmate, thereby obviating the need for litigation." Id . And when a prisoner does proceed with a lawsuit, requiring exhaustion can improve the quality of that suit "by producing a useful administrative record." Bock, 549 U.S. at 204.

         When an inmate fails to properly exhaust administrative remedies, her federal claims are subject to dismissal under the PLRA. Medina-Claudio v. Rodríguez-Mateo, 292 F.3d 31, 36 (1st Cir. 2002); Polansky v. McCoole, No. 13-CV-458-JL, 2016 WL 237096, at *7 (D.N.H. Jan. 20, 2016) (granting summary judgment where inmate failed to exhaust administrative remedies). If no administrative remedies are available, however, exhaustion is not required. Brown v. Valoff, 422 F.3d 926, 935 (9th Cir. 2005) (noting that "the statutory language [of the PLRA] does not require exhaustion when no pertinent relief can be obtained through the internal process"). Failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense, Bock, 549 U.S. at 216, and, as such, it "must be raised and proved by the defense." Cruz Berrios v. Gonzalez-Rosario, 630 F.3d 7, 11 (1st Cir. 2010).

         B. Application

         Defendants move for summary judgment on Maryea's federal claims, arguing that Maryea did not exhaust her administrative remedies because she failed to file a grievance concerning the assault. Maryea concedes that she did not submit a grievance regarding the assault. She argues, however, that she is excused from the PLRA's exhaustion requirement because there were no administrative remedies "available" to her. The DOC's administrative remedies were unavailable, Maryea contends, because once the assault occurred, those remedies could not provide any "relief... regarding inadequate protection." Obj. (doc. no. 16) 4.[5]

         To be "available" under the PLRA a remedial scheme need only provide prison officials authority to "take some action in response to a complaint." Frazier v. Fairhaven Sch. Comm., 276 F.3d 52, 62 (1st Cir. 2002) (quoting Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 736 (2001)); Johnson v. Thyng, 369 F.Appx. 144, 149 (1st Cir. 2010). Consequently, an inmate must exhaust the entire administrative process, "regardless of the relief offered through administrative procedures." Booth, 532 U.S. at 741. That is so even when the relief offered might not personally benefit the plaintiff. See Medina-Claudio, 292 F.3d at 35-36 (holding that exhaustion is still required under the PLRA even when the inmate has been transferred to another institution); Ruggiero v. County of Orange, 467 F.3d 170, 177 (2d Cir. 2006) (requiring exhaustion because formal grievance might have "resulted in developing... policies and procedures pertaining to the grievance or disciplining the relevant officers") (quoting Braham v. Clancy, 425 F.3d 177, 183 (2d Cir. 2005)).

         Here, defendants have submitted an affidavit from Bruce Pelkie, the current DOC superintendent, listing examples of the actions that DOC officials could have taken had Maryea filed a grievance after the assault. See Pelkie Decl. (doc. no. 17-1) ¶¶ 3-8. For example, Pelkie contends that DOC officials could have investigated Maryea's claims and disciplined any officers who did not adequately perform their duties. Id. at ¶¶ 5-6. Pelkie also asserts that DOC officials could have moved Maryea, Krikorian, or Leighton for Maryea's future safety.[6] Id. at ¶ 7. Finally, Pelkie asserts that DOC officials could have changed the DOC's procedures, policies, and training guidelines for the issues presented in Maryea's claims. Id. at ¶ 5.

         There is no evidence in the summary judgment record refuting Pelkie's statements that DOC officials could have taken these actions had Maryea submitted a grievance concerning the assault. Therefore, the DOC's administrative remedies were ...

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