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Ramirez v. Federal Correctional Institution Oakdale

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

February 14, 2018


         SECTION P



         Before the court is a Motion for Summary Judgment [doc. 142] filed pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by Isiah Williams, Thomas Voisine, Caleb Gotreaux, and Roberto Rodriguez-Leon (collectively, “defendants”), defendants in this matter and employees at the Federal Correctional Institute at Oakdale, Louisiana (“FCIO”).[1] This motion is filed in response to the civil rights action filed by Robert Allen Ramirez (“plaintiff”), who is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this matter. Plaintiff is an inmate in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons and is currently incarcerated at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. He opposes the motion [doc. 147] and defendants have filed a reply [doc. 152].

         This matter has been referred to the undersigned for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636. For the following reasons, IT IS RECOMMENDED that the defendants' motion [doc. 142] be DENIED as to the restroom access claim and GRANTED as to the stretcher claim, with the stretcher claim DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. IT IS ALSO RECOMMENDED that FCIO be dismissed from the suit due to plaintiff's failure to raise a claim against it. Adoption of this report and recommendation will result in dismissal of FCIO, Gotreaux, and Voisine from the suit.



         On October 17, 2013, plaintiff allegedly slipped and injured his leg while on a work detail at the UNICOR factory at FCIO. Doc. 24, att. 1, p. 2; doc. 142, att. 2, p. 2 (defendants' list of undisputed facts). Plaintiff told prison personnel that he could not walk and was assigned a wheelchair.[2] Doc. 142, att. 2, p. 2. In the first week of December, while plaintiff was still using a wheelchair, the restroom on the first floor of his housing unit, Vernon I, was closed for repairs. Doc. 1, att. 2, p. 1');">p. 1; doc. 102, pp. 2-3. According to plaintiff, he advised defendants Rodriguez-Leon and Williams, officers at FCIO, that because of his leg injury he could not climb the stairs to access the upper-level restrooms. Doc. 1, att. 2, pp. 1');">p. 1-2. However, he contends, prison personnel failed to move him to another unit or otherwise accommodate him, forcing him to climb the stairs to access an available restroom. Id.; doc. 102, pp. 2-3.

         On the night of December 9, 2013, plaintiff allegedly fell and injured himself while descending the Vernon I unit stairs after using the upper level restroom. Doc. 1, att. 2, p. 2; doc. 102, p. 3. Plaintiff alleges that defendants Gotreaux, Williams, and Voisine responded to the call that an inmate was down, though only Gotreaux and Williams state that they recall the incident. Doc. 24, p. 4; doc. 142, atts. 3-5. Plaintiff asserts that defendants Gotreaux and Voisine aggressively placed him back into his wheelchair, though they deny this and Voisine states that his own back problems would have prevented him from lifting an inmate from the floor. Doc. 24, p. 4; see doc. 142, att. 2, p. 3; doc. 142, att. 5, p. 2. Defendant Gotreaux escorted plaintiff to a local hospital that night where plaintiff was diagnosed with a lumbar sprain/strain and then released back to the prison. Doc. 142, att. 3, p. 2; doc. 42, pp. 9-10 (hospital records).

         Plaintiff filed a Bivens[3] suit in this court on October 9, 2014, with several amendments since that time, asserting that the above actions of defendants violated his constitutional rights and that he is entitled to damages and injunctive relief.[4] Doc. 1; doc. 1, att. 2. Defendants now move for summary judgment, alleging that plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required under the Prison Litigation Reform Act and that, alternatively, the record is devoid of any evidence that they committed a constitutional violation against plaintiff.


         Legal Standards

         A court should grant a motion for summary judgment when 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The party moving for summary judgment is initially responsible for identifying portions of pleadings and discovery that show the lack of a genuine issue of material fact. Tubacex, Inc. v. M/V Risan, 45 F.3d 951, 954 (5th Cir. 1995). The court must deny the motion for summary judgment if the movant fails to meet this burden. Id.

         If the movant makes this showing, however, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511 (1986) (quotations omitted). This requires more than mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleadings. Instead, the nonmovant must submit “significant probative evidence” in support of his claim. State Farm Life Ins. Co. v. Gutterman, 896 F.2d 116, 118 (5th Cir. 1990). Neither conclusory allegations nor unsubstantiated assertions will satisfy the movant's burden. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994 (en banc). “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 106 S.Ct. at 2511 (citations omitted).

         A court may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 120 S.Ct. 2097, 2110 (2000). The court is also required to view all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Clift v. Clift, 210 F.3d 268, 270 (5th Cir. 2000). Under this standard, a genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable trier of fact could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Brumfield v. Hollins, 551 F.3d 322, 326 (5th Cir. 2008).



         A. PLRA and Exhaustion

         1. Legal standard

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), an inmate is required to exhaust available administrative remedies before filing a suit based on prison conditions. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); see Porter v. Nussle, 122 S.Ct. 983, 988 (2002) (extending the exhaustion requirement to Bivens suits). Exhaustion is mandatory for all suits about prison life, whether they involve complaints about general circumstances or particular episodes. Alexander v. Tippah Cty., Miss., 351 F.3d 626, 630 (5th Cir. 2003). Exhaustion means “proper exhaustion, ” including compliance with all administrative deadlines and procedures. Woodford v. Ngo, 126 S.Ct. 2378, 2384-87 (2006). The Fifth Circuit takes “a strict approach” to the exhaustion requirement. Days v. Johnson, 322 F.3d 863, 866 (5th Cir. 2003), overruled on other grounds, Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2385. Courts have no discretion to waive this requirement and dismissal is required when the inmate fails to exhaust before filing suit. Gonzalez v. Seal, 702 F.3d 785, 788 (5th Cir. 2012).

         The administrative remedy program (“ARP”) for federal inmates is provided at 28 C.F.R. § 542.10 et seq., and includes a three-step formal process. The inmate files an informal resolution attempt (BP-8), though there are several cases in which this is not required. 28 C.F.R. § 542.13. The first formal step of the ARP is the filing of a written administrative remedy request (BP-9) with the warden. Id. at § 542.14. The BP-9 must be filed within 20 days of the incident. Id. at § 542.14. If the inmate is dissatisfied with the warden's response, he may file an appeal (BP-10) with the appropriate regional director within 20 days of the warden's response.[5] Id. at § 542.15(a). An inmate who is not satisfied with the regional director's response may submit an appeal (BP-11) to the general counsel within 30 days of that response. Id. Appeal to the general counsel is the final step of the ARP. Id. The deadlines described above may be extended if the inmate can show valid reason for his delay in filing. Id. at §§ 542.15(a), 542.14(b).

         A claim is not exhausted through the administrative remedy procedure unless it is presented with sufficient detail to “give[] officials a fair opportunity to address the problem that will later form the basis of the lawsuit.” Johnson v. Johnson, 385 F.3d 503, 517 (5th Cir. 2004). Inmates who begin the administrative remedy grievance process and then halt it prematurely have not properly exhausted their administrative remedies, and ...

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