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Tennessee CCA Warden Fails to Prove Non-Exhaustion in Prisoner’s Excessive Force and Retaliation Suit

A Tennessee federal court denied prison officials summary judgment for non-exhaustion under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, finding that they failed to satisfy their burden of proving non-exhaustion.

James Ingram was a prisoner at the Hardeman County Correctional Facility (HCCF) in Tennessee, which is operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), America's largest private prison operator.

Ingram alleged that on May 16, 2007, he was assaulted by former HCCF Warden Glen Turner and other prison officials. Following the assault, he "was refused medical treatment for the substantial and visible injuries he sustained" and he was placed in administrative segregation for complaining about the assault and denial of medical care. Two days later, on May 18, 2007, Ingram was transferred to the West Tennessee State Penitentiary (WTSP), "where he . . . was placed on maximum security without any hearing and continued to be denied access to medical care."

Ingram brought federal suit, alleging excessive force, denial of medical care, retaliation and other claims. In his complaint, Ingram alleged "that he had exhausted his administrative remedies, as required by 42 USC § 1997e(a)." Defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming non-exhaustion.

Noting that non-exhaustion is an affirmative defense, which Defendants bear the burden of proving, the court observed that "'summary judgment in favor of the party with the burden of persuasion . . . is inappropriate when the evidence is susceptible of different interpretations or inferences by the trier of fact.' . . . Thus, when the party moving for summary judgment has the burden of proof on an issue, a 'substantially higher hurdle' must be overcome to defeat a plaintiff's claim."

Ingram did not file any grievances about the May 16, 2007 incident before he was transferred on May 18, 2007, but the court noted that HCCF grievance rules allow seven days to file a grievance. As such, "Plaintiff was transferred prior to the expiration of the time limit for filing a grievance."

Recognizing that other jurisdictions have held that transfer does not necessarily excuse exhaustion, the court found that "neither party . . . offered any evidence regarding whether . . . Plaintiff could have pursued a grievance concerning events at HCCF even after he was transferred to the WTSP. Indeed, the Defendants have failed to even address the possible effect of the transfer on the Plaintiff's ability to exhaust." Therefore, Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving non-exhaustion. See: Ingram v. Turner, USDC No. 07-2798-JDT-egb (W D Tenn 3/30/10).

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Related legal case

Ingram v. Turner