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Keith v. Ruples

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

January 19, 2017



          J.P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge.

         1. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Crystal Keith (“Keith”), a prisoner, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants, prison officials at Taycheedah Correctional Institution (“TCI”), alleging that they failed to protect her from assault by a fellow inmate and were deliberately indifferent to her suicidal tendencies. Keith has filed what appear to be two separate motions for summary judgment-the first on September 19, 2016 and the second on September 28, 2016. (Docket #31 and #36). Defendants responded with their own motion for summary judgment on October 24, 2016, arguing that Keith's claims must be dismissed for her failure to exhaust her administrative remedies prior to filing this lawsuit. (Docket #38). All the pending motions are fully briefed and, for the reasons stated below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion and deny Keith's motions.


         2.1 Summary Judgment

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that the court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant 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); see Boss v. Castro, 816 F.3d 910, 916 (7th Cir. 2016). A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit” under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of fact is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. The court construes all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Bridge v. New Holland Logansport, Inc., 815 F.3d 356, 360 (7th Cir. 2016). The court must not weigh the evidence presented or determine credibility of witnesses; the Seventh Circuit instructs that “we leave those tasks to factfinders.” Berry v. Chicago Transit Auth., 618 F.3d 688, 691 (7th Cir. 2010). The party opposing summary judgment “need not match the movant witness for witness, nor persuade the court that [his] case is convincing, [he] need only come forward with appropriate evidence demonstrating that there is a pending dispute of material fact.” Waldridge v. American Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 921 (7th Cir. 1994).

         2.2 Exhaustion of Prisoner Administrative Remedies

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) establishes that, prior to filing a lawsuit complaining about prison conditions, a prisoner must exhaust “such administrative remedies as are available[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). To do so, the prisoner must “file complaints and appeals in the place, and at the time, the prison's administrative rules require, ” and she must do so precisely in accordance with those rules; substantial compliance does not satisfy the PLRA. Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1025 (7th Cir. 2002); Smith v. Zachary, 255 F.3d 446, 452 (7th Cir. 2001); Burrell v. Powers, 431 F.3d 282, 284-85 (7th Cir. 2005). Failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense to be proven by Defendants. Westefer v. Snyder, 422 F.3d 570, 577 (7th Cir. 2005).

         The Wisconsin Department of Corrections maintains an Inmate Complaint Review System (“ICRS”) to provide a forum for administrative complaints. Wis. Admin. Code DOC § 310.04. There are two steps an inmate must take to exhaust their administrative remedies under the ICRS. First, the inmate must file a complaint with the Institution Complaint Examiner (“ICE”). Id. at §§ 310.07(1) and 310.09(6). The ICE then investigates the complaint and issues a recommendation for disposing of the complaint, either dismissal or affirmance, to the reviewing authority. Id. at §§ 310.07(2) and 310.11.[1] The reviewing authority may accept or reject the ICE's recommendation. Id. at § 310.07(3). Second, if the ICE recommends dismissal and the reviewing authority accepts it, the inmate may appeal the decision to the Corrections Complaint Examiner (“CCE”). Id. at §§ 310.07(6) and 310.13. The CCE issues a recommendation to the Secretary of the Department of Corrections who may accept or reject it. Id. at §§ 310.07(7), 310.13, and 310.14. Upon receiving the Secretary's decision, or after forty-five days from the date the Secretary received the recommendation, the inmate's administrative remedies are exhausted. Id. at §§ 310.07(7) and 310.14.


         3.1 Keith's Failure to Dispute the Material Facts

         Most of the relevant facts are undisputed, largely because Keith failed to dispute them. To show why, the Court will briefly recount the procedural history and substantive failings of Keith's submissions.

         In the Court's scheduling order, entered June 20, 2016, Keith was warned about the requirements for supporting and opposing a motion for summary judgment. (Docket #14 at 1-2). Accompanying that order were copies of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and Civil Local Rule 56, both of which describe in detail the form and contents of a proper summary judgment submission. Nevertheless, on September 19, 2016, Keith submitted a one-page document that purported to be a joint motion for summary judgment and motion for appointment of counsel. (Docket #31). The motion was not accompanied by a statement of material facts as required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and this Court's Local Rules. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Civ. L. R. 56(b)(1). A few days later, on September 26, 2016, she filed a motion to “supplement” her summary judgment motion. (Docket #32). Appended to this “supplement, ” which reads like a stream-of-consciousness factual summary of Keith's case, were 115 pages of “exhibits.” (Docket #33). Keith again failed to file a statement of material facts which condensed these exhibits and her thoughts into the format required by the applicable procedural rules.

         Keith filed a second motion on September 28, 2016, without affording Defendants an opportunity to respond to the first one. (Docket #36). This second motion is two pages in length. Id. It contains a two-paragraph “statement of facts, ” but the motion is not accompanied by a statement of facts that comports with the Federal or Local Rules, nor was there any evidentiary material appended to the motion. Instead, Keith refers back to the set of materials she submitted to the Court on September 26. See Id. at 1-2.[2]

         On October 24, 2016, Defendants filed their own motion for summary judgment. (Docket #38). In the motion, Defendants warned Keith about the requirements for her response as set forth in Federal and Local Rule 56. Id. at 1-2. She was provided with copies of those Rules along with Defendants' motion. See Id. at 3-11. In connection with their motion, Defendants filed a supporting statement of material facts that complied with the applicable procedural rules. (Docket #39). It contained short, numbered paragraphs concisely stating those facts which Defendants proposed to be beyond dispute, with supporting citations to the attached evidentiary materials. See id.

         In response, Keith submitted a single document with attached exhibits. (Docket #45). In this document, Keith appears to discuss each of her attached exhibits in turn and presents her own thoughts on why Defendants violated her constitutional rights. See Id. She never filed a response to Defendants' statement of material facts. Indeed, she never grapples with Defendants' factual assertions directly. Instead, she presents her own version of the facts and, presumably, hopes that the Court takes her word over Defendants'. She took the same approach to her reply in support of her second motion for summary judgment (a brief which was filed two weeks late). (Docket #48).

         Despite being twice warned of the strictures of summary judgment procedure, Keith chose to ignore those rules by filing motions for summary judgment that do not contain all the required elements of such a motion, and by failing to properly dispute Defendants' proffered facts with citations to relevant, admissible evidence. These infirmities cannot be overlooked. Though the Court is required to liberally construe a pro se plaintiff's filings, it cannot act as her lawyer; the Court cannot and will not delve through all of Keith's submissions in this case to find the evidence that might be leveraged to dispute Defendants' proposed facts. Indeed:

[a] district court is not required to “wade through improper denials and legal argument in search of a genuinely disputed fact.” Bordelon v. Chicago Sch. Reform Bd. of Trustees, 233 F.3d 524, 529 (7th Cir. 2000). And a mere disagreement with the movant's asserted facts is inadequate if made without reference to specific supporting material. Edward E. Gillen Co. v. City of Lake Forest, 3 F.3d 192, 196 (7th Cir. 1993). In short, “[j]udges are not like pigs, hunting for truffles buried in briefs.” United States v. Dunkel, 927 F.2d 955, 956 (7th Cir. 1991). Smith's summary-judgment materials were woefully deficient in either responding adequately to the defendants' statement or in setting forth additional facts with appropriate citations to the record. As such, Smith's purportedly good intentions aside, the district court did not abuse its discretion in deeming admitted and only considering the defendants' statement of material facts.

Smith v. Lamz, 321 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2003). This Court would offer a similar analogy: it is not an archaeologist, made to sift through Keith's filings hoping to piece together clues to the evidence behind her legal positions. The Court is cognizant of the fact that Keith lacks legal training, as she complains in her motions for appointment of counsel. See (Docket #31 and #47).[3] Yet, under Smith, no matter Keith's intentions, her utter failure to comply with the rules of procedure means that the Court has no choice but to disregard her the bulk of her summary judgment filings. See Hill v. Thalacker, 210 F.App'x 513, 515 (7th Cir. 2006). Unless stated otherwise, the Court will deem Defendants' facts undisputed for purposes of deciding their motion for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). However, the Court has generously reviewed all of Keith's filings and will discuss her notable submissions as it sets forth the relevant facts below.[4]

         3.2 Facts Pertinent to the Disposition of Defendants' Motion

         3.2.1 The Parties

         The facts necessary to the disposition of Defendants' motion are as follows. Keith is an inmate at TCI. (Docket #39 ¶ 1). TCI is the only female facility within the Wisconsin Women's Correctional System and it houses both medium- and maximum-security inmates. Id. ¶ 11. Defendant Deanne Schaub (“Schaub”) is the warden of TCI. Id. ¶ 2. Schaub is the reviewing authority for inmate complaints at TCI. Id. ¶ 4. Defendant David Ruples (“Ruples”) is a sergeant at TCI. Id. ¶ 6. Defendants Heather Justmann (“Justmann”) and Christopher Cooper (“Cooper”) are captains at the institution. Id. ¶ 7. At all times relevant to Keith's complaint, Defendant David Tarr (“Tarr”) was the Security Director at TCI. Id. ¶ 8.

         3.2.2 Keith's Interactions with Castillo

         Keith and another inmate, Ashli Castillo (“Castillo”), were both designated as maximum-security inmates at TCI. Id. ¶ 21. They were housed in the McCauley unit, the only general population and maximum-security housing unit in the prison. Id. ¶¶ 16-21. On October 29, 2013, they became cellmates. Id. ¶ 22. At that time, neither had a special placement need (“SPN”) restricting them from being placed in a general population setting or from being housed near each other. Id. ¶ 23. SPNs are assigned by prison officials when there is a need to separate particular inmates from other inmates or staff. Id. ¶ 14. Schaub explains that “[a] formal SPN involving inmates notifies everyone that the inmates named should be kept separate from ...

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