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Clark v. LeBlanc

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

March 13, 2018

ROBERT CLARK (#611786)



         Please take notice that the attached Magistrate Judge's Report has been filed with the Clerk of the U.S. District Court.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), you have 14 days after being served with the attached report to file written objections to the proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations set forth therein. Failure to file written objections to the proposed findings, conclusions and recommendations within 14 days after being served will bar you, except upon grounds of plain error, from attacking on appeal the unobjected-to proposed factual findings and legal conclusions accepted by the District Court.



         Before the Court are Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (R. Docs. 12 and 16) and Motion for Summary Judgment (R. Doc. 23). These Motions are opposed.

         Pro se Plaintiff, an inmate confined at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (“LSP”), Angola, Louisiana, commenced this proceeding pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Secretary James LeBlanc, Dr. Mathew Gamble, Dr. Randy Lavespere, Warden Darrel Vannoy, Kristen Thomas, Bradly LaCombe, Lt. Col. Rheams, Lt. Jones, Ass't Warden Shirley Coody, Major Rosso, Cynthia Park, and unidentified “Jane Doe” and “John Doe” personnel at LSP, complaining that Plaintiff suffers with gender dysphoria and that Defendants have violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights by exhibiting deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs, specifically by failing to properly treat Plaintiff's condition and/or provide appropriate accommodation therefor. Plaintiff further asserts that Defendants have interfered with Plaintiff's access to the courts by failing to properly address Plaintiff's administrative grievances, have threatened retaliation in response to Plaintiff's complaints, and have failed to properly investigate claims of sexual assault and harassment.

         Addressing first Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants contend, relying upon the pleadings, a Statement of Uncontested Material Facts, and certified copies of Plaintiff's administrative remedy proceedings, that dismissal is appropriate in the first instance based upon the procedural argument that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative remedies as mandated by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e.

         Pursuant to well-established legal principles, summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine disputed issue as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986). A party moving for summary judgment must inform the Court of the basis for the motion and identify those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, that show that there is no such genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, supra, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party carries its burden of proof under Rule 56, the opposing party must direct the Court's attention to specific evidence in the record which demonstrates that the non-moving party can satisfy a reasonable jury that it is entitled to a verdict in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., supra, 477 U.S. at 248. This burden is not satisfied by some metaphysical doubt as to alleged material facts, by unsworn and unsubstantiated assertions, by conclusory allegations, or by a mere scintilla of evidence. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). Rather, Rule 56 mandates that summary judgment be entered against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, supra, 477 U.S. at 323. Summary judgment is appropriate in any case where the evidence is so weak or tenuous on essential facts that the evidence could not support a judgment in favor of the non-moving party. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., supra, 37 F.3d at 1075. In resolving a motion for summary judgment, the Court must review the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court may not evaluate the credibility of witnesses, weigh the evidence, or resolve factual disputes. International Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1263 (5th Cir. 1991).

         In Plaintiff's Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Plaintiff first arrived at LSP in February 2014 and, during initial screening, informed prison officials that Plaintiff is a male-to-female transgender person who suffers with manic depression. Notwithstanding, prison officials have refused to allow Plaintiff to express a feminine persona. Plaintiff has continued to attempt to alter Plaintiff's appearance and express a feminine personality, through the arching of Plaintiff's eyebrows, the growing out of Plaintiff's hair and fingernails, the use of home-made cosmetics, the making of more effeminate clothing, the insistence upon use of a feminine name, etc., many of which attempts are in violation of prison rules. Plaintiff alleges that Plaintiff has been verbally harassed and told by security officer that Plaintiff is a man and will be treated as such. Plaintiff complains that Plaintiff has been subjected to verbal abuse, threats and sexual harassment by both security officers and inmates alike. Although Plaintiff acknowledges that Plaintiff has been prescribed medication to address feelings of anxiety and depression, Plaintiff has nonetheless made suicide attempts in December 2015 and January 2017. Although Plaintiff has consulted on numerous occasions with the LSP Mental Health Director, Dr. Gamble, and other mental health care workers at LSP, Plaintiff alleges that Plaintiff “continues to struggle mentally with her appearance as a male as well as others whom constantly try to defeminize her.” See R. Doc. 1 at p. 8. Plaintiff further complains that Plaintiff has been generally denied bodily privacy and, during a 2-week period in August 2016, was observed on camera in Plaintiff's dormitory shower area and was ultimately issued a disciplinary charge for having “consensual” sex in the shower with a co-inmate. Plaintiff also asserts that Plaintiff was subjected to an attempted rape on one occasion in November 2016 that was not properly investigated and that resulted in another disciplinary charge issued against Plaintiff. Plaintiff seeks to be provided with hormone replacement therapy and electrolysis, to be allowed to dress as a woman and purchase cosmetics and feminine underclothing, to be provided with appropriate therapeutic classes to help alleviate Plaintiff's symptoms, and generally to be treated in accordance with the “standards of care” advocated by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. Notwithstanding, Defendants have denied Plaintiff's requests in this regard and have failed to institute policies appropriate to addressing the needs of inmates with gender identity disorders.

         In response to Plaintiff's allegations, as noted above, Defendants contend that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust available administrative remedies as mandated by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. Pursuant to this statute, Plaintiff was required to exhaust administrative remedies available at the prison prior to commencing a civil action in this Court with respect to prison conditions.[1] This provision is mandatory and applies broadly to ''all inmate suits about prison life.'' Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). Further, a prisoner must exhaust administrative remedies by complying with applicable prison grievance procedures. Johnson v. Johnson, 385 F.3d 503, 517 (5th Cir. 2004). Specifically, not only must the prisoner exhaust all available remedies, but such exhaustion must be proper, including compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90 (2006). One of the principal purposes of the administrative exhaustion requirement is to provide fair notice to prison officials of an inmate's specific complaints so as to provide A>time and opportunity to address complaints internally.''' Johnson v. Johnson, supra, 385 F.3d at 516, quoting Porter v. Nussle, supra, 534 U.S. at 525. Thus, the degree of specificity necessary in a prisoner's grievance should be evaluated in light of this intended purpose. Id.

         Applying the foregoing standard, and upon a review of Plaintiff's pertinent administrative remedy proceedings, the Court finds that Defendants' motion is well-founded. Specifically, it appears that on or about August 21, 2016, Plaintiff submitted an administrative grievance to prison officials wherein Plaintiff complained that while confined in Eagle Dormitory at LSP for a two week period, between August 1 and August 15, 2016, Plaintiff's privacy rights were violated because the shower and toilet area in the dormitory were equipped with video cameras that allowed security officers to observe the area. See R. Doc. 14 at p. 62. In addition, Plaintiff complained therein that on August 15, 2016, Plaintiff engaged in consensual sex with a co-inmate and was observed by three officers and a co-inmate in the video viewing room. According to Plaintiff, these actions violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights, and Plaintiff complained that Plaintiff has been harassed and verbally assaulted as a result thereof.

         The above-referenced grievance was accepted by prison officials on September 2, 2016 and assigned the number LSP-2016-2369. Before any response could be provided to this grievance, however, Plaintiff admittedly signed a form that withdrew the grievance on September 15, 2016. See id. at p. 60. As a result, the grievance was never processed or addressed by prison officials. Plaintiff contends, however, that the withdrawal of the grievance was not in fact voluntary and that Plaintiff executed the form only because Defendant Rheams came to Plaintiff on that date and threatened bodily harm to Plaintiff if Plaintiff did not withdraw the grievance. See R. Doc. 1 at p. 15. Plaintiff asserts that several days after signing the “voluntary” withdrawal, Plaintiff sought advice from security officers and spoke to Defendant Coody who advised Plaintiff to re-submit the referenced grievance. Plaintiff asserts that Plaintiff did in fact re-submit the referenced grievance on September 27, 2016. See id. Notwithstanding, there is no record of the re-submitted grievance ever having been received or addressed by prison officials at either the first or second step of the prison administrative process.

         In addition to the foregoing, Plaintiff asserts that Plaintiff submitted a second “emergency” grievance to prison officials on August 23, 2016 that generally complained that Plaintiff was not receiving appropriate medical attention for Plaintiff's gender dysphoria, including hormone treatments, the ability to express an effeminate personality, and “classes, groups, and other therapeutic avenues to alleviate [gender dysphoria].” See R. Doc. 26-1 at p. 8. Notwithstanding, there is also no record of this grievance ever having been received or addressed by prison officials. Although Plaintiff allegedly wrote to several prison officials, including Defendant Thomas on August 28, 2016, see id. at p. 11, and Defendant Coody on September ...

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