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Ferguson v. Clarke

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

January 5, 2016

HAROLD CLARKE, et al., Defendants.


JOEL C. HOPPE, Magistrate Judge.

Lenton Ferguson, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Defendant prison officials violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. ECF Nos. 1, 14, 15. The Defendants filed a supplemental motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 66, and Ferguson responded. The Defendants' motion is before me for a report and recommendation under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).

Having considered the parties' memoranda and supporting materials and the applicable law, I find that Ferguson has not exhausted his available administrative remedies and that the Defendants are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Accordingly, I respectfully recommend that the presiding District Judge grant the Defendants' motion and dismiss this action.

I. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate only if "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); accord Tolan v. Cotton, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam). Facts are material when they "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute exists if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party." Kolon Indus., Inc. v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 748 F.3d 160, 173 (4th Cir. 2014) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).

"The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Appalachian Power Co. v. Arthur, 39 F.Supp. 3d 790, 796 (W.D. Va. 2014) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). If the moving party makes that showing, the nonmoving party must then produce sufficient admissible evidence to establish a specific material fact genuinely in dispute. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), (e); Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). When deciding a summary judgment motion, the court must accept well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor given the record as a whole. See Tolan, 134 S.Ct. at 1866; Scott, 550 U.S. at 380. The court does not weigh evidence, consider credibility, or resolve disputed issues-it decides only whether the record reveals a genuine dispute over material facts. Tolan, 134 S.Ct. at 1866.

II. Procedural History

Ferguson is a prisoner in the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") and is housed at Red Onion State Prison ("ROSP"). See Compl. 1, ECF. No. 1. In his Complaint, he alleges various instances of excessive force, deliberate indifference, or failure to protect that occurred while he was an inmate at Wallens Ridge State Prison ("WRSP").[1] Id. 2-4. Ferguson names the following Defendants: Warden G. Holloway; Major D. Anderson; Lieutenant C. King; Unit Manager D. Collins; Sergeants J. Crabtree and B. McCray; Corrections Officers T. Bailey, D. Caudill, D. Davis, W. Gunter, T. Hall, J. Ewing, and S. Thompson; and Nurse C. Morgan (collectively "Defendants").

On August 1, 2014, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF. No. 56, challenging Ferguson's claims on the merits and raising the affirmative defense that Ferguson did not exhaust his administrative remedies. Ferguson opposed the motion, asserting that the Defendants prevented him from utilizing the prison grievance system, rendering the administrative remedies unavailable to him. Pl. Br. in Opp. to Defs. Mot. 2-3, ECF. No. 60.

The presiding District Judge, Michael F. Urbanski, issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order on March 24, 2015, granting in part and denying in part the Defendants' summary judgment motion. ECF Nos. 64, 65. The Court dismissed a number of Ferguson's claims. As to the remaining claims, the Court determined that it did not have sufficient information to evaluate Ferguson's assertion that he had been hindered in pursuing his administrative remedies. Accordingly, the Court ordered the Defendants to file a supplemental motion for summary judgment addressing exhaustion and the merits of the remaining claims.

On April 23, 2015, the Defendants filed the instant Supplemental Motion for Summary Judgment. They challenged the remaining claims on the merits and asserted that Ferguson did not exhaust his available administrative remedies. Ferguson responded on the merits and by asserting that he was prevented from exhausting his administrative remedies. The motion is now ripe.

III. Discussion

The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") requires inmates to properly exhaust "such administrative remedies as are available" before filing any federal lawsuit "with respect to prison conditions." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); see also Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007); Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93 (2006); Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002); Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 736-41 (2001). "There is no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA, " Jones, 549 U.S. at 211, and that courts cannot excuse an inmate's failure to exhaust available remedies "in accordance with the [prison's] applicable procedural rules, " Woodford, 548 U.S. at 88.

Exhaustion is an affirmative defense that the defendant must plead and prove on a claim-by-claim basis. Jones, 549 U.S. at 216. If the defendant makes that showing, the burden shifts to the inmate to present facts demonstrating that administrative remedies were not actually "available" to him. Graham v. Gentry, 413 F.Appx. 660, 663 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing Moore v. Bennette, 517 F.3d 717, 725 (4th Cir. 2008)); Robertson v. Roberts, No. 7:13cv560, 2014 WL 5801893, at *1 & n.1 (W.D. Va. Nov. 7, 2014) (Urbanski, J.) (noting that prisoner must prove unavailability of administrative remedies by a preponderance of the evidence).

A remedy is "available" when there is "the possibility of some relief for the action complained of." Booth, 532 U.S. at 739. Requiring exhaustion of administrative remedies gives prison officials the time and opportunity to address the inmate's complaint internally before being haled into federal court. Woodford, 548 U.S. 89; Fletcher v. Menard Corr. Ctr., 623 F.3d 1171, 1173-74 (7th Cir. 2011); Moore, 517 F.3d at 725. "Where the prison provides an administrative grievance procedure, the inmate must file a grievance raising a particular claim and pursue it through all available levels of appeal." Aziz v. Pittsylvania Cty. Jail, No. 7:11cv39, 2012 WL 263393, at *4 (W.D. Va. Jan. 30, 2012) (Urbanski, J.). His ...

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