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Sepulveda v. Umass Correctional Health Care

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 1, 2016




         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 5, 2016, the Court issued an order[1] partially granting Defendants' motions to dismiss, which dismissed most claims and several defendants. [ECF No. 40]. The order permitted Plaintiff's claims concerning inadequate treatment of neck pain and foot issues and inadequate dental care to go forward. Id. The Court allowed Defendants to renew their motion to dismiss on the basis that Plaintiff had not exhausted his administrative remedies. Id. Defendants O'Brien, Medeiros, and Sumner filed a renewed motion to dismiss on March 4, 2016. [ECF No. 48]. Plaintiff received three extensions of time to respond to the motion. [ECF Nos. 50, 53, 55]. The final deadline for Plaintiff to respond was August 5, 2016, but he has not filed an opposition.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court will treat the unopposed motion to dismiss [ECF No. 48] as a motion to dismiss in part and a motion for summary judgment in part, and the motion is hereby GRANTED.


         A. Converting the Motion to Dismiss to a Motion for Summary Judgment

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d), “If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. All parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” See also Giragosian v. Ryan, 547 F.3d 59, 65 (1st Cir. 2008). The Court has the discretion to decide to convert a motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment. Trans-Spec Truck Serv., Inc. v. Caterpillar Inc., 524 F.3d 315, 321 (1st Cir. 2008).

         In this case, the Court explained in its February 2016 decision that it could not decide the claimed failure to exhaust administrative remedies on a 12(b)(6) motion because that would require the consideration of extrinsic evidence. [ECF No. 40 at 35-36]. The Court could not convert the 12(b)(6) motion into a Rule 56 motion at that time because Plaintiff had not yet been afforded notice and an opportunity to respond. Id. Therefore, the Court allowed the parties to submit additional briefing on the issue, after which the motion to dismiss would be converted into a motion for summary judgment if appropriate. Id. Defendants have submitted their briefing in the form of a renewed motion to dismiss, but Plaintiff has not responded. At this point, Plaintiff has been afforded his notice and opportunity to be heard, but he has declined to submit any information to the Court. The procedural requirements of Rule 12(d) have thus been fulfilled.

         Defendants submitted two detailed affidavits in connection with their motion to dismiss which explain the applicable administrative procedures and attest that Plaintiff did not file certain grievances or appeals which were available to him. [ECF No. 48-2]. Defendants also included documents concerning the grievance system. Id. The Court cannot consider these documents in evaluating a motion to dismiss, but can consider them upon a motion for summary judgment, and the Court elects to do so. Therefore, because the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d) have been met, the Court will evaluate Defendants' motion as a motion for summary judgment.

         B. Standard of Review

         “The court shall grant summary judgment 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. In evaluating a summary judgment motion, the Court considers “the facts of record and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Borges ex rel. S.M.B.W. v. Serrano-Isern, 605 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 2010). “A dispute is genuine if the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in the favor of the non-moving party. A fact is material if it carries with it the potential to affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law.” Santiago-Ramos v. Centennial P.R. Wireless Corp., 217 F.3d 46, 52 (1st Cir. 2000) (internal quotations and citations omitted). “In opposing summary judgment, the nonmoving party ‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [the] pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue' of material fact . . . .” Id. at 52-53 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

         C. Exhaustion of Plaintiff's Administrative Remedies

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, as required under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). 42 U.S.C. §1997e(a) (“No 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.”).[2] The exhaustion requirement of the PLRA applies to “all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002) (emphasis added). Exhaustion is a mandatory prerequisite to suit. Id. at 524. Where an inmate has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, dismissal is required. Medina-Claudio v. Rodriguez-Mateo, 292 F.3d 31, 36 (1st Cir. 2002) (declining to require district court to continue the proceedings pending exhaustion, and affirming dismissal); see also Casanova v. Dubois, 289 F.3d 142, 147 (1st Cir. 2002) (“Unless appellants have satisfied the PLRA's exhaustion requirement, their case must be dismissed.”).

         The process for a prisoner incarcerated by the Massachusetts Department of Correction to file an administrative grievance is set forth in 103 Mass. Code Regs. 491.00 et seq. The regulations require that inmates use a form to file a grievance, which is to be made “readily available to all inmates.” 103 Mass. Code Regs. 491.09. The grievance should be “legible, ” contain certain information pertaining to the incident, specify the remedy sought, and include the signatures of “both the inmate and staff recipient.” Id. Completed grievance forms must then be filed directly with certain personnel or deposited in a specified mailbox or drop box. Id. If a grievance does not comply with the formatting requirements, it is returned to the inmate. Id. at 491.10. A grievance must be filed “within ten working days of the actual incident or situation or within ten working days of the inmate's becoming aware of the incident or situation.” Id. at 491.08. Upon receipt of the grievance, the “Institutional Grievance Coordinator” must conduct an investigation and propose a resolution or deny the grievance with a written explanation within ten working days of receipt. Id. at 491.10. If a grievance is denied, the inmate is informed of the right to appeal. Id. The Institutional Grievance Coordinator is required to keep a record of all grievances. Id. An inmate whose grievance is denied has ten working days to appeal, after which the Superintendent has 30 working days to issue a written decision. Id. at 491.12. The ...

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