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Williams v. Gams

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

July 24, 2018

WENDY WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
DR. DAVID GAMS, et ah, Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          GRAY M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action for damages involves a dispute over the adequacy of medical care and treatment afforded to Plaintiff Wendy Williams during her incarceration at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Woman in Wetumpka, Alabama.[1] Williams names as defendants Dr. David Gams, Nurse Chappell, Corizon, Nurse Blount (collectively "the Medical Defendants"), and Wardens Bobby Barrett and Gwendolyn Tarrance (collectively "the Correctional Defendants").[2]

         Defendants filed answers, special reports, a supplemental special report, and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Williams' claims for relief. In these documents, Defendants deny that they acted in violation of Williams' constitutional rights. The Medical Defendants also assert in their supplemental special report that the complaint is due to be dismissed because Williams failed to exhaust an administrative remedy available to her through the prison system's medical care provider. Docs. 23 & 77-1. The Medical Defendants base their exhaustion defense on Williams' failure to submit any medical grievances or grievance appeals regarding her claims. Doc. 77-1. In addition, the Medical Defendants maintain, and the evidentiary materials-including Williams' medical records-indicate that she received appropriate medical treatment during the time relevant to the matters alleged in the complaint. See Docs. 35, 35-1, 35-2, 35-3 & 35-4.

         The court granted Williams an opportunity to file a response to Defendants' reports, advising her to, among other things, "specifically address the Medical Defendants' argument that she [] failed to exhaust her available administrative remedies as required by 42 U.S.C. § l997e(a) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA")." Doc. 78 at 1 (footnote omitted). The order advised Williams that her response should be supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and other evidentiary materials. Doc. 78 at 2-3. The order further cautioned Williams that unless "sufficient legal cause" is shown within ten 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 her filing a response to this order] and without further notice to the parties (1) treat the special reports and supplemental special report and any supporting evidentiary materials as a motion for summary judgment or motion to dismiss, whichever is appropriate and (2) after considering any response as allowed by this order, rule on the motion in accordance with law." Doc. 78 at 3-4. Williams filed responses to Defendants' special reports. See Docs. 62, 63, 65 & 68. She has not, however, filed a response to the Medical Defendants' supplemental special report within the time allowed by the court.

         The court will treat the Medical Defendants' special report, as supplemented, as a motion to dismiss regarding the exhaustion defense and resolve this motion in the Medical Defendants' favor. Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1374-75 (11th Cir. 2008) ("[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."); see also Trias v. Fla. Dept. of Corrs., 587 Fed.Appx. 531, 534 (11th Cir. 2014) (holding that the district court properly construed a defendant's "motion for summary judgment as a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies"). In addition, the court will treat the Correctional Defendants' report as a motion for summary judgment and resolve this motion in their favor.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Exhaustion

         In addressing the requirements of 42 U.S.C. § l997e 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 Fed.Appx. 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 plaintiffs and the defendants' versions of the facts, and if they conflict, take the plaintiffs 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 Fed.Appx. 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 Fed.Appx. at 535. Based on the foregoing, the Eleventh Circuit has rejected an inmate-plaintiffs argument that "disputed facts as to exhaustion should be decided" only after a trial either before a jury or judge. Id. at 534.

         B. Summary Judgment

         "Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine [dispute] as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomm., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) ("The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."). The party moving for summary judgment "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the [record, including pleadings, discovery materials and affidavits], which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine [dispute] of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by presenting evidence indicating that there is no dispute of material fact or by showing that the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence to support some element on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-324.

         The Correctional Defendants have met their evidentiary burden. Thus, the burden shifts to Williams to establish, with appropriate evidence beyond the pleadings, that a genuine dispute material to her case exists. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3); Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593-94 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding that, once the moving party meets its burden, "the non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits [or sworn statements], or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file," demonstrate that there is a genuine dispute of material fact) (internal quotations omitted). This court will also consider "specific facts" pleaded in a plaintiffs sworn complaint when considering his opposition to summary judgment. Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1098 (11th Cir. 2014). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the non-moving party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable factfinder to return a verdict in its favor. Greenberg, 498 F.3d at 1263; Allen v. Bd. of Public Educ, 495 F.3d 1306, 1313 (11th Cir. 2007).

         Although factual inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and pro se complaints are entitled to liberal interpretation by the courts, a pro se litigant does not escape the burden of establishing by sufficient evidence a genuine dispute of material fact. See Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 525 (2006); Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990). Williams' pro se status alone does not compel the court to disregard elementary principles of production and proof in a civil case.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. The ...


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