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Shover v. Regina Chestnut

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

December 18, 2018

John Shover, Plaintiff,
Regina Chestnut, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff John Shover is an inmate at Middle River Regional Jail (MRRJ) with a nerve condition in his legs and feet. Defendants are Regina Chestnut, an officer in charge at MRRJ; Dr. Michael Moran, the jail physician; and Donna Reynolds, head nurse at MRRJ. In a suit brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Shover alleges that Defendants violated the Eighth Amendment by denying him a cane and a cell on the ground floor, resulting in an injury on the jail stairs. Defendants move for summary judgment, arguing that Shover has not exhausted his administrative remedies as required by § 1997e of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). Specifically, Defendants contend that Shover failed to adequately grieve or appeal his placement in a second-tier cell, MRRJ's denial of a cane, and his fall. Shover argues that (1) he did grieve his placement in a second-tier cell and received a favorable response he was not required to appeal; (2) prison officials misled him about his ability to appeal MRRJ's decision ignoring his request for a cane; and (3) he was not required to grieve his fall on the jail stairs.

         A reasonable jury could find that Shover exhausted all available administrative procedures with respect to his request to be moved from his second-tier cell. Moreover, a genuine dispute of material fact exists about whether prison officials misrepresented the efficacy of appealing MRRJ's denial of a cane. Finally, the Court finds that Shover was not obligated to grieve his fall. Accordingly, the motion for summary judgment will be denied.

         I. Legal Standard

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) provides that a court should 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.” “A dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, ” and “[a] fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Variety Stores, Inc. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 888 F.3d 651, 659 (4th Cir. 2018). The nonmoving party must “show that there is a genuine dispute of material fact for trial . . . by offering sufficient proof in the form of admissible evidence.” Id. (quoting Guessous v. Fairview Prop. Invs., LLC, 828 F.3d 208, 216 (4th Cir. 2016)). The district court must “view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party” and “refrain from weighing the evidence or making credibility determinations.” Id.

         II. Facts

         Due to “severe nerve damage in his legs, ” Shover cannot “feel his legs from the knee down to, and including, his feet.” (Complaint ¶¶ 9-10). Prior to entering MRRJ, Shover walked with a cane on his doctor's orders. (Id.). Upon Shover's intake at MRRJ on July 25, 2016, staff noted Shover's use of a cane and prescription for pain medication related to his nerve condition. (Id. ¶¶ 15-18). Shover was not provided a cane and was placed in a cell on the second level of the jail, “which required him to climb stairs multiple times a day.” (Id. ¶¶ 19-20, 31-32).

         Shover submitted at least two “inmate request forms” requesting a cane and a cell on the ground floor. The first, submitted on August 13, 2016, received no response. (Dkt. 12-3 at 2). The second, submitted on August 17, 2017, received a negative response indicating that MRRJ did “not have any bottom bunks available, ” and that Shover's medical records contained no indicia that he “need[ed] a bottom bunk / tier.” (Dkt. 12-3 at 4). On August 25, 2016, Shover submitted grievance #33840 requesting either a cane or to be moved to the medical infirmary “where I do not have to try and walk unassi[s]ted.” (Dkt. 12-3 at 6). Shover stated that he had discussed using a cane with “Dr. Muncey, ”[1] who “reaffirmed that canes are not allowed, per MRRJ.” (Id.). Shover expressed confusion about MRRJ's “cane policy, ” since he had “personally witnessed an inmate . . . walking with a cane to visitation.” (Id.). Shover also noted that he had already fallen “several times” on the stairs since being initially denied a cane. (Id.).

         On August 26, 2016, Defendant Regina Chestnut responded to grievance #33840, indicating that she would “get [Shover] moved to [the] bottom tier so [he didn't] have to go up and down stairs.” (Id.). Chestnut's response was silent on the subject of a cane. Shover asserts that he did not appeal this decision, in part because he perceived movement to a ground-level cell as a favorable decision not warranting an appeal, and in part because “the officer who delivered the response” allegedly told him that appealing the decision would be “futile because it was the policy of MRRJ not to permit inmates to have canes on account of their potential use as a weapon.” (Dkt. 12 at 3).

         On September 1, 2016-six days after Chestnut promised to move Shover to the bottom tier-Shover fell on the jail stairs, injuring his back. (Dkt. 12 at 13; dkt. 12-3 at 8-9). Shover was hospitalized for two days. (Id.). Upon return to MRRJ, Shover was taken to the medical unit for several days, moved to a cell on the bottom tier, and provided with a cane. (Id.). Thereafter, Shover “did not file further grievances about previously being housed in the top tier” and denied a cane before his fall. (Dkt. 12 at 13). Shover now brings suit against Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Shover alleges that Defendants acted with deliberate indifference by denying him a cane and a ground-level cell, violating his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. (Complaint ¶¶ 56-57).

         III. Administrative Exhaustion Requirements

         Before addressing whether Shover exhausted all available administrative remedies, the Court first summarizes the PLRA's exhaustion requirements and MRRJ's grievance procedures.

         A. Section 1997e(a) of the PLRA

          Section 1997e(a) of the PLRA provides that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any Federal law, by a prisoner . . . until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The grievance procedures in place at the facility housing the prisoner “define the boundaries of proper exhaustion.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007). To satisfy § 1997e(a), prisoners must follow each step of the facility's established grievance procedures and meet all deadlines imposed by those procedures before filing suit. Woodford v. Ngo,548 U.S. 81, 90-94 (2006). Failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required under the PLRA is an affirmative defense the defendant has the burden of raising and proving.[2]See Jones, 549 U.S. at 211-12; Wilcox v. ...

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