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Wadsworth v. Franklin

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

February 20, 2019

BILL FRANKLIN, et al., Defendants.




         Plaintiff, Jesse Wadsworth [“Wadsworth”], an inmate in the custody of the Elmore County Jail in Wetumpka, Alabama, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action on September 21, 2018 in which he challenges the constitutionality of conditions at the county jail. Named as defendants are Sheriff Bill Franklin and the Elmore County Jail Kitchen Staff.[1] Wadsworth requests damages and injunctive relief. Doc. 1.

         Defendant Franklin filed an answer, special report, and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Wadsworth's claims for relief. Doc. 7. In these filings, Defendant Franklin denies he acted in violation of Wadsworth's constitutional rights and argue this case is due to be dismissed because prior to filing this case Wadsworth failed to properly exhaust an administrative remedy available to him at the Elmore County Jail by filing a grievance about his claims that he is subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the jail. Docs. 7-2, 7-9, 7-10.

         The court provided Wadsworth an opportunity to file a response to the special report and advised him he must specifically address Defendant's argument that “he [] failed to fully exhaust his administrative remedies as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”).” Doc. 9 at 1 (footnote omitted). The order advised Wadsworth that his response should be supported by sworn affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and other evidentiary materials. Id. at 3. This order further cautioned Wadsworth 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 law.” Id. at 3-4. Wadsworth has not filed a response to Defendant Franklin's report.

         The court will treat Defendant's special report as a motion to dismiss regarding the exhaustion defense and resolve this motion in Defendant's favor. 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.”); 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 addressing the requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e 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 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.


         Wadsworth challenges the conditions of confinement at the Elmore County Jail. Specifically, he complains the jail provides inmates with inadequate food portions and that there is a lack of licensed and certified kitchen stewards. In response to the complaint, Defendant Franklin asserts this case may be dismissed because Wadsworth failed to properly exhaust the administrative remedy provided by the facility ...

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