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Ellis v. Corizon, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 2, 2016

KENT RICHARD ELLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CORIZON, INC.; DR. YOUNG; N.P. POULSON; MS. RONA SEIGERT; MS. SHELLI MALLET; P.A. TAKAGI; WARDEN BLADES; WARDEN YORDY; N.P. GELOK; NP SHAFFER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          B. Lynn Winmill Chief Judge

         Pending before the Court in this prisoner civil rights action are several motions ripe for adjudication. Having fully reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record and that oral argument is unnecessary. See D. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 7.1. Accordingly, the Court enters the following Order.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, a prisoner in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC), alleges that from October 15, 2008 to April 25, 2015, Defendants acted with deliberate indifference by refusing to authorize an MRI test for Plaintiff so that his back and hip problems arising from a 2006 prison basketball game injury could be correctly diagnosed and treated. Even after he received the MRI test, several employees of the prison medical care provider, Corizon, told Plaintiff that he had only degenerative issues for which no further treatment was indicated. Several years later, medical providers revisited the MRI report, and saw that they had missed an “addendum” to the report which showed the diagnoses of a torn labrum (hip cartilage) and a hip bone cyst, in addition to degenerative changes to the bone. Plaintiff underwent surgery to repair his hip.

         The Court permitted Plaintiff to proceed against Defendants Physician's Assistant Takagi, Nurse Practitioner Gelok, Rona Siegert, Dr. Murray Young, and Corizon, Inc. Plaintiff has filed two pro se motions for reconsideration seeking to proceed against the other Defendants named in the Complaint, for whom the Court found insufficient allegations. (Dkt. 13, 17.) Defendant Takagi has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment asserting that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to the claims asserted against him. (Dkt. 18.) Plaintiff has since retained counsel.

         MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         1. Standard of Law

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”)[1] requires a prisoner to exhaust all available administrative remedies within the prison system before he can include the claims in a new or ongoing civil rights lawsuit challenging the conditions of confinement. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Cano v. Taylor, 739 F.3d 1214, 1220-21 (9th Cir. 2014) (a claim may be exhausted prior to filing suit or during suit, so long as exhaustion was completed before the first time the prisoner sought to include the claim in the suit). “Proper” exhaustion of administrative remedies is required, meaning that the prisoner must comply “with [the prison's] deadlines and other critical procedural rules because no adjudicative system can function effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90-91 (2006).

         The Ngo Court noted that “proper” exhaustion of administrative remedies means 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.” Id. at 88. Similarly, in Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007), the Court clarified that, “[t]he 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.” Id. at 218.

         For example, in Jones v. Bock, the Supreme Court concluded that because the prison's “procedures [made] no mention of naming particular officials, the Sixth Circuit's rule imposing such a prerequisite to proper exhaustion [was] unwarranted.” Id. The Supreme Court observed: “The PLRA requires exhaustion of ‘such administrative remedies as are available, ' 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), but nothing in the statute imposes a ‘name all defendants' requirement.'” Id. at 217.

         “There is no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA and that unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court.” Id. at 211. The exhaustion requirement is based on the important policy concern that prison officials should have “an opportunity to resolve disputes concerning the exercise of their responsibilities before being haled into court.” Id. at 204. Once in court, defendants have the right to bring motions addressing exhaustion of administrative remedies at the beginning of litigation, and “disputed factual questions relevant to exhaustion should be decided” at that time. Albino v. Baca, 747 F.3d 1162, 1171 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc). The issue of “[e]xhaustion should be decided, if feasible, before reaching the merits of a prisoner's claim.” Id. at 1170.

         The defendant bears the ultimate burden of proving failure to exhaust. See Brown v. Valoff, 422 F.3d 926, 936 (9th Cir. 2005). If the defendant initially shows that (1) an available administrative remedy existed and (2) the prisoner failed to exhaust that remedy, then the burden of production shifts to the plaintiff to bring forth evidence “showing that there is something in his particular case that made the existing and generally available administrative remedies effectively unavailable to him.” Albino, 747 F.3d at 1172.

         Confusing or contradictory information given to a prisoner is relevant to the question “of whether relief was, as a practical matter, ‘available.'” Brown, 422 F.3d at 937. Administrative remedies will be deemed unavailable and exhaustion excused if the inmate had no way of knowing the prison's grievance procedure, if the prison improperly processed an inmate's grievance, if prison officials misinformed an inmate regarding grievance procedures, if the inmate “did not have access to the necessary grievance forms within the prison's time limits for filing the grievance, ” or if prison staff took any other similar actions that interfered with an inmate's efforts to exhaust. Albino, 747 F.3d at 1173.

         Failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense that may be asserted in a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim only if the prisoner's failure to exhaust is clear from the face of the complaint and any public records subject to judicial notice. Albino, 747 F.3d at 1166. When either party relies on evidence beyond the pleadings and public records, the exhaustion issue should be determined as a matter of summary judgment under Rule 56. Id. at 1170. “If the record is sufficiently developed to permit the trial court to consider summary judgment, and if the court finds that when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to a moving party the movant has not shown a genuine dispute of fact on the issue of exhaustion, ” the Court may enter summary judgment for either the moving or the nonmoving party. Id. at 1176; see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f) (“After giving notice and a reasonable time to respond, the court may . . . grant summary judgment for a nonmovant.”)

         Rule 56 prohibits the courts from resolving genuine disputes as to material facts on summary judgment. If a genuine dispute exists as to material facts relating to an exhaustion defense, the motion should be denied, and the “disputed factual questions relevant to exhaustion should be decided by the judge, in the same manner a judge rather than a jury decides disputed factual questions relevant to jurisdiction and venue.” Albino, 747 F.3d at 1170-71. See Lake v. Lake, 817 F.2d 1416, 1420 (9th Cir. 1987) (the court has the discretion to take evidence at a preliminary hearing to resolve ...


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