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Hawkins v. Jones

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

May 24, 2018

JAY JONES, et al., Defendants.




         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is before the court on an amended complaint filed by Michael Daryl Hawkins, an inmate confined in the Lee County Detention Center at the time he initiated this case. In the amended complaint, Hawkins challenges conditions to which he was subjected during his incarceration at the detention center. Doc. No. 5 at 2-4. Hawkins names Jay Jones, the Sheriff of Lee County, Alabama, Corey Welch, the jail's administrator, and Lt. Timothy Jones, a jailer at the facility, as defendants. Hawkins seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief and monetary damages for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Doc. 5 at 4.

         The defendants filed a special report and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Hawkins's claims for relief. In these documents, the defendants adamantly deny they acted in violation of Hawkins' constitutional rights. The defendants further argue this case is due to be dismissed because prior to filing this cause of action Hawkins failed to properly exhaust the administrative remedy available to him at the Lee County Detention Center with respect to the claims presented in the instant complaint. Doc. 16. at 6-9. The defendants base the exhaustion defense on Hawkins' failure to file a grievance pursuant to the jail's grievance procedure addressing the claims on which he now seeks relief.

         On November 27, 2017, the court entered an order providing Hawkins an opportunity to file a response to the defendants' report in which he was advised to “specifically address the defendants' arguments that . . . [h]is claims are due to be dismissed because he failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies available at the Lee County Detention Center as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)” prior to filing this federal civil action. Doc. 17 at 1. The order also advised Hawkins that his response should be supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and/or other appropriate evidentiary materials. Id. at 3. The order further cautioned Hawkins that unless “sufficient legal cause” is shown within fifteen days of entry of this order “why such action should not be undertaken, . . . the court may at any time [after expiration of the time for his filing a response to the order] and without further notice to the parties (1) treat the special report and any supporting evidentiary materials as a motion to dismiss . . ., and (2) after considering any response as allowed by this order, rule on the motion . . . in accordance with the law.” Id. 4 (footnote omitted). Hawkins failed to file a response to this order within the time allowed by the court.

         Pursuant to the November 27, 2017 order, the court deems it appropriate to treat the report filed by the defendants as motions to dismiss with respect to the exhaustion defense. Thus, this case is now pending on the defendants' motions to dismiss. Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1374-1375 (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. Florida Dept. of Corrections, 587 Fed.Appx. 531, 534 (11th Cir. 2014) (holding that the district court properly construed the defendant's “motion for summary judgment as a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies[.]”).


         In addressing the requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), 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) (emphasis in original). Furthermore, the law is well-settled 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 federal 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). The court will therefore “resolve this issue first.” Id.

         “When deciding whether a prisoner has [properly] 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, 587 Fed.Appx. at 535. In so doing, the Eleventh Circuit rejected the inmate plaintiff's argument that “disputed facts as to exhaustion should be decided by a jury.” Id. at 534-535.

         Upon review of the amended complaint, the defendants' special report and the undisputed evidentiary materials filed in support thereof, the court concludes that the defendants' motion to dismiss is due to be granted.


         Hawkins challenges conditions at the Lee County Detention Center during his incarceration from August 21, 2017 until his release in October of 2017. Doc. 5 at 2. The defendants deny Hawkins' allegations regarding violations of his constitutional rights and further maintain that this case is subject to dismissal because Hawkins failed to exhaust the administrative remedy provided at the Lee County ...

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