Terrence P. Duggins, DUGGINS LAW FIRM, LLC, for plaintiff.
Jacob D. Campion, MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE, for defendants Cari Gerlicher, Michael Smith, Joe Durocher, and Barbara Stoltz.
PATRICK J. SCHILTZ, District Judge.
In this lawsuit, plaintiff Lucas Butala (a prisoner) brings various federal and state claims against various prison officials. The named defendants have moved for summary judgment on Butala's federal claims on the ground that Butala failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The named defendants also argue that, in the event that their motion is granted and the federal claims are dismissed, the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Butala's statelaw claims.
For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the motion and dismisses Butala's federal claims against the named defendants for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. But because Butala must be given an opportunity to identify the unnamed defendants, the Court cannot yet dismiss this entire action. Thus, for the time being, the Court will retain jurisdiction over Butala's state-law claims - although, as discussed below, the Court will not exercise supplemental jurisdiction over those claims if the unnamed defendants are also granted summary judgment on the federal claims.
A. Butala's Transfer and the Assaults
As alleged in Butala's complaint (and supplemented by the record), the events that gave rise to this lawsuit are as follows:
Butala was incarcerated by the Minnesota Department of Corrections ("DOC") in 2000 after he was convicted of killing two men by dousing them with gasoline and setting them on fire. In March 2008, Butala was transferred from MCF-Rush City to MCF-Oak Park Heights ("MCF-OPH"). Butala alleges that prison officials transferred him despite knowing that Butala would be in danger from prison gangs at MCF-OPH and despite knowing that Butala's "custody credit points" did not warrant his incarceration at a maximum-security facility such as MCF-OPH.
While at MCF-OPH, Butala was assaulted twice: once in December 2008 and once in January 2009. After the first assault, Butala was placed in segregation. Butala notified defendants Joe Durocher and Barbara Stoltz that he would be in danger if he was placed back into the general population. Durocher and Stoltz, in turn, demanded that Butala provide the names of the inmates who had threatened him. Butala explained that two prison gangs had issued a "green light" on him (i.e., had directed gang members to attack him), which meant that he was in danger from every member of both gangs. Because Butala would not provide specific names, he was released back into the general population, where he was again assaulted on January 15, 2009. Butala suffered serious injuries from the second assault. Ultimately, in 2010, Butala was transferred to a prison in Wisconsin, where he remains incarcerated.
On the basis of these events, Butala asserts three substantive claims - two federal and one state: (1) defendants transferred him to MCF-OPH even though he did not meet the custody-credit guidelines for incarceration at that facility, in violation of the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments; (2) defendants knowingly failed to protect him from being assaulted at MCF-OPH, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments; and (3) defendants negligently failed to protect him from foreseeable harm and negligently placed him at MCF-OPH even though he did not meet the custody-credit guidelines for incarceration in that facility.
B. The DOC's Grievance Procedure
Under the DOC's grievance procedure, a prisoner must first attempt to informally resolve his grievance by submitting a "kite, " which is a printed form that prisoners use to communicate with staff. Ebeling Aff. Ex. 1 at 1. If the prisoner is dissatisfied with the response to his kite, he may initiate the formal grievance procedure by completing an "Offender Grievance form" and submitting the form to the facility grievance coordinator. Id. at 2. If the prisoner's grievance is procedurally defective in some way, the coordinator returns it to the prisoner and explains the nature of the problem. Id .; see Plf.'s Ex. 6. If the grievance is not returned, the coordinator logs it into a database and notifies the prisoner of the date that his grievance was logged. Ebeling Aff. Ex. 1 at 2.
On the Offender Grievance form, the prisoner must identify a single complaint and the relief he seeks. Id. The prisoner must also attach all kites showing his attempts to informally resolve his complaint. Id. Grievances are decided by the warden or his designee; the prisoner is entitled to written notice of the decision within 20 working days (or 40 working days if the prisoner receives notice of an extension). Id. If no written notice is given within the required time, the grievance is deemed dismissed. Id. at 3.
To appeal an adverse decision, the prisoner must submit an appeal form to the centraloffice grievance-appeal coordinator ("appeal coordinator"). Id. at 3. Appeals must be submitted within 15 working days of the date that the warden or his designee signed the response to the grievance. Id. As with the initial grievance, the appeal will be returned to the prisoner if it is procedurally defective in some way. Id. Appeals are ordinarily decided by the commissioner's assistant or deputy. Id. at 4. If the prisoner does not receive a decision on his appeal within 20 working days (or 40 working days if he is notified of an extension), the prisoner may report the matter to the commissioner for a resolution. Id. After the appeal is resolved, there are no further appeals. Id.
There is an alternative procedure for prisoners who fear that they would be endangered if their grievance became known to staff at their place of incarceration. Such prisoners may bypass the facility grievance coordinator and instead submit their formal grievance directly to the appeal coordinator. Id. at 3. Under these circumstances, there is no second level of appeal; the appeal coordinator makes the one and only decision on the grievance. Id. at 3.
C. Butala's Written Complaints and Use of the Grievance Procedure
On March 9, 2008, after Butala learned that he would be transferred to MCF-OPH, he sent a letter to the "Internal Affairs Central Office" and submitted kites to a staff member and to the warden. Plf.'s Exs. 3-5. These documents are somewhat difficult to follow, but they seem to protest that Butala was being (wrongly) accused of ordering an assault on another inmate, and they seem to argue that this accusation was made as part of a campaign to retaliate against Butala because he had engaged in a romantic relationship with a member of the prison staff. The letter and the kite to the warden explicitly sought to stop the pending transfer; the kite to the staff member did not expressly mention the pending transfer, but the staff member apparently understood it to concern that issue, as he responded that "my previous response still appl[ie]s you will be transferred to another facility soon...." Plf.'s Ex. 4. The kites did not mention any threats or fear of violence at MCF-OPH, but the letter to internal affairs stated that "I have a lot of time to do and I don't want it to be where I will have to fear for my well-being." Plf.'s Ex. 3. Neither the kites nor the letter said a word about Butala's custody points.
On the same day or shortly thereafter, Butala submitted a formal grievance directly to the appeal coordinator, protesting the alleged retaliation against him and asking that the pending transfer be delayed while his claims could be investigated. Plf.'s Ex. 6. Butala also complained about being sent to MCF-OPH because his life would be in "serious danger" from his rivals. Id. Butala's formal grievance, like his informal kites and letter, did not say a word about Butala's custody points.
On March 26, the DOC notified Butala that it had logged his grievance, which it labeled #3527. Plf.'s Ex. 7. On April 1, Butala wrote a letter in response to this notification, again objecting to his transfer for various reasons and for the first time mentioning that his 22 custody points are "a step away from Medium custody." Plf.'s Ex. 8. Butala requested that he be returned to MCF-Rush City. Id.
On April 2, the DOC notified Butala by letter that his grievance had been dismissed; the record establishes that this decision was reached and signed on March 31, the day before Butala wrote his April 1 letter. Ebeling Aff. Ex. 2 at 5-7; Plf.'s Exs. 6, 9; see also Butala Aff. ¶ 7. On April 4, the DOC responded to Butala's April 1 letter and made clear that the DOC deemed the letter to be an improper attempt to appeal the March 31 decision. (Recall that when a prisoner bypasses the facility grievance coordinator and instead submits his formal grievance directly to the appeal coordinator - as ...