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Michael Sheridan v. Brent Reinke; Philip Valdez; Norma Rodriguez

March 28, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: U. S. District Judge Honorable Edward J. Lodge


Currently pending is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 23). Plaintiff has responded to the Motion (Dkt. 25). Defendants have submitted a Reply (Dkt. 26), and the matter is now ripe. The Court finds that the decisional process would not be aided by oral argument, and it will resolve this matter after consideration of the parties' written briefing. D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 7.1(d). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Defendants' Motion.


Plaintiff is an inmate in custody of the Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) housed at the private prison, Idaho Correctional Center (ICC), which is operated by Correctional Corporation of America (CCA). The Court reviewed Plaintiff's initial complaint and allowed one claim to proceed forward under the Eighth Amendment related to his conditions of confinement as against CCA, one of its facilitators, Phillip Valdez, and Plaintiff's Unit Manager, Norma Rodriquez (collectively "CCA Defendants"). (Dkt. 14).

Under this claim, Plaintiff alleges that during the seven years of his confinement, from January 2001 to July 2008, the conditions of his confinement posed a serious risk to his personal safety. He alleges that there were insufficient staff and that the staff were not adequately trained, that a culture existed that promoted gang and inmate violence, that the detention officers (including Defendants Rodriquez and Valdez) were aware of the serious risks of and incidents of violence and not only were deliberately indifferent to them, but promoted the incidents intentionally through customs and policies in treatment of the inmates. Plaintiff alleges that he at all times was completely disabled from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and that as a result of these conditions of confinement, he experienced the "threat of physical violence" daily, and that his PTSD was exacerbated.


The CCA Defendants move to dismiss or for summary judgment on two grounds:

(1) Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, and (2) Plaintiff seeks damages for an injury that is non-compensable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

A. The Exhaustion Requirement

In the Ninth Circuit, a claim that a prisoner failed to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense that should be brought as an unenumerated motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Wyatt v. Terhune, 315 F.3d 1108, 1119 (9th Cir. 2002). Defendants have the burden to plead and prove exhaustion, and the reviewing court may look beyond the pleadings to resolve disputed issues of fact, if necessary. Id.

The federal Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires pre-complaint exhaustion of administrative remedies for allfederal claims brought by state prisoners who challenge the conditions of their confinement: "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other federal law, until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). "There is no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA and that unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007). This requirement is intended to give "prison officials an opportunity to resolve disputes concerning the exercise of their responsibilities before being haled into court." Id. at 204.

Under the PLRA, proper exhaustion is also required, meaning that "a prisoner must complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules, including deadlines, as a precondition to bringing suit in federal court." Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88 (2006). "The level of detail necessary in a grievance to comply with the grievance procedures will vary from system to system and claim to claim, but it is the prison's requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion." Jones, 549 U.S. at 218.

There are some circumstances under which courts have excused an inmate's failure to comply with technical exhaustion requirements, however. For example, when prison officials prevented exhaustion from occurring through misconduct or failure to respond to a grievance within the policy time limits. See Hoak v. Smith, 2009 WL 3806336 (D. Idaho Nov. 9, 2009). Additionally, inmates have been allowed to proceed when no other relief is available at the agency level. In other words, "[o]nce an agency has granted some relief and explained that no other relief is available, 'the administrative process has not been obstructed it has been exhausted.'" Brown v. Valoff, 422 F.3d 926, 936 (9th Cir. 2005)(quoting Jasch v. Potter, 302 F.3d 1092, 1096 (9th Cir. 2002)).

1. ICC's Grievance Process

Although it is a privately-run prison, ICC follows the same three-step administrative grievance procedure that the Idaho Department of Correction uses, which requires a prisoner to submit an informal concern form describing the problem, followed by the filing of a formal grievance, and an appeal of any adverse decision. (Affidavit of Chester Penn, Dkt. 23-2 ("Penn Aff."), at ¶¶ 5&6; Exh. B.)

The prisoner begins this process by routing the concern form to the staff member most capable of addressing the problem. (Penn Aff., ¶ 11.) If the issue is not resolved, the prisoner must then complete a grievance form and file the grievance within 15 days of the incident. (Id. at ¶ 12.) The grievance form must contain specific information regarding the nature of the complaint, including the dates, places, names, and how the offender has been adversely affected. (Id. at ¶ 13.) The "grievance ...

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