829 F.3d 118 (2nd Cir. 2016), 14-4777, Williams v. Priatno
|Citation:||829 F.3d 118|
|Opinion Judge:||Katzmann, Chief Judge :|
|Party Name:||MARK WILLIAMS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CORRECTION OFFICER PRIATNO, CORRECTION OFFICER GAMMONE, Defendants-Appellees, CORRECTION OFFICER JOHN DOE, STATE OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND COMMUNITY SERVICE, Defendants.|
|Attorney:||BRIAN M. FELDMAN (Michael J. Rooney, on the brief), Harter Secrest & Emery LLP, Rochester, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant. HOLLY A. THOMAS (Barbara D. Underwood and Anisha S. Dasgupta, on the brief), for Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General of the State of New York, New York, NY, for Defendants-Ap...|
|Judge Panel:||Before: KATZMANN, Chief Judge, SACK and LOHIER, Circuit Judges.|
|Case Date:||July 12, 2016|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit|
Plaintiff filed suit against Officer Priatno and Gammone under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the officers violated his Eighth Amendment rights when they brutally beat him for talking back to another officer when he was an inmate at Downstate Correctional Facility. At issue is whether plaintiff exhausted all available administrative remedies prior to filing suit in the district court, as required... (see full summary)
Argued February 29, 2016.
Plaintiff-Appellant Mark Williams appeals from an order of the District Court for the Southern District of New York that dismissed his claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Eighth Amendment for failure to exhaust all available administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). We conclude that administrative remedies beyond the submission of his initial complaint were unavailable to Williams because the applicable grievance procedures are " so opaque" and confusing that they were, " practically speaking, incapable of use." Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1859, 195 L.Ed.2d 117 (2016) . Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the district court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
BRIAN M. FELDMAN (Michael J. Rooney, on the brief), Harter Secrest & Emery LLP, Rochester, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant.
HOLLY A. THOMAS (Barbara D. Underwood and Anisha S. Dasgupta, on the brief), for Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General of the State of New York, New York, NY, for Defendants-Appellees.
Before: KATZMANN, Chief Judge, SACK and LOHIER, Circuit Judges.
Katzmann, Chief Judge :
Plaintiff-Appellant Mark Williams alleges in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case that Defendants-Appellees Correction Officer Priatno and Correction Officer Gammone violated his Eighth Amendment rights when they brutally beat him for talking back to another officer when he was an inmate at Downstate Correctional Facility (" Downstate" ) in New York. We are presented with the threshold question of whether Williams exhausted all available administrative remedies prior to filing this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (" PLRA" ), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). More specifically, we must decide whether the prison's grievance process was actually " available" to Williams in light of the extraordinary circumstances of his case. We conclude that that process was not available to Williams because the applicable grievance procedures are " so opaque" and confusing that they were, " practically speaking, incapable of use." Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1859, 195 L.Ed.2d 117 (2016). We reverse the decision of the district court that granted defendants' motion to dismiss and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
A. Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Grievance Procedures
The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (" DOCCS" ) regulations outline the procedures that apply to the Inmate Grievance Program (" IGP" ) at Downstate. The grievance process begins with the filing of a complaint within 21 days of an alleged incident. N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. (" NYCRR" ) tit. 7, § 701.5(a)(1). Typically, inmates file grievances with the grievance clerk. Id. However, if an inmate is housed in the special housing unit (" SHU" ), and therefore segregated from the regular prison population, he may give the grievance complaint to a correction officer to file for him. See id. § 701.7. Upon filing, the grievance clerk numbers and logs the grievances. Id. § 701.5(a)(2).
Ordinarily, there are three levels of review of a grievance. The first is by the inmate grievance resolution committee (" IGRC" ); the second is by the facility superintendent; and the third is by the central office review committee (" CORC" ). Id. § § 701.1(c), 701.5. However, " harassment grievances" --those that involve " employee misconduct meant to annoy, intimidate or harm an inmate," id. § 701.2(e)--are subject to expedited first-level review by the facility superintendent, id. § 701.8. When the grievance clerk identifies a harassment grievance, the clerk must forward the grievance to the superintendent on the same day that the grievance was filed. Id. § 701.8(b). If the grievance presents a bona fide harassment issue, then the superintendent must initiate an investigation, render a decision on the grievance, and inform the inmate of the decision within 25 days of receipt of the grievance. Id. § 701.8(d), (f). " If the superintendent fails to respond within the required 25 calendar day time limit the grievant may appeal his/her grievance to CORC." Id. § 701.8(g); see also id. § 701.6(g)(2) (stating generally that matters not decided within designated time limits " may be appealed to the next step" ).
If an inmate is transferred to another facility while a grievance is pending, a response to the grievance shall be mailed to the inmate at the new facility. Id. § 701.6(h)(1). " If the grievant wishes to appeal, he or she must mail the signed appeal form back to the IGP supervisor at the facility where the grievance was originally filed within seven calendar days after receipt." Id. § 701.6(h)(2). If an inmate wishes to file a new grievance about an incident that occurred prior to a transfer, he must file the grievance in the facility where he is currently housed, " even if it pertains to another facility." Id. § 701.5(a)(1).
B. Facts and Procedural History
Williams was formerly incarcerated at Downstate. He alleges that, on December 31, 2012, he was in a search room (also known as a " drafting" room) while his personal items were being searched. A correction officer was " thoroughly probing [his] legal work" and he asked her to stop. Joint App. at 32. Williams explains that the legal papers were related to a separate action seeking damages for an assault he experienced while an inmate at Rikers Island. The officer instructed Williams to sit down, which he did while " admonishing" her. Id. At that point, defendant correction officers Priatno and Gammone approached Williams. They grabbed Williams and dragged him to another room that had no cameras, where they were out of eyesight of the other 15 to 20 inmates who were seated in the drafting room. Williams alleges that the officers proceeded to assault him--thrusting his forehead against the wall, causing him to fall to the ground, and then kicking and stomping on any uncovered part of his body. Defendant Gammone allegedly picked him up and said, " this is what running your mouth gets you," and punched him on his right eye. Id. at 37. Williams fell to the floor again, and defendant Priatno allegedly kicked his face and head. Following the assault, the officers sent him to the infirmary. He suffered injuries to his head, knee, eye, elbow, lower back, jaw, and nose, and he now takes medication for anxiety and panic attacks.
Williams alleges that on January 15, 2013, while he was housed in the SHU at Downstate, he drafted a grievance detailing the officers' misconduct.1 He gave the grievance to a correction officer to forward to the grievance office on his behalf, in accordance with DOCCS grievance procedures that apply to inmates in the SHU. See NYCRR tit. 7, § 701.7. One week later, Downstate superintendent Ada Perez was making rounds in the SHU. Williams told her about the incident and said he...
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