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Williams v. Smith

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

May 22, 2017

DR. SMITH, Defendant.

          Travis E. Williams, Pro Se Plaintiff;

          Mary Foil Russell, Russell Law Firm, Bristol, Virginia, for Defendant.


          James P. Jones United States District Judge

         Travis E. Williams, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Liberally construed, Williams' Complaint alleges that the defendant, a prison doctor, acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment. After review of the record, I conclude that Williams is barred from pursuing his § 1983 claims because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing this action.


         The defendant, Dr. Smith, has filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment, asserting that Williams failed to exhaust administrative remedies, thus barring his action. Williams has responded to the motion, making it ripe for disposition.

         The following facts, taken from the record, are largely undisputed. Williams' claims arise from the course of medical treatment that the defendant, Dr. Smith, provided to him for an injured hand at Red Onion State Prison (“Red Onion”). Dr. Smith examined Williams on August 26, 2015, for an injury to his right hand. Dr. Smith ordered an X ray of the hand and prescribed a pain medication, Naproxen 500, to be taken two times a day for four months. The X ray showed no fracture or dislocation.

         On September 20, 2015, Dr. Smith examined Williams for complaints of an injury to his left hand. Dr. Smith noted pain and swelling and ordered an X ray. The X ray showed a fracture of the left third metacarpal with mild displacement, but no dislocation. Dr. Smith discussed the X ray results with Williams at a follow up examination on September 29, 2015. Dr. Smith noted that at that time, the hand was healing, with decreased swelling, and showed a functional range of motion. The doctor explained that one treatment option was to continue the pain medication and an anti-inflammatory, rest the hand, and restrict activities to allow the bone to heal. Williams requested a stronger pain medication, but Dr. Smith elected to leave the prescription for Naproxen in effect.

         Dr. Smith did not see Williams again after the September 29, 2015 visit. On October 7, 2015, officials transferred Williams to River North Correctional Center (“River North”), with an order of Naproxen in effect. The Medical Transfer Form completed at Red Onion stated that Williams' current medical problem requiring attention was “ND FX left hand-eczema.”[1] Wells Aff. ¶ 9, ECF No. 20-3. The physician at River North reviewed Williams' medications on December 14, 2015, and renewed the prescription for Naproxen. When Williams was transferred from the general population to segregation on March 4, 2016, no physical injuries were noted in his records.


         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), among other things, provides in 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) that a prisoner cannot bring a civil action concerning prison conditions until he has first exhausted available administrative remedies. This exhaustion requirement is “mandatory, ” Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1856 (2016), and “applies to all inmate suits about prison life.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). To comply with § 1997e(a), an inmate must follow each step of the established grievance procedure that the facility provides to prisoners and meet all deadlines within that procedure before filing his § 1983 action. See Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90-94 (2006). Even if the particular form of relief the inmate seeks in his lawsuit is not available through the prison's grievance proceedings, he must, nevertheless, exhaust properly all available remedies under that procedure before bringing a civil action in this court. Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001).

         Operating Procedure 866.1 is the written administrative remedies procedure that Virginia Department of Corrections inmates must follow to comply with § 1997e(a). Under this procedure, an inmate with a grievance about some event or issue must first make a good faith effort to resolve his concerns informally, normally by completing an informal complaint form and submitting it to prison staff. He should receive a written response on the bottom of the informal complaint form within fifteen days. Then, he can initiate the next step - a regular grievance, with the informal complaint attached.

         A regular grievance must be filed within 30 days of the occurrence about which it complains. OP 866.1 provides that if the inmate has been transferred to a different prison facility, he must submit the informal complaint and regular grievance forms to the facility where the grieved issue originated. After investigation of the regular grievance, the warden or his designee will send the inmate a Level I response. If the responding official determines the grievance to be “unfounded, ” for full exhaustion, the inmate must appeal that holding to Level II, the regional administrator, and in some cases, to Level III.

         If a regular grievance does not meet the filing requirements of OP 866.1, the grievance coordinator will reject the document at intake, mark the reason for the rejection on the back of the form, and return it to the inmate within two days. The inmate can appeal the intake rejection decision to the regional ombudsman. Proper exhaustion, however, requires the inmate to properly file a regular ...

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