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OATES v. CITY OF NEW YORK

United States District Court, S.D. New York


April 2, 2004.

JAMES OATES, Plaintiff, -v- CITY OF NEW YORK, et al. Defendants

The opinion of the court was delivered by: GERARD E. LYNCH, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

James Gates sues the City of New York and various employees of the New York City Department of Correction ("DOC"), charging among other things that defendants failed to protect him from assault by another inmate and to provide him with adequate medical care following that assault, while he was an inmate at the George Motchan Detention Center on Rikers Island in March 2001. Defendants move for judgment on the pleadings, or in the alternative for summary judgment, arguing that Oates failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing suit, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The motion for summary judgment will be granted.*fn1 Page 2

The PLRA provides that "no action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions . . . by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." Id. This exhaustion requirement applies to suits such as this one that grow out of particular incidents, as well as to suits that more generally address the conditions of a prisoner's confinement. Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 526 (2002). Moreover, the exhaustion requirement applies to Oates despite the fact that he is no longer in the custody of DOC, but is instead incarcerated in a New York State facility. (See Compl. at 3 (listing plaintiff's address at the time of filing as the Collins Correctional facility).) (The Court takes judicial notice of the fact that Collins is a New York State, rather than City, facility. See http://www.docs.state.ny.us/faclist.html.) The Second Circuit has held that the PLRA applies by its terms only to prisoners in custody at the time a suit is filed. See Greig v. Goord, 169 F.3d 165 (1999). Thus, if Oates had been discharged from the City's custody and brought suit while at liberty, his failure to file an administrative grievance would not have barred the suit. But section 1997e(a) applies to any action brought by "a prisoner confined in any jail." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (emphasis added). As Greig makes clear, this focus on the plaintiffs status at the time the suit is filed is deliberate; Congress was concerned that prisoners tended to file frivolous lawsuits. Greig, 169 F.3d at 167. The PLRA therefore applies to Oates by virtue of his status as an inmate, and he is permitted to file suit only if he has already exhausted administrative remedies. See Burns v. Moore, No. 99 Civ. 966, 2002 WL 91607, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2002) (applying PLRA to inmate who had been transferred from city to state custody); Jones v. H.H.C. No. 00 Civ. 6512, 2003 WL 1960045 (S.D.N.Y. April 8, 2003) (applying exhaustion requirement to inmate who had been released and then again incarcerated). Page 3

  DOC maintains an administrative procedure through which plaintiff could have grieved his claims. Oates avers that he filed a grievance in accordance with that procedure in August 2002, and that prison authorities failed to respond. (See Mot. to Compel, Ex. A, P. Mem. Opp. at 22.) Oates sought discovery of any records reflecting a response to this grievance, and the Court granted his motion to compel the DOC to provide any such records. See Oates v. City of New York, No. 02 Civ. 5960 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 3, 2003). Defendants submit an affidavit stating that a diligent search of their records disclose no such grievance received, nor (it follows) any decision on it. (See Rosencrantz Decl. Ex. F.) Following this effort at discovery, defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings or summary judgment, arguing that Oates failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Oates responded to the motion by arguing the merits of his claims extensively, but without addressing in any way defendants' exhaustion argument. Oates failed to supplement his response after defendants pointed out the omission. (See Letter from Assistant Corporation Counsel Caryn Rosencrantz dated March 11, 2004.)

  Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits . . . show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Any factual issue that might be suggested by the conflicting accounts regarding Oates's attempt to file a grievance is not material to the outcome of this litigation. Even accepting Oates's contention that he filed a grievance in August 2002, and assuming arguendo that DOC entirely ignored his response, and that its failure to respond excused Oates's failure to pursue appellate levels of the grievance process, Oates's August 2002 effort to exhaust his remedies is insufficient because it was untimely. Page 4

  Gates did not attempt to file a grievance until August 2002, after he had filed the present lawsuit in July 2002, and after the Chief Judge of this Court had afforded him the opportunity to amend his complaint to disclose what steps he had taken to exhaust his remedies. See Oates v. City of New York, No. 02 Civ. 5960 (S.D.N.Y. July 26, 2002). The PLRA requires inmates to exhaust internal complaint procedures prior to filing suit, and a prisoner who fails timely to exhaust may not avoid the strictures of the PLRA by instead attempting to file a grievance after he has already instituted a lawsuit. Neal v. Goord, 267 F.3d 116, 121-22 (2d Cir. 2001). The incident of which Oates complains occurred in March 2001. He remained in DOC's custody until his discharge in December 2001. (Rosencrantz Decl. Ex. H.) Oates did not file a grievance during those nine months. Instead, he filed this lawsuit in July 2002, by which time he was incarcerated in a state facility. Once an individual has left the custody of DOC, he may no longer file a grievance. See Burns v. Moore, No. 99 Civ. 966, 2002 WL 91607, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2002). This policy works no injustice on plaintiff, as he had ample opportunity to avail himself of the grievance procedure during the nine months of confinement in the DOC preceding his transfer. See Id. —("To accept the argument that Plaintiff should be relieved of the statutory obligation to exhaust his administrative remedies because he chose to wait to inquire about filing a grievance no less than four months after his claim arose — when it was no longer possible to do so — would eviscerate the PLRA exhaustion requirement.").*fn2 Page 5

  Accordingly, on the undisputed facts, Oates has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, and his plea for relief from this Court necessarily fails. The defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted, and the complaint is dismissed for failure to exhaust available administrative remedies.

  SO ORDERED.


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