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LaBrec v. Walker

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

September 20, 2017


          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge

         Pro se plaintiff and prisoner Matthew LaBrec is proceeding on a claim that prison staff violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment by placing him in a cell with a violent prisoner and refusing to separate the two before the other prisoner assaulted him. Several motions are before the court: (1) defendants' motion for summary judgment on the ground that LaBrec failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, Dkt. 18; (2) LaBrec's motion for leave to amend his complaint, Dkt. 25; (3) defendants' motion to screen the amended complaint, Dkt. 33; (4) LaBrec's motion for leave to file a supplemental brief in opposition to defendants' summary judgment motion, Dkt. 36; (5) LaBrec's motion for sanctions, Dkt. 42; and (6) defendants' motion to stay discovery and other proceedings, Dkt. 47. For the reasons explained below, I will deny the motion for summary judgment and the motion for leave to file a supplemental brief; grant the motion for leave to amend the complaint and for screening of the complaint; deny the motion for sanctions; and deny the motion for a stay.


         On or about July 24, 2016, LaBrec filed an inmate complaint on the issue of “failure to protect safety.” He alleged that prison staff had placed him in the same cell with a prisoner who has a history of violence, that staff ignored LaBrec's statements that he did not feel safe and wanted to be moved, and that the other prisoner stabbed him multiple times with a pen. In his request for relief, he asked for both a change in prison policy and money damages for his injuries.

         On or about August 10, 2016, while a decision on his inmate complaint was pending, LaBrec received a conduct report for “aggravated assault” and “possession, manufacture, or use of a weapon” related to an altercation between LaBrec and his cell mate on July 24, 2016. According to the conduct report, an officer came to LaBrec's cell after hearing “banging and loud yelling.” Dkt. 20-1. The officer observed that LaBrec was “covered in ink” and had “small wounds on his face, neck area, and body area.” Id. He also observed that LaBrec's cell mate was holding a pen. LaBrec accused the cell mate of stabbing him. The officer left to get assistance and when he came back, LaBrec's cell mate was lying face down on the ground and bleeding. LaBrec said, “I put him to sleep.” Id. at 2.

         On August 29, 2016, LaBrec had a disciplinary hearing. A hearing officer found LaBrec guilty of aggravated assault but not guilty of the weapons charge, observing that LaBrec admitted to punching his cell mate in the face but that the weapons charge was not supported. LaBrec did not appeal the decision.

         In a decision dated September 12, 2016, the inmate complaint examiner rejected LaBrec's inmate complaint that he had filed on July 24. The examiner explained:

Once a conduct report is issued, the disciplinary process is invoked. Complaints which argue substantive issues regarding the conduct report are outside the scope of the ICRS as noted under DOC 310. After receiving the disciplinary hearing paperwork, an appeal may be sent directly to the Warden. The ICE may only address procedurally based allegations of error contained in complaints filed AFTER the Warden's decision is made on appeal, following DOC 310.08(3). The Warden has not yet rendered a decision on the appeal of the conduct report. Consequently, this complaint falls out of the scope of the ICRS.

Dkt. 20-3, at 2. The warden affirmed the decision to reject the complaint.


         A. Exhaustion

         1. Legal standard

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions . . . until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The purpose of the exhaustion requirements is to give the prison administrators a fair opportunity to resolve the grievance without litigation. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88-89 (2006).

         To satisfy § 1997e(a), a prisoner must complete each step in the administrative process “in the place, and at the time, the prison's administrative rules require.” Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1025 (7th Cir. 2002). If a prisoner fails to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing his lawsuit, the court must dismiss the case, Perez v. Wisconsin Dept. of Corr., 182 F.3d 532, 535 (7th Cir. 1999), but the defendants have the burden to prove that the prisoner did not exhaust his administrative remedies. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007).

         2. Overview of defendants' argument

         In this case, it is undisputed that LaBrec filed an inmate complaint in which he alleged that prison officials failed to protect him from his cell mate, which is the same claim he is raising in this case. But defendants contend that the inmate complaint review system, or ICRS, was the wrong place for LaBrec to exhaust his administrative remedies. Rather, according to defendants, LaBrec needed to raise the issue in the context of his disciplinary proceedings. Because LaBrec did not appeal the disciplinary decision ...

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