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Tavares Lashawn Dates v. Wilson

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

June 18, 2018

TAVARES LASHAWN DATES, #222958, Plaintiff,
v.
DR. WILSON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WALLACE CAPEL, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION[1]

This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on a complaint filed by Tavares Lashawn Dates on August 17, 2017 against Dr. Walter Wilson, the medical director at St. Clair Correctional Facility, Nurse Sharon Arrington - now Sharon Arrington Myatt - a Licensed Practical Nurse, and Corizon Health, the contract medical care provider for the state prison system at the time the challenged actions occurred. In his complaint, Dates alleges that while incarcerated at the Draper Correctional Facility in mid-2017 the defendants acted with deliberate indifference to pain and swelling in his right leg.[2]The defendants filed a special report and supporting evidentiary materials addressing the claims presented in the complaint. In these filings, the defendants deny they acted with deliberate indifference to Dates' medical condition and, instead, maintain that Dates received appropriate treatment from prison medical personnel. Doc. 35-3 at 2-16. The defendants further assert that the complaint is due to be dismissed because Dates failed to exhaust an administrative remedy available to him through Corizon prior to filing this case. Doc. 34-5 at 6-7 & Doc. 38-1 at 3-4. The defendants base their exhaustion defense on Dates' failure to file a grievance addressing the claim presented in this case.

         Upon receipt of the defendants' special report and supplemental exhibit, the court issued an order providing Dates an opportunity to file a response to the defendants' report. Doc. 39. In this order, the court directed Dates to address the following arguments set forth by the defendants:

1. His claims are due to be dismissed because he failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”)[.] . . .
2. He is entitled to no relief on the claims presented herein as he has failed to establish that the challenged actions violated his constitutional rights.

Doc. 39 at 1-2. The order also advised Dates that his response should be supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and/or other appropriate evidentiary materials. Doc. 39 at 2. In addition, the order cautioned Dates 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] and without further notice to the parties (1) treat the special report and any supporting evidentiary materials as a motion to dismiss and/or motion for summary judgment, and (2) after considering any response as allowed by this order, rule on the motion . . . in accordance with the law.” Doc. 39 at 4 (footnote omitted).

         The time provided Dates to file a response in compliance with the directives of the aforementioned order expired on June 7, 2018. As of the present date, Dates has filed no response in opposition to the defendants' special report.

         Based on the foregoing, the court deems it appropriate to treat the report filed by the defendants as a motion to dismiss with respect to the exhaustion defense. Thus, this case is now pending on the defendants' motion to dismiss. 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. Florida Dept. of Corrections, 587 Fed.Appx. 531, 534 (11th Cir. 2014) (holding that the district court properly construed Defendant's “motion for summary judgment as a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies[.]”).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In addressing the requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e with respect to 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. 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 exhausted his remedies, the court should first consider the plaintiff's and the defendant['s] 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 ...


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