Higgason v. Stogsdill, 77A01-0403-CV-126.

Citation818 N.E.2d 486
Decision Date30 November 2004
Docket NumberNo. 77A01-0403-CV-126.,77A01-0403-CV-126.
PartiesJames H. HIGGASON, Jr., Appellant-Plaintiff, v. Chris STOGSDILL, et al., Appellees-Defendants.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

James H. Higgason, Jr., Westville, IN, Appellant Pro Se.

Steve Carter, Attorney General of Indiana, Maureen Ann Bartolo, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellees.



James H. Higgason, pro se, appeals a grant of summary judgment in favor of all the defendants in the latest of what has become a steady stream of civil rights lawsuits filed from prison by Higgason. Those defendants, namely, Chris Stogsdill, Art Davis, Dave Thomson, Michelle Shake, and Lee Hoefling (collectively referred to as the Defendants), were employees at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (the WVCF). Upon appeal, Higgason challenges the grant of summary judgment.

We affirm.

The relevant facts are brief. On September 19, 2000, while incarcerated in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, Indiana, Higgason filed a civil rights complaint against the Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988. As indicated previously, the Defendants were all employed at the WVCF; Stogsdill was the law librarian, Davis and Thomson were counselors, Shake was a mailroom supervisor, and Hoefling was an administrative assistant. According to the complaint,

[b]y their acts, inactions, practices and callous or deliberate indifference, the Defendants have denied or impeded Higgason's access to the courts. By their acts, inactions, practices and callous or deliberate indifference the Defendants have individually or in concert prejudiced Higgason in that they are directly or indirectly responsible for the following civil rights complaints being dismissed.

Appellees' Appendix at 2. The pleading then went on to identify five civil rights actions filed by Higgason that were allegedly dismissed as a result of the complained-of behavior. The Defendants' motion for summary judgment was granted.

We review the ruling on a summary judgment motion utilizing the same standard used by the trial court. Summary judgment is not appropriate unless the evidence shows there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C); Reeder v. Harper, 788 N.E.2d 1236 (Ind.2003). When conducting the review, all facts and resulting reasonable inferences are construed in favor of the nonmoving party. Reeder v. Harper, 788 N.E.2d 1236. Also, we limit our review to those materials designated to the trial court. T.R. 56(H).

We begin our analysis by noting that Higgason has, to put it mildly, an extensive history of initiating grievance procedures and filing lawsuits while incarcerated. For instance, between December 1997 and March 2003, Higgason filed 164 complaints through the Offender Grievance Program at the WVCF, which led to the filing of 19 grievances. Also, we note that Higgason has initiated numerous lawsuits against prison officials and employees. In all, it appears that Higgason has initiated at least thirty-six separate appeals in this court, and we find him listed as having filed at least fifteen separate lawsuits in federal court. We do not mean to suggest by citing these numbers that there is a limit to the number of cases incarcerated individuals may file. Rather, we cite these to illustrate the point that Higgason is no stranger to judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings and the rules by which such proceedings are governed. The underlying action was instituted in a prison setting and thus subject to resolution by way of the procedures in place to resolve such controversies. In fact, Higgason initiated those administrative complaints, but filed suit in an Indiana state court before they were allowed to run their course. The State contends that Higgason's action, therefore, should be dismissed as premature because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. We must decide whether the exhaustion rule applies here.

We note first that Higgason's complaint asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In Myers v. Moyars, 667 N.E.2d 1120, 1124 (Ind.Ct.App.1996), trans. denied, this court held, "the exhaustion of administrative remedies is not a prerequisite to bringing a § 1983 action in an Indiana state court." That holding followed an analysis focusing on a United States Supreme Court decision, i.e., Felder v. Casey, 487 U.S. 131, 108 S.Ct. 2302, 101 L.Ed.2d 123 (1988). In Felder, the Court held that a state "notice of claim" statute was preempted by the Supremacy Clause when a § 1983 action was brought in state court. That conclusion followed an analysis of the prosecution of § 1983 claims in federal courts, and noted specifically the conclusion that there should be no impediment to § 1983 actions in state court that do not also exist in federal court. We explained it thusly:

Congress enacted § 1983 in response to the widespread deprivations of civil rights in the Southern States and the inability or unwillingness of authorities in those States to protect those rights or punish wrongdoers. Although it is true that the principal remedy Congress chose to provide injured persons was immediate access to federal courts, it did not leave the protection of such rights exclusively in the hands of the federal judiciary, and instead conferred concurrent jurisdiction on the state courts as well.
Felder, 487 U.S. at 147-48, 108 S.Ct. at 2311-12 (citations omitted). The Court went on to state that given the evil at which the federal civil rights legislation was aimed, there is no reason to suppose that Congress meant to provide such individuals immediate access to the federal courts notwithstanding any provisions of state law to the contrary, yet contemplated that those who sought to vindicate their federal rights in state courts could be required to first seek redress with those government officials. Id.
Our supreme court has applied Felder's holding and reasoning. Kellogg v. City of Gary, 562 N.E.2d 685, 689 (Ind.1990) (noting that a tort claim notice requirement is problematic because the enforcement of such a statute stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress); see also Werblo v. Board of Trustees of Hamilton Heights School Corp., 537 N.E.2d 499 (Ind.1989)

. In the context of a § 1983 action, an exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement would present problems similar to those presented by a notice of claim requirement (see Felder). Thus, for the same reasons that a notice of claim requirement was deemed unacceptable in the § 1983 context, we are inclined to conclude that an exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement is also unacceptable in this limited context.

Myers v. Moyars, 667 N.E.2d at 1122-23. Therefore, a State notice of claim requirement was held not to apply to a § 1983 action because such would frustrate Congress's intent in enacting the legislation, which it did without including a notice of claim provision. The landscape has changed, however, since Myers was decided.

In the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the PLRA), Congress amended 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) to require prisoners to exhaust "such administrative remedies as are available" before filing a § 1983 action suing over prison conditions. Subsequent cases construing the PLRA have clarified that the exhaustion requirement is both ironclad and sweeping in scope. See, e.g., Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741, 121 S.Ct. 1819, 149 L.Ed.2d 958 (2001)

("Congress's imposition of an obviously broader exhaustion requirement makes it highly implausible that it meant to give prisoners a strong inducement to skip the administrative process.... Thus, we think that Congress has mandated exhaustion clearly enough, regardless of the relief sought through the administrative procedures"). The significance of the PLRA and cases construing it is that Congress and federal courts have now made it perfectly clear that, notwithstanding the purpose of § 1983, prisoners must exhaust their administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit complaining of prison conditions. Therefore, Felder is no longer good law on the question of exhaustion with respect to § 1983 lawsuits filed by prisoners. As set out above, our opinion in Myers to the effect that exhaustion is not required in § 1983 actions was premised upon the holding and rationale set out in Felder. Because Felder has now been effectively overturned by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) and the cases construing it, the underpinnings of Myers have been entirely eroded. Therefore, we must revisit the question in view of those changes.

In Myers we identified two reasons for the conclusion that exhaustion was not required in a § 1983 action: (1) exhaustion conflicted in both its purpose and effects with § 1983's remedial objectives; and (2) enforcing an exhaustion requirement in state court actions would frequently produce results that would be different than if the action had been filed in a federal court, where exhaustion was not required. Myers v. Moyars, 667 N.E.2d 1120. In fact, both reasons are rooted in Indiana state law's deference to federal law on the subject of § 1983 actions. As we stated in Myers,"[f]ederal substantive law controls, and any state laws or rules which inhibit the prosecution of a § 1983 action are preempted by the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution." Myers v. Moyars, 667 N.E.2d at 1123 (quoting Slay v. Marion County Sheriff's Dep't, 603 N.E.2d 877, 884 n. 3 (Ind.Ct.App.1992),trans. denied). Even more to the point, we cited with approval a statement by the Southern District of Indiana that "States may not impose exhaustion requirements on a federal cause of action brought in their own courts if exhaustion is not required in federal court." Myers v. Moyars, 667 N.E.2d at 1123 (quoting Union Carbide Corp. v. State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs of...

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