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Ward v. Warden

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 9, 2018

JERROD WARD, #428-684 Plaintiff,
v.
WARDEN, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Date Paula Xinis United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Jerrod Ward, a Maryland prisoner, filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Western Correctional Institution (“WCI”), Warden Richard J. Graham, Jr., Secretary of Maryland's Division of Corrections Stephen T. Moyer, and WCI Correctional Officers James Smith and Phillip Merling. Compl., p. 1, ECF No. 1. Defendants move to dismiss or alternatively for summary judgment in their favor, arguing that Ward has failed to exhaust administrative remedies. ECF No. 29. To date, Ward has not opposed Defendants' dispositive motion.[1]

         Background

         Ward sought declaratory relief, averring that Defendants had violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Ward also requests compensatory damages and injunctive relief to prohibit Defendants from using an isolation cell as a tool for punishment, harassment, and intimidation. Id., pp. 4-5. Ward alleges that Graham and Moyer are legally responsible for the actions of Smith and Merling, who on September 16, 2017, removed Ward from his disciplinary segregation cell, strip-searched him, and placed him in an isolation cell for five days. Id., pp. 1-2. Ward also states that his requests to be seen by a nurse were refused and his sick call slips were ignored. Id., p. 2.

         Defendants do not dispute that between September 16, 2017 and September 20, 2017, Ward was placed on Staff Alert Status and housed in a special cell. L. Tenille Winters Record Decl., p. 2, ECF No. 29-2. Defendants provide record evidence that this action was taken after Ward threatened violence against a nurse who was handing out medications to prisoners on the tier. Id., p. 4. Thereafter, Ward filed an Administrative Remedy Procedure (“ARP”) grievance, ARP WCI-2323-17, complaining about his assignment to an isolation cell and placement on Staff Alert Status. ECF No. 29-2, p. 19. On October 31, 2017, the Warden's office dismissed the ARP on the grounds that threats to staff warranted such placement per standard operating procedure. Id., p. 20. Ward did not appeal that finding to the Commissioner. Janifer Decl, ECF No. 29-3, ¶¶ 1-2. Ward did, however, file a grievance with the Inmate Grievance Office. Hassan Decl., ECF No. 29-4, ¶¶ 2-3. The grievance remains pending further preliminary review. Id., ¶ 3(a).

         Standard of Review

         This Court considers documents beyond those intrinsic to Ward's Complaint. Consequently, the Court treats Defendants' Motion as one for summary judgment. Where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, ” the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Importantly, “the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original). “A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, ' but rather must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all inferences in his favor. Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 644-45 (4th Cir. 2002). That said, the Court must nonetheless fulfill its “affirmative obligation” to “prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial.” Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 526 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993), and citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986)).

         Discussion

         Defendants argue that summary judgment is warranted because Ward has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. ECF No. 29-1, pp. 8-10. Before claims related to prison conditions may be reviewed by this court, the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) mandates that a plaintiff must first exhaust all state administrative remedies. 42 U.S.C. §1997e.

         The PLRA provides in pertinent part 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.

42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). For purposes of the PLRA, “the term ‘prisoner' means any person incarcerated or detained in any facility who is accused of, convicted of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for, violations of criminal law or the terms and conditions of parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary program.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(h). The phrase “prison conditions” encompasses “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); see Chase v. Peay, 286 F.Supp.2d 523, 528 (D. Md. 2003), aff'd, 98 Fed.Appx. 253 (4th Cir. 2004).

         Notably, administrative exhaustion under § 1997e(a) is not jurisdictional and does not impose a heightened pleading requirement on the prisoner. Rather, the failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense to be pleaded and proven by defendants. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215-216 (2007); Anderson v. XYZ Correctional Health Services, Inc., 407 F.2d 674, 682 (4th Cir. 2005). That said, exhaustion is mandatory. Ross v. Blake, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1857 (2016). Therefore, a court ordinarily may not excuse a failure to exhaust. Ross, 136 S.Ct. at 1856 (citing Miller v. French, 530 U.S. 327, 337 (2000) (explaining“[t]he mandatory ‘shall'. . . normally creates an obligation impervious to judicial discretion”)).

         Importantly, the PLRA's exhaustion requirement “allow[s] a prison to address complaints about the program it administers before being subjected to suit, reducing litigation to the extent complaints are satisfactorily resolved, and improving litigation that does occur by leading to the preparation of a useful record.” Bock, 549 U.S. at 219; see Moore v. Bennette, 517 F.3d 717, 725 (4th Cir. 2008) (exhaustion means providing prison officials with the opportunity to respond to a complaint through proper use of administrative remedies). Exhaustion, in other words, is designed to encourage pursuit of administrative grievances through final denial of the claims, appealing through all available stages in the administrative process. Chase v. Peay, 286 F.Supp. at 530; Gibbs v. Bureau of Prisons, 986 F.Supp. 941, 943-44 (D. Md. 1997) (dismissing a federal prisoner's lawsuit for failure to exhaust, where plaintiff did not appeal his administrative claim through all four stages of the BOP's grievance process); see also Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 735 (2001) (affirming dismissal of prisoner's claim for failure to exhaust where he “never sought intermediate or full administrative review after prison authority denied relief”); Thomas v. Woolum, 337 F.3d 720, 726 (6th ...


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