United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
F. MOORER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Harold Williams (“Plaintiff”) is a
former inmate of the Staton Correctional Facility
(“Staton”) in Elmore, Alabama. He filed this
action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging medical
officials were deliberately indifferent to his serious
medical needs. Doc. 1. Plaintiff names as defendants Corizon
Medical Services, Inc. (“Corizon”), Rich
Hallworth (“Hallworth”), Woodrow Myers
(“Myers”), Bobby Crocker (“Crocker”),
Michele Sagers-Copeland (“Sagers-Copeland”),
Darryl Ellis (“Ellis”), and Domineek Guice
“Defendants”). Id.; Doc. 14. Plaintiff
sues defendants in their official and individual capacities.
Doc. 1 at 3. Plaintiff requests injunctive and monetary
relief. Id. at 3-8.
filed answers, special reports, supplemental special reports,
and evidentiary materials addressing Plaintiff's claims
for relief. Docs. 13, 14, 18, 29. Upon receipt of
Defendants' reports, the court directed Plaintiff to file
a response, including sworn affidavits and other evidentiary
materials, and specifically cautioning Plaintiff that
“at some time in the future the court may treat the
defendants' reports and the plaintiff's response as a
dispositive motion and response.” Doc. 19 at 2.
Plaintiff responded to Defendants' reports and materials.
Docs. 22, 23, 30.
court now will treat the Defendants' argument that
Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies
before filing suit as a motion to dismiss, and it will treat
the remainder of their reports as a motion for summary
judgment. Upon consideration of the motions, the responses,
and the evidentiary materials filed in support and in
opposition to the motion, the court concludes the motion to
dismiss is due to be granted, and, in the alternative, the
motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.
MOTION TO DISMISS
was a prisoner when he filed this lawsuit, and he challenges
the conditions of his confinement when he was an inmate at
Staton. Defendants argue Plaintiff failed to exhaust his
administrative remedies before filing suit. Doc. 14 at 19;
Doc. 18 at 5. Under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), “[n]o
action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions
under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law,
by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other
correctional facility until such administrative remedies as
are available are exhausted.” “[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.” Bryant v. Rich,
530 F.3d 1368, 1374-75 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation
marks omitted). Consequently, the court treats
Defendant's exhaustion defense as a motion to dismiss.
has provided in § 1997e(a) that an inmate must exhaust
irrespective of the forms of relief sought and offered
through administrative remedies.” Booth v.
Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 n.6 (2001). “[T]he word
‘exhausted' has a decidedly procedural emphasis. .
. one ‘exhausts' processes, not forms of relief,
and the statute provides that one must.” Id.
at 739. “[T]he PLRA's exhaustion requirement
applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they
involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and
whether they allege excessive force or some other
wrong.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532
(2002). The exhaustion requirement is an affirmative defense;
it is not jurisdictional or a pleading requirement. See
Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007); Woodford v.
Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 101 (2006) (“the PLRA exhaustion
requirement is not jurisdictional”); Bryant,
530 F.3d 1374-75 & n.10. “[T]he 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 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 PLRA exhaustion requirement requires proper
exhaustion.” Woodford, 548 U.S. at 93.
“Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an
agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules
[as a precondition to filing suit in federal court] because
no adjudicative system can function effectively without
imposing some orderly structure on the courts of its
proceedings. . . . Construing § 1997e(a) to require
proper exhaustion . . . fits with the general scheme of the
PLRA, whereas [a contrary] interpretation [allowing an inmate
to bring suit in federal court once administrative remedies
are no longer available] would turn that provision into a
largely useless appendage.” Id. at 90-91, 93.
The only exception to the exhaustion requirement is embedded
in the text of § 1997e(a), that is, the remedy must be
“available.” In other words, the grievance
procedure must be “'capable of use' to obtain
‘some relief for the action complained of.'”
Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1859 (2016). The
Supreme Court has held that a grievance procedure is
unavailable when “it operates as a simple dead
end.” Id. Or “it might be so opaque that
it becomes, practically speaking, incapable of use.”
Id. Or it is unavailable because “prison
administrators thwart inmates from taking advantage of a
grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or
intimidation.” Id. at 1860.
court conducts a two-step inquiry in applying §
1997e(a). See Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077
(11th Cir. 2008). First, the court considers the parties'
versions of the facts, and if they conflict, takes the
plaintiff's version as true. Id. at 1082. If,
based on the plaintiff's version, the claim is
unexhausted, the court must dismiss the claim. See
Id. Second, if the case cannot be dismissed based on
plaintiff's version and there are factual disputes,
“the court then proceeds to make specific findings in
order to resolve the disputed factual issues related to
exhaustion. The defendants bear the burden of proving that
the plaintiff has failed to exhaust his available
administrative remedies.” Id. (citations
Facts Related to the Grievance Process
avers she is a registered nurse in the State of Alabama and
is employed as the Health Services Administrator at Staton.
Doc. 14-2 at 1. Sagers-Copeland avers that upon arriving at
any facility in the Alabama Department of Corrections,
inmates are notified of the procedures and processes for
obtaining medical care. Id. at 2. The grievance
process begins when an inmate submits a Medical Grievance
form to Sagers-Copeland through the institutional mail
system. Sagers-Copeland responds in writing in about ten
days, and the response includes written notification that the
inmate may appeal by requesting a Grievance Appeal from the
Health Services Administrator and returning it to the Health
Services Administrator by placing the form in the sick call
request box or giving it to the nurse on rounds. Id.
at 2-3. If an inmate appeals, “the inmate may be
brought in for one-on-one communication with the on-site
physician, medical staff, me and/or the Director of
Nursing.” Id. at 3. Sagers-Copeland states she
tries to review grievances daily and respond within ten days.
Id. Sagers-Copeland avers that she “conducted
an exhaustive service of all of the grievance documentation,
including the grievance tracking documentation maintained at
Staton, and did not locate a single grievance document
submitted by Mr. Williams during the period from January of
2012 through the present.” Id.
Sagers-Copeland's affidavit is dated October 23, 2015.
Id. at 7.
avers he is a registered nurse in the State of Alabama and is
employed as the Director of Nursing at Staton. Doc. 14-3.
Ellis is “responsible for the day-to-day managerial
oversight of the nursing staff employed by Corizon at the
facilities.” Id. at 1. Ellis avers that he may
draft responses to grievances when Sagers-Copeland is
unavailable or out of the office. Id. at 2. Ellis
also looked for but could find a single grievance from
Plaintiff, and he could not recall Plaintiff filing a
grievance or requesting medical treatment. Id.
does not dispute that he was notified about the medical
grievance process and the way to complete it. Plaintiff
stated in his verified complaint that in about 2012, he filed
a “complaint form seeking medical assistance”
with reversal of his colostomy. Doc. 1 at 4. After Crocker
told Plaintiff “there was nothing that he could do to
reverse the procedure, ” Plaintiff “filed another
complaint to the Directors of the healthcare company . . .
.” Id. Plaintiff stated that he “filed a
medical grievance to both Mrs. Copeland and Mr. Ellis
complaining of his inadequate and depriving treatment”
from Defendant Guice Id. at 4-5. After an
appointment in March 2014, “Plaintiff filed another
medical grievance form to readdress his issue to Mrs.
Copeland and Mr. Ellis, and again the Plaintiff's issue
was not addressed with treatment and again no treatment was
rendered to the Plaintiff and they did nothing but establish
a pattern of denials.” Id. at 5. In his
response to Defendants' exhaustion argument, Plaintiff
he filed at least three grievances and received no answer to
either complaint. See (Plaintiff's Attachment
D). I complained about not receiving answer to my
complaints, to include why there was no tracking system, or
numbers on the grievances to ensure accountability.
(Plaintiff's Attachment A). Those
requests also went unanswered.
Doc. 22 at 1. Plaintiff's filing does not include the
attachments identified in his response. In a later statement,
I filed approximately three (3) grievances on or about
December, 2012, March, 2013, and June, 2014. I did not
receive a reply to either. I complained about not receiving
answer to my complaints, to include why there was no tracking
system, or numbers on the grievances to ensure
accountability. (Plaintiff's Attachment
A). Those requests also went unanswered.
Doc. 23-1 at 2. Despite Plaintiff's reference to an
attachment, none was filed. Plaintiff states he then
complained to Alabama Department of Corrections officials,
but no one would intervene except Lt. Sowell, who said he
could not require Plaintiff be treated but sent Plaintiff to
health care officials for treatment. Id. Plaintiff
submits no statement from Lt. Sowell.
undisputed that Corizon provides an administrative remedy for
inmate complaints regarding medical treatment in the form of
an inmate grievance procedure, but Plaintiff did not complete
it. Plaintiff offers no support for his bare assertions that
he filed grievances but received no response. He also does
not state he submitted any grievance appeal. He states he
complained to Department of Corrections officials, but he
does not submit copies of his complaints. The court
determines Plaintiff therefore fails to overcome
Defendant's evidence that a grievance system was
available to Plaintiff, but he failed to use it. See
Woodford, 548 U.S. at 90-91 (to exhaust administrative
remedies, an inmate must comply with all steps prescribed by
the grievance system); Turner, 541 F.3d at 1082
(court “make[s] specific findings in order to resolve
the disputed factual issues related to exhaustion”);
see also Maclary v. Carroll, 142 Fed.Appx. 618, 620
(3rd Cir. 2005) (inmate's unsupported conclusory
allegations that he filed grievances which went unanswered
and unprocessed were insufficient to overcome defendants'
evidence that he failed to exhaust available administrate
remedies); Brewington v. Daniels,
2:11-CV-793-TMH-CSC, 2012 WL 6005780 at *5 (M.D. Ala. 2012)
(inmate's conclusory assertion that he complied with
grievance procedures but medical staff failed to timely
respond to his initial medical grievance insufficient to
overcome defendants' evidence showing that a grievance
system was available for plaintiff's claims).
record before the court demonstrates that an administrative
remedy was available to Plaintiff during his confinement at
Staton. These materials further establish that Plaintiff
failed to properly exhaust the remedy prior to filing this
federal civil action. It is likewise clear that Plaintiff is
no longer at Staton, and his access to the grievance
procedure there has ceased; thus, the administrative remedy
provided by Defendants is no longer available to Plaintiff.
Under these circumstances, dismissal with prejudice is
appropriate. Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1375 n.1;
Johnson v. Meadows, 418 F.3d 1152, 1157 (11th Cir.
2005); Marsh v. Jones, 53 F.3d 707, 710 (5th Cir.
1995) (“Without the prospect of a dismissal with
prejudice, a prisoner could evade the exhaustion requirement
by filing no administrative grievance or by intentionally
filing an untimely one, thereby foreclosing administrative
remedies and gaining access to a federal forum without
exhausting administrative remedies.”); Berry v.
Kerik, 366 F.3d 85, 88 (2d Cir. 2004) (footnotes
omitted) (inmate's “federal lawsuits . . . properly
dismissed with prejudice” where previously available
administrative remedies had become unavailable). Even
assuming Plaintiff satisfies the requirements of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1997e(a), Defendants are entitled to judgment in their
favor based on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.
MOTION FOR ...