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Howard v. Olson

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

May 23, 2019

DE'ONDRE J. HOWARD, #303 165, Plaintiff,
v.
SHERIFF WALLY OLSON, et al., Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          WALLACE CAPEL, JR., CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending on a Complaint filed by De'Ondre Howard, an inmate incarcerated at the Dale County Jail when he filed suit. Howard challenges the conditions of confinement to which he was subjected during his incarceration at the county jail. Named as defendants are Sheriff Wally Olson, Jail Administrator Ron Nelson, and Jail Supervisor Steve Baxley. Howard seeks damages for the alleged violation of his constitutional rights. Doc. 1 at 2-4.

         Defendants filed an answer, special report, and supporting evidentiary materials addressing the claim in the Complaint. In these documents, Defendants deny they acted in violation of Howard's constitutional rights and argues this case is due to be dismissed because, prior to filing the Complaint, Howard failed to properly exhaust an administrative remedy available to him at the Dale County Jail addressing the claims presented. Doc. 24 at 5-7. Defendants base their exhaustion defense on Howard's failure to file any grievance regarding his claims. Id.

         Upon receipt of Defendants' special report, the Court issued an Order providing Howard an opportunity to file a response. This order directed Howard to address “Defendants' arguments that: 1. His claims are due to be dismissed because he failed to fully 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.] . . .; and 2. Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity (from damages) on the claims presented herein as [he] has failed to establish that the challenged action violated his constitutional rights.” Doc. 25 at 1-2 (footnote omitted). The Order also advised Howard that his response should be supported by sworn affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and/or appropriate other evidentiary materials. Id. at 3. The Order further cautioned Howard 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.” Id. at 3-4 (footnote omitted). Howard has not filed a response to Defendants' report.

         Pursuant to the aforementioned Order, the court deems it appropriate to treat the report filed by Defendants as a motion to dismiss regarding the exhaustion defense. This case is now pending on Defendants' motions 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 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 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.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Howard challenges the conditions of confinement to which he was subjected during his incarceration at the Dale County Jail. In their response, Defendants deny this allegation and also assert this case is subject to dismissal because Howard failed to properly exhaust the administrative remedy provided to him at the Dale County Jail prior to filing suit ...


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