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Pierson v. Jones

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

October 10, 2018

JAY JONES, et al., Defendants.




         When Bernard Pierson filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action he was an inmate confined in the Lee County Detention Center.[1] In his complaint, Pierson attacks conditions of confinement he experienced during his incarceration at the detention center. Doc. 1 at 2-3. Pierson names Jay Jones, the Sheriff of Lee County, Alabama, Capt. Welch, the jail's administrator, and Lt. Timothy Jones, a jailer at the facility, as defendants. Pierson seeks a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Doc. 1 at 3.

         The defendants filed a special report and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Pierson's claims. The defendants deny they violated Pierson's constitutional rights. The defendants further argue this case is due to be dismissed because prior to filing his complaint Pierson failed to properly exhaust the administrative remedy available to him at the Lee County Detention Center. Doc. 15. at 4-7. The defendants base their exhaustion defense on Pierson's failure to file a grievance pursuant to the jail's grievance procedure addressing the claims on which he now seeks relief.

         On September 5, 2018, the court entered an order providing Pierson an opportunity to file a response to the defendants' report, and he was advised to address “the defendants' argument[] that his claims are due to be dismissed because he failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies [at the detention center] as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)” prior to filing this federal civil action. Doc. 16 at 1. The order also advised Pierson that his response should be supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and/or other appropriate evidentiary materials. Doc. 16 at 3. The order further cautioned Pierson 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.” Doc. 16 at 3-4 (footnote omitted). The docket indicates that Pierson received a copy of this order. Pierson, however, failed to file a response to the order within the time allowed by the court.

         Pursuant to the September 5, 2018 order, the court deems it appropriate to treat the special 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, 1374-1375 (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.”); see also 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]. A 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 534-35.

         Upon review of the 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.


         Pierson challenges conditions at the Lee County Detention Center during his prior incarceration in this facility. The defendants generally deny Pierson's allegations and further maintain that this case is subject to dismissal because Pierson failed to exhaust the administrative remedy provided at the Lee County Detention Center prior to ...

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