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Sixth Circuit: Dismissal of Due Process and Equal Protection Claims Upheld; Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies Issue Remanded

The Sixth Circuit of Appeals has affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s due process and equal protection claims, but reversed the dismissal of Eighth Amendment claims based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

Before the Court was the appeal of Kentucky State Penitentiary prisoner Henry David Grinter, following the district court’s dismissal of all his claims after conducting the PLRA’s mandatory screening process pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e).

According to the facts alleged in Grinter’s complaint, on January 4, 2003, Sgt. Chad Knight came to Grinter’s segregation cell to investigate an incident report that had been filed. Knight refused to add witnesses to the report as requested by Grinter; he then closed the cell’s food slot and slid the incident report under the door.

A sort time later, Lt. Tim White and another guard dressed in full riot gear approached Grinter’s cell. Grinter was ordered to remove his cloths; he was pinned to the wall while his linens and personal property were removed, then was placed in four-point restraints.
Grinter remained in restraints for four hours. The next day he was charged with a disciplinary violation for allegedly wadding up and throwing the incident report. He was also charged with striking Knight on the wrist, causing a “small red spot.”

Grinter’s complaint alleged four due process violations. The first related to the four-point restraints. The Sixth Circuit held that the use of four-point restraints and the conditions in which they were administered – for four hours and without a nurse present – were expected adverse consequences of incarceration. Additionally, Grinter had been accused of hitting a guard when he was placed in the restraints. Furthermore, he did not demonstrate an “atypical and significant hardship” under Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995), and had no liberty interest in freedom from four-point restraints or in having a nurse present before he was placed in restraints.

The Sixth Circuit further held that Grinter did not have a substantive or procedural due process right to have prison officials follow proper procedures in providing him with evidence or allowing him to question witnesses at the disciplinary hearing. Also, Grinter had no right to accumulate good time credits; that claim was based on the forfeiture of 60 days future good time for his disciplinary violation. Finally, there was no due process right related to prison officials’ supervisory acts or for their denial of his administrative grievances.

Turning to Grinter’s equal protection claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, which was based upon Knight subjecting Grinter to cruel and unusual punishment “for no other reason than [Knight] does not like ‘black inmates,’” the Court found that claim also failed. Such a claim could only be filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as race discrimination claims in an official capacity cannot be brought under § 1981 pursuant to Jett v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701 (1981).

Finally, the Court of Appeals addressed Grinter’s Eighth Amendment excessive force claim relative to the four-point restraints. The Sixth Circuit held that the district court had improperly dismissed this claim on the grounds that Grinter failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. As exhaustion of administrative remedies is an affirmative defense that must be pleaded, his claim could not be dismissed on that basis at the initial screening stage.

The case was remanded for further proceedings on Grinter’s Eighth Amendment excessive force claim, but affirmed in all other respects. See: Grinter v. Knight, 532 F.3d 567 (6th Cir. 2008).

Following remand, the case was dismissed for failure to prosecute on November 21, 2008, as Grinter had been released on parole but did not advise the district court of his current address and did not respond to notices from the court or pursue the suit.

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Related legal case

Grinter v. Knight