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Dunn v. Hart

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Mapcross Division

March 9, 2015

CLEVELAND D. DUNN, Plaintiff,
v.
DARRELL HART, Warden, Ware State Prison; BARBARA J. MOORE, LPN, Ware State Prison; MARY GAIL FERRA, NP, Ware State Prison; H. VAUGHN, Director of Nursing, Ware State Prison; LARRY EDWARDS, Physician's Assistant, Calhoun State Prison; BRIAN OWENS, Commissioner; and THOMAS E. SITTNICK, Director of Health Services, Georgia Department of Corrections, Defendants.

ORDER

LISA GODBEY WOOD, Chief District Judge.

Presently before the Court are Defendants' and Plaintiff's Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, dkt. no. 70, and Defendants' Response to Plaintiff's Objections. After an independent and de novo review of the entire record, the undersigned OVERRULES the parties' Objections, concurs with the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, and ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation, as supplemented below, as the opinion of the Court.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, through counsel, filed this cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Dkt. No. 1. The Magistrate Judge conducted the requisite frivolity review and ordered service of Plaintiff's Complaint upon the captioned Defendants and recommended the dismissal of Plaintiff's claims against certain entities. Dkt. Nos. 16, 18. The undersigned adopted this recommendation as the opinion of the Court, and dismissed Plaintiff's claims against Lt. FNU Adams, Georgia Correctional Healthcare, Robert Bradford, Bill Nichols, the Georgia Department of Corrections, and John Doe. Dkt. No. 45. Those Defendants upon whom the Magistrate Judge ordered service of Plaintiff's Complaint filed a Motion to Dismiss. Dkt. No. 27. The Magistrate Judge initially recommended that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss be granted based on Plaintiff's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing this cause of action. Dkt. No. 46. However, based on Plaintiff's objections to that recommendation, the Magistrate Judge vacated his Report and Recommendation and directed the parties to offer explanations of several items bearing on the issue of whether Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies and to file any desired additional documentation. Dkt. No. 54, 69.

After the parties responded to the Magistrate Judge's directives, he entered the Report and Recommendation, dkt. no. 70, to which the parties have now objected. In that Report and Recommendation, the Magistrate Judge recommended that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss should be granted in part and denied in part. Specifically, the Magistrate recommended Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Edwards, as well as his claims against all Defendants for failure to protect, should be dismissed without prejudice for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The Magistrate also recommended dismissal of all claims against Defendants in their official capacity on Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds. Additionally, the Magistrate concluded that Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Vaughn, Owens, and Sittnick should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. However, the Magistrate concluded that Defendants' Motion on statute of limitations grounds should be denied and that Plaintiff had stated facially plausible claims against Defendants Moore, Ferra, and Hart for deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's medical needs. The undersigned addresses the parties' Objections to the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation as follows.

DISCUSSION

I. Defendants' Objections

Defendants do not object to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies as to his deliberate indifference claims against Defendants Moore, Ferra, and Hart. However, Defendants do object to the recommendation that Plaintiff filed his claims within the applicable statute of limitations period. In addition, Defendants contest the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that Plaintiff has stated cognizable claims against Defendants Moore, Ferra, and Hart and that these Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity. The Court addresses these lines of argument in turn.

A. Defendants' Statute of Limitations Objections

Defendants assert that, while the Magistrate Judge recognizes that Georgia law does not permit tolling of the applicable statute of limitations period, he did not apply Georgia law to this case. Defendants contend that the cases from other Circuits the Magistrate Judge cited in reaching his conclusion that Plaintiff is entitled to tolling were based on those courts' reliance on the laws of the states in those Circuits. Defendants assert that Georgia law should be applied, and Georgia law reveals that tolling of the limitations period is inapplicable to the time period during which Plaintiff was pursuing his administrative remedies. Defendants also assert that Plaintiff's cause of action is time barred because his deliberate indifference claims accrued no later than October 24, 2011, when outside doctors informed him that he needed facial surgery.[1] Dkt. No. 72, pp. 4-7.

Constitutional claims brought pursuant to Section 1983 "are tort actions, subject to the statute of limitations governing personal injury actions in the state where the § 1983 action has been brought." Powell v. Thomas, 643 F.3d 1300, 1303 (11th Cir. 2011). Georgia has a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33. Although state law determines the applicable statute of limitations, "[f]ederal law determines when the statute of limitations begins to run." Lovett v. Ray, 327 F.3d 1181, 1182 (11th Cir. 2003). As a general rule, "the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the facts which would support a cause of action are apparent or should be apparent to a person with a reasonably prudent regard for his rights." Id.

In addition to complying with the statute of limitations, prisoners seeking relief for alleged constitutional violations must first exhaust inmate grievance procedures before filing suit in federal court. See Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002). 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) states, "No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law... until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." In Porter, the United States Supreme Court held that exhaustion of available administrative remedies is mandatory. Porter, 534 U.S. at 523. The Supreme Court has noted exhaustion must be "proper." Woodford v. Ngo, 541 U.S. 81, 92 (2006). "Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules because no adjudicative system can function effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings." Id. at 90-91. In other words, an institution's requirements define what is considered exhaustion. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007).

Plaintiff submitted his final appeal of the denial of his grievance on December 8, 2011, and it was received by Alexander Jordan, who is a counselor at Calhoun State Prison. Dkt. No. 56-1, p. 5. Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies while in prison. Because exhaustion of Plaintiff's administrative grievance was a mandatory precondition of filing suit in federal court, the issue is whether the limitations period should be tolled due to Plaintiff's compliance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act's ("PLRA") provisions.

Tolling is governed by state law. Because the events giving rise to Plaintiff's cause of action allegedly occurred in Georgia, Georgia's laws regarding tolling apply. Georgia law does not permit tolling of the limitations period based on a litigant's incarceration status. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-90(b). Though Plaintiff contends that his claims arose while he was incarcerated, he does not argue that the limitations period should be tolled merely due to that incarceration. Rather, he posits that, because he was prevented from bringing this cause of action until he exhausted his administrative remedies, the statute of limitations was tolled while he pursued those ...


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