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Seventh Circuit Dismisses Summary Judgment for Defendants in Illinois Prisoner’s Lawsuit Over Beating, Choking

Western Illinois Correctional Center prisoner Carlos Bowman’s civil rights action arose from events that occurred on April 14, 2014, during a “tactical shakedown” at the prison. Bowman alleged guards beat and choked him and forced him and other prisoners to stand so close together that their hands were on or near each other’s genitals for hours.

Bowman timely pursued the two-stage prison grievance system. After those remedies were denied, he brought Eighth Amendment claims for excessive force and failing to intervene against multiple guards and supervisors. He proceed in the district court and on appeal pro se after making several requests for the appointment of counsel.

Early in the proceedings, the defendants flagged the exhaustion issue. In March 2016, the district court entered a scheduling order that required the defendants to file any summary judgment motion on exhaustion within 30 days. No such motion was filed.

Three months after discovery closed, the defendants moved for summary judgment. In that motion, they not only did not raise the exhaustion issue, one of their arguments assumed Bowman had.

The district court found Bowman exhausted his administrative remedies when denying the motion. The case was set for trial in May 2018.

Two months before trial, defendants’ new counsel moved to file a second motion for summary judgment on exhaustion grounds. The motion relied on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(b)(1)(B), which permits extension of deadlines even if they have expired if there is good cause and the party “failed to act because of excusable neglect.” The district court granted that motion.

It also granted the second summary judgment motion, finding that Bowman failed to exhaust available remedies. The grievances failed “to name the defendants or allege a failure to intervene in his grievance.” Bowman opposed the motion as being too late — almost two years so — and urged the bald assertion of negligence did not amount to “excusable neglect.”

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit agreed with Bowman. “We could fill page after page” with citations to cases where prisoners’ cases “were dismissed for failing to follow court rules or deadlines,” the court wrote. “If prisoners are held to that standard, their opponents should be too.”

An excusable neglect analysis requires courts to consider all relevant circumstances surrounding the party’s neglect, including the prejudice to the non-movant, length of delay, and reason for delay. In Bowman’s case, the defendants attributed their failure to timely raise the exhaustion to “unknown reasons.”

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Related legal case

Bowman v. Korte