United States District Court, N.D. New York
ELI PAGAN COUVERTIER, Pro Se, Brooklyn, NY, for Plaintiff.
CHRISTOPHER W. HALL, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, New York State Attorney General, Albany, NY, for Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
DAVID E. PEEBLES, Magistrate Judge.
Pro se plaintiff Eli Pagan Couvertier, a former New York State prison inmate, commenced this action against the State of New York, as well as individuals employed by the state's Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 2000cc et seq., alleging deprivation of his civil rights. Plaintiff's claims stem from allegations that defendants denied him the right to practice his chosen religion.
Currently pending before the court is a motion brought by the defendants requesting the entry of summary judgment dismissing all or portions of plaintiff's complaint on three grounds, including for failure to fully exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit. For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that the motion be granted.
Although plaintiff has since been released from prison, at the time of commencement of this action, on August 9, 2012, he was an inmate in the custody of the DOCCS. Dkt. No. 1 at 1; Dkt. No. 14. At all times relevant to the events giving rise to this action Couvertier was confined at the Watertown Correctional Facility ("Watertown") located in Watertown, New York. See generally Dkt. No. 1.
In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that while he was incarcerated, defendants deprived him of his right to practice his chosen religion in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"). Dkt. No. 1 at 1, 4-5. Specifically, he alleges that, although he notified corrections officers, corrections counselors, and the Chaplain at Watertown that he practices Taino, a Native American religion, he was not permitted to participate in any religious observances before proving his Native American ancestry. See generally Dkt. No. 1. He further alleges that he was sent to a different prison facility for a mental health observation in retaliation for complaining about his religious needs, and additionally that he was verbally harassed by corrections officers. Id. at 4-5.
On May 22, 2012, in accordance with the DOCCS Inmate Grievance Program ("IGP"),  plaintiff filed a grievance regarding his alleged religious deprivations. Dkt. No. 1 at 3; Dkt. No. 47-2 at 4-5. The Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee ("IGRC") at Watertown denied the grievance at the initial stage of the grievance process. Dkt. No. 1 at 3; Dkt. No. 47-2 at 7. Plaintiff appealed that decision to the superintendent of Watertown on or about June 6, 2012. Id. Following the superintendent's denial of that appeal, plaintiff sought review by the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC") on June 14, 2012. Dkt. No. 1 at 3; Dkt. No. 47-2 at 9. The CORC issued its decision upholding the superintendent's determination on February 20, 2013. Dkt. No. 47-3 at 6.
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff commenced this action with the filing a complaint and accompanying motions to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") and for a temporary restraining order on or about August 9, 2012. Dkt. Nos. 1, 2, 4. Following an initial review of plaintiff's complaint, District Judge David N. Hurd issued an order on March 8, 2013, inter alia, dismissing plaintiff's claims asserted against the State of New York, denying plaintiff's application for a temporary restraining order, and ordering the issuance of summonses for the remaining individual defendants. Dkt. No. 15.
Currently pending before the court is a motion by defendants seeking the entry of summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. No. 47. Defendants contend that dismissal is appropriate for several reasons, including because plaintiff failed to exhaust the available administrative remedies prior to filing suit in federal court. Dkt. No. 47-4 at 3-5. The motion, to which plaintiff has responded, is now fully briefed and ripe for determination, and has been referred to me for issuance of a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Northern District of New York Local Rule 72.3(c). See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b).
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment motions are governed by Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under that provision, the entry of summary judgment is warranted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material facts and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Sec. Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 82-83 (2d Cir. 2004). A fact is "material" for purposes of this inquiry, if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see also Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549, 553 (2d Cir. 2005) (citing Anderson ). A material fact is genuinely in dispute "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
A party moving for summary judgment bears an initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine dispute of material fact to be decided with respect to any essential element of the claim in issue, and the failure to meet this burden warrants denial of the motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 n.4; Sec. Ins. Co., 391 F.3d at 83. In the event this initial burden is met, the opposing party must show, through affidavits or otherwise, that there is a material dispute of fact for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.
When deciding a summary judgment motion, a court must resolve any ambiguities, and draw all inferences, in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Jeffreys, 426 F.3d at 553; Wright v. Coughlin, 132 F.3d 133, 137-38 (2d Cir. 1998). The entry of summary judgment is justified only in the event of a finding that no reasonable trier of fact could rule in favor of the non-moving party. Bldg. Trades Employers' Educ. Ass'n v. McGowan, 311 F.3d 501, 507-08 (2d Cir. 2002); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 (finding summary judgment appropriate only when "there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict").
B. Exhaustion of Available Administrative Remedies
The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 ("PLRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), which imposes several restrictions on the ability of prisoners to maintain federal civil rights actions, expressly requires that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a); see also Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 84 (2006) ("Exhaustion is... mandatory. Prisoners must now exhaust all available' remedies[.]"); Hargrove v. Riley, No. 04-CV-4587, 2007 WL 389003, at *5-6 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 31, 2007) ("The exhaustion requirement is a mandatory condition precedent to any suit challenging prison conditions, including suits brought under Section 1983."). "[T]he 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." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002).
The failure of a prisoner to satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is an affirmative defense that must be raised by a defendant in response to an inmate suit. Jones v. Block, 549 U.S. 199, 212 (2007). In the event the defendant establishes that the inmate plaintiff failed "to fully complete the administrative review process" prior to commencing the action, the plaintiff's complaint is subject to dismissal. Pettus v. McCoy, No. 04-CV-0471, 2006 WL 2639369, at *1 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 13, 2006) (McAvoy, J.); see also Woodford, 548 U.S. at 93 ("[W]e are persuaded that the PLRA exhaustion requirement requires proper exhaustion."). "Proper exhaustion" requires a plaintiff to procedurally exhaust his claims by "compl[ying] with the system's critical procedural rules." Woodford, 548 U.S. at 95; see also Macias v. Zenk, 495 F.3d 37, 43 (2d Cir. 2007) (citing Woodford ).
In accordance with the PLRA, the DOCCS has made the IGP available to prison inmates. It is comprised of three steps that inmates must satisfy when they have a grievance regarding prison conditions. 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 701.5; Mingues v. Nelson, No. 96-CV-5396, 2004 WL 234898, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 20, 2004). Embodied in 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 701, the IGP requires that an inmate first file a complaint with the facility's IGP clerk within twenty-one days of the alleged occurrence. 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 701.5(a)(1). If a grievance complaint form is not readily available, a complaint may be submitted on plain paper. Id. A representative of the facility's IGRC has up to sixteen days after the grievance is filed to informally resolve the issue. Id. at § 701.5(b)(1). If there is no such informal resolution, then the full IGRC conducts a hearing within sixteen days after receipt of the grievance. Id. at § 701.5(b)(2).
A grievant may then appeal the IGRC's decision to the facility's superintendent within seven days after receipt of the IGRC's written decision. Id. at § 701.5(c). The superintendent must issue a written decision within a certain number of days of receipt of the grievant's appeal. Id. at § 701.5(c)(i), (ii).
The third and final step of the IGP involves an appeal to the CORC, which must be taken within seven days after receipt of the superintendent's written decision. Id. at § 701.5(d)(1)(i). The CORC is required to render a written decision within thirty days of receipt of the appeal. Id. at § 701.5(d)(2)(i).
Accordingly, at each step of the IGP, a decision must be entered within a specified time period. Significantly, "[a]ny failure by the IGRC or the superintendent to timely respond to a grievance or first-level appeal, respectively, can - and must - be appealed to the next level, including CORC, to complete the grievance process." Murray v. Palmer, No. 03-CV-1010, 2010 WL 1235591, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2010) (Hurd, J., adopting report and recommendation by Lowe, M.J.) (citing, inter alia, 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 701.6(g)(2)). The IGP provides no mechanism for enforcing the requirement that the CORC issue a decision in thirty days. Torres v. Carry, 672 F.Supp.2d 338, 345 (S.D.N.Y. 2009).
Generally, if a plaintiff fails to follow each of the required three steps of the above-described procedure prior to commencing litigation, he has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. See Ruggerio v. Cnty. of Orange, 467 F.3d 170, 176 (2d Cir. 2006) ("[T]he PLRA requires proper exhaustion, which means using all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that the agency addresses the issues on the merits)." (quotation marks omitted)).
In this case, at the time the plaintiff filed this action, on or about August 9, 2012, the CORC had not yet issued its decision denying plaintiff's grievance, and did not do so until February 2013. Dkt. No. 1; Dkt. No. 47-3 at 6. Thus, plaintiff failed to fully exhaust the available administrative remedies prior to filing this action. See Partee v. Grood, No. 06-CV-1552, 2007 WL 2164529, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) ("[A]n inmate/plaintiff's claim is not exhausted until he appeals to the CORC and receives a final decision regarding his grievance."). The fact that complete exhaustion has now occurred does not cure this defect. See Burgos v. Craig, 307 F.Appx. 469, 471 (2d Cir. 2008) ("Assuming arguendo that Plaintiff-Appellant subsequently exhausted his administrative remedies [after filing suit], that is not enough to save his suit, because he is required to have properly exhausted before he sues."); Neal v. Goord, 267 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2001), overruled on other grounds, Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516 (2002), (holding that "[s]ubsequent exhaustion after suit is filed... is insufficient" to satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement).
Plaintiff's failure to exhaust, however, does not warrant dismissal of his complaint without further inquiry. In a series of decisions rendered since enactment of the PLRA, the Second Circuit has prescribed a three-part test for determining whether dismissal of an inmate-plaintiff's complaint is justified for failure to satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement. See, e.g., Hemphill v. New York, 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir. 2004); see also Macias, 495 F.3d at 41. Those decisions instruct that, before dismissing an action as a result of a plaintiff's failure to exhaust, a court must first determine whether the administrative remedies were available to the plaintiff at the relevant times. Macias, 495 F.3d at 41; Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686. In the event of a finding that a remedy existed and was available, the court must next examine whether the defendant has forfeited the affirmative defense of non-exhaustion by failing to properly raise or preserve it, or whether, through his own actions preventing the exhaustion of plaintiff's remedies, he should be estopped from asserting failure to exhaust as a defense. Id. In the event the exhaustion defense survives these first two levels of scrutiny, the court must examine whether the plaintiff has plausibly alleged special circumstances to justify his failure to comply with the applicable administrative procedure requirements. Id.
With respect to the first factor, there is no dispute that the IGP was available to plaintiff in light of the fact that he filed a grievance, received responses from the appropriate officials, and filed his appeals. Dkt. No. 1 at 3; Dkt. No. 47-2 at 4-5, 7, 9; Dkt. No. 47-3 at 6. In addition, plaintiff does not allege, and there is nothing in the record suggesting that defendants should be estopped from pursuing the defense of failure to exhaust.
Turning to the third factor, liberally construed, plaintiff argues that the court should conclude that special circumstances exist to excuse him from his failure to exhaust. Dkt. No. 50. More specifically, he contends that DOCCS officials did not comply with the time limitations set forth in the IGP and improperly delayed the filing of his appeal to the CORC. Id. at 1. In support of this position, plaintiff has submitted an e-mail dated July 17, 2012, from an individual named Julie A. Dennis, identified as IGP Coordinator, in which Dennis indicated to defendant Gascon that the CORC is "at least five months behind" and that plaintiff's grievance had not yet been "entered into the system." Id. at 10. An administrative delay in processing or deciding an inmate's appeal of a grievance, however, does not constitute a special circumstance justifying excusal of the exhaustion requirement. See Ford v. Smith, No. 12-CV-1109, 2014 WL 652933, at *3 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 19, 2014) (McAvoy, J., adopting report and recommendation by Dancks, M.J.) ("CORC's failure to act within the time frame set out in the regulations does not constitute special circumstances justifying the failure to exhaust.").
In sum, because plaintiff failed to fully exhaust the available administrative remedies prior to filing this action, and there is nothing in the record now before the court to suggest he should be excused from that requirement, I recommend that defendants' motion be granted.
IV. SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATION
Despite being aware of the administrative remedies available to him, plaintiff commenced this action before he had fully exhausted them. Because an administrative delay in reviewing a grievance does not eliminate that requirement, I conclude that plaintiff's failure to exhaust the available administrative remedies prior to filing suit cannot be ignored.
Based on the foregoing, it is hereby respectfully
RECOMMENDED that defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 47) be GRANTED; and it is further
RECOMMENDED that plaintiff's complaint be DISMISSED, without prejudice, based upon his failure to fully exhaust available administrative remedies before commencing this action.
NOTICE: Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the parties may lodge written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections must be filed with the clerk of the court within FOURTEEN days of service of this report. FAILURE TO SO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(a), 6(d), 72; Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85 (2d Cir. 1993).
It is hereby ORDERED that the clerk of the court serve a copy of this report and recommendation upon the parties in accordance with this court's local rules.
Wayne Hargrove, Ossining, NY, pro se.
Alexander V. Sansone, Troy & Troy, Lake Ronkonkoma, NY, Joseph Carney, Mineola, NY, for Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
*1 Inmate Wayne Hargrove ("Hargrove" or "plaintiff') brings this pro se action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Nassau County Sheriff, Nassau County Correctional Facility ("NCCF") and NCCF's medical staff, (collectively, "defendants"), seeking damages for injuries allegedly caused by defendants while he was incarcerated at NCCF. Defendants now move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 arguing, inter alia, that Hargrove's claims should be dismissed because he failed to exhaust administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. For the following reasons, defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted.
On August 27, 2004, FN1 Hargrove filed a complaint, alleging that defendants violated his civil rights when they forcibly administered purified protein derivative skin tests ("PPD test") to test for latent tuberculosis ("TB") in April 2002, 2003 and 2004 while he was incarcerated at NCCF. Complaint, Ex. C; Aff. ¶ in Opp. at 1-4, Ex. A. Hargrove named Nassau County Sheriff Edward Reilly ("Reilly"), NCCF and Nassau County University Medical Staff FN2 as defendants.FN3 On November 22, 2004, after discovery, County Defendants and NHCC Defendants filed separate motions for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Both defendants properly filed a Local Rule 56.1 Statement and served Hargrove a Notice to Pro Se Litigant Opposing Motion for Summary Judgment, pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.2.
FN1 Hargrove signed the complaint August 27, 2004. The pro se clerk's office received and filed the complaint on September 20, 2004. Under the prison mail-box rule, a pro se prisoner's complaint is deemed filed when it is delivered to prison authorities. See, e.g., Walker v. Jastremski, 430 F.3d 560, 562 (2d Cir.2005) (deeming pro se prisoner's § 1983 action filed on date complaint was handed to prison officials). There is no evidence in the record as to when Hargrove handed the complaint to prison officials. However, it is clear the operative date is between August 27, 2004 and September 20, 2004. As discussed, infra, both of these dates occur before Hargrove properly exhausted the administrative remedies available to him at NCCF.
FN2 The Nassau County University Medical Staff are employed by the Nassau Health Care Corporation ("NHCC"). Pursuant to the Correctional Center Health Services Agreement between the County of Nassau and NHCC, dated September 24, 1999, NHCC provides medical services for inmates at NCCF. County Defs.'s
FN3 Reilly and NCCF are represented separately from NHCC. Accordingly, when a distinction is necessary, Reilly and NCCF will be referred to as "County Defendants" and Nassau County University Medical Staff and NHCC will be referred to as "NHCC Defendants."
Tuberculosis Testing at NCCF
Upon entering NCCF, new prisoners must first go through medical intake. Aff. ¶ of Kim Edwards, ("Edwards Aff.") ¶ 3. This standard process usually takes seventy-two hours. Edwards Aff. ¶ 4. During medical intake, NCCF tests inmates for TB. Aff. ¶ of Getachew Feleke ("Feleke Aff.") ¶ 3. NCCF generally uses a PPD test to detect latent TB. Feleke Aff. ¶ 3. However, if an inmate has previously tested positive for TB, it is NCCF's policy to test for TB using an x-ray instead.FN4 Feleke Aff. ¶ 3. As part of its Infectious Disease Program, NCCF re-tests inmates for TB each year, beginning after they have been housed in that facility for one year. Edwards Aff. ¶ 5.
FN4 According to WebMD, "[a] tuberculin skin test should not be done for people who have a(1) Known TB infection [or a] (2) Positive tuberculin skin test in the past. A second test may cause a more severe reaction to the TB antigens." Jan Nissl, RN, BS, Tuberculin Skin Tests, WEBMD, http://www.webmd.com/hw/lab_tests/hw203560.asp (last visited Jan. 31, 2007).
NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 1. Before entering the general population, Hargrove was processed through medical intake. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 2. The NCCF Medical Intake Chart for Hargrove, dated March 15, 2002 ("3/15/02 Chart"), shows that Hargrove informed medical staff that he had previously been exposed to tuberculosis. NHCC Defs.' Notice of Mot., Ex. C, at 1; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 2. The 3/15/02 Chart also shows that Hargrove reported testing positive to a prior PPD test and that he had been treated for TB in 2000. NHCC Defs.' Notice of Mot., Ex. C, at 1. Hargrove alleges that he was exposed to and treated for TB in 1997. Hargrove's Aff. ¶ in Opp. to Mot. for Summary Judgment, ("Aff. ¶ in Opp."), Ex. A at 1-2. Defendants contend that Hargrove was given an x-ray during the medical intake process because of his reported positive PPD test, and that the x-ray was negative, showing no active TB infection. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 2; Edwards Aff. ¶ 3. Without specifying a date, Hargrove generally states that his "request to be x-rayed was denied." Aff. ¶ in Opp. at 3.
*2 Pursuant to NCCF's Infectious Disease Program, after being incarcerated in NCCF for a year, Hargrove was scheduled to be re-tested for TB. Edwards Aff. ¶ 5; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 4. On May 24, 2003, Hargrove was given a PPD skin test. Edwards Aff. ¶ 5; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement 4. This test was negative. Edwards Aff. ¶ 5; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 4. According to Hargrove, he requested an x-ray instead of a PPD test because of his previous exposure to TB, but was forced to submit to the PPD test. He also alleges that defendants threatened to put him in "keep lock" or "lock up" unless he submitted to the PPD testFN5 Complaint, Ex. C; Aff. ¶ in Opp. at 1-4, Ex. A.
FN5 Hargrove has made contradictory statements about being placed in "keep lock" or "lock up". It is unclear whether he is alleging that defendants threatened to place him in "lock up" unless he submitted to the PPD test or whether he was actually placed in "lock up" until such time that he agreed to submit to the PPD tests. For example, in his complaint, Hargrove states that when he "refused to submit to another [PPD] test, the Correctional Authorities were brought in and placed [him] in lock up." Complaint ¶ 4. In a hearing before Magistrate Judge Bloom on
January 31, 2005, Hargrove stated that he took the PPD tests because he was told that he would be placed in "lock up" until he submitted to the test. Hr'g Tr. 6:1-18; 9:5-10:10. In Exhibit B to his complaint, Hargrove alleges both that he was given an unwarranted TB shot and that when he refused the same shot he was placed in "keep lock." Complaint, Ex. B. There is no evidence in the record that Hargrove was ever segregated from the general population while housed at NCCF, outside of the seventy-two hour initial medical intake period. Aff. ¶ of Sgt. Neumann ("Neumann Aff.") at 1-2 (referring to prison records showing Hargrove's holding locations which demonstrate that he was never placed in "lock up"); NCCF 56.1 Statement E. Whether or not Hargrove was actually placed in "lock up" is not a material fact for purposes of this motion; as explained in detail, infra, Hargrove's failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA precludes a consideration of the merits of his Section 1983 claim.
The following year, in June of 2004, Hargrove was scheduled to be retested. Edwards Aff. ¶ 6; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 5. Because of the contradiction between the negative May 2003 PPD test and his reported positive history, NCCF contacted the Infectious Disease Department of the Nassau County Medical Center. Edwards Aff. ¶ 6. It was suggested that Hargrove be given a two-step PPD test, administered fifteen days apart. Feleke Aff. ¶ 4; Edwards Aff. ¶ 6. Hargrove was given these two PPD skin tests in June 2004. Edwards Aff. ¶ 6; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 5. Again, Hargrove alleges that these tests were administered against his will and under threat of being placed in quarantine. Complaint, Exs. A, B; Aff. ¶ in Opp., Ex. A.
On December 3, 2004, Hargrove was seen by a physician's assistant. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 6. During this meeting, Hargrove complained of a dry cough and that the site on his forearm where the June 2004 PPD tests had been administered was red and swollen. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement 6; 11/28/04 Sick Call Request. test and an order was placed in the chart that Hargrove not be submitted for future PPD tests. Edwards Aff. ¶ 7; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 8. See also 11/19/2004 Grievance.
Hargrove alleges that the following physical ailments were caused by the PPD tests: chronic coughing, high blood pressure, chronic back pain, lung infection, dizzy spells, blurred vision and a permanent scar on both his forearms. Complaint, Ex. C; Aff. ¶ in Opp. at 3-4.
NCCF's Inmate Grievance Procedure
NCCF has had an inmate grievance program ("IGP") in place since 2001. Aff. ¶ of Kenneth Williams, ("Williams Aff."), at 2. NCCF's IGP is carried out in conformance with the New York State Commission of Corrections Minimum Standards and Regulations for Management of County Jails and Penitentiaries ("Minimum Standards"). Id.
The IGP is designed to resolve complaints and grievances that an inmate may have regarding the inmate's care and treatment while incarcerated at NCCF. Williams Aff. ¶ at 2. Upon entering NCCF, all inmates receive a copy of the NCCF inmate handbook, which outlines the IGP. Id.
*3 The record does not include an actual copy of NCCF's IGP, but the NCCF's IGP is detailed in the affidavit of NCCF Investigator Kenneth Williams.FN6 The IGP encourages inmates to resolve their grievances informally with the staff member assigned to the inmate housing unit first. Id. If an acceptable resolution cannot be reached, inmates must then proceed through the formal three-step process set out in the IGP. Id. at 3.
FN6 Hargrove does dispute any statements made by Investigator Williams regarding the inmate grievance procedure, time limits or its availability to him. Furthermore, Hargrove does not dispute that he received a handbook outlining the IGP.
The first step requires an inmate to submit his grievance formFN7 to the Inmate Grievance Unit by placing it in a locked box located in each housing area, "within five days of the date of the act or occurrence giving rise to the grievance."FN8 Id. at 2-3. NCCF indexes all grievance forms filed by inmates in a log book and in a computer system. Id. at 1, 3. Once a grievance form is received by the Inmate Grievance Unit, the grievance is investigated and the inmate will receive a written determination of the outcome from the Inmate Grievance Coordinator in Section II of the grievance form.FN9 Id. at 3. The inmate is then given a choice to accept or appeal the decision by checking the desired selection and signing his name in Section III of the grievance form. See, e.g., 11/19/2004 Grievance form. If the inmate is not satisfied with the decision of the Inmate Grievance Coordinator, the inmate may appeal the determination to the Chief Administrative Officer. Williams Aff. at 3. Finally, if the inmate is not satisfied with the Chief Administrative Officer's determination, the inmate may appeal to the New York State Commission of Correction Citizen's Policy and Complaint Review Council ("Council"). Id. at 3. The Council will then render a final determination. Id. at 3.
FN7 The grievance forms contain four sections to be utilized throughout all three steps of the IGP. Section I provides space for the inmate to explain his complaint and the actions he requests as relief. Section II is for the decision of the Inmate Grievance Coordinator. Section III is titled "Acceptance/Appeal of Grievance Coordinator's decision" and contains two mutually exclusive options in which the inmate must choose one or the other: "I have read and accept the Grievance Coordinator's decision, " or "I have read and appeal the Grievance Coordinator's decision." Section IV provides space for the decision of the Chief Administrative Officer.
FN8 Hargrove has not argued that he was unaware of this five-day deadline.
FN9 There is no evidence in the record specifying the how long an inmate has to appeal inaction by the Inmate Grievance Unit.
Authenticity of the Grievance Forms and Other Documents Submitted by Hargrove
In support of his allegations that he continuously informed defendants that he had been exposed to TB and, therefore, should not have been given PPD tests, Hargrove submitted three letters with his complaint, two of which were addressed to the Inmate Grievance Committee and one of which was addressed to "To whom this may concern." Complaint, Exs. A-C. He also submitted five complaint letters written to Sheriff Reilly, seventeen sick call requests and nine grievance forms during discovery and with his Affidavit in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, explaining that some of the medical records and notarized letters were "missing." Aff. in Opp, Ex. A at 2. Defendants call the authenticity of most of these documents into question, contending that Hargrove never submitted any grievance form or complaint letter before he filed his complaint. County Defs.' Mem. of Law at 16-21; County Defs.' 56.1 Statement at ¶¶ B2, C3, D3.
Kenneth Williams, an investigator at NCCF in the Inmate Grievance Unit, testified that he reviewed all of the grievance forms, complaint letters and sick call requests annexed to Hargrove's Complaint and to Hargrove's Affidavit in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Williams Aff. at 2. Williams testified that he examined the grievance records at NCCF and searched "for any grievances by plaintiff/inmate Hargrove" and found "only two."FN10 Williams Aff. at 1. The first grievance, dated November 19, 2004, complained that the medical staff continued "forcing [Hargrove] to take a T.B. shot while [he] keep [s] telling them that [he] has been exposed to T.B." 11/19/2004 Grievance; Williams Aff. at 1. In response to this grievance, Hargrove's "positive" TB status was noted in his medical records and an order was placed in Hargrove's medical chart, stating that Hargrove not be subjected to future PPD tests. 11/19/2004 Grievance, Section II; Williams Aff. at 1; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 8; Edwards Aff. ¶ 7. In Section III of the 11/19/2004 Grievance, Hargrove acknowledged that he had read the Grievance Coordinator's decision, and that he chose to accept the decision instead of appealing it. 11/19/2004 Grievance. The other grievance received by the Grievance Unit, dated May 11, 2005, complained of an unrelated matter. 5/11/2005 Grievance (complaining of back problems and requesting the return of his medical shoes); Williams Aff. at 1. Thus, Williams concluded that, beside the 11/19/2004 and 5/11/2005 Grievance Forms, none of the other documents were "received by the grievance unit, and, given the locked box system, the grievance-forms were never submitted by plaintiff/inmate." Williams Aff. at 2.
FN10 It is NCCF's procedure to forward to the attention of the Grievance Unit all official grievance forms and complaint letters-even ones not specifically addressed to the Grievance Unit. Williams Aff. at 3.
*4 A visual examination of the grievance forms Hargrove submitted in support of his claims suggests forgery. Five of the nine grievance forms were requests to stop PPD testing. See April 19, 2002 grievance; April 28, 2002 grievance; April 20, 2003 grievance; April 28, 2003 grievance; November 19, 2004 grievance. The remaining grievance forms concerned Hargrove's requests for medical shoes. See March 18, 2002 grievance; July 6, 2002 grievance; February 20, 2003 grievance; May 11, 2005 grievance. Of the grievance forms complaining of unwanted PPD tests, the April 28, 2002 grievance form is a patent photocopy of the April 19, 2002 grievance form, and the April 28, 2003 grievance form is a patent photocopy copy of the April 20, 2003 grievance form, with only the handwritten dates changed. The only potentially authentic grievance forms relating to Hargrove's complaint about the PPD testing are dated April 19, 2002, April 20, 2003, and November 19, 2004. Of these grievance forms, only the November 19, 2004 has been authenticated by NCCF personnel. See generally Williams Aff. at 1-4.
Turning to the complaint letters addressed to Reilly, many contain notary stamps cut from the bottom of unrelated documents and photocopied onto the bottom of the complaint letters. See County Defs.' Mem. of Law at 18-21. C.O. Thomas McDevitt and C.O. Paul Klein, both of whom perform notary services for prisoners at NCCF, have submitted sworn affidavits, stating that they kept individual Notary Log Books covering all dates relevant to this litigation. Aff. of C.O. Klein, ("Klein Aff."), at 1; Aff. of C.O. McDevitt, ("McDevitt Aff."), at 1. McDevitt's Notary Log Book shows that he notarized only one document for Hargrove. This document, dated May 13, 2002, was a motion related to Hargrove's criminal trial. McDevitt Aff. at 1-2. Hargrove signed the Notary Log Book acknowledging receipt of that notarized motion. McDevitt Aff. at 2. McDevitt states that he never notarized any other documents for Hargrove. McDevitt Aff. at 2. However, McDevitt's stamp and signature dated May 13, 2002 (the date of the legitimate notarization) appear on Hargrove's letter to Sheriff Reilly dated May 10, 2002. County Defs.' Not. of Motion, Ex. A.
These facts repeat themselves in regard to the documents bearing the notary stamp and signature of Klein. Klein had performed several legitimate notarizations for Hargrove in connection to Hargrove's criminal trial. Klein Aff. at 1-2. Hargrove signed Klein's Notary Log Book acknowledging receipt of those notarized documents. Klein Aff. at 2. However, Klein states that he never notarized any of Hargrove's letters addressed to Sheriff Reilly that bear Klein's stamp and signature. Klein Aff. at 2. On all of the documents that Hargrove submitted bearing Klein's stamp and signature, the dates and signatures of Klein match identically to the dates on which he had performed legitimate notarizations for Hargrove in connection with his criminal trial. Defendants argue it is clear that the documents bearing the stamps and signatures of McDevitt and Klein were not actually notarized by these notaries. County Defs.' Mem. of Law at 17-22.
*5 Hargrove does not deny these allegations. Instead, he resubmits the documents that McDevitt and Klein testify they did not notarize with his Affidavit in Opposition and insists that the documents "refute the assertions put forth by the defendants." Aff. in Opp. at 2.
Summary Judgment Standard
A motion for summary judgment is granted when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A court ruling on a summary judgment motion must construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Williams v. Metropolitan Detention Center, 418 F.Supp.2d 96, 100 (E.D.N.Y.2005). Defendants, the moving party in this action, bear the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Baisch v. Gallina, 346 F.3d 366, 371 (2d Cir.2003).
As Hargrove is proceeding pro se, his complaint must be reviewed carefully and liberally, and be interpreted to "raise the strongest argument it suggests, " Green v. United States, 260 F.3d 78, 83 (2d Cir.2001), particularly when civil rights violations are alleged, see, e.g., McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir.2004). Plaintiffs complaint does not specify the legal theories upon which it relies, but, in construing his complaint to raise its strongest arguments, it will be interpreted to raise claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See, e.g., Dufort v. Burgos, No. 04-CV-4940, 2005 WL 2660384, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 18, 2005) (liberally construing plaintiffs complaint, which failed to specify the legal theory or theories upon which it rested, as, inter alia, a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983); Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 100 (same).
Prison Litigation Reform Act
a. Purpose of the Prison Litigation Reform Act
The PLRA was intended to "reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits." Woodford v. Ngo, ___ U.S. ___, 126 S.Ct. 2378, 2387 (2006) (quoting Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002)). It seeks to eliminate unwarranted interference with the administration of prisons by federal courts, and thus "affor[d] corrections officials time and opportunity to address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a federal case.' " Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2387 (quoting Porter, 534 U.S. at 525). See also Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 739 (2001). Formal grievance procedures allow prison officials to reconsider their policies, implement the necessary corrections and discipline prison officials who fail to follow existing policy. See Ruggiero v. County of Orange, 467 F.3d 170, 177-78 (2d Cir.2006).
b. The Exhaustion Requirement
The PLRA's "invigorated" exhaustion provision, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), provides the mechanism to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoners' suits by requiring that prison officials have the opportunity to address prisoner complaints through internal processes before allowing a case to proceed in federal court. Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2382 (citing Porter, 534 U.S. at 524).Section 1997e(a) provides that:
*6 [n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).
The exhaustion requirement is a mandatory condition precedent to any suit challenging prison conditions, including suits brought under Section 1983. Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2383; Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 174; Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 100-01. The exhaustion provision is applicable to suits seeking relief, such as money damages, that may not be available in prison administrative proceedings, as long as other forms of relief are obtainable through administrative channels. Giano v. Goord, 380 F.3d 670, 675 (2d Cir.2004); see also Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2382-83 ("[A] prisoner must now exhaust administrative remedies even where the relief sought-monetary damages-cannot be granted by the administrative process.") (citing Booth, 532 U.S. at 734).
In June 2006, the Supreme Court held that the PLRA requires "proper exhaustion" before a case may proceed in federal court. Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2387. "Proper exhaustion" requires a prisoner to use "all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that the agency addresses the issues on the merits).'" Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 176 (citing Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2385 (emphasis in original)). Although the level of detail necessary to properly exhaust a prison's grievance process will vary from system to system, Jones v. Bock, 127 S.Ct. 910, 2007 WL 135890, at *12 (Jan. 22, 2007), "proper exhaustion" under the PLRA "demands compliance with [that] agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules.'" Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 176 (quoting Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2386). Thus, the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is not satisfied by "untimely or otherwise procedurally defective attempts to secure administrative remedies." Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 176 (citing Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2382).
Exhaustion Analysis: Hargrove did not Exhaust the Administrative Remedies Made Available by NCCF prior to Bringing Suit
Section 1997e(a) of the PLRA applies to Hargrove's complaint; Hargrove was and continues to be confined in a correctional facility, see Berry v. Kerik, 366 F.3d 85, 87 (2d Cir.2004), and Hargrove's claim is about a "prison condition" within the meaning of the PLRA, see Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 101. See also Sloane v. W. Mazzuca, No. 04-CV-8266, 2006 WL 3096031, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 31, 2006) (recognizing PLRA's application to complaint alleging retaliation by prison officials for plaintiffs refusal to consent to a PPD test). Accordingly, the merits of Hargrove's Section 1983 claims can only be addressed if it is first determined that Hargrove properly exhausted each claim under Section 1997e(a) of the PLRA before filing his complaint in federal court.
*7 Hargrove has submitted both forged FN11 and authentic grievance forms in opposing defendants' motions for summary judgment. Excluding, for the moment, the forged documents, NCCF's records reflect that Hargrove did not submit his first grievance until after he filed the instant complaint. Williams Aff. at 1. Hargrove's first grievance complaining of unwanted PPD testing is dated November 19, 2004, Williams Aff. at 1, two to three months after Hargrove filed his complaint. Additionally, this first grievance, dated November 19, 2004, was submitted five months after the last PPD test was administered to him in June 2004. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 5, 6. This five-month period far exceeds the five-day window provided by NCCF's IGP. Since Hargrove failed to comply with the IGP's deadlines, he did not properly exhaust the available administrative remedies. Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 176 ("untimely or otherwise procedurally defective attempts to secure administrative remedies do not satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement.'") (quoting Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2382).
FN11 Based on an examination of the documents themselves, as well as the uncontradicted testimony of the notaries performing services for prisoners at NCCF, see generally Klein Aff.; McDevitt Aff., and of the investigator in the Inmate Grievance Unit, see generally Williams Aff., it appears that many of the documents submitted by Hargrove are forgeries. However, in order to view the facts in the light most favorable to Hargrove, and so as to avoid making findings of fact in a summary judgment motion, for the purposes of the exhaustion analysis, all of the documents will be considered to be authentic. However, for purposes of the sanctions analysis, the documents will be explored and the consequences of Hargrove's misrepresentations will be addressed.
Furthermore, even if the falsified grievance forms Hargrove submitted in support of his claim are considered authentic, they are still untimely. The diagnostic TB tests (whether x-ray or PPD tests) were given to Hargrove on March 15, 2002, May 24, 2003 and in June of 2004, but the grievance forms Hargrove submitted complaining of unwanted PPD tests are dated April 19, 2002, April 28, 2002, April 20, 2003, April 28, 2003 and November 19, 2004. None of these grievances were filed "within five days of the of the date of the act or occurrence giving rise to the grievance." Williams Aff. at 3. There is no evidence in the record suggesting that NCCF's IGP allows for a tolling of the five-day time limit in which to file a grievance.FN12
FN12. Even if the submitted grievances had been filed within the proscribed time period, they only show that Hargrove's grievances reached an Inmate Grievance Coordinator, the first formal step of NCCF's three-step administrative grievance process; Hargrove never appealed to the Chief Administrative Officer. By failing to take the next available step in NCCF's IGP, Hargrove failed to satisfy the mandatory exhaustion requirement. See, e.g., Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 101, 102 (dismissing pro se complaint where plaintiff could only show he exhausted two of the four-step process mandated by prison's administrative process).
While the letters to Reilly and sick call requests show that Hargrove attempted to bring his complaints about the PPD testing to the attention of the prison staff, see, e.g., Aff. in Opp., Exs. A-D, NCCF's IGP requires use of formal grievance forms. Thus, writing complaint letters and submitting sick call requests did not properly exhaust NCCF's available administrative remedies. See, e.g., Hernandez v. Coffey, No. 99-CV-11615, 2006 WL 2109465, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. July 26, 2006) (holding letters did not satisfy plaintiffs exhaustion obligation); Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 101 (holding that because plaintiffs efforts to convey his medical condition through letters and conversations with the warden and medical staff did "not include the required steps of the PLRA's administrative remedy process, " plaintiff failed to exhaust); Mills v. Garvin, No. 99-CV-6032, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3333, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 2, 2001) ("letter writing is not the equivalent of an exhaustion of administrative remedies under the PLRA").
As Hargrove failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies, this action is precluded by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) unless Hargrove can establish excuse for his failure to exhaust.
No Grounds to Excuse Plaintiff's Failure to Exhaust
*8 Exhaustion is an affirmative defense that defendants have the duty to raise. Jones, 2007 WL 135890, at * 8-11; Sloane, 2006 WL 3096031, at *4; Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 101. Once argued by the defendants, a plaintiff has an opportunity to show why the exhaustion requirement should be excused or why his failure to exhaust is justified. See Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 175; Collins v. Goord, 438 F.Supp.2d 399, 411 (S.D.N.Y.2006) ("[T]he Second Circuit has cautioned that while the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is mandatory, ' certain caveats apply.'")(internal citations omitted). Thus, before concluding that a prisoner failed to exhaust available administrative remedies as required by Section 1997e(a) of the PLRA, the following three factors must be considered: (1) whether administrative remedies were actually available to the prisoner; (2) whether defendants have either waived the defense of failure to exhaust or acted in such a way as to estop them from raising the defense; and (3) whether special circumstances, such as a reasonable misunderstanding of the grievance procedures, exist justifying the prisoner's failure to comply with the exhaustion requirement. Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 175 (citing Hemphill v. New York, 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir.2004)).FN13
FN13. Courts in the Second Circuit have questioned what effect, if any, the Supreme Court's recent decision in Woodford requiring "proper exhaustion" may have on the three-step Hemphill inquiry. The Second Circuit has yet to address this issue. See Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 175-76 (declining to "determine what effect Woodford has on our case law in this area... because [plaintiff] could not have prevailed even under our pre-Woodford case law). To date, district courts have acknowledged the tension, but resolved to apply Hemphill to exhaustion claims until instructed otherwise by the Second Circuit. See, e.g., Larkins v. Selsky, 04-CV-5900, 2006 WL 3548959, at *9, n. 4 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 6, 2006) (applying the current law of the Second Circuit to exhaustion claims); Sloane, 2006 WL 3096031, at *5 ("Until such time as the Court of Appeals considers the impact of Woodford, if any, on its prior rulings, this Court must follow the law of the Second Circuit. The Court will therefore apply the current law of this circuit to the exhaustion claims."); Collins v. Goord, 438 F.Supp.2d at 411 n. 13 (acknowledging that Woodford and Hemphill may be in tension, but deciding exhaustion claims under Hemphill inquiry); Hernandez v. Coffey, No. 99-CV 11615, 2006 WL 2109465, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. July 26, 2006) (same). Here, Hargrove does not prevail under Hemphill; therefore, there is no occasion to address the potential effect Woodford may have had in his case.
a. Whether administrative remedies were "available" to Hargrove
The first step in the Hemphill inquiry requires a court to determine whether administrative remedies were available to the prisoner. Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686. The test for assessing availability is an "objective one: that is, would a similarly situated individual of ordinary firmness have deemed them available." Id. at 688 (internal quotation marks omitted). In making this determination, "courts should be careful to look at the applicable set of grievance procedures." Abney v. McGinnis, 380 F.3d 663, 668 (2d Cir.2004). Exhaustion may be considered unavailable in situations where plaintiff is unaware of the grievance procedures or did not understand it, Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 179 or where defendants' behavior prevents plaintiff from seeking administrative remedies, FN14 Hemphill v. State of New York, 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir.2004).
FN14. Case law does not clearly distinguish between situations in which defendants' behavior renders administrative remedies "unavailable" to the plaintiff and cases in which defendants are estopped from asserting non-exhaustion as an affirmative defense because of their behavior. As such, there will be some overlap in the analyses.
Here, Hargrove has not claimed that NCCF's administrative grievance procedure was unavailable to him. In fact, Hargrove demonstrated his access to and knowledge of NCCF's IGP by filing proper grievances on November 19, 2004 and on May 10, 2005. Hargrove did not dispute any part of Investigator Williams's affidavit detailing the IGP and its availability to inmates since 2001. Specifically, Hargrove did not dispute, upon entering the facility, that he received a copy of the inmate handbook outlining the IGP. He has not claimed that he is unfamiliar with or unaware of NCCF's IGP. Hargrove has not alleged that prison officials failed to advance his grievancesFN15 or that they threatened him or took any other action which effectively rendered the administrative process unavailable.
FN15. Although not specifically alleged, interpreting the evidence to "raise the strongest argument, " Hargrove may be arguing that NCCF's IGP was not available to him because the Grievance Coordinator failed to respond to his grievances. In the single grievance regarding PPD tests that defendants concede is authentic, Hargrove writes, "[n]ow for the third time your office refused to answer my grievances so please look into this matter because the T.B. shot is [sic] effecting my health." 11/19/04 Grievance. This language implies that Hargrove filed grievances in the past and received no response from the Inmate Grievance Coordinator. Furthermore, Hargrove wrote on one of the submitted copies of the November 19, 2004 grievance that "[t]his is the only accepte[sic] that Plaintiff got back from all grievances and letters that the Plaintiff sent to Sheriff Riley and his medical staffs about his staff making [sic] take T.B. test for 3 year[s]." County Defs.' Not. of Motion, Ex. A, 11/19/2004 grievance.
First, it must be reiterated that filing of the initial grievances was untimely. However, even assuming arguendo that the original grievances had been timely filed, district courts in the Second Circuit have held that the "lack of a response from the [Inmate Grievance Review Committee] does not excuse an inmate's obligation to exhaust his remedies through available appeals." Hernandez v. Coffey, 2006 WL 2109465, at *3-5. See also Hemphill, 380 F.3d. at 686 ("Threats or other intimidation by prison officials may well deter a prisoner of ordinary firmness' from filing an internal grievance, but not from appealing directly to individuals in positions of greater authority within the prison system"); Acosta v. Corr. Officer Dawkins, No. 04-CV-6678, 2005 WL 1668627, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. July 14, 2005) (inmate required to appeal lack of response to exhaust administrative remedies); Mendoza v. Goord, No. 00-CV-0146, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22573, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 21, 2002) ("If, as a result of a negligent error by prison officials-or even their deliberate attempt to sabotage a prisoner's grievance-the prisoner [does not receive a response] on his complaint, he is not thereby forestalled from appealing"). Hargrove did not assert or offer evidence suggesting that he appealed the unresponsiveness or that those appeals were not advanced.
*9 Additionally, Hargrove's transfer from NCCF to Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing") in July 2005 did not excuse his previous failure to properly exhaust. See, e.g., Sims v. Blot, No. 00-CV-2524, 2003 WL 21738766, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. July 25, 2003) (determining that failure to exhaust administrative remedies is not excused by transfer to another facility); Santiago v. Meinsen, 89 F.Supp.2d 435, 440-41 (S.D.N.Y.2000) (determining that plaintiff should not be "rewarded" for failing to participate in grievance procedure before being transferred). Hargrove had ample opportunity to properly file his grievances and to appeal their results as required by NCCF's procedures while he was imprisoned at NCCF. The last PPD test Hargrove complains of was given in 2004; therefore, Hargrove had until June or July of 2004 to timely file his grievance in accordance with NCCF's IGP. Hargrove was not transferred to Sing Sing until July 2005. County Defs.' Mem. of Law at 2. Thus, Hargrove's transfer cannot excuse his previous failure to properly exhaust.
The second step of the inquiry asks whether defendants are estopped from raising exhaustion as a defense. Specifically, "whether the defendants may have forfeited the affirmative defense of non-exhaustion by failing to raise or preserve it, or whether the defendants' own actions inhibiting the inmate's exhaustion of remedies may estop one or more of the defendants from raising the plaintiffs failure to exhaust as a defense." Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686 (internal citations omitted).
Here, Hargrove has not made any statements that would permit a finding that defendants should be estopped from raising the affirmative defense of exhaustion or that defendants waived the right to raise the defense. Defendants first raised the PLRA's exhaustion requirement as an affirmative defense in their respective answers. See County Defs.' Am. Answer at 3; NHCC Defs.' Answer at 1. County Defendants raised it again in their motion for summary judgment. See County Defs.' Mem of Law at 15-23. Thus, defendants are not estopped from raising the affirmative defense now. See, e.g., Sloane, 2006 WL 3096031, at *8 (exhaustion defense not waived where defendants first raised it in their motion to dismiss).
Additionally, defendants have not threatened Hargrove or engaged in other conduct preventing him from exhausting the available administrative remedies. Cf. Ziemba v. Wezner, 366 F.3d 161, 162 (2d Cir.2004) (holding defendants were estopped from asserting non-exhaustion because of prison officials' beatings, threats and other conduct inhibiting the inmate from filing proper grievances); Feliciano v. Goord, No. 97-CV-263, 1998 WL 436358, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 27, 1998) (holding defendants were estopped from asserting non-exhaustion where prison officials refused to provide inmate with grievance forms, assured him that the incidents would be investigated by staff as a prerequisite to filing a grievance, and provided prisoner with no information about results of investigation). Hargrove has not argued otherwise. See Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 178 (holding defendants were not estopped from asserting a failure to exhaust defense where plaintiff pointed to no affirmative act by prison officials that would have prevented him from pursing administrative remedies); Sloane, 2006 WL 3096031, at *8 (finding no estoppel where plaintiff did not argue that defendants prevented him from pursuing the available administrative remedies); Hernandez, 2006 WL 2109465, at *4 (finding no estoppel where plaintiff did not argue that any threats or intimidation prevented him from pursuing his appeals). Thus, for the same reasons that administrative remedies were not deemed unavailable to Hargrove, defendants are not estopped from raising a failure to exhaust defense.
c. Special circumstances
*10 Even where administrative remedies are available and the defendants are not estopped from arguing exhaustion, the court must "consider whether special circumstances' have been plausibly alleged that justify the prisoner's failure to comply with administrative procedural requirements.'" Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 688 (quoting Giano, 380 F.3d at 676). For example, plaintiffs reasonable interpretation of regulations differing from prison official's interpretation has been held to constitute a "special circumstance." Giano, 380 F.3d at 676-77. No special circumstances have been alleged that would excuse Hargrove from availing himself of administrative remedies. See Sloane, 2006 WL 3096031, at *8; Freeman v. Goord, No. 02-CV-9033, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23873, at * 9-10 (S.D.N.Y.2004) (granting motion to dismiss where "there is no evidence in the record of any special circumstances' in this action.")
Hargrove's Failure to Exhaust, in Addition to his Fraud on the Court, Warrants Dismissal with Prejudice
Hargrove has not sufficiently rebutted the defendants' assertion of failure to exhaust, and a liberal reading of his submissions does not reveal any grounds to excuse that failure.
Because Hargrove filed a complaint in federal court before filing a grievance, permitting his unexhausted and unexcused claim to proceed would undercut one of the goals of the exhaustion doctrine by allowing NCCF to be haled into federal court without the "opportunity to correct its own mistakes with respect to the programs it administers." Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2385. See also Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 178 (citing Porter, 534 U.S. at 525). Thus, his complaint must be dismissed.
In general, dismissal without prejudice is appropriate where plaintiff has failed to exhaust but the time permitted for pursuing administrative remedies has not expired. Berry v. Kerik, 366 F.3d 85, 87 (2d Cir.2004). Dismissal with prejudice is appropriate where "administrative remedies have become unavailable after the prisoner had ample opportunity to use them and no special circumstances justified failure to exhaust." Berry, 366 F.3d at 88. Here, Hargrove's administrative remedies were available to him during his entire period of confinement at NCCF. He remained incarcerated in NCCF throughout the time period in which he alleges the PPD tests were given. He could have exhausted remedies for his grievances at any time. Therefore, Hargrove had ample opportunity to seek administrative remedies but failed to do so. Because there is no evidence in the record that administrative remedies are still available to Hargrove, as the five-day time period had run, and because Hargrove has alleged no special circumstances justifying his failure to exhaust, his complaint is accordingly dismissed with prejudice. Berry, 366 F.3d at 88 (upholding dismissal with prejudice where plaintiff had no justification for his failure to pursue administrative remedies while they were available.)
*11 Additionally, defendants' have moved for sanctions based on Hargrove's alleged submission of falsified evidence. If a party commits a fraud on the court, the court has the inherent power to do whatever is reasonably necessary to deter abuse of the judicial process. Shangold v. The Walt Disney Co., No. 03-CV-9522, 2006 WL 71672, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. January 12, 2006) (citing Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 44 (1991)). Fraud upon the court has been defined as "fraud which seriously affects the integrity of the normal process of adjudication." Gleason v. Jandrucko, 860 F.2d 556, 559 (2d Cir.1988); McMunn v. Mem'l Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 191 F.Supp.2d 440, 445 (S.D.N.Y.2002). In order for a court to grant sanctions based upon fraud, it must be established by clear and convincing evidence that a party has "sentiently set in motion some unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system's ability impartially to adjudicate a matter by... unfairly hampering the presentation of the opposing party's claim or defense." McMunn, 191 F.Supp.2d at 455 (quoting Aoude v. Mobil Oil Corp., 892 F.2d 1115, 1119 (1st Cir.1989).
After carefully reviewing the allegedly fraudulent documents, it must be concluded that Hargrove consciously falsified these documents. See, e.g., Shangold, 2006 WL 71672, at *1, *3 (finding clear and convincing evidence of fraud where plaintiffs fabricated a timeline and plot outlines to advance their claims); McMunn, 191 F.Supp.2d at 446 (finding clear and convincing evidence of fraud where plaintiff edited audio tapes and represented that they were unedited during discovery). The notaries performing services for prisoners at NCCF testify that they never notarized many of the documents supplied by Hargrove. See Klein Aff.; McDevitt Aff. Furthermore, a visual examination of the documents themselves makes it clear that many of the documents submitted by Hargrove are forgeries.
In considering what sanction to impose, courts consider the following five factors: (i) whether the misconduct was the product of intentional bad faith; (ii) whether and to what extent the misconduct prejudiced the plaintiffs; (iii) whether there was a pattern of misbehavior rather than an isolated instance; (iv) whether and when the misconduct was corrected; and (v) whether further misconduct is likely to occur in the future. Scholastic, Inc. v. Stouffer, 221 F.Supp.2d 425, 444 (S.D.N.Y.2002) (citing McMunn, 191 F.Supp.2d at 461).
Here, Hargrove's deception was not an isolated instance; he fabricated the dates on many grievance forms, in addition to improperly duplicating notary stamps on complaint letters to make them look authentic. Klein Aff. at 2; McDevitt Aff. at 2; County Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ C3, D3. He submitted these forgeries to defendants during discovery and again as exhibits to his Affidavit in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. A severe sanction is warranted as Hargrove's forgeries were intentional, he never corrected them once their authenticity was challenged and he continues to insist on their veracity. Aff. in Opp. at 1-4. Given that there is clear and convincing evidence that Hargrove has continuously and consciously perpetrated a fraud on the court through his submission of fraudulent documents and sworn affirmations of those documents' authenticity, dismissal with prejudice is especially appropriate. See, e.g., Shangold, 2006 WL 71672, at *5 (dismissing with prejudice where plaintiffs fabricated evidence to advance their claims); Scholastic, 221 F.Supp.2d at 439-444 (dismissing with prejudice where plaintiff produced seven pieces of falsified evidence); McMunn, 191 F.Supp.2d at 445 (dismissing with prejudice where plaintiff "lie[d] to the court and his adversary intentionally, repeatedly, and about issues that are central to the truth-finding process").
*12 Because Hargrove did not satisfy the exhaustion requirement under the PLRA, defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted. Further, considering the fraud Hargrove perpetrated on the court, the claims are dismissed against all defendants with prejudice. The Clerk of the Court is directed to close the case.
James Pettus, Comstock, NY, pro se.
Charles J. Quackenbush, New York State Attorney General, The Capitol Albany, NY, for Defendants.
DECISION and ORDER
THOMAS J. McAVOY, Senior District Judge.
*1 Plaintiff commenced the instant action asserting various violations of his constitutional rights arising out of his placement at the Southport Correctional Facility. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was improperly sent to the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") at a maximum security facility and that being in SHU has put his life in jeopardy. Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 seeking dismissal of the Complaint in its entirety for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.
FN1 The following facts are taken from Defendants' statement of material facts submitted pursuant to N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1(a)(3). These facts are deemed admitted because they are supported by the record evidence and Plaintiff failed to submit an opposing statement of material facts as required by Rule 7.1(a)(3). Plaintiff was specifically advised by Defendants of his obligation to file an opposing statement of material facts and to otherwise properly respond to the motion for summary judgment.
Plaintiff is an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services. Plaintiff signed the instant Complaint on April 7, 2004. On his Complaint form, Plaintiff indicated that there is a grievance procedure available to him and that he availed himself of the grievance procedure by filing a complaint with the IGRCFN2, followed by an appeal to the superintendent of the facility, and then to the Central Office Review Committee in Albany. The Complaint indicates that Plaintiff is "waiting for response from Albany." The Complaint was filed on April 27, 2004.
FN2 Inmate Grievance Review Committee.
On April 12, 2004, prior to the filing of the instant Complaint, Plaintiff filed a grievance relating to the issues presented in this case. On April 19, 2004, the IGRC recommended that Plaintiffs grievance be denied. Plaintiff then appealed that decision to the facility Superintendent. In the meantime, on April 27, Plaintiff commenced the instant litigation. On May 3, 2004, after Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this case, the Superintendent denied Plaintiffs grievance. On May 5, 2004, Plaintiff appealed the decision to the Central Office Review Committee in Albany. On June 23, 2004, the Central Office Review Committee denied Plaintiffs appeal. Plaintiff did not file any other grievances in connection with the matters raised in this lawsuit.
Defendants now move to dismiss on the ground that Plaintiff commenced the instant action before fully exhausting his available administrative remedies.
The sole issue presented is whether Plaintiff was required to complete the administrative process before commencing this litigation. This issue has already been addressed by the Second Circuit in Neal v. Goord, 267 F.3d 116 (2d Cir.2001). The issue in that case was "whether plaintiffs complaint should have been dismissed despite his having exhausted at least some claims during the pendency of his lawsuit." Id. at 121. The Second Circuit held that "exhausting administrative remedies after a complaint is filed will not save a case from dismissal." Id.
In this case, Defendants have established from a legally sufficient source that an administrative remedy is available and applicable. Mojias v. Johnson, 351 F.3d 606, 610 (2d Cir.2003); see also 7. N.Y.C.R.R. § 701.1, et seq. Plaintiff's Complaint concerns his placement in SHU at a maximum security facility. These are matters that fall within the grievance procedure available to NYSDOCS inmates and are required to be exhausted under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate any applicable exception to the exhaustion requirement. Because Plaintiff commenced the instant litigation prior to fully completing the administrative review process, the instant Complaint must be dismissed without prejudice. Neal, 267 F.3d 116.
*2 For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED and the Complaint is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. The Clerk of the Court shall close the file in this matter.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
*1 This § 1983 action was originally commenced by the plaintiff, FN1 a prisoner in New York State custody, and his wife claiming their civil rights were violated during the wife's visit with plaintiff at the correctional facility. Discovery in this matter has concluded. Previously, all claims asserted by plaintiffs wife were dismissed for failure to prosecute. Additionally, defendants' summary judgment motion was denied with respect to plaintiffs claims of excessive force, FN2 and summary judgment was granted dismissing all of plaintiffs other claims. Defendants now seek to dismiss the remaining excessive force claims on the grounds they are barred by the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act of 1996 ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), as plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.
FN1 Plaintiff and his wife were proceeding pro se when they filed the complaint and amended complaint. Thereafter, plaintiff obtained legal representation.
FN2 In the amended complaint, plaintiff alleges he was beaten, kicked and punched. (Am.Compl. § 6). In his original complaint, he had also claimed that he was whipped." (Compl. at 7, 8). Plaintiff testified at his deposition that he was slapped once in the face, punched about four or five times in the lower back, and a correctional officer then laid on top of him. (Mingues Dep. at 78-81). The incident, which took approximately thirty to forty seconds, caused plaintiff to suffer from back pain for an unspecified period of time. ( Id. at 81, 86). Subdivision (a) of § 1997e provides, "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." This provision became effective on April 26, 1996. Blisset v. Casey, 147 F.3d 218, 219 (2d Cir.1998). The PLRA's exhaustion requirement does not apply retroactively to actions pending when the Act was signed into law. Scott v. Coughlin, 344 F.3d 282, 291 (2d Cir.2003).
There is no dispute that plaintiff did not avail himself of the existing and available prison grievance procedure. Plaintiff, however, argues he was not required to exhaust his administrative remedies because, as alleged in his amended complaint, "petitioners (sic) had already filed in April 10-12 of 1996, " prior to the PLRA's April 26, 1996 enactment date.FN3 (Am.Compl. § 2). In order to determine the date that the instant action was commenced, the date of the filing of the amended complaint relates back to the filing date of the original complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c). The original complaint was signed and dated by plaintiffs wife on May 8, 1996; it was stamped received by the Pro Se Office on May 10, 1996; and plaintiffs signature is dated May 13, 1996.FN4
FN3 The amended complaint reads as follows:
That the original complaint filed under and pursuant to Title 42 section 1983 and 1985 was made and submitted before this court in April of 1996, before the application of the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act of 1996 was signed into law. The Act was signed into law April 26, 1996 and petitioners had already filed in April 10-12 of 1996. (Am.Compl. § 2).
FN4 Plaintiffs wife application for in forma pauperis relief was signed and dated May 8, 1996, and it is stamped as received by the Pro Se Office on May 10, 1996. Plaintiffs signature, on his initial application for appointment of counsel, is dated May 13, 1996, and it is stamped as received by the Pro Se Office on May 10, 1996. Attached to plaintiffs application, is his signed Affirmation of Service, also dated May 13, 1996, wherein plaintiff declared under penalty of perjury that he served his application upon the Pro Se Office. Plaintiff alleges that "between April 17, 1996 until October 7, 1996, " all visitation was suspended between him and his wife and that their "only form of communications was correspondence." (Am.Compl. § 7).
The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Pitman for a Report and Recommendation ("Report"). Although the magistrate judge found that the three earliest possible dates that the evidence demonstrates the complaint could have been filed, i.e., May 8th, 10th, and 13th of 1996, were all beyond the PLRA enactment date, he nevertheless recommended that the motion to dismiss be denied based on plaintiffs allegation in the amended complaint that he filed the original complaint April 10-12 of 1996, prior to the April 26, 1996 enactment date. The magistrate judge found that, "[i]n light of the express allegation in the Amended Complaint that plaintiff commenced the action before April 26, 1996 and the absence of a clear record to the contrary, the requirement that disputed factual issues be resolved in plaintiffs favor for purposes of this motion requires that the motion be denied." (Report at 12-13).
*2 Defendants object to the Report's conclusion that there is a material issue of fact regarding the date the action was filed. Plaintiffs attorney did not file any objections.FN5 The Court must make a de novo determination as to those portions of the Report to which there are objections. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). It is not required that the Court conduct a de novo hearing on the matter. United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676, 100 S.Ct. 2406, 65 L.Ed.2d 424 (1980). Rather, it is sufficient that the Court "arrive at its own, independent conclusion" regarding those portions to which the objections were made. Nelson v. Smith, 618 F.Supp. 1186, 1189-90 (S.D.N.Y.1985) (quoting Hernandez v. Estelle, 711 F.2d 619, 620 (5th Cir.1983)). Accordingly, the Court, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, must determine the extent, if any, it should rely upon the magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations. Raddatz, 447 U.S. at 676. The Court may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the findings and recommendations set forth within the Report. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Where there are no objections, the Court may accept the Report provided there is no clear error on the face of the record. Nelson v. Smith, 618 F.Supp. at 1189; see also Heisler v. Kralik, 981 F.Supp. 830, 840 (S.D.N.Y.1997), aff'd sub nom. Heisler v. Rockland County, 164 F.3d 618 (2d Cir.1998).
FN5 Plaintiff himself filed objections which was not adopted by his counsel. Plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's finding that an issue exists as to when plaintiff filed the complaint because plaintiff asserts he gave it to prison officials to be mailed in April. Additionally, plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's suggestion that the defendants convert their motion to one for summary judgment asserting the same theory as set forth in the present motion. Since this Court finds that the instant motion is meritorious, the propriety of plaintiff personally submitting his own objections need not be address as those objections are moot.
Upon a de novo review, the Report's recommendation that the motion be denied is rejected by the Court. Section 1997e (a) requires that inmates exhaust all available administrative remedies prior to the commencement of a § 1983 action concerning prison conditions, and failure to do so warrants dismissal of the action. Porter v. Nussel, 534 U.S. 516, 122 S.Ct. 983, 152 L.Ed.2d 12 (2002); Scott, 344 F.3d at 290. The exhaustion of one's administrative remedies, however, is not a jurisdictional requirement under the PLRA. Richardson v. Goord, 347 F.3d 431 (2d Cir.2003). A defendant may assert a non-exhaustion claim as an affirmative defense. Jenkins v. Haubert, 179 F.3d 19, 28-29 (2d Cir.1999). Since it is an affirmative defense, defendants bear the burden of proof in this regard. See, McCoy v. Goord, 255 F.Supp.2d 233, 248 (S.D.N.Y.2003); Arnold v. Goetz, 245 F.Supp.2d 527, 534-35 (S.D.N.Y.2003); Reyes v. Punzal, 206 F.Supp.2d 431, 433 (W.D.N.Y.2002). A motion to dismiss, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), is an appropriate vehicle to be used by a defendant where the failure to exhaust is clear from the face of the complaint as well as any written instrument attached as an exhibit and any statements or documents incorporated by reference into the complaint. See, Scott v. Gardner, 287 F.Supp.2d 477, 485 (S.D.N.Y.2003) (citation omitted); McCoy, 255 F.Supp.2d at 249.
In the amended complaint, plaintiff alleges, in a conclusory manner, that he filed the original complaint before the effective date of the PLRA, sometime between April 10th and April 12th of 1996.FN6 On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inference in plaintiffs favor. Resnick v. Swartz, 303 F.3d 147, 150-51 (2d Cir.2002) (citation omitted); Bolt Elec., Inc. v. City of New York, 53 F.3d 465, 469 (2d Cir.1995). Dismissal is only warranted where it appears without doubt that plaintiff can prove no set of facts supporting his claims that would entitle him to relief. Harris v. City of New York, 186 F.3d 243, 247 (2d Cir.1999). The court's consideration is not limiting solely to the factual allegations set forth in the amended complaint. Rather, the court may also consider documents attached to the complaint as exhibits or incorporated in it by reference, matters of which judicial notice may be taken, or to documents either in plaintiffs possession or of which he has knowledge of and relied on in bringing the action. Brass v. American Film Technologies, Inc., 987 F.2d 142, 150 (2d Cir.1993) (citation omitted). The court is not bound to accept as true a conclusory allegation where the pleadings are devoid of any specific facts or circumstances supporting such an assertion. DeJesus v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., Inc., 87 F.3d 65, 70 (2d Cir.1996). Nor must the court "ignore any facts alleged in the complaint that undermine the plaintiffs claim." Roots Partnership v. Lands' End, Inc., 965 F.2d 1411, 1416 (7th Cir.1992) (citation omitted).
FN6 In response to then Chief Judge Thomas P. Griesa's 1996 order dismissing this action, plaintiff filed an Application for Reconsideration, dated October 28, 1996, wherein he claims that "on April 12, 1996 this petitioner filed a 1983 civil suit..." (Pl.'s Mot. for Recons. at 1).
*3 Plaintiff fails to allege any factual basis in support of his claim that he filed the initial complaint between April 10-12, 1996. The Court is not required to accept this statement as a well-pleaded factual allegation in light of the existing record which clearly demonstrates that such an allegation is not only factually unsupported by the clear evidence, but is factually impossible. Generally, an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint, and renders it of no legal effect. In re. Crysen/Montenay Energy Co. 226 F.3d 160, 162 (2d Cir.2000). In plaintiffs amended complaint, he states that he is submitting the amended complaint in support of his original complaint. Hence, the original complaint is incorporated by reference in the amended complaint, and may be considered by the Court. Even if the initial complaint was not so incorporated, given the circumstances of this case, the Court would nevertheless consider it as it relates to the original date of filing. An examination of the initial complaint itself, on its face, unequivocally demonstrates that plaintiffs subsequent allegation in his amended complaint that he filed the complaint between April 10th and 12th of 1996 is patently false.
The original complaint refers to plaintiffs prison disciplinary hearing arising out of the same incident forming the basis of the present lawsuit. Generally, the disciplinary charges against plaintiff were in connection with an alleged conspiracy by him and his wife to commit grand larceny against inmate Robert Cornell. That hearing began on April 16, 1996, and concluded on April 19, 1996. (Defs.' Notice of Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. N, Transcript of Disciplinary Hr'g, conducted on April 16, 18-19, 1996). Specifically, in the original complaint, plaintiff refers to the testimony given by this fellow inmate.FN7 (Compl. at 8). That inmate testified on April 19th. (Hr'g. Tr. at 53-54, 57). Thus, plaintiffs claim that he filed the complaint between April 10-12, 1996, is absolutely impossible as the initial complaint refers to events occurring after that time period. Merely because plaintiff boldly alleges in his amended complaint that he filed the original complaint between April 10th and 12th does not require this Court to turn a blind eye to plaintiff s prior pleadings demonstrating the absurdity of his claim.FN8 See, Silva Run Worlwide Ltd. v. Gaming Lottery Corp. 2001 WL 396521, *1 (S.D.N.Y. April 19, 2001) (citations omitted) (A court should not "accept allegations that are contradicted or undermined by other more specific allegations in the complaint or by written materials properly before the court.").
FN7. In the complaint, plaintiff alleges "that at his S.H.U. hearing petitioner called as a witness Robert Cornell who stated that this petitioner Mingues nor his wife (co-petitioner) Narvaez ever took any money from him. (Compl. at 8).
FN8. At his deposition, plaintiff testified that he filed the initial complaint "[a]pproximately around June of 1996." (Mingues Dep. at 37-38).
Lawsuits by inmates represented by counsel are commenced when the complaint is filed with the court. See, Fed.R.Civ.P. 3, 5(e). For pro se litigants, who are not imprisoned and have been granted in forum pauperis relief, their complaints are deemed filed when received by the Pro Se Office. See, Toliver v. County of Sullivan 841 F.2d 41 (2d Cir.1998). The complaint of A pro se prisoner, however, is deemed filed when he or she gives the complaint to prisoner officials to be mailed. Houston v. Lack 487 U.S. 266, 270, 108 S.Ct. 2379, 101 L.Ed.2d 245 (1988); Dory v. Ryan 999 F.2d 679, 682 (2d Cir.1993), modified on other grounds, 25 F.3d 81 (2d Cir.1994). The "prison mailbox" rule is designed to combat inmate litigants' dependence on the prison facility's mail system and their lack of counsel so as to assure the timely filing of their legal papers with the court. Noble v. Kelly 246 F.3d 93, 97 (2d Cir.2001) (citations omitted). Given the difficulty in determining when a prisoner relinquishes control of the complaint to prison personnel, the date the plaintiff signed the original complaint is presumed to be the date plaintiff gave the complaint to prison officials to be mailed. See e.g., Forster v. Bigger, 2003 WL 22299326, *2 (S.D.N.Y. Oct.7, 2003); Hosendove v. Myers 2003 WL 22216809, *2 (D.Conn. Sept. 19, 2003); Hayes v. N.Y.S. D.O.C. Officers 1998 WL 901730, *3 (S.D.N.Y. Dec.28, 1998); Torres v. Irvin, 33 F.Supp.2d 257, 270 (S.D.N.Y.1998) (cases cited therein).
*4 In response to the Report and Recommendation, plaintiff asserts that, in April, the original complaint "was placed in the facility mail box." (Pl.'s Objection to Report at 1). However, it is uncontested that plaintiffs wife signed the complaint on May 8th; it was received by the Pro Se Office on May 10th; and plaintiffs signature is dated May 13th. There is no explanation offered that could reasonably support and account for the existence of these May dates on a complaint which plaintiff falsely claims to have deposited to be mailed during the period of April 10th and April 12th. Had plaintiff mailed the complaint directly to the court prior to April 26th, it would have been impossible for the plaintiffs wife to have signed the document two days prior to the date that the Pro Se Office stamped it received on May 10thFN9. Moreover, absent evidence to the contrary, applying the mailbox rule would presume that plaintiff gave his complaint to prison officials on May 13, 1996, the date he signed it. See, Johnson v. Coombe 156 F.Supp.2d 273, 277 (S.D.N.Y.2001) (quoting Torres 33 F.Supp.2d at 270). Even if the Court gave plaintiff the benefit of the date plaintiffs wife signed the complaint, i.e., the earliest date reflected on the filed complaint, it was still after the effective date of the PLRA. Hence, plaintiff is legally obligated to have pursued his prison grievance procedures prior to filing the instant action. The plaintiff has offered no explanation for the initial complaint's reference to events that occurred after the date he claims he filed it, the two May dates on which he and his former co-plaintiff wife signed the complaint, or the May date stamped received by the Pro Se Office. As the magistrate Judge observed:
FN9. The benefit of the mailbox rule does not apply where the plaintiff delivers the complaint to someone outside the prison system to forward to the court. Knickerbocker v. Artuz 271 F.3d 35, 37 (2d Cir.2001).
Apart from the allegation that certain events giving rise to the claims occurred on April 9, 1996, the Original Complaint contains no mention of dates in April, 1996. Mingues no where explains the contradiction between the signature dates on the Original Complaint and the allegations contained in Amended Complaint. (Report at 12).
New York state law provides a three tier grievance procedure applicable to plaintiffs claims of excessive force. See, N.Y. Correct. Law § 139 (McKinnney's 2003); N.Y. Comp.Codes R. & Regs. tit. 7, § 701.7 (2003); Mendozv. Goord 2002 WL 31654855 (S.D.N.Y.Nov.21, 2002); Rodriguez v. Hahn 209 F.Supp.2d 344 (S.D.N.Y.2002). Plaintiff has not denied knowledge of the grievance procedure at his institution, nor claimed that anything or anyone caused him not to file a grievance and completely pursue it through the administrative process.FN10 The magistrate judge's determination that the defendants' Rule 12(b) motion should be denied because of an "absence of a clear record" contrary to plaintiffs express allegation in the amended complaint that he commenced the action before April 26, 1996 is erroneous. The Court could have sua sponte dismiss this action as the record is unmistakably clear that an appropriate administrative procedure was available to him, that he was required to exhaust his administrative remedies, and that he failed to do so as required by the PLRA. See, Mojias v. Johnson 351 F.3d 606 (2003); Snider v. Melindez 199 F.3d 108, 112-13 (2d Cir.1999). In this case, plaintiff has been afforded notice and given an opportunity to respond to the exhaustion issue and his failure remains clear.
FN10 In the original complaint, plaintiff stated he did not file a grievance, pursuant to the state's prisoner grievance procedure, "because this matter can not be dealt with by interdepartmental grievances." (Compl. at 2-3). In plaintiffs attorney's memorandum in opposition to the motion to dismiss, counsel contends that plaintiff is not required to file a grievance because the state's prison system provides extremely limited administrative remedies and money damages, which plaintiff seeks, are not available.
*5 Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED that the Report and Recommendation is not adopted; ...