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Leonard v. Parker

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

May 9, 2019

WILLIAM B. LEONARD, #317 373, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPUTY SHERIFF S. PARKER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          CHARLES S. COODY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, William Leonard, an inmate incarcerated at the Russell County Detention Center in Phenix City, Alabama, when he initiated this pro se 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, [2] brings suit against Defendant Stephon Parker for an alleged use of excessive force which occurred at the Russell County Courthouse.[3] Leonard names as the defendant Stephon Parker, a Deputy Sheriff with the Russell County Sheriff's Department. For relief, Leonard requests damages and that Parker be reprimanded or fired. Doc. 1.

         Parker filed a special report and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Leonard's claims for relief. In these documents, Parker denies he acted in violation of Leonard's constitutional rights. Parker further argue this case is due to be dismissed because prior to filing this cause of action Leonard failed to properly exhaust the administrative remedy available to him at the Russell County Jail regarding the claims presented in the complaint. Doc. 12 at 6-8. Parker bases his exhaustion defense on Leonard's failure to follow the available required administrative procedures at the Russell County Jail regarding the claims presented. Id.

         The court provided Leonard an opportunity to file a response to Parker's special report in which he was advised, among other things, to address Parker's argument that “he failed to fully exhaust his administrative remedies available at the Russell County Jail as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”).” Doc. 12 at 1 (footnote omitted). The order advised Leonard 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 Leonard 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. Leonard has filed no response to the order within the time allowed by the court.

         Pursuant to the February 15, 2019, order, the court deems it appropriate to treat the report filed by Parker as a motion to dismiss regarding the exhaustion defense and resolve this motion in his favor. 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. App'x 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

         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 Leonard's and the defendants' versions of the facts, and if they conflict, take the Leonard'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. App'x 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

         Leonard, an inmate previously confined at the Russell County Jail, alleges Parker subjected him to excessive force during a court appearance in the Russell County Courthouse. Parker denies Leonard's allegations and maintains this case is subject to dismissal because Leonard failed to exhaust the administrative remedy provided at the Russell 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 Parker's response as a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust an administrative remedy and allows the court to look beyond the pleadings to relevant evidentiary materials in deciding the issue of proper exhaustion. Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1375.

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act compels exhaustion of available administrative remedies before a prisoner can seek relief in federal court on a § 1983 complaint. Specifically, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) states that “[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.” “Congress has provided in § 1997(e)(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 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 PLRA strengthened [the exhaustion] provision [applicable to inmate complaints] in several ways. Exhaustion is no longer left to the discretion of the district court, but is mandatory. Prisoners must now exhaust all ‘available' ...


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