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Washington v. Abernathy

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

October 6, 2014

ERNEST WASHINGTON
v.
LT. CHARLON ABERNATHY, et al.

REPORT AND RECOMENDATION

JULIET GRIFFIN, Magistrate Judge.

TO: Honorable Todd J. Campbell, District Judge

By Order entered July 2, 2014 (Docket Entry No. 3), the Court referred this action to the Magistrate Judge to enter a scheduling order for the management of the case, to dispose or recommend disposition of any pretrial motions under 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(A) and (B), and to conduct further proceedings, if necessary, under Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules of Court.

Presently pending before the Court is the Defendants' motion to dismiss (Docket Entry No. 13), to which the Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition. See Docket Entry No. 18. For the reasons set out below, the Court recommends that the motion be granted and this action be dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

The Plaintiff is an inmate currently in the custody of the Davidson County, Tennessee Sheriff's Office ("DCSO") and confined at the Criminal Justice Center ("CJC"). He filed this action pro se and in forma pauperis on June 23, 2014, seeking "relief" and "10, 000" under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Complaint (Docket Entry No. 1), at 8-9.[1] Named as defendants are DCSO employees Lt. Charlon Abernathy and Beth Gentry.

The Plaintiff alleges that, on May 30, 2014, he and twelve other inmates were handcuffed, placed in the "program room, " and then sent to the "hole" after refusing to re-enter their cells because their repeated complaints about excessive heat in the cells were being ignored by prison officials. Id. at 4-5. The Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Abernathy was responsible for ordering that the inmates be handcuffed and that Defendant Gentry approved of their transfer to segregation. Id. The Plaintiff alleges that he was kept in handcuffs with his hands behind his back for a lengthy period of time without access to drinking water or a toilet, that the heat remains excessive in his segregation cell, and that there is mold in the segregation cell. Id. at 5. He further contends that he was not given a notice or a written statement of evidence and reason for being sent to segregation in violation of CJC policy and his due process rights. Id. at 5-6. The Plaintiff brings a claim against Defendant Abernathy for placing him in handcuffs as a form of punishment and in a manner that was painful, humiliating, and dangerous. Id. at 9. He brings a claim against Defendant Gentry for placing him in segregation in violation of his due process rights and for unconstitutional punishment because of the conditions in the segregation cell. Id.

In lieu of answers, the Defendants have filed the pending motion to dismiss. The Defendants contend that dismissal of the Plaintiff's action is required because he did not fully exhaust his available administrative remedies within the DCSO prior to bringing this action as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The Defendants assert that, although the Plaintiff has filed numerous grievances at the CJC, he failed to file a grievance concerning the events forming the basis for his claims against Defendant Abernathy. The Defendants further assert that, although the Plaintiff did file a grievance about being placed in segregation, he failed to pursue an administrative appeal from that grievance as the DCSO grievance policy allows. In support of their motion, the Defendants submit the Declaration of Tom Davis, the Records Manager for the DCSO (Docket Entry No. 15), and copies of grievance documents from the CJC. See Docket Entry Nos. 15-1 through 15-3.

The Plaintiff filed a brief response contending that: 1) there is a conflict of interest because counsel for the Defendants in this action also represent defendants in another civil rights action he filed; 2) other grievances the Plaintiff filed in the past have "come up missing" or went unanswered; 3) the grievance system at the DCSO is flawed because inmates are not able to keep a copy of the grievances they file; and 4) the issue of exhaustion does not have anything to do with his allegations that he was mistreated. See Docket Entry No. 18.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Although the Defendants fail to provide a procedural basis for their motion to dismiss, they refer to the standard of review applicable to a motion to dismiss brought under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, see Docket Entry No. 14, at 2-3, which requires that the factual allegations supplied by the Plaintiff, when taken as true, must be enough to show a plausible right to relief. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-61, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (abrogating Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). To the extent that the Defendants' reference to this standard implies that the Plaintiff was required to set out in his complaint that he had fully exhausted his administrative remedies, any such implication is erroneous. In Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216, 127 S.Ct. 910, 921, 166 L.Ed.2d 798 (2007), the Supreme Court specifically held that prison inmates are not required to specifically plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaints.

Given that the Defendants rely on matters that are outside the pleadings, the proper vehicle for their motion would have been a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Frees v. Duby, 2010 WL 4923535, *3 (W.D. Mich. Nov. 29, 2010) (collecting cases). However, because the Court shall not exclude these outside matters, the Defendants' motion shall be converted to a motion for summary judgment in accordance with Rule 12(d). See Song v. City of Elyria, Ohio, 985 F.2d 840, 842 (6th Cir.1993).[2]

A motion for summary judgment is reviewed under the standard that summary judgment is appropriate if "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The Court must view the evidence and all inferences drawn from underlying facts "in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., Ltd., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Gribcheck v. Runyon, 245 F.3d 547, 550 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 896, 122 S.Ct. 217, 151 L.Ed.2d 155 (2001). However, once the moving party has presented evidence sufficient to support its motion, the nonmoving party must come forward with evidence to support his claims. See Lujan v. National Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990); Banks v. Wolfe Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 330 F.3d 888, 892 (6th Cir. 2003); Goins v. Clorox Co., 926 F.2d 559, ...


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