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Taylor v. Davidson County Sheriff's Office

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

May 7, 2019

SETH TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVIDSON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR RELIEF FROM ORDER

          LINDA V. PARKER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This civil rights action, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, is presently before the Court on the remaining defendants' motion for relief from this Court's February 12, 2019 decision granting in part and denying in part their motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 61.) The remaining defendants are the following Davidson County Sheriff's Office (“DCSO”) employees: Lieutenant Dwayne Butler and Officers James LeMaster, Jacob Steen, and Jacob Voyles (hereafter collectively “Defendants”).[1] Defendants cite Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) in support of their motion. Defendants' motion has been fully briefed.[2](ECF Nos. 64, 73, 76.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court is denying the motion.

         Background

         Plaintiff initiated this action pro se on December 14, 2016, claiming that Defendants used excessive force against him on August 25, 2016, while he was a detainee in DCSO custody. On January 4, 2017, Chief Judge Kevin Sharp referred the action to Magistrate Judge Joe B. Brown for all pretrial proceedings including a hearing and determination of all non-dispositive matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and/or a report and recommendation on all dispositive matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Defendants thereafter filed a motion for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 34, 35.)

         In their motion, Defendants first argued that Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit as required under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Alternatively, Defendants argued that Plaintiff's excessive force claim fails on its merits. In support of their exhaustion argument, Defendants submitted a declaration from Tom Davis, DCSO's Records Manager. (ECF No. 37.) In his declaration, Mr. Davis stated that he has access to and is the custodian of the grievance records maintained by the DCSO, including grievance appeals, and had reviewed all of the inmate grievances for Plaintiff, as well as Plaintiff's inmate file in general. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 5.) Mr. Davis further stated:

Mr. Taylor did file a grievance regarding the incident that is the subject of his Complaint. The grievance was found unsustained. Mr. Taylor never appealed the results of this grievance. DCSO policy provides for the appeal of grievance decisions.

(Id. ¶ 6.) In response to Defendants' motion, Plaintiff asserted that he filed grievance forms after his initial grievance was ruled unsustained which should have been deemed appeals. (ECF No. 46.) He pointed out that DCSO uses the same form for initial grievances and appeals. (Id.)

         On August 2, 2018, Magistrate Judge Brown issued a report and recommendation (“R&R”) recommending that the Court grant Defendants' motion on exhaustion grounds. (ECF No. 52.) Specifically, Magistrate Judge Brown found that while Plaintiff filed an initial grievance regarding the August 25, 2016 incident, he failed to file a proper appeal. (Id.) Concluding that it would be futile to dismiss the action without prejudice because the time to exhaust had expired, Magistrate Judge Brown further recommended that Plaintiff's claims be dismissed with prejudice.

         Plaintiff filed “objections” to the R&R on August 13, 2018. (ECF No. 53.) In his objections, Plaintiff asserted that he had attempted to exhaust the prison's administrative remedies but after he submitted his appeals they were returned as “duplicates.” (Id.) In fact, the “Davidson County Sheriff's Office Inmate Grievance Form” warns inmates that grievances repeating complaints already made will be returned as duplicates. (ECF No. 46.)

         After reviewing the record, this Court issued an order on September 6, 2018, directing Defendants to “file copies of the grievances Plaintiff filed in relation to the relevant incident.” (ECF No. 54, emphasis added.) The Court stated in its order: “Defendants have not filed copies of Plaintiff's grievances on the docket. The Court wishes to review them.” (Id.) Defendants responded to the Court's order on September 10, 2018, by filing two Inmate Grievance Reports, which are computer entries reflecting two grievances filed by Plaintiff in relation to the August 25, 2016 incident and the facility's responses to those grievances.[3] (ECF No. 55 Exs. 1, 2.)

         On February 12, 2019, the Court issued an opinion and order granting in part and denying in part Defendants' summary judgment motion. (ECF No. 57.) As relevant to Defendants' pending Rule 60(b) motion, the Court held that Defendants failed to carry their burden of demonstrating that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. (Id.)

         As stated in that decision, the Court surmised that Defendants did not have the original grievance forms submitted by Plaintiff as they had not presented them to the Court in response to its September 6, 2018 order. (Id. at 3.) The Court further indicated that it was not apparent from Mr. Davis' declaration that he had reviewed the original grievances filed by Plaintiff as opposed to the reports summarizing those grievances that an unidentified official elected to record. (Id. at 9.) “As such, ” the Court concluded that Mr. Davis “lacks first-hand knowledge of whether the forms submitted after [Plaintiff's] initial grievance were in fact ‘duplicates' and properly not entered into DCSO's electronic record.” (Id.) The Court explained that it “could reasonably disagree with DCSO's determination that Plaintiff's submissions were duplicates.” (Id. at 9-10.) The Court further explained that it “has a duty to confirm whether officials are accurately assessing an inmate's compliance with prison requirements or-as Plaintiff's argue[d]- ‘making it nearly impossible to bypass the exhaustion of the grievance procedure.'” (Id., quoting ECF No. 53 at 2.)

         As stated earlier, Defendants filed a motion for relief from the Court's decision on February 22, 2019. (ECF No. 61.) Now attached to Defendants' motion are the grievance forms Plaintiff submitted in connection with the August 25, 2016 incident, as well as every grievance Plaintiff filed during his various periods of incarceration at DCSO facilities. (Id. Ex. A.) Defendants assert that their counsel did not understand that this was what the Court had sought to review in its September 6, 2018 order. (ECF No. 61 at 2.) Defendants characterize this as a “mistaken ...


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