In 2017, Pamela Pace, the Michael Unit practice manager at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division (“TDCJ”) authorized a deduction of $100 from inmate Richard Simons’s account. The deduction was made to pay an annual medical co-pay fee. Simons believed this withdrawal and other related withdrawals were improper because the funds in his account were exempt from garnishment.
He says he filed an interoffice communication form, known as an I-60 inmate request, with Pace but never received a response. On November 7, 2017, he filed a Step 1 Grievance Form with TDCJ regarding the withdrawal. TDCJ rejected the grievance as untimely, so he filed a Step 2 Grievance Form on November 14, 2017, which was also rejected.
Simons filed another I-60 inmate request just under a year later on September 31, 2018 with Eric Johnston, the Director of the Inmate Commissary and Trust Funds for TDCJ, regarding the allegedly improper withdrawals. Johnston also did not respond.
On July 5, 2018, Simmons filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to continue challenging these withdrawals. He brought the suit against Johnston, Pace, and Lorie Davis, the Director of TDCJ, and claimed the withdrawal violated his constitutional rights. See 38 U.S.C. § 5301; Simons sought both unspecified monetary and injunctive relief.
The defendants moved to dismiss Simons’s claims under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). The motion was referred to a magistrate judge, who recommended dismissing Simons’s claims for monetary relief because they were barred under the Eleventh Amendment. The district court agreed and dismissed Simons’s claims to the extent he sought money damages from the defendants.
The defendants then filed a motion for summary judgment on Simons’s claims for injunctive relief. They argued that Simons had not exhausted his claims through the TDCJ’s two-step grievance procedure. The magistrate judge issued a report and recommendation that recommended granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Simons filed objections, but the district court agreed with the magistrate judge and granted summary judgment on Simons’s remaining claims. Simons appealed both the grant of summary judgment and prior dismissal. The 5th affirmed.
We start with Simons’s claims for money damages against the defendants. The Eleventh Amendment bars suits for money damages against the defendants in their official capacities as employees because TDCJ is an instrumentality of the state. See Oliver. Dismissing Simons’s claims for money damages was correct.
Summary judgment was granted on Simons’s remaining claims for injunctive relief because he failed to exhaust all administrative remedies. The Prison Litigation Reform Act requires a prisoner to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing a Section 1983 suit. See Johnson. To exhaust a claim, a prisoner must comply with the agency’s deadlines and other critical procedural rules. See U.S. Supreme Court case Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81 (2006).
TDCJ has a two-step grievance process for inmates who wish to raise a complaint. First, the inmate must file a Step 1 Grievance Form within 15 days of the date of the incident or occurrence of the issue. If the inmate is not satisfied with the response to his Step 1 Grievance Form, he may appeal through a Step 2 Grievance Form, which must be filed within 15 days of the date the Step 1 Grievance Form was returned to the inmate.
The record shows Simons filed his Step 1 Grievance Form on November 7, 2017 — approximately three months after the withdrawal occurred. Simons therefore did not meet the deadline to file his Step 1 Grievance Form and did not exhaust his administrative remedies. Contrary to Simons’s argument that his I-60 form tolled the 15-day period to file a Step 1 Grievance Form, there appears to be no such provision in TDCJ’s grievance policy, and Simons does not identify one.
The district court cannot excuse a prisoner’s failure to properly exhaust the prison grievance process before filing a complaint. See Gonzalez. Accordingly, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on Simons’s claims for injunctive relief for failure to exhaust his administrative remedies.