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Mitchell v. Hooks

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

July 10, 2018




         In this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, Larry H. Mitchell, an inmate confined at the Elmore County Jail, challenges the handling of mail addressed to his grandmother. Doc. 1 at 2-3. Mitchell seeks declaratory and injunctive relief for the alleged violation of his constitutional rights. Doc. 1 at 4.

         The defendant filed a special report and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Mitchell's claim for relief. In these documents, the defendant adamantly denies that he acted in violation of Mitchell's constitutional rights. The defendant further argues that this case is due to be dismissed because Mitchell failed to properly exhaust an administrative remedy available to him at the Elmore County Jail prior to filing this cause of action. Docs. 11 at 4-9 & 11-2 at 3-4. The defendant bases the exhaustion defense on Mitchell's failure to file a grievance pursuant to the jail's grievance procedure regarding the claims raised in the complaint.

         On May 25, 2018, the court entered an order providing Mitchell an opportunity to file a response to the defendant's report. Doc. 12. In this order, the court directed Mitchell to address the following arguments set forth by the defendant:

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. 12 at 1-2. The order also advised Mitchell that his response should be supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury or other appropriate evidentiary materials. Doc. 12 at 2. In addition, the order cautioned Mitchell that unless “sufficient legal cause” is shown within 15 days of entry of the 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, whichever is proper, and (2) after considering any response as allowed by this order, rule on the motion in accordance with the law.” Doc. 12 at 4 (footnote omitted).

         The time allotted to Mitchell to file a response in compliance with the directives of the aforementioned order expired on June 8, 2018. As of the present date, Mitchell has filed no response in opposition to the defendant's special report.

         Based on the foregoing, the court deems it appropriate to treat the special report filed by the defendant as a motion to dismiss with respect to the exhaustion defense. Thus, this case is now pending on the defendant's 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. Fla. Dept. of Corr., 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”).


         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. Ga. Dept. of Corr., 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. Because exhaustion is mandated by the statute, [a federal court has] no discretion to waive this requirement.” Myles v. Miami-Dade Cnty. Corr. & Rehab. Dept., 476 Fed.Appx. 364, 366 (11th Cir. 2012) (internal citations omitted). 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 ...

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