United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
TERRY F. MOORER, Magistrate Judge.
In this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, Plaintiff Jimmy Murphy ("Murphy"), a former inmate of the Alabama Department of Corrections("ADOC"), challenges his conditions of confinement and his medical treatment when he slipped and fell into a reservoir of raw sewage while cleaning a grate in the reservoir. Named as defendants are Sandra Giles, Rene Mason, Jesse Austin, Officer McCall, Sergeant Carter, Mattie Jackson, and Harvey Ruffin ("correctional defendants"); and also named as defendants are Dr. Tahir Siddiq, James Butler, Wilma Nalls, Shena Massey, Tyce Jeffrey, Leigh Ann Seaman, Corizon, Inc., and Correctional Medical Services ("medical defendants"). Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, damages, court costs and fees, and requests trial by jury. Doc. No. 1.
The defendants filed special reports and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Murphy's claims for relief. In these documents, the defendants adamantly deny Murphy's allegations. Additionally, the medical defendants assert that the complaint is due to be dismissed because Murphy failed to properly exhaust an administrative remedy available to him at the ADOC with respect to the claims presented in this cause of action.
"[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, 1374-75 (11th Cir. 2008). Therefore, the court will treat the medical defendants' report that Murphy did not exhaust his administrative remedies as a motion to dismiss. Upon consideration of this motion and the evidentiary materials filed in support thereof, the court concludes that the medical defendants' motion to dismiss with respect to the exhaustion defense is due to be granted. The court construes the correctional defendants' report as a motion for summary judgment, and upon consideration of this motion and the evidentiary materials filed in support thereof, the court concludes that the correctional defendants' motion for summary judgment is due to be granted on the merits of their claims.
A. Applicable Law
The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") compels exhaustion of available administrative remedies before a prisoner can seek relief in federal court on a § 1983 complaint. Specifically, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) states that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." "[T]he PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, " Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002), "irrespective of the forms of relief sought and offered through administrative remedies, " Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 n.6 (2001). Moreover, "the PLRA exhaustion requirement requires proper exhaustion. " Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93 (2006) (emphasis added).
Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules [as a precondition to filing suit in federal court] because no adjudicative system can function effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings.... Construing § 1997e(a) to require proper exhaustion... fits with the general scheme of the PLRA, whereas [a contrary] interpretation [allowing an inmate to bring suit in federal court once administrative remedies are no longer available] would turn that provision into a largely useless appendage.
Id. at 90-91, 93 (footnote omitted); Johnson v. Meadows, 418 F.3d 1152, 1157 (11th Cir. 2005) (inmate who files an untimely grievance or simply spurns the administrative process until it is no longer available fails to satisfy the exhaustion requirement of the PLRA). "The only facts pertinent to determining whether a prisoner has satisfied the PLRA's exhaustion requirement are those that existed when he filed his original complaint." Smith v. Terry, 491 F.App'x 81, 83 (11th Cir. 2012) (per curiam).
Exhaustion under the PLRA is a "threshold matter" that must be addressed before considering the merits of the case and cannot be waived. Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1286 (11th Cir. 2004); Alexander v. Hawk, 159 F.3d 1321, 1325-26 (11th Cir. 1998) (exhaustion not waivable). "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.'" Myles v. Miami-Dade County Corr. & Rehab. Dep't, 476 F.App'x 364, 366 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting 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.'" Myles, 476 F.App'x at 366 (quoting Turner 541 F.3d at 1082 (citing Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1373-74, 1376)). Upon review of the undisputed facts of this case as evidenced by Murphy's verified complaint, the evidentiary materials filed by the defendants, and the Murphy's response, the court concludes that the medical defendants' motion to dismiss is due to be granted.
B. Murphy Did Not Exhaust Available Administrative Remedies Before Filing Suit
The record in this case is undisputed that the health care provider for the ADOC provides a grievance procedure for inmate complaints related to the provision of medical treatment. Butler Aff. - Doc. No. 41-1. This procedure, as it relates to the Murphy's claims, is described as follows:
When inmates go through the initial orientation process in the ADOC, they are educated about the availability of the medical grievance process whereby they may voice complaints regarding any medical treatment sought or received during their incarceration. Id. ¶ 11. Murphy acknowledged he understood how to access health care in his institutions. Doc. No. 41-1, at 14-15. The grievance process is initiated when an inmate submits a medical grievance form to the Health Services Administrator ("HSA") by placing it in one of the locked boxes throughout the facility. Butler Aff. - Doc. No. 41-1, at ¶ 11. Medical staff review the grievance and return the form to the inmate containing a written response at the bottom of the grievance form within five (5) days of receipt of the medical grievance. Id . ¶¶ 11-12. The grievance form contains a notation apprising inmates that if they wish to appeal the initial response, they may request a grievance appeal form from the HSA. The notation further directs inmates to return the completed grievance appeal form to the attention of the HSA by placing the form in the sick call request boxes located throughout the facility or by giving it to the segregation sick call nurse on rounds. Id . ¶ 12. Murphy's medical records reflect he submitted one medical grievance dated April 17, 2012, after he filed this lawsuit, in which he complained that: (1) he was experiencing complications related to liver disease, "Hep. C, " and (2) severe pain and numbness in is right elbow and failure to treat his elbow "since I fell into raw sewage reservoir at Bullock C.F. on 8/22/2011." Id. ¶13; Doc. No. 41-1, at 80, CMS 068. Murphy received a response to the grievance. Id. Defendant states, however, that Murphy did not file a medical grievance appeal regarding the response provided to his grievance. Butler Aff. - Doc. No. 41-1, at ¶ 13.
The court granted Plaintiff an opportunity to respond to the exhaustion defense raised by medical defendants in their motion to dismiss. Doc. No. 46. Murphy submitted a grievance appeal form he filed on May 1, 2012, after he filed this lawsuit. Doc. No. 54-1, at 25. Murphy averred on July 2, 2012, he had not yet received a response to his grievance appeal. Murphy Aff. - Doc. No. 54-1, at 12. Murphy has not disputed that he failed to file a medical grievance at Bullock and that he failed to exhaust an administrative remedy available to him at the ADOC before filing this lawsuit regarding his allegation of inadequate medical care, which is a precondition to proceeding on this claim. Rather, all of the evidence before the court demonstrates that Murphy failed to complete the medical grievance process before filing suit. Plaintiff's Resp. - Doc. No. 54; Defendants' Resp. - Doc. No. 41; Plaintiff's Complaint - Doc. No. 1. The court therefore concludes that the medical claims presented in this cause of action are subject to dismissal. Woodford, 548 U.S. at 87-94.
Murphy has been released from prison, and the time for utilizing the grievance procedure has expired. Thus, the administrative remedy provided by the medical defendants for the instant claim is no longer available to Murphy. Under the circumstances of this case, the court finds that dismissal with prejudice is appropriate. Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1374-1375 & n.1 (where administrative remedies are clearly time barred or otherwise infeasible inmate's failure to exhaust may "correctly result in a dismissal with prejudice."); Marsh v. Jones, 53 F.3d 707, 710 (5th Cir. 1995) ("Without the prospect of a dismissal with prejudice, a prisoner could evade the exhaustion requirement by filing no administrative grievance or by intentionally filing an untimely one, thereby foreclosing administrative remedies and ...