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Bean v. Barnhart

United States District Court, D. Maine

June 26, 2015

BENJAMIN BEAN, Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICIA BARNHART, in her individual capacity as former Warden for the Maine State Prison, and JOSEPH PONTE, in his individual capacity as Commissioner for the Maine Department of Corrections, Defendants.

ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' FAILURE-TO-EXHAUST DEFENSE

NANCY TORRESEN, Chief District Judge.

On May 24, 2012, Benjamin Bean was assaulted with a padlock by a fellow inmate at the Maine State Prison. Bean later brought this Eighth Amendment[1] suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") and the Maine Civil Rights Act (the "MCRA"), 5 M.R.S. § 4682, [2] seeking to hold then-Warden Patricia Barnhart and Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte liable for failing to protect him from danger.

Before me is Warden Barnhart and Commissioner Ponte's affirmative failureto-exhaust defense under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (the "PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, mounted on the basis that Bean failed to properly exhaust available administrative remedies by missing a deadline for filing a grievance. Below, I find that Barnhart and Ponte did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that there was an available remedy for the claims Bean raises in his suit and DENY their request for relief.

LEGAL STANDARD

Where an issue is "tried on the facts without a jury..., the court must find the facts specially and state its conclusions of law separately." Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a)(1). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52, the duty of making findings of fact and conclusions of law rests exclusively with the trial court. 9C Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2578 (3d ed. 2015) ("Proposed findings submitted by counsel are no more than informal suggestions for the sole purpose of assisting the court."). The Court proceeds by reviewing the facts in the evidentiary record[3] and determining whether they satisfy the legal elements the party bearing the burden of proof must establish. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a)(1); Kelley v. Everglades Drainage Dist., 319 U.S. 415, 421 (1943).

FINDINGS OF FACT

I. The Grievance Policy

1. The Maine State Prison is a state-run facility in Warren, Maine.

2. Its administration has adopted Policy Number 29.1, which is a general grievance policy for reviewing and resolving inmate complaints regarding official misconduct and neglect. Defs.' Ex. 1 (the "Grievance Policy, " the "Policy" or "Policy 29.1").

3. Section VI(A)(1) of the Grievance Policy delineates seven types of matter inmates may grieve, but also specifically excludes certain subjects from the Policy's coverage:

A client (any person in the custody or under the supervision of the Department of Corrections) may file a grievance with the Grievance Review Officer to request administrative review of any policy, procedure, practice, condition of confinement, action, decision, or event that directly affects the client, that he/she believes is in violation of his/her rights or is in violation of departmental policies and procedures, and for which he/she believes a departmental employee or contractor is responsible. A grievance may not be filed regarding the following matters, since appeal procedures[4] for handling these matters already exist:
a. Classification procedures and decisions including, but not limited to, a decision to place a client in high risk management, administrative segregation, or protective custody or a decision about custody level, a work assignment, participation in an institutional or community-based program, or transfer....
Policy 29.1 § VI(A)(1) (emphasis added).

4. Section VI(A)(2) of the Grievance Policy provides that standard grievance forms "must be used for the grievance process." Policy 29.1 § VI(A)(2).

5. A copy of the standard grievance form the Maine State Prison provides to inmates is attached to this order as Appendix A. See also Defs.' Ex. 1 at 10; Defs.' Ex. 2. Its first paragraph includes the following instruction:

DO NOT use this form to seek review of any matter for which an appeal procedure already exists. (See 29.1 Procedure A, #1....).
Defs.' Ex. 1 at 10; Defs.' Ex. 2.

6. Section VI(A)(8) of the Grievance Policy establishes deadlines for filing a grievance form depending on the type of matter the grievance "concerns":

If the grievance concerns a specific action, decision, or event, the grievance must be filed within fifteen (15) days of when the action, decision or event occurred. If the grievance concerns a policy, procedure, practice, or condition of confinement, the grievance must be filed while the policy, procedure, or practice is in effect or the condition of confinement is current. The Grievance Review Officer shall grant an exception in a case where it was not possible for the client to file a grievance within the fifteen (15) day period.
Policy 29.1 § VI(A)(8) (emphasis added).

7. An inmate filing a grievance must "state on the grievance form, as briefly and concisely as possible, the specific nature of his/her complaint, including all persons and dates involved." Policy 29.1 § VI(B)(4).

8. After an inmate submits a grievance form, a Grievance Review Officer must immediately review it to determine if the matter is grievable, if the grievance was filed in a timely manner, and if the inmate attempted to resolve the matter informally. Policy 29.1 § VI(C)(2)-(4).

9. If any of these prerequisites is not met, the Grievance Review Officer must immediately return the grievance to the inmate and note the reason. Policy 29.1 § VI(C)(2)-(4). Otherwise, the Grievance Review Officer must investigate the grievance and issue a written response within twenty days. Policy 29.1 § VI(C)(8)-(9).

10. An inmate dissatisfied with the Grievance Review Officer's decision may appeal it first to the prison's warden and then to Maine's Commissioner of ...


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