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Thomas v. New York State Dep't of Correctional Servs.

Citation: 33 ELR 20089
No. No. 00 CIV. 7163(NRB), (S.D.N.Y., 09/30/2002)

The court denies a state correctional department's motion for summary judgment regarding complaints by two inmates that while employed in a state prison they were exposed to toxic substances and subjected to hazardous working conditions that violated their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The inmates alleged that during the course of their incarceration, while working at a nearby paint shop, they were exposed to dangerous substances, were not provided with adequate training on handling those substances, and were not provided appropriate safety equipment. As a result of these conditions, the inmates alleged that they suffered from sinus problems, bouts of dizziness, chest pains, various respiratory and cardiovascular disorders, and an increased risk of developing future respiratory and cardiac complications. The correctional department argued that the inmates had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The court first holds that reasonable questions of fact remain that prevent summary judgment. One inmate claimed that he did not file a grievance because two prison employees informed him the grievance was unnecessary due to the filing of a similar grievance by another inmate. Where a prisoner has made a reasonable attempt to file a grievance and prison officials have prevented the prisoner from filing the grievance, the grievance procedures are not available to the prison officials, and the Prison Litigation Reform Act does not prevent the inmate from suing in federal court. Here, the record indicates that a reasonable fact finder could conclude that the inmate reasonably attempted to file and that prison officials prevented him from doing so. Similarly, the second inmate claimed that he had filed a grievance, had received a hearing from the review committee of the correctional department, and, thus, had exhausted his administrative remedies. The correctional department offered a declaration by the director of the inmate grievance program that after review of hearing records, the inmate had not filed a grievance. The director's declaration, however, is entirely conclusory and does not describe the records search, recordkeeping practices, or the places where records could be found. Moreover, there is no indication that records of adjudicating officials were checked. Before summary judgment can be issued on this inmate's claim, the correctional department must provide satisfactory information regarding the records search and recordkeeping practices.