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Ramrattan v. New York City Dep't of Correction

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK


August 2, 2012

JERRY RAMRATTAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, DORA B. SCHRIRO, AND ROBERT CRIPPS, DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shira A. Scheindlin, U.S.D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Jerry Ramrattan, an inmate in the custody of the New York City Department of Correction ("DOC"), brings this action pursuant to section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code ("section 1983").*fn1 Ramrattan alleges that he was subjected to religious discrimination while incarcerated in the DOC's Riker's Island Facilities from February 2010 to April 2011. The Complaint names five defendants: the DOC; Dora B. Schriro, the DOC Commissioner; Robert Cripps, Warden at the Anna M. Kross Center in Riker's Island; Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; and Raymond Kelly, the New York City Police Commissioner. Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly have since been dismissed from this action at Ramrattan's request. The remaining defendants now move for summary judgment on the ground that Ramrattan has failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies as mandated by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the "PLRA" or the "Act").*fn2 For the following reasons, defendants' motion is granted.

II. BACKGROUND

Ramrattan describes numerous instances of alleged religious discrimination. Ramrattan notes that at his initial intake into custody, he identified his religion as Hindu, but upon his arrival at Riker's Island, he was issued an identification card listing his religion as "Other."*fn3 While in Riker's, Ramrattan sought the assistance of a Hindu chaplain, but found none in the employ of the DOC.*fn4 Further, Ramrattan has been unable to avoid eating meals that violate his religious diet and was prevented from observing several holy days.*fn5 Ramrattan has lost significant weight and is in constant pain because of the issues with non- conforming food.*fn6 In short, Ramrattan contends that both the absence of a Hindu chaplain and the prison's failure to provide a Hindu diet are violations of his right to the free exercise of his religion.*fn7

During his intake, Ramrattan received the Inmate Handbook, which describes the Inmate Grievance Resolution Program ("IGRP").*fn8 Ramrattan admits to having read the Handbook and used the IGRP on a number of other occasions not in dispute in this action.*fn9 Although Ramrattan says he filed grievances relating to the conditions that are subject to this suit, he admits that he did not finish the IGRP process for those grievances before bringing this action.*fn10

III. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate "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."*fn11 "For summary judgment purposes, a 'genuine issue' exists where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could decide in the non-moving party's favor."*fn12 "'A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law.'"*fn13

In a summary judgment setting, "[t]he burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that no genuine issue respecting any material fact exists."*fn14 "When the burden of proof at trial would fall on the nonmoving party, it ordinarily is sufficient for the movant to point to a lack of evidence . . . on an essential element of the non-movant's claim."*fn15 In turn, to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must raise a genuine issue of material fact. The non-moving party "'must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts,'"*fn16 and cannot "'rely on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation.'"*fn17

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must "'construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movant.'"*fn18 However, "'[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.'"*fn19

"'The role of the court is not to resolve disputed issues of fact but to assess whether there are any factual issues to be tried.'"*fn20

B. Exhaustion Under the PLRA

The PLRA includes a mandatory requirement that prisoners exhaust all administrative remedies before bringing an action regarding prison conditions.*fn21

Failure to exhaust is an absolute bar to an inmate's action in federal court, as the PLRA "requires exhaustion of available administrative remedies before inmate-plaintiffs may bring their federal claims to court at all."*fn22 Further, because the PLRA states that "no action shall be brought," by its own plain meaning the Act requires an inmate to exhaust his claims prior to filing the initial complaint; "[s]ubsequent exhaustion after suit is filed . . . is insufficient."*fn23 The United States Supreme Court has held that "the PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong."*fn24

The DOC's grievance process, the IGRP, is well-established.*fn25 The IGRP requires that even where an inmate files a grievance and receives no response, the inmate must nevertheless exhaust his appeals to the facility warden, the CORC, and the Board of Correction.*fn26 "Complaints and communications made outside of formal grievance procedures do not satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement."*fn27 Failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense that must be raised by the defendants. However, a defendant can be estopped from asserting this affirmative defense when the defense is not timely raised or if the defendant took some action to inhibit the inmate from exhausting his administrative remedies.*fn28

IV. DISCUSSION

Ramrattan failed to exhaust the administrative remedies available to him as required by the PLRA. By his own telling, Ramrattan initiated the instant suit after completing at most only the first of the four steps required by the IGRP.*fn29

His counsel admitted as much to the Court.*fn30 As this Court has previously explained, [t]o determine whether a prisoner has exhausted his administrative remedies, a court must look at three factors: (1) whether the administrative remedies are "available" to the inmate; (2) whether the defendant is estopped from asserting an exhaustion defense; and (3) whether special circumstances exist that would excuse the inmate from fulfilling his exhaustion requirements.*fn31 All three factors favor summary judgment for the defendants.

First, administrative remedies were available to Ramrattan. "The test for deciding whether the ordinary grievance procedures were available must be an objective one: []would 'a similarly situated individual of ordinary firmness' have deemed them available."*fn32 Ramrattan has admitted that the procedures were available and a similarly situated individual of ordinary firmness would agree. Ramrattan opted to forgo the IGRP and initiate this action because "he got tired of it," not because the procedures were unavailable.*fn33

Second, defendants are not estopped from raising an exhaustion defense. Defendants have not waived the defense, as the issue was raised in a timely fashion, and Ramrattan has not alleged that defendants took any action to inhibit him from participating in the grievance procdure.

Third, Ramrattan has failed to describe any special circumstances that would excuse the exhaustion requirement. Thus, the following facts are not in dispute: (1) Ramrattan knew about the DOC's grievance procedures; (2) those procedures were readily available to him; and (3) Ramrattan did not exhaust his remedies under those procedures prior to filing this suit. On these undisputed facts, defendants are entitled to Summary Judgment because Ramrattan failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.*fn34 Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted. The Clerk of the Court is directed to close this motion [Doc. 47] and this case.

SO ORDERED.


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