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Corpa v. Baxley

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

April 12, 2019

DANE J. CORPA, Plaintiff,
v.
LT. STEVE BAXLEY, et al., Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          CHARLES S. COODY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on a complaint filed by Dane J. Corpa, an indigent inmate currently incarcerated at the Dale County Jail on several charges related to his alleged possession of child pornography and dissemination of such pornography. In this case, Corpa challenges his area of housing in the jail and the lack of medical treatment he received after an alleged attack by other inmates, all of which occurred in July of 2018. Doc. 1 at 2-3. The defendants remaining in this civil action are Steve Baxley and Eric Baker, correctional officers employed at the Dale County Jail. Corpa seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief and monetary damages for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Doc. 1 at 4.

         The defendants filed a special report and supporting evidentiary materials addressing the claims presented in the complaint. In these documents, the defendants deny they acted in violation of Corpa's constitutional rights and further argue that this case is due to be dismissed because prior to filing this cause of action Corpa failed to properly exhaust an administrative remedy available to him at the Dale County Jail addressing the claims presented in the complaint. Doc. 14 at 4-6. The defendants base their exhaustion defense on Corpa's failure to file any grievance regarding the claims raised in this case. Doc. 14-3 at 2-3; Doc. 14-5 at 2-3.

         Upon review of the special report filed by the defendants, the court issued an order on March 13, 2019 providing Corpa an opportunity to file a response to the report. Doc. 15. This order specifically directed Corpa to address “the defendant's argument[] that . . . [h]is claims are due to be dismissed because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies [available at the Dale County Jail] as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act [prior to filing this federal civil action.]” Doc. 15 at 1. The order also advised Corpa that his response should be supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and/or appropriate other evidentiary materials. Doc. 15 at 3. The order further cautioned Corpa 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] and without further notice to the parties (1) treat the special report[] and any supporting evidentiary materials as a motion to dismiss or motion for summary judgment, whichever is proper, and (2) after considering any response as allowed by this order, rule on the motion in accordance with the law.” Doc. 15 at 4 (footnote omitted). The time allowed Corpa to file a response to this order expired on March 28, 2019. As of the present date, Corpa has filed no response to the arguments set forth by the defendants as required by the March 13, 2019 order.

         Pursuant to the aforementioned order, the court deems it appropriate to treat the 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, 1374-75 (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.”); Trias v. Florida Dept. of Corrections, 587 Fed.Appx. 531, 534 (11th Cir. 2014) (holding that the district court properly construed Defendant's “motion for summary judgment as a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies[.]”).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In addressing the requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e with respect to 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.” 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 s-eeking 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. Because exhaustion is mandated by the statute, [a federal court has] no discretion to waive this requirement.” Myles v. Miami-Dade County Correctional and Rehabilitation Dept., 476 Fed.Appx. 364, 366 (11th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1286 (11th Cir. 2004) and Alexander v. Hawk, 159 F.3d 1321, 1325-26 (11th Cir. 1998)). The court will therefore “resolve this issue first.” Myles, 476 Fed.Appx. at 366.

         “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.” Myles, 476 Fed.Appx. at 366. “If in that light, the defendant[s] [are] 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). “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 (internal quotation marks and citation 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 (internal citations omitted). Based on the foregoing, the Eleventh Circuit specifically rejected the argument that “disputed facts as to exhaustion should be decided by a jury [or other factfinder].” Id.

         Upon review of the complaint, the defendants' special report and the evidentiary materials filed in support of such report, the court concludes that the defendants' motion to dismiss is due to be granted.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Corpa challenges actions taken against him and conditions to which was subjected at the Dale County Jail. In their response, the defendants deny they violated Corpa's constitutional rights and also assert that this case is subject to dismissal because Corpa failed to properly exhaust the administrative remedy provided to him at the Dale County Jail prior to filing the instant ...


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