The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chesler, District Judge
This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment [docket entry 80]. Plaintiff pro se Enoch Brimage ("Plaintiff") has opposed the motion. The Court has opted to rule based on the papers submitted and without oral argument, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons expressed below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion and accordingly close this action.
Plaintiff, currently an inmate in East Jersey State Prison, was incarcerated at Northern State Prison from August 2, 2005 to May 25, 2006, when he was transferred to East Jersey State. This civil rights action arises out of two separate disciplinary charges brought against Plaintiff while he was incarcerated at Northern State Prison. Plaintiff alleges that the charges were brought by prison officials in retaliation for sending letters and/or formal grievances to the prison administration which complained of threats of violence and death made by gang members in the jail against Plaintiff and which requested a transfer to another prison.
The first disciplinary charge, issued to Plaintiff on December 2, 2005, stemmed from his refusal to accept a housing unit assignment when he was ordered to transfer from 1 Wing to General Population. Following a hearing held on the charge, Plaintiff was found guilty and subjected to a penalty of 15 days of detention, 90 days of administrative segregation and 10 days without recreational privileges. Plaintiff appealed the decision internally, and a final agency decision was issued on January 13, 2006 upholding the determination that Plaintiff was guilty of the infraction of refusing a housing assignment. Plaintiff did not file a further appeal with the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey. In his motion papers, Plaintiff admits that he refused the housing assignment order of December 2, 2005 but explains that he did so because he knew that gang members housed in that unit were waiting for his arrival to stab him. Plaintiff was given an opportunity to raise this position at the hearing but did not do so.
Following the completion of his sanctions on the December 2, 2005 charge, Plaintiff was ordered to move back to his housing unit. Plaintiff refused. On or about March 15, 2006, Plaintiff received the second disciplinary charge, again for the infraction of refusing to accept a housing unit assignment. At the hearing held on the charge, Plaintiff pled guilty and declined the opportunity to present evidence on his behalf. Sanctions for his conduct were ordered.
Northern State Prison had in place at all relevant times an inmate grievance procedure, set forth in the Inmate Handbook. (Brooks Decl., Ex. A at § XVII.) As revised, the procedure requires that the inmate complete an "Inmate Remedy System Form" and deposit it in a specially marked collection box. The forms are to be picked up daily on weekdays, excluding holidays, and must be processed within 30 days. After the form is processed and returned the inmate, he or she may file an appeal within 10 days by completing an additional part of the Inmate Remedy System Form and depositing the form in the collection box. According to the procedure, "appeal decisions shall be rendered by the Administrator and are therefore to be considered as final decisions at the correctional facility level." (Id., Ex. B at § C.4.)
Though Plaintiff's theory of First Amendment violation is based on the retaliatory nature of the disciplinary charges, Plaintiff admits that he did not make any complaints about the gang threats through the established administrative procedure prior to receiving the December 2, 2005 disciplinary charge. The record does, however, contain evidence of many other grievances filed by Plaintiff while at Northern State Prison, with the first one filed on August 21, 2005. Defendants, indeed, have presented 18 Inmate Remedy System Forms completed and filed by Plaintiff throughout his term at Northern State Prison, concerning a variety of subjects such as medical attention, prison account deductions, the phone system and his housing assignment. None of the forms presented concern his present allegations that he received disciplinary charges in retaliation for filing grievances. Defendants assert in the Declaration of Peggy Brooks, an administrative assistant employed by the New Jersey Department of Corrections and assigned to Northern State Prison, that Plaintiff did not file an Inmate Remedy System Form complaining of such retaliation.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
The standard upon which a court must evaluate a summary judgment motion is well-established. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment should be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Kreschollek v. S. Stevedoring Co., 223 F.3d 202, 204 (3d Cir. 2000). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Boyle v. County of Allegheny Pa., 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact remains. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).
Once the moving party has properly supported its showing of no triable issue of fact and of an entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. The Supreme Court has held that Rule 56(e) "requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the "depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file," designate "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). A properly supported motion for summary judgment cannot be defeated by "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in favor of the non-moving party's claims. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Instead, "there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Id.; see also Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 ...