The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held the defendants in a civil rights action failed to establish that a prisoner had an available administrative remedy for exhaustion purposes under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).
After a New York federal district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, prisoner Gregory Hubbs appealed. His complaint alleged that he was severely beaten by Suffolk County sheriff’s deputies on November 10, 2009.
Hubbs was in a court holding cell after a jury trial ended in his conviction, awaiting transfer to the Suffolk County Correctional Facility (SCCF). While there he struck up a conversation with Anthony Oddone, a detainee accused of murdering an off-duty Suffolk County guard.
Oddone offered Hubbs encouraging words after learning he had been convicted, and Hubbs responded, “I wish you the best.” That brief interaction did not sit well with several deputies, who dragged Hubbs to another cell and beat him for expressing sympathy to Oddone.
Another detainee, Natalie Desire, submitted an affidavit stating she saw Hubbs being dragged to the cell as the deputies said they would “show you how to keep your fucking mouth shut,” and referring to Oddone, added “he killed one of ours.” She saw deputies slap Hubbs in the face and one choke Hubbs by placing his forearm under Hubbs’ neck. Hubbs then began to shake in what appeared to be a seizure, and Desire heard one deputy say, “enough you are going to kill him.”
Hubbs subsequently was taken to an emergency room, where it was determined he had suffered a contact seizure and head trauma with a laceration over his right eye, as well as swelling and bruising around the eye and ear.
His mother, who was contacted by Desire, made inquiries with SCCF about Hubbs’ beating but was advised that because the incident involved deputies she needed to contact Internal Affairs (IA) at the sheriff’s office, as “[s]heriffs handle anything on the courtroom side of the facility.” The defendants argued that the IA investigation, which found no wrongdoing, did not fulfill the PLRA’s administration exhaustion requirement and that Hubbs was required to file a grievance with SCCF over his beating.
The Second Circuit noted failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense that places the initial burden on the defendants. The Court of Appeals found the defendants failed to identify Suffolk County statutes or regulations showing administrative remedies were available for events that took place in the court holding facility. In fact, the Court pointed to SCCF’s Inmate Handbook, which stated issues outside the warden’s control “will not be [the] subject of a grievance.”
The conclusory affidavit of the SCCF grievance administrator stating the jail would have accepted a grievance on incidents at the holding facility was deemed insufficient to make a legal determination that administrative remedies were available to Hubbs. The appellate court noted there was no evidence that SCCF had accepted grievances for issues at the holding facility in the past, and SCCF’s statement to Hubbs’ mother that she must contact IA indicated otherwise.
The district court’s order was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings because administrative remedies were unavailable to Hubbs, thus he was not required to exhaust them. See: Hubbs v Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, 788 F.3d 54 (2d Cir. 2015).
Following remand, the case proceeded to a jury trial in January 2016 but settled before the trial concluded. Hubbs was represented by the Brooklyn law firm of Stoll, Glickman & Bellina, LLP.
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Related legal case
Hubbs v. Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department
|Cite||788 F.3d 54 (2d Cir. 2015)|
|Level||Court of Appeals|