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Williams v. Wilkinson

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

September 14, 2016

MARIO WILLIAMS, Plaintiff - Appellant,

         D.C. No. 6:13-CV-00015-RAW-SPS (E.D. Okla.)

          Before MATHESON, McKAY, and O'BRIEN, Circuit Judges.

          ORDER AND JUDGMENT [*]

          Scott M. Matheson, Jr. Circuit Judge.

         Mario Williams, an Oklahoma inmate proceeding pro se, sued defendants in their individual and official capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of procedural due process, the First Amendment, and the Eighth Amendment. The district court dismissed defendant Angela Brannon without prejudice because she was never served. It dismissed the remaining defendants, concluding that Mr. Williams had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"). The court also imposed a strike against Mr. Williams under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Legal Background

         1. Exhaustion Under the PLRA

         The PLRA provides that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). "There is no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA and that unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 268, 211 (2007).[1]

         "Exhaustion of administrative remedies serves two main purposes." Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 89 (2006). The first is to protect agency authority, both by giving the agency "an opportunity to correct its own mistakes with respect to the programs it administers before it is haled into federal court, " and by discouraging disregard of agency procedures. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The second is to promote efficiency by permitting claims, where possible, to be settled at an administrative level; and, even where this is not possible, to develop "a useful record for subsequent judicial consideration." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Two aspects of the exhaustion requirement are pertinent here.

         First, the administrative grievance must have alleged the same facts as the court complaint. A court claim that was not alleged at the administrative level could not have been exhausted there. Without this requirement, the prison would not have had a chance to correct an error. See id. at 94 ("Requiring proper exhaustion . . . gives prisoners an effective incentive to make full use of the prison grievance process and accordingly provides prisons with a fair opportunity to correct their own errors."). Although "[t]he level of detail necessary in a grievance to comply with the grievance procedures will vary from system to system and claim to claim . . . it is the prison's requirements . . . that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion." Jones, 549 U.S. at 218.

         Second, the plaintiff must follow the prison's grievance procedures. See Woodford, 548 U.S. at 90-91 ("Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules because no adjudicative system can function effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings.").

         We review de novo a district court's finding that an inmate failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Thomas v. Parker, 609 F.3d 1114, 1117 (10th Cir. 2010).

          2. Oklahoma Offender Grievance Policy

         The Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) has an Offender Grievance Policy (OGP). In general terms, the policy requires the inmate to (1) speak informally with a case manager or staff member; (2) submit a request to staff (RTS) ("Informal resolution requires communicating with staff, including submitting a 'Request to Staff', ' if the complaint is not resolved. The informal resolution process precedes submitting a grievance." OGP IV, R., Vol. 1 at 217); (3) file a grievance; and (4) appeal the denial of the grievance. The RTS must state "completely, but briefly the problem, " and the "statement must be specific as to the complaint, dates, personnel involved and how the offender was affected." OGP IV(B), id. at 218. "[O]nly one issue or incident is allowed per form." Id. The four steps constitute the grievance process under the OGP. After trying to resolve the matter informally at steps one and two, step three is the point at which the grievance is filed.

         B. Prison Proceedings

         According to Mr. Williams, on August 22, 2012, Corrections Officer Kidwell slammed his left elbow in his prison cell food port opening, causing serious injuries. This incident led to four grievances and a disciplinary proceeding.

         1. Grievance 496

         After completing step one (informal discussion) and step two (submit an RTS) of the OGP process, Mr. Williams filed his first grievance, No. 2012-1001-00496-G ("No. 496"), on August 22, 2012. It demanded immediate medical treatment for the elbow injury allegedly inflicted by Officer Kidwell. He asked to see a doctor as soon as possible and to have photographs taken of his injury. See R., Vol. 2 at 172. The grievance coordinator spoke with Mr. Williams that same day and scheduled an appointment with medical services and also arranged for photographs. Id. at 171.

         2. Grievance 505

         On August 29, 2012, after completing steps one and two of the OGP process, Mr. Williams filed his second grievance, No. 2012-1001-00505-G ("No. 505"), against Warden Tim Wilkinson concerning the incident with Officer Kidwell: "On [August 22], I was physically assaulted by C/O Kidwell by slamming my [left] elbow in the food port with force. I received injuries to my arm." Id. at 175. He asked the warden to "[p]lease investigate this and rectify the issue." Id. The warden responded the same day and told Mr. Williams that "[t]his matter is under investigation and appropriate action will be taken." Id. at 176. A formal response, signed by the warden a few days later and provided to Mr. Williams, stated: "The offender's complaint is that he was physically assaulted by C/O Kidwell on 08/22/2012. The offender requested that the matter be investigated. The offender's request is GRANTED." Id. at 174. The response did not say what steps were or would be taken to "rectify the issue."

         3. Grievance 534

         Grievance No. 2012-1001-00534-G ("No. 534"), filed after steps one and two of the OGP process, concerned an RTS in which Mr. Williams claimed "Nurse Misconduct" against Ms. Brannon. See id. at 194. According to Mr. Williams, after the alleged assault by Officer Kidwell on August 22, 2012, he requested medical treatment for his elbow injury, but "[t]he nurse (Ms. Brannon) came to my door and look[ed] through the window, ask[ed] a few questions and walk[ed] away without any treatment." Id., Vol. 1 at 29. The next day, he submitted the RTS to defendant Kathy Miller, a health services administrator. On September 11, 2012, Mr. Williams filed grievance 534, in which he complained there had been no response to the RTS. See id., Vol. 2 at 193.

         On September 12, 2012, the grievance was returned as deficient for two reasons: (1) Mr. Williams failed to provide a "completed Request to Staff OP-090124D (R 5/11), " id. at 192, and (2) he had not waited thirty days for a response to his August 23 RTS, id.; see OGP IV(B), id., Vol. 1 at 218 ("If there has been no response in 30 calendar days of submission, the offender may file a grievance to the reviewing authority with evidence of submitting the 'Request to Staff' to the proper staff member.")

         Mr. Williams was told he could either resubmit the grievance after September 23, or file a new grievance within ten days along with evidence that the RTS had been submitted on August 23. See OGP V(A), id. at 219 ("If the offender does not follow instructions as explained in this procedure and on the grievance forms, the grievance may be returned unanswered for proper completion. If allowed, the offender must properly re-submit the grievance within ten calendar days of receipt."). Mr. Williams chose the ...

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