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West v. Emic

United States District Court, D. Delaware

November 27, 2018


          Stephen A. Hampton, Grady & Hampton, LLC, Dover, DE; Nicholas Casamento, Casamento & Ratasiewicz, P.C., Media, PA - Attorneys for Plaintiff

          Stuart B. Drowos, Deputy Attorney General, State of Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, DE - Attorneys for Defendants



         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Christopher H. West ("Plaintiff or "Mr. West") is a prisoner incarcerated at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("JTVCC") in Smyrna, Delaware. (D.I. 1). Prior to his incarceration at JTVCC, Mr. West was housed at the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution ("HRYCI") in Wilmington, Delaware. (Id.). On December 30, 2013, Mr. West filed a Complaint against Defendants Mark Emig, Deputy Warden of HRYCI, and Jeffrey Carrothers, [1] who held the rank of Major and was the former Operations Security Superintendent for JTVCC (jointly "Defendants"), alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id., at 2). The Complaint raises issues with Mr. West's conditions of confinement when he was denied a mattress at times: (1) between September 2011 and February 2012, while he was incarcerated at HRYCI, and (2) between April 2013 and June 2013, while he was incarcerated at JTVCC. (Id. at 3).

         It is undisputed that Plaintiff was placed on Psychiatric Close Observation ("PCO") during these periods after he "exhibited self-injurious tendencies and demonstrated a propensity for eating unusual, inedible non-food items such as pens, pencils, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, batteries, and even bedding materials." (D.I. 66 at ¶¶ 4-6). It is also undisputed that Plaintiffs mattress was temporarily removed from his cell following an incident where he ripped open the mattress and ingested its foam padding. (D.I. 68 at ¶ 15).

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he fully exhausted his available administrative remedies regarding his claims because he "tried to file a grievance twice," which resulted in Mr. West being "denied for being on psychological observation" and later "denied for time." (D.I. 1 at 2). A review of the Delaware Automated Correction System, however, did not indicate any grievances filed by Plaintiff between September 2011 and February 2012 or between April 2013 and June 2013. (D.I. 66 at ¶¶ 19-21).

         Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on January 5, 2015. (D.I. 20). On July 24, 2015, the Court granted-in-part and denied-in-part Defendants' motion, finding that certain allegations against Defendants were barred by the Eleventh Amendment, but that Plaintiff had "introduced sufficient evidence to raise a genuine dispute of material facts" as it related to the Eight Amendment claims. (D.I. 34. at 5, 10). The Court added that "[i]f the defendants can present the court with affidavits or other evidence either discrediting West's allegations or providing an alternate position, the court will consider a motion by the defendants that seeks leave to file a renewed motion for summary judgment." (Id. at 11). Following the Court's decision, the parties engaged in discovery. Though Plaintiff had originally filed this action pro se, he obtained legal representation on August 11, 2017. (D.I.53).

         Defendants filed a Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment on August 20, 2018. (D.I. 66). Defendants argue they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law because (1) Plaintiff failed to exhaust available administrative remedies prior to filing this suit; (2) Plaintiffs claims are barred by qualified immunity; (3) Defendants have no liability in their supervisory capacity; and/or (4) Plaintiff has failed to establish a violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Id.). On September 4, 2018, Plaintiff responded to Defendants' motion. (D.I. 67). As discussed below, Defendants' motion is granted based on Plaintiffs failure to exhaust available administrative remedies prior to the institution of this suit.[2]


         "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 n.10 (1986). The movant can meet this burden by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). If a moving party has sufficiently carried its burden, a nonmovant must "come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita 475 U.S. at 587. The Court may not make credibility determinations but must instead "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).

         To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as the material facts." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. A factual dispute is only genuine where "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 241-48 (1986). The "mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Id.,


         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), "[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. § l997e(a). The requirement for exhaustion of administrative remedies is absolute, except when such a remedy is unavailable. See Ross v. Blake, __ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1856 (2016) ("[T]he remedies must indeed be 'available' to the prisoner. But aside from that exception, the PLRA's text suggest no limits on an inmate's obligation to exhaust -irrespective of any 'special circumstances.'"). An administrative remedy is unavailable where "(1) despite what regulations or guidance materials may promise, it operates as a simple dead end with officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates; (2) an administrative scheme is so opaque that it becomes incapable of use; or (3) when prison administrators thwart inmates from taking advantage of a grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation." Resop v. ...

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