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Fifth Circuit Holds Prison Officials Need Not be Named in Grievances

Fifth Circuit Holds Prison Officials Need Not be Named in Grievances

by Matt Clarke

On November 15, 2013, in an unpublished decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the summary dismissal of a Texas prisoner’s civil rights action, holding that he did not have to name the defendants in his grievances so long as the facts at issue were sufficiently presented to alert prison officials to the problem and give them an opportunity to correct it. The appellate court also held that a prisoner need not continue to pursue administrative remedies once the maximum amount of relief available has been granted.

Perry Patterson, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prisoner housed at the Telford Unit, filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Medical Director Reginaldo Stanley, physician’s assistant Maria Berger and Lt. Candice Studdard had violated his Eighth Amendment rights and retaliated against him when medical staff canceled his prescription for sunglasses without conducting an eye examination and ordered the confiscation of his sunglasses. Further, Studdard pursued disciplinary charges against him for possession of contraband (the sunglasses).

Patterson alleged he had been prescribed the sunglasses since arriving at TDCJ and they were necessary for a medical condition. He further argued that the disciplinary action was in retaliation for his filing a grievance over the cancellation of his prescription.

The district court granted summary judgment against Patterson because he had failed to name any of the defendants in the institutional grievances he filed. Patterson appealed.

The Fifth Circuit noted that “the primary purpose of a grievance is to alert prison officials to a problem, not to provide personal notice for a particular official that he may be sued.” Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, a prisoner “must provide administrators with a fair opportunity under the circumstances to address the problem that will later form the basis of the suit, and for many types of problems, this will often require, as a practical matter, that the prisoner’s grievance identify individuals who are connected with the problem.” However, a grievance “may sufficiently identify a person even without providing a name.”

The defendants “offered nothing to show that Patterson’s reference to ‘medical staff’ did not give prison officials notice and an opportunity to address Patterson’s complaint about his sunglasses or that it did not comply with TDCJ requirements.” Their argument that he failed to mention anything about his sunglasses at the Step 2 grievance level also failed because they already had notice at Step 1, and the Step 2 answer stated his complaint had been referred to the Office of Professional Standards for review and he was scheduled for an ophthalmological examination. Therefore, the trial court erred in dismissing the claims against Berger and Stanley for discontinuance of the prescription for sunglasses.

With respect to the disciplinary action, Patterson’s Step 1 grievance resulted in the reversal of the action, which was all the relief possible through the grievance system; he was therefore not required to file a Step 2 grievance to further exhaust remedies. Thus, the district court erred when it dismissed the claims against Studdard.

Patterson’s Step 2 grievance against Stanley for retaliation was decided after the lawsuit was filed. Exhaustion must be completed before filing; accordingly, that claim was properly dismissed.

The district court’s summary judgment order was reversed except for the dismissal of the retaliation claim against Stanley, which was affirmed. The case was remanded to the lower court for further proceedings. See: Patterson v. Stanley, 547 Fed.Appx. 510 (5th Cir. 2013).


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Related legal case

Patterson v. Stanley