Heard: March 8, 2019.
action commenced in the Superior Court Department on October
17, 2013. The case was heard by Rosalind H. Miller, J., on a
motion for summary judgment.
Raye Poole for the defendants.
Davis, pro se, submitted a brief.
Present: Milkey, Shin, & Englander, JJ.
the relevant time period, the plaintiff, Joseph Davis, was an
inmate at Massachusetts Correctional Institution, Cedar
Junction (MCI-Cedar Junction). On October 21, 2010, another
inmate there slashed Davis's face with a razor blade,
causing serious harm. In the immediate aftermath of the
attack, Davis sought to file grievances with respect to the
failure by prison officials to protect him from such harm, as
well as with respect to their treatment of him after the
attack. Later, he added additional grievances, such as one
questioning how the surveillance footage of the incident was
lost. His grievances were rejected as untimely filed. Davis
subsequently filed a personal injury action against prison
officials based on both Federal and State law. On summary
judgment, a Superior Court judge dismissed the action on the
grounds that he failed to exhaust his administrative
remedies. On appeal, Davis argues that prison practices -- in
particular the unavailability of grievance forms and the
difficulty of filing such forms in the unit in which he was
housed -- prevented him from timely filing. We vacate and
remand for further proceedings.
filing of inmate grievances is governed by the Federal Prison
Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (FPLRA), 42 U.S.C. §
1997e(a) (2012), and its State counterpart, G. L. c. 127,
§§ 38E-38H. These statutes sought "to stem the
tide of frivolous litigation by prison inmates."
Ryan v. Pepe, 65 Mass.App.Ct. 833, 838-839 (2006),
citing Longval v. Superior Court Pep't of the Trial
Court, 434 Mass. 718, 718-719 (2001). Under the
statutes, in order to pursue actions in court regarding the
conditions of their confinement, inmates first must pursue a
grievance through a regularized administrative process. If an
inmate fails to exhaust his available administrative remedies
in this manner, he is barred from pursuing judicial relief.
See Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1854-1855 (2016);
Ryan, supra at 839.
Department of Correction has promulgated regulations
governing the grievance process. See 103 Code Mass. Regs.
§§ 491.01-491.27 (2017). At the time of the
incident, those regulations stated that inmates must be given
ready access to grievance forms even if they are being held
in segregated units such as the "Special Management
Unit" at MCI-Cedar Junction known as "Ten
Block." See 103 Code Mass. Regs. § 491.09(1) (2001)
("Grievance forms shall be readily available to all
inmates, including those in segregated units"). The 2010
MCI-Cedar Junction orientation manual (2010 orientation
manual), which all inmates at MCI-Cedar junction were
provided upon arrival, amplifies this point by extending its
application to the full grievance process: "All inmates
shall have unimpeded access to the inmate grievance process
in order to address legitimate concerns or complaints."
grievance regulation that applied in 2010 laid out two paths
through which an inmate grievance "may be filed."
103 Code Mass. Regs. § 491.09(3) (2001). One was by
filing it "directly with the [prison's]
Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent, Facility
Administrator, or Institutional Grievance Coordinator
[(IGC)]." 103 Code Mass. Regs. § 491.09(3)(A). The
other was "by depositing the completed form in a locked
mailbox or drop box." 103 Code Mass. Regs. §
491.09(3)(B). The 2010 orientation manual added some
specificity about the filing process: "All completed
forms shall be submitted directly in hand to the IGC,
Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent, or by depositing the
them [sic] in the locked mailbox or the locked
grievance boxes located in your housing unit and the east and
west wing corridor." Certain details of the grievance
process are reserved for later discussion.
this case having been resolved on summary judgment, we review
the facts in the light most favorable to Davis, the nonmoving
party. See Augat, Inc. v. Liberty Mut. Ins.
Co., 410 Mass. 117, 120 (1991).
Davis's face was slashed, he was taken to the
prison's medical center where he spent approximately
three days recovering before being transferred to Ten Block
as a result of the altercation. While he was in the medical
center, he thrice requested a grievance form from correction
officials or medical personnel. All three attempts were
unsuccessful, with ...