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Daniel v. Rafferty

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

October 17, 2018

DONALD RAY DANIEL,[1] #311112, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSH RAFFERTY,[2] et al., Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          CHARLES S. COODY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, an inmate incarcerated at the Easterling Correctional Facility when he initiated this pro se 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, [3] brings suit against Defendants for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. Plaintiff, a disabled individual confined to a wheelchair, complains the Geneva County Jail lacks wheel chair ramps and “other things” such as support bars which caused him to suffer injuries during his incarceration at the facility. The named defendants are Sheriff Tony Helms and Commander Josh Rafferty. Plaintiff requests damages and injunctive relief. Doc. 1.

         Defendants filed a special report and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Plaintiff's claims for relief. In these documents, Defendants deny they acted in violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Defendants further argue this case is due to be dismissed because prior to filing this cause of action Plaintiff failed to properly exhaust the administrative remedy available to him at the Geneva County Jail regarding the claims presented in the complaint. Doc. 15 at 6-8. Defendants base their exhaustion defense on Plaintiff's failure to follow the available required administrative procedures at the Geneva County Jail regarding the claims presented. Id.

         The court provided Plaintiff an opportunity to file a response to Defendants' special report in which he was advised, among other things, to address Defendants' argument that “he failed to fully exhaust his administrative remedies available at the Geneva County Jail as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”).” Doc. 16 at 1 (footnote omitted). The order advised Plaintiff his response should be supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and other evidentiary materials. Id. at 3. This order further cautioned Plaintiff 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 this order] and without further notice to the parties (1) treat the special report and any supporting evidentiary materials as a [dispositive] motion . . . and (2) after considering any response as allowed by this order, rule on the motion in accordance with the law.” Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff has filed no response to the order within the time allowed by the court.

         Pursuant to the August 8, 2018 order, the court deems it appropriate to treat the report filed by Defendants' as a motion to dismiss regarding the exhaustion defense and resolve this motion in favor of Defendants. 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) (District court properly construed defendant's “motion for summary judgment as a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies....”).

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Exhaustion

         In addressing the requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e about 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. Georgia Dept. of Corrs., 254 F.3d 1276, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001) (citations and internal quotations omitted). 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, ” 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 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. 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-plaintiff's argument that “disputed facts as to exhaustion should be decided” only after a trial either before a jury or judge. Id. at 534.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff, an inmate previously confined at the Geneva County Jail, alleges the facility is in violation of the ADA. Defendants deny Plaintiff's allegations and maintain this case is subject to dismissal because Plaintiff failed to exhaust the administrative remedy provided at the Geneva County Jail prior to filing this complaint as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). As explained, federal law directs this court to treat Defendants' response as a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust an administrative remedy and ...


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