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Smith v. Corizon Health Services

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

June 18, 2015

CARL RUPERT SMITH, #137 787, Plaintiff,
CORIZON HEALTH SERVICES, et al., Defendants.


WALLACE CAPEL, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action involves a dispute over the adequacy of medical care and treatment afforded Plaintiff, an inmate incarcerated at the Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore, Alabama. Plaintiff names as defendants Corizon, LLC, Darryl Ellis, Michele Sagers-Copeland, and Domineek Guice. Plaintiff seeks damages and injunctive relief for the alleged violation of his constitutional rights. Doc. No. 1.

Defendants filed an answer, special report, and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Plaintiff's claims for relief. In these documents, Defendants argue this case is due to be dismissed because prior to filing this cause of action Plaintiff failed to properly exhaust an administrative remedy available to him through the prison system's medical care provider, Corizon, Inc., prior to initiation of this case. Doc. No. 13, at 12-15. Defendants base their exhaustion defense on Plaintiff's failure to submit any medical grievances regarding the claims presented. Id., Sagers-Copeland Affidavit. In addition, Defendants maintain, and the evidentiary materials, including Plaintiff's medical records, indicate that Plaintiff received appropriate medical treatment during the time relevant to the matters alleged in the instant complaint. See Doc. No. 13, Ellis, Sagers-Copeland, & Guice Affidavits & Exh. A. On April 13, 2015, the court provided Plaintiff an opportunity to file a response to Defendants' report in which he was advised to "specifically address Defendants' argument that he [] failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA')." Doc. No. 17 at 1 (footnote omitted). On May 5, 2015, the court granted Plaintiff's request for additional time to file his response. Doc. No. 19. Plaintiff has filed no response within the time allowed by the court.

"[A]n exhaustion defense... is not ordinarily the proper subject for a summary judgment [motion]; 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) (internal quotations omitted); Trias v. Fla. Dep't of Corr., 587 F.Appx. 531, 534 (11th Cir. 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 Defendants' report as a motion to dismiss.


In addressing the requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e regarding 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. Ga. Dep't of Corr., 254 F.3d 1276, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001). The court 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 Cnty. Corr. and Rehab. Dep't, 476 F.Appx. 364, 366 (11th Cir. 2012). 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 F.Appx. at 366. 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, 587 F.Appx. at 535.

Upon review of the complaint, Defendants' special report, and the evidentiary materials filed in support thereof, the court concludes that ...

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