Where a detainee alleged that prison officials acted with deliberate indifference by delaying his receipt of medications, but none of his communications suggested that urgent intervention was required to avoid a risk of harm and there was no evidence the officials knew their efforts were inappropriate, the defendants were granted summary judgment.
Eric Wayne Moss filed suit under § 1983, alleging violations of his civil rights while he was a pretrial detainee. At issue on appeal are two specific claims: first, that jail officials put Moss in disciplinary confinement without a hearing, in violation of his procedural due process rights and second, that they delayed his access to urgent medical care, again violating his due process rights.
The district court granted summary judgment to the officials on both counts, finding that Moss failed to exhaust available administrative remedies for his procedural due process claim and that any delay in the provision of medical treatment did not rise to the level of deliberate indifference.
Moss does not contend that he submitted a timely written grievance regarding a hearing, consistent with the jail’s grievance procedure. His position is that he was not required to exhaust that grievance procedure, because officials made it “unavailable” to him by withholding grievance forms and access to the kiosk while he was on lockdown. The court disagrees.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act, or PLRA, mandates that “no action shall be brought” in federal court by an inmate challenging prison conditions “until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” Given the PLRA’s “mandatory language,” there is no room to excuse a failure to exhaust all available remedies, even to take into account “special circumstances” that might otherwise justify noncompliance with procedural requirements.
If an administrative remedy “officially on the books” is not actually “capable of use to obtain relief,” however, then the PLRA does not require exhaustion. According to Moss, he was “thwarted” from using the jail’s grievance system while he was on lockdown, by the denial of written grievance forms and access to the kiosk, and thus relieved of his duty to exhaust under the PLRA.
The problem for Moss’s argument is the undisputed record evidence establishing that he was able to take advantage of the grievance system while he was on lockdown. It is true that Moss has presented unrebutted testimony that jail officials refused his requests for forms or access to the kiosk, from which a jury might find that officials took steps to thwart his access to the grievance process. But Moss also testified that he nevertheless was able to submit grievances—during the same lockdown period and under precisely those constraints—by having other inmates use his kiosk pin number to file grievances for him. And the record evidence bears this out. This evidence of access to the grievance system conclusively refutes Moss’s allegation that the jail’s administrative remedies were not “available” to him.
Moss points to cases recognizing that an inmate able to file one grievance is not necessarily able to file others, at different times or on different topics. And if there were record evidence to indicate, for instance, that Moss was able to use the grievance system on April 22 to raise issues regarding medical treatment but not disciplinary hearings, then this would be a different case. But before the district court, Moss offered no account for why he was able to file some—indeed, many—grievances and requests while on lockdown but not the one required here.
According to Moss, the defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs by delaying his receipt of his medications—for his thyroid condition, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder—and thus exposing him to a substantial risk of serious harm. The district court found there was no record evidence that the defendants had known of such a risk and deliberately ignored it. The court agrees.
A request for medication does not by itself indicate an emergency, and none of Moss’s communications conveyed to the defendants that immediate intervention was required to avoid a substantial risk of harm. Moreover, even assuming that the defendants could be charged with knowledge of a substantial risk to Moss, Moss has produced no evidence that they also knew that their efforts to respond to Moss’s requests were inappropriate in light of that risk.
Moss v. Harwood (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-195-21, 20 pp.) (Pamela Harris, J.) Case No. 19-7340. Dec. 2, 2021. From W.D.N.C. at Asheville (Frank D. Whitney, J.) Sarah Keller and Sierra Weingartner for Appellant. Michael A. Ingersoll for Appellees.