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Jarrard v. Brazier

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

May 24, 2019

JUSTIN PATRICK JARRARD, #305669, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES BRAZIER, et al., Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          STEPHEN M. DOYLE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is pending before the court on an Amended Complaint filed by Plaintiff, an indigent state inmate, in which he complains that he injured his left index finger on September 17, 2017, while confined at the Houston County Jail. (Doc. 5) at 2-3. Specifically, he alleges that his finger “was smashed in the cell door due to a faulty hydraulic door stopper.” (Doc. 5) at 3.

         Defendants filed a special report and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Plaintiff's claim for relief. In these filings, Defendants deny they acted in violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights and further argue that 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 Houston County Jail with respect to the claim presented in the complaint. (Doc. 18) at 5-7. Defendants base their exhaustion defense on Plaintiff's failure to file a grievance regarding the claim presented in this case. (Doc. 18-4) at 2; (Doc. 18-5) at 2. Defendants further argue that because Plaintiff did not file a grievance within the time required by the grievance procedure, he “failed to exhaust his remedies and can never exhaust them.” (Doc. 18) at 7.

         Upon review of Defendants' special report, the Court issued an order providing Plaintiff an opportunity to file a response to the report in which he was specifically directed to address “the defendants' argument[] that . . . [h]is claims are due to be dismissed because he failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)” prior to filing this federal civil action. (Doc. 22) at 1. The Order also advised Plaintiff that his response should be supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and/or other appropriate evidentiary materials. (Doc. 22) at 3. In addition, the order cautioned Plaintiff that unless “sufficient legal cause” is shown within fifteen (15) 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, and (2) after considering any response as allowed by this order, rule on the motion in accordance with the law.” (Doc. 22) at 4 (footnote omitted). The time allowed Plaintiff to file a response to the Order expired on March 18, 2019. To date, Plaintiff has filed no response to the arguments set forth by Defendants as required by the March 1, 2019 Order.

         Based on the foregoing, the Court finds it appropriate to treat the special report filed by Defendants (Doc. 18) as a motion to dismiss with respect to the exhaustion defense. Thus, this case is now pending on 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. Fla. Dep't of Corr., 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 as 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 seeking 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. Ga. Dep't of Corr., 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 Cty. Corr. and Rehab. Dep't, 476 Fed.Appx. 364, 366 (11th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Chandler v. Crosby, 379 F.3d 1278, 1286 (11th Cir. 2004); 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. 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 (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077, 1082 (11th Cir. 2008)). 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 Amended Complaint, Defendants' special report and the undisputed evidentiary materials filed in support thereof, the Court concludes that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is due to be granted.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff complains of an injury suffered during his prior incarceration at the Houston County Jail. In response to the complaint, Defendants assert that this case is subject to dismissal because Plaintiff failed to properly exhaust the administrative remedy provided at the jail prior to ...


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