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Lewis v. Houston County

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

November 9, 2017

JESSIE LEWIS, JR., #191 868, Plaintiff,
HOUSTON COUNTY, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.




         Plaintiff Jessie Lewis, Jr., an inmate in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action on April 14, 2017. The matter is pending before the court on Lewis' complaint challenging the constitutionality of his conditions at the Houston County Community Corrections (“HCCCF”) work release facility. Lewis names as defendants Houston County, Alabama, and Tony Weber.[1] He requests damages and injunctive relief. Doc. 1.

         Defendants filed an answer, special report, supplemental special report, and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Lewis' claims for relief. Docs. 26 & 29. In these filings, Defendants deny that they violated Lewis' constitutional rights and argue that this case is due to be dismissed because, prior to filing this cause of action, Lewis failed to exhaust an administrative remedy available to him at the HCCCF regarding the claims in the complaint. Docs. 26 & 29. Defendants base their exhaustion defense on Lewis's failure to file a grievance regarding his claims of unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the HCCCF. Docs. 26-6 & 29-1.

         The court provided Lewis an opportunity to file a response to the reports and specifically advised him that he must 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. 30 at 1 (footnote omitted). The court's order advised Lewis that his response should be supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and other evidentiary materials. Doc. 30 at 3. The order further cautioned Lewis that unless “sufficient legal cause” is shown within ten days, “the court may at any time [after expiration of the time for his filing of a response to this order] and without further notice to the parties (1) treat the special report, as supplemented, and any supporting evidentiary materials as a [dispositive] motion . . . and (2) after considering any response as allowed by this order, rule on the motion in accordance with law.” Doc. 30 at 3. Nevertheless, Lewis has not filed a response to Defendants' reports.

         The court will treat Defendants' special report, as supplemented, as a motion to dismiss regarding the exhaustion defense and will recommend that this motion be resolved in Defendants' favor. See Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1374-75 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal quotations omitted) (“[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.”); Trias v. Fla. Dept. of Corrs., 587 F. App'x 531, 534 (11th Cir. 2014) (holding that district court properly construed defendant's “motion for summary judgment as a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies”).


         A. Exhaustion

         In addressing the requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e 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. This means that until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted, a prisoner is precluded from filing suit in federal court.

Leal v. Ga. Dept. of Corrs., 254 F.3d 1276, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001) (citations and internal quotations omitted). Furthermore, “the question of exhaustion under the PLRA [is] a ‘threshold matter' that [federal courts must] address before considering the merits of the case, ” and that cannot be waived. Myles v. Miami-Dade Cnty. Corr. & Rehab. Dept., 476 F. App'x 364, 366 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1286 (11th Cir. 2004)).

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. 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 (citations and internal quotations omitted). 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]. 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.” Trias, 587 F. App'x at 535. Based on the foregoing, the Eleventh Circuit has rejected an inmate-plaintiff's argument that “disputed facts as to exhaustion should be decided” only after a trial either before a jury or judge. Id. at 534.

         III. ...

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