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Stile v. Strafford County Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

September 20, 2019

James Stile
Strafford County Department of Corrections, Bruce Pelkie, Jake Collins, Tracey Warren, Robert Farrell, Laura Noseworthy, and Christopher Brackett



         Before the court is defendants’ (first) motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 74), which seeks judgment as a matter of law on the four claims that have been allowed to proceed in this action. In their motion, defendants argue that plaintiff, James Stile, failed to exhaust the available administrative remedies at the Strafford County House of Corrections (“SCHC”) from January 2013 through June 2015 when he was in pretrial detention, warranting summary judgment pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, as to each of the claims remaining in this action.

         Although Stile did not file a timely objection to the instant motion, Stile objected to defendants’ (second) motion for summary judgment, in a filing he entitled, “Plaintiff’s Response to Motion for Summary Judgment” (Doc. No. 85) (hereinafter “Stile Decl.”). That filing ends with Stile’s declaration, signed upon pains of perjury, that the matters asserted in Document No. 85 are true to the best of his knowledge. This court considers the record before the court relevant to defendants’ (first) summary judgment motion to include the pertinent exhibits to defendants’ (second) summary judgment motion (Doc. No. 83), as well as the factual matters declared to be true in Document No. 85.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         “Summary judgment is warranted if ‘there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.’” Luceus v. Rhode Island, 923 F.3d 255, 256-57 (1st Cir. 2019) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). Where the party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of proof on an issue, that party “must provide evidence sufficient for the court to hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than in its favor.” Am. Steel Erectors, Inc. v. Local Union No. 7, Int’l Ass’n of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental & Reinforcing Iron Workers, 536 F.3d 68, 75 (1st Cir. 2008); see also Asociación de Suscripción Conjunta del Seguro de Responsabilidad Obligatorio v. Juarbe-Jiménez, 659 F.3d 42, 50 n.10 (1st Cir. 2011) (once defendant moving for summary judgment on affirmative defense produces “conclusive” evidence to establish defense, burden shifts to plaintiff to show that defense does not apply).

         As to issues on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof, the party moving for summary judgment must first identify the portions of the record that show the absence of any genuine issue of material fact; then the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate, by reference to materials of evidentiary quality, that a trier of fact could reasonably resolve that issue in the nonmoving party’s favor. Flovac, Inc. v. Airvac, Inc., 817 F.3d 849, 853 (1st Cir. 2016). The nonmoving party’s failure to make the requisite showing as to issues upon which it bears the burden of proof “entitles the moving party to summary judgment.” Id.


         Four claims remain in this action:

(1) a Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim arising from Stile’s placement in disciplinary segregation on “D-Pod” upon his arrival at the SCHC, without prior notice and a hearing;
(2) a First Amendment free exercise claim arising from Stile’s alleged lack of access to weekly religious services while he was housed on D-Pod;
(3) a claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), also arising from Stile’s alleged lack of access to weekly religious services while on D-Pod; and
(4) a Fourteenth Amendment inadequate medical care claim arising from the alleged withholding of the appropriate dosage of a prescription breathing medication, known as Advair, for two years while Stile was in pretrial detention at the SCHC.

See Aug. 2, 2017 R&R (Doc. No. 61), at 1-2 (listing claims), approved by Sept. 1, 2017 Order (Doc. No. 62).


         I. PLRA Exhaustion

         Defendants argue that, as to each of the remaining claims, Stile did not exhaust the grievance procedures that were generally available at the SCHC, which warrants an order granting their motion for summary judgment on those claims. The PLRA provides, in pertinent part, that “[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). The PLRA’s exhaustion requirement is designed to “afford[ ] corrections officials time and opportunity to address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a federal case.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524–25 (2002).

         The “PLRA exhaustion requirement requires proper exhaustion, ” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93 (2006), which means using all the steps that the prison grievance system makes available, and doing so in conformity with the agency’s deadlines and other critical procedural rules, Id. at 90. “[I]t is the prison’s requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007).

         There is one exception to the exhaustion rule -administrative remedies must, in fact, be “available” to the prisoner. Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1856 (2016). Circumstances in which a remedy may be considered unavailable include when “it operates as a simple dead end - with officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates, ” Id. at 1859; when prison officials “thwart inmates from taking advantage of a grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation, ” Id. at 1860; and when “rules are ‘so confusing that . . . no reasonable prisoner can use them, ’” Id. at 1859 (citations omitted). Claims for which a plaintiff has not exhausted his available administrative remedies are subject to dismissal. See Medina-Claudio v. Rodríguez-Mateo, 292 F.3d 31, 36 (1st Cir. 2002).

         Failure to exhaust available administrative remedies is an affirmative defense on which defendants bear the burden of proof. See Jones, 549 U.S. at 216; Albino v. Baca, 747 F.3d 1162, 1172 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc). At the summary judgment phase, defendants bear the initial burden of showing that plaintiff failed to exhaust all of his generally available administrative remedies. See Hubbs v. Suffolk Cty. Sheriff’s Dep’t, 788 F.3d 54, 59 (2d Cir. 2015); Albino, 747 F.3d at 1172. Then, “the burden shifts to the prisoner to come forward with evidence showing that there is something in his particular case that made the existing and generally available administrative remedies effectively unavailable to him, ” Albino, 747 F.3d at 1172; see also Tuckel v. Grover, 660 F.3d 1249, 1254 (10th Cir. 2011).

         II. Grievance Procedures

         While Stile was at the SCHC, the Strafford County Department of Corrections (“SCDOC”) had an Inmate Grievance Procedure which was “the only approved method of addressing grievances, conditions of confinement complaints or mistreatment.” SCDOC Operational Guidelines, Inmate Grievance Procedure (rev. May 19, 2009) (“Op. Guidelines”) (Ex. A, Attach. 1 to Decl. Gwen Weisgarber (“Weisgarber Decl.”)) (Doc. No. 74-3, at 2); see also SCDOC Inmate Handbook (rev. Aug. 12, 2011) (Ex. B, Attach. 1 to Weisgarber Decl.) (“2011 Inmate Handbook”) (Doc. ...

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