United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
WALLACE CAPEL, JR. UNITED STATES JUDGE.
42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, Plaintiff, a state inmate and a
practitioner of Native American Spirituality, claims
Defendant violated his rights under the Religious Land Use
and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) by
forcing him to comply with the Alabama Department of
Corrections' (“ADOC”) grooming policy and to
remain clean shaven with a regulation haircut. Plaintiff seeks
declaratory and injunctive relief for the alleged violations
of his constitutional rights and costs of this proceeding.
filed a special report and supporting evidentiary materials
addressing Plaintiff's claims for relief. In these
documents, Defendant denies acting in violation of
Plaintiff's constitutional rights. In addition, Defendant
asserts that the amended complaint is due to be dismissed
because prior to filing this cause of action, Plaintiff
failed to properly exhaust an administrative remedy available
to him regarding the claims in the amended complaint. Doc. 20
at 2-3, Exhs. B, C. Defendant bases his exhaustion defense on
Plaintiff's failure to file a request for religious
assistance from the Religious Activities Review Committee as
permitted by Administrative Regulation # 461. Id. at
3, Exh. C.
August 25, 2016, the court granted Plaintiff an opportunity
to file a response to Defendant's report in which he was
advised to “specifically address Defendant's
assertion that ... [h]is claims are due to be dismissed
because he failed to exhaust his available administrative
remedies as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)”
prior to filing this federal civil action. Doc. 21 at 1
(footnote omitted). Although the court granted Plaintiff an
extension to file a response (Doc. 22), he has not done so
within the time allowed by the court.
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, 1374-1375 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal
quotations omitted); Trias v. Fla. Dep't of
Corr., 587 F.App'x 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 Defendant's report as a
motion to dismiss.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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
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 Cty. Corr. &
Rehab. Dep't, 476 F.App'x. 364, 366 (11th Cir.
2012). Based on the foregoing, the court will “resolve
this issue first.” Id.
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 1373B74). 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.App'x 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, 587 F.App'x at 535. The
Eleventh Circuit specifically rejected the argument that
“disputed facts as to exhaustion should be decided by a
review of the amended complaint, Defendant's special
report, and the evidentiary materials filed in support
thereof, the court concludes that Defendant's motion to
dismiss is due to be granted.
challenges actions by Defendant which he alleges have
violated his religious rights under RLUIPA. Defendant denies
Plaintiff's allegations and maintains this case is
subject to dismissal because Plaintiff failed to exhaust the
administrative remedy provided in the state prison system
prior to ...