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Clegg v. Siddiq

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

July 31, 2019

JEFFREY S. CLEGG, Plaintiff,




         This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action for damages and injunctive relief involves a dispute over the adequacy of medical care and treatment afforded Plaintiff Jeffrey Clegg during his incarceration at the Bullock Correctional Facility (“Bullock”) in Union Springs, Alabama.[1] Clegg names as defendants Dr. Tahir Siddiq and Health Services Administrator Jessica Duffell.[2]

         Defendants filed an answer, special report, and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Clegg's claims for relief. In these documents, Defendants deny that they acted in violation of Clegg's constitutional rights. Defendants also contend that the complaint is due to be dismissed because Clegg failed to exhaust an administrative remedy available to him through the prison system's medical care provider regarding the medical claims against Dr. Siddiq prior to filing the complaint. Doc. 25. Defendants base their exhaustion defense on Clegg's failure to submit any medical grievance appeals regarding the claims presented against Dr. Siddiq. Doc. 25-2. In addition, Defendants maintain that Clegg's medical records indicate that he received appropriate medical treatment during the time relevant to the matters alleged. See Docs. 25-1, 25-2, 25-3, 25-4.

         Upon receipt of Defendants' special report, the court issued an order providing Clegg an opportunity to file a response. This order directed Clegg to address Defendants' arguments that “he [] failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) [prior to filing this federal civil action] . . ., ” and that “the complaint fails to establish that they in any way acted violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights.” Doc. 27 at 1-2 (footnote omitted). The order advised Clegg that his response should be supported by affidavits or statements made under penalty of perjury and other evidentiary materials. Doc. 27 at 2-3. The order further cautioned Clegg that unless “sufficient legal cause” is shown within ten 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 reports and supplemental special report and any supporting evidentiary materials as a motion for summary judgment or motion to dismiss, whichever is appropriate and (2) after considering any response as allowed by this order, rule on the motion in accordance with law.” Doc. 27 at 3-4.

         Clegg took advantage of the opportunity to file a response to Defendants' special report. Docs. 36, 37. In response to Defendants' exhaustion defense, Clegg argues that Duffell refused to process a grievance regarding Dr. Siddiq, so he filed a grievance with the Board of Medical Examiners to exhaust administrative remedies. Doc. 37 at 5. However, Duffell maintains that Clegg failed to exhaust the available prison grievance procedure regarding the medical issues raised in his complaint against Dr. Siddiq. Specifically, Duffell contends that Clegg filed a variety of medical grievances during his incarceration at Bullock but, prior to filing this action, he never submitted a medical grievance appeal regarding Dr. Siddiq. Defendants produced Clegg's inmate medical file, maintained at the institution, which reflects that Clegg had access to and used the medical grievance procedure on numerous occasions to submit grievances, grievance appeals, and medical requests, but failed to submit a grievance or grievance appeal regarding the subject matter of his claim against Dr. Siddiq prior to filing this action. Docs. 25-2, 25-3, 25-4. While Clegg maintains that he exhausted his claim against Dr. Siddiq by writing to the Board of Medical Examiners, because Duffell refused to process a grievance, the Board is not part of the grievance procedure provided by the institutional medical provider.[3] See Bock, 549 U.S. at 218 (“The level of detail necessary in a grievance to comply with the grievance procedures will vary from system to system and claim to claim, but it is the prison [medical provider's] requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion.”). Contrary to Clegg's conclusory and unsupported assertions, the documents and records before the court demonstrate that during all times relevant to the allegations made, Clegg had access to the institutional medical provider's grievance process to exhaust his claims.

         “[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.” Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1374-1375 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal quotations omitted); Trias v. Florida Dept. of Corrections, 587 Fed.Appx. 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[.]”). Therefore, the court will treat Defendant Siddiq's special report as a motion to dismiss. The court will treat Defendant Duffell's special report as a motion for summary judgment.


         A. Exhaustion

         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.'” Myles, 476 Fed.Appx. at 366 (quoting 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.” Id. (quoting Turner, 541 F.3d at 1082). 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.

         B. Summary Judgment

         “Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine [dispute] as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomm., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (“The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”). The party moving for summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the [record, including pleadings, discovery materials and affidavits], which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine [dispute] of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by presenting evidence indicating there is no dispute of material fact or by showing the non-moving party has failed to present evidence to support some element on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-324.

         Defendant Duffell has met her evidentiary burden. Thus, the burden shifts to Clegg to establish, with appropriate evidence beyond the pleadings, that a genuine dispute material to his case exists. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3); Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 593-594 (11th Cir. 1995) (holding that, once the moving party meets its burden, “the non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits [or sworn statements], or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ” demonstrate there is a genuine dispute of material fact) (internal quotations omitted). This court will also consider “specific facts” pled in a plaintiff's sworn complaint when considering his opposition to summary judgment. Caldwell v. Warden, FCI Talladega, 748 F.3d 1090, 1098 (11th Cir. 2014). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the non-moving party produces evidence that would allow a reasonable factfinder to return a verdict in its favor. Greenberg, 498 F.3d at 1263; Allen v. Bd. of Public Educ., 495 F.3d 1306, 1313 (11th Cir. 2007).

         Although factual inferences must be viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and pro se complaints are entitled to liberal interpretation by the courts, a pro se litigant does not escape the burden of establishing by sufficient evidence a genuine dispute of material fact. See Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 525 (2006); Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 670 (11th Cir. 1990). Clegg's pro se status alone does not compel this court to disregard elementary principles of production and proof in a civil case.


         A. ...

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