United States District Court, D. New Jersey
Susan D. Wigenton, United States District Judge.
before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary
judgment. (ECF Nos. 28-30). Although provided a significant
period of time within which to do so, Plaintiff did not file
a response to the motion. (ECF Docket Sheet). For the
following reasons, this Court will grant the motion and
dismiss the complaint as Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his
time Plaintiff, Manuel Rodriguez, filed his complaint, he was
a pre-trial detainee in the Essex County Correctional
Facility. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff filed his complaint
seeking damages and injunctive relief in relation to a policy
of the Correctional Facility, which he alleged resulted in
frequent lockdowns and had on at least one occasion resulted
in his unit being locked into their cells for all but ten
minutes a day for a period of more than thirty days.
(Id.). He therefore alleged that this policy
resulted in a condition of confinement which violated his
Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Id.). Plaintiff's
complaint does not detail any steps Plaintiff took in order
to exhaust his administrative remedies regarding this prison
policy before filing his complaint. (Id.).
Plaintiff's complaint does include, however, excerpts
from the jail's inmate handbook and disciplinary rule
book, including the excerpt stating that inmates “have
the right to a formal written grievance process” in the
jail for addressing their claims. (Id. at 14).
November 22, 2017, Defendants in this matter filed a motion
for summary judgment in which they argue, inter alia
that Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies
before filing his complaint in this matter. (ECF Nos. 28-30).
Defendants attached to their motion a certification from
Robert MacFarlane, the Chief Informational Officer of the
Essex County Department of Corrections. (Document 2 attached
to ECF No. 28). Mr. MacFarlane certifies that “all
inmates” of the Essex County Correctional Facility are
provided with a copy of “a handbook concerning their
rights including how to file a grievance” in the
jail's formal grievance system at the time they enter the
jail. (Id.). Mr. MacFarlane further certifies that
he “researched [the jail's] files and [discovered
that Plaintiff] has not issued a grievance during his stay at
the Essex County [Correctional Facility].”
(Id.) Based on this certification, Defendants state
in their statement of undisputed material facts that
Plaintiff never filed a grievance or other administrative
remedy relating to his current claims. (Document 1 attached
to ECF No. 28 at 7).
to Rule 56, a court should grant a motion for summary
judgment where the record “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(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of
“identifying those portions of the pleadings
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
323 (1986). A factual dispute is material “if it bears
on an essential element of the plaintiff's claim, ”
and is genuine if “a reasonable jury could find in
favor of the non-moving party.” Blunt v. Lower
Merion School Dist., 767 F.3d 247, 265 (3d Cir. 2014).
In deciding a motion for summary judgment a district court
must “view the underlying facts and all reasonable
inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party
opposing the motion, ” Id., but must not make
credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the
evidence. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 255 (1986). “Where the record taken as a
whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the
non-moving party, [however, ] there is no genuine issue for
trial.” Matsuhita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
the moving party has met this initial burden, the burden
shifts to the non-moving party who must provide evidence
sufficient to establish that a reasonable jury could find in
the non-moving party's favor to warrant the denial of a
summary judgment motion. Lawrence v. Nat'l
Westminster Bank New Jersey, 98 F.3d 61, 65 (3d Cir.
1996); Serodio v. Rutgers, 27 F.Supp.3d 546, 550
(D.N.J. 2014). “A nonmoving party has created a genuine
issue of material fact if it has provided sufficient evidence
to allow a jury to find in its favor at trial. However, the
party opposing the motion for summary judgment cannot rest on
mere allegations, instead it must present actual evidence
that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for
trial.” Serodio, 27 F.Supp.3d at 550.
motion for summary judgment is unopposed, the moving
party's statement of material facts “shall be
deemed undisputed for the purposes of summary judgment”
and will be assumed to have been admitted by the non-moving
party. See L. Civ. R. 56.1; Ruth v. Sel. Ins.
Co., No. 15-2616, 2017 WL 592146, at *3 (D.N.J. Feb. 14,
2017). “Accordingly, where a properly filed and
supported summary judgment motion is unopposed, it would be
an exceptional case where the court concludes that summary
judgment should nonetheless be denied or withheld, although
the Court has discretion to do so if unsatisfied that the law
and facts point to judgment as a matter of law.”
Ruth, 2017 WL 592146 at *3.
their motion, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's complaint
should be dismissed because Plaintiff has not exhausted his
administrative remedies as required by 42 U.S.C. §
1997e. Pursuant to this statute, before a prisoner confined
in a jail or prison may file a civil rights suit challenging
“prison conditions, ” he is required to exhaust
all available administrative remedies. Woodford v.
Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 84-85 (2006). A prisoner is required
to engage in this exhaustion process “even where the
relief sought - [such as] monetary damages - cannot be
granted by the administrative process.” Id.;
see also Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 734 (2001).
This requirement applies to all “prisoners, ”
which includes “any person incarcerated or detained in
any facility who is accused of, convicted of, sentenced for,
or adjudicated delinquent for, violations of criminal law or
the terms and conditions of parole, probation, pretrial
release, or [a] diversionary program.” 42 U.S.C. §
1997e(h). Because the exhaustion requirement is mandatory,
the courts may not excuse a prisoner's failure to exhaust
before filing his civil rights complaint. Ross v.
Blake, --- U.S. ---, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1856-58 (2016). The
only exception to this exhaustion requirement applies where
no administrative remedy is actually available, either
because the prison does not have an exhaustion remedy, the
remedy is incapable of being used, or the prison has created
a situation in which “all but the most skillful”
prisoners cannot adequately exhaust their claims.
Id. at 1859-60.
exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines
and other critical procedural rules because no adjudicative
system can function effectively without imposing some orderly
structure on the course of its proceedings.”
Woodford, 548 U.S. at 90-91. A prisoner therefore
properly exhausts his administrative remedies where he seeks
out all available administrative remedies and at least
substantially complies with the rules and regulations set out
by the jail for presenting grievances. Id. at
90-103; Small v. Camden County, 728 F.3d 265, 272
(3d Cir. 2013) (completion of the administrative review
process “means ‘substantial' compliance with
the prison's grievance procedures”). In determining
whether a prisoner has successfully exhausted, the courts
look to the grievance regime of the plaintiff's prison
facility to determine what steps are required to fully
exhaust, and compliance with those procedures is all that is
required to properly exhaust a claim. See Jones v.
Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007). Because exhaustion is a
threshold issue affecting a plaintiff's entitlement to
relief, it is for the Court, and not a jury, to determine
whether a given plaintiff has properly exhausted his claims.
Small, 728 F.3d at 269-71. Failure to exhaust is an
“affirmative defense the defendant must plead and
prove.” Id. at 268-69.
Plaintiff was a prisoner of the jail at the time of his
complaint, and because his complaint clearly concerns the
“conditions of confinement” at the jail, his
complaint is subject to § 1997e's exhaustion
requirement. Plaintiff could therefore only proceed before
this Court if he exhausted his claims through the jail's
grievance system, or could show that there was no available
grievance system. Ross, 136 S.Ct. at 1856-60.
Plaintiff's complaint is silent as to any exhaustive
steps he may have taken. His complaint does, however, confirm
that he received the jail's inmate handbook, and that
this handbook informed him of the existence and mechanisms of
the prison's inmate grievance system. (ECF No. 1 at 14).
The certification of Mr. MacFarlane, which Plaintiff has not
disputed, in turn informs the Court that Plaintiff never made
use of this grievance system, despite its availability to
him. Likewise, the unopposed, undisputed statement of
material facts submitted with Defendants' motion for
summary judgment affirms that “Plaintiff has not filed
a grievance for the complaints noted in his complaint [n]or
exhausted administrative remedies.” (Document 1
attached to ECF No. 28 at 7). As this statement is assumed to
be admitted for the purposes of Defendant's motion
because Plaintiff chose not to respond to the motion for
summary judgment, see Local Civil Rule 56.1, and as
Plaintiff has failed to dispute Mr. MacFarlane's
certification, the facts before the Court establish that
there was a prison grievance system available at the jail
prior to ...