United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
SUSAN RUSS WALKER, Chief Magistrate Judge.
In this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, Christopher Lamar Patterson ["Patterson"], an individual previously confined at the Macon County Detention Center, challenges an alleged delay in medical treatment provided for an infection on his left thigh. Complaint-Doc. No. 1 at 3. Patterson names Sheriff David Warren and Jail Administrator Melvin Clark as defendants in this cause of action. He seeks declaratory relief and monetary damages for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights.
The defendants filed a special report and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Patterson's claims for relief. In these documents, the defendants deny that they acted with deliberate indifference to Patterson's medical needs or safety. In addition, the defendants assert that the complaint is due to be dismissed, because prior to filing this cause of action Patterson failed to exhaust an administrative remedy available to him at the Macon County Detention Center with respect to the claims presented in the complaint. Defendants' Special Report - Doc. No. 27 at 7-9. The defendants base their exhaustion defense on the plaintiff's failure to submit an inmate request form containing a grievance regarding the claims raised in the complaint and/or his failure to appeal any response received from jail staff with respect to verbal requests for medical treatment.
On August 22, 2012, the court provided Patterson an opportunity to file a response to the defendants' report in which he was advised to "specifically address the defendants' assertion that... [h]is claims are due to be dismissed because he failed to exhaust his available administrative remedy as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)... prior to filing this federal civil action." Doc. No. 28 at 1 (footnote omitted). On October 16, 2012, Patterson filed response to the defendants' report. Doc. No. 35. In this response, Patterson alleges that he submitted written and verbal requests for medical treatment to unidentified jail personnel but concedes that he did not file an appeal when he received no responses to these requests. Doc. No. 35 at 6 (The requirement in the detention center's grievance procedure that he file "a further, or different theory, (in this case appeal)... create[s] a needless procedural bar."). He also argues that the issue of exhaustion "is for the jury." Id. at 4.
"[A]n exhaustion defense... is not ordinarily the proper subject for a summary judgment; instead it should be raised in a motion to dismiss, or be treated as such if raised in a motion for summary judgment." Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1374-1375 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal quotations omitted); Trias v. Florida Dept. of Corrections, ___ Fed.Appx. ___, 2014 WL 4693841, *3 (11th Cir. Sept. 23, 2014) (District court properly construed defendant's "motion for summary judgment as a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies...."). Therefore, the court will treat the defendants' report as a motion to dismiss.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
In addressing the exhaustion requirement of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e with respect to exhaustion, the Eleventh Circuit has
recognized that [t]he plain language of th[is] statute makes exhaustion a precondition to filing an action in federal court." Higginbottom v. Carter, 223 F.3d 1259, 1261 (11th Cir. 2000) (per curiam) (quoting Freeman v. Francis, 196 F.3d 641, 643-44 (6th Cir. 1999)). This means that "until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted, " a prisoner is precluded from filing suit in federal court. See id. (affirming dismissal of prisoner's civil rights suit for failure to satisfy the mandatory exhaustion requirements of the PLRA); Harris v. Garner, 190 F.3d 1279, 1286 (11th Cir. 1999) ("reaffirm[ing] that section 1997e(a) imposes a mandatory requirement on prisoners seeking judicial relief to exhaust their administrative remedies" before filing suit in federal court), modified on other grounds, 216 F.3d 970 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc); Miller v. Tanner, 196 F.3d 1190, 1193 (11th Cir. 1999) (holding that under the PLRA's amendments to § 1997e(a), "[a]n inmate incarcerated in a state prison... must first comply with the grievance procedures established by the state department of corrections before filing a federal lawsuit under section 1983"); Harper v. Jenkin, 179 F.3d 1311, 1312 (11th Cir. 1999) (per curiam) (affirming dismissal of prisoner's civil suit for failure to satisfy the mandatory exhaustion requirements of § 1997e(a)); Alexander v. Hawk, 159 F.3d 1321, 1328 (11th Cir. 1998) (affirming dismissal of prisoner's Bivens action under § 1997e(a) for failure to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing suit in federal court).
Leal v. Georgia Dept. of Corrections, 254 F.3d 1276, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001). The Eleventh Circuit has therefore determined that "the question of exhaustion under the PLRA [is] a threshold matter' that [federal courts must] address before considering the merits of the case. Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1286 (11th Cir. 2004). Because exhaustion is mandated by the statute, [a court has] no discretion to waive this requirement. Alexander v. Hawk, 159 F.3d 1321, 1325-26 (11th Cir. 1998)." Myles v. Miami-Dade County Correctional and Rehabilitation Dept., 476 Fed.Appx. 364, 366 (11th Cir. 2012). Based on the foregoing, the court will "resolve this issue first." Id.
"When deciding whether a prisoner has exhausted his remedies, the court should first consider the plaintiff's and the defendants' versions of the facts, and if they conflict, take the plaintiff's version of the facts as true. If in that light, the defendant is entitled to have the complaint dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, it must be dismissed.' Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077, 1082 (11th Cir.2008) (citing Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1373-74). If the complaint is not subject to dismissal at this step, then the court should make specific findings in order to resolve the disputed factual issues related to exhaustion.' Id. (citing Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1373-74, 1376)." Myles, 476 Fed.Appx. at 366. Consequently, a district court "may resolve disputed factual issues where necessary to the disposition of a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust [without a hearing]. See [ Turner, 541 F.3d at 1082]. The judge properly may consider facts outside of the pleadings to resolve a factual dispute as to exhaustion where doing so does not decide the merits, and the parties have a sufficient opportunity to develop the record. Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1376." Trias, ___ Fed. Appx at ___, 2014 WL 4693841 at *4. The Court likewise specifically rejected the argument that "disputed facts as to exhaustion should be decided by a jury." Id. at 3.
Upon review of the complaint, the defendants' special report, the evidentiary materials filed by the defendants and the plaintiff's response to the report, the court concludes that the defendants' motion to dismiss is due to be granted.
Patterson challenges a delay in medical treatment provided to him for an infection in his leg during a prior term of incarceration at the Macon County Detention Center. The defendants deny Patterson's allegation of deliberate indifference and further maintain that this case is subject to dismissal because Patterson failed to exhaust the administrative remedy provided at the Macon County Detention ...