United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Dublin Division
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
BRIAN K. EPPS, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, an inmate at Autry State Prison in Pelham, Georgia, brought the above-captioned case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, concerning events that allegedly occurred at Telfair State Prison ("TSP") in Helena, Georgia. Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis ("IFP"). The matter is before the Court on Defendants' pre-answer motion to dismiss. (Doc. no. 27.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS that Defendants' motion to dismiss be GRANTED and that this case continue against both Defendants only as to the individual capacity Eighth Amendment claim for monetary damages based on the alleged use of excessive force.
Plaintiff originally named five Defendants in his complaint. However, because he is proceeding IFP, the Court screened his complaint and recommended the dismissal of three Defendants. (See doc. no. 10.) United States District Judge Dudley H. Bowen, Jr., adopted the recommendation as the opinion of the Court, leaving only Defendants Kyle Maddox and John Creamer, both correctional officers at TSP, in the case. (See doc. no. 14.) The Court allowed Plaintiff to proceed with two Eighth Amendment claims against Defendants Maddox and Creamer, one for use of excessive force and one for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. (See doc. no. 9.) With respect to these two Defendants, Plaintiff alleges the following facts.
On March 15, 2015, Defendants Maddox and Creamer beat Plaintiff while he was handcuffed and then dragged him out of his cell, all the while calling Plaintiff derogatory names. (Doc. no. 1, p. 5.) Fearful of the two officers because of the beating he was receiving, Plaintiff attempted to resist leaving his cell, which resulted in the officers kicking at Plaintiff to dislodge him from his cell. (Id.) In the struggle, Plaintiff collided with Defendant Maddox, causing a can of mace to explode over Plaintiff. (Id.) Plaintiff was not allowed to shower off the mace or receive medical attention for the injuries he received during the beating. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks monetary damages, a written apology, and injunctive relief in the form of demotion of Defendant Maddox and termination of Defendant Creamer. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff does not state in his complaint whether he is suing Defendants in their individual or official capacities, but in response to the motion to dismiss, Plaintiff clarifies that he seeks monetary damages from Defendants in their individual capacities and injunctive relief of demotion of Defendant Maddox and termination of Defendant Creamer in their official capacities. (Doc. no. 32, p. 2 and Ex. 1.)
As to the issue of exhaustion of administrative remedies, Plaintiff alleges that he "filed informal grievance [that] was closed due to investigation unit taking over." (Doc. no. 1, p. 3.) Once Defendants moved to dismiss the deliberate indifference claim based on an alleged failure to exhaust, Plaintiff responded with the assertion that he had two active grievances at the time of the events in question, and because the grievance procedure limits a prisoner to two active grievances, he was unable to grieve the issue of deliberate indifference. (Doc. no. 32, pp. 1-2.)
Defendants have produced the affidavit of Deondrick Clemons, the Grievance Coordinator at TSP, who states that in March 2014, Plaintiff filed only one grievance related to an alleged use of force, Grievance No. 169381, and that grievance did not mention or complain about an alleged denial of medical treatment for any injury resulting from the use of force. (Doc. no. 27, Clemons Aff., ¶ 15 and Exs. 3, 4.) Moreover, the grievance information provided by Defendants does not show Plaintiff had any other grievance pending at the time he filed Grievance No. 169381 on March 15, 2014. (Id. at Ex. 3, p. 1.)
A. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Should Be Granted as to the Eighth Amendment Claim for Deliberate Indifference to a Serious Medical Need Because Plaintiff Failed to Exhaust His Administrative Remedies.
1. The Legal Framework
The Eleventh Circuit has created a two-step analysis for motions to dismiss based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies. First, the Court looks to the factual allegations made by both parties, taking Plaintiff's version as true where they conflict, and if in that light the complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to exhaust, Defendants' motion will be granted. Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077, 1082-83 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1373-74 (11th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted)). If the complaint is not subject to dismissal at the first step, then at step two the Court makes specific findings to resolve the disputed factual issues, with Defendants bearing the burden of proving that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust. Id . Based on its findings as to the disputed factual issues, the Court determines whether the prisoner has exhausted his available administrative remedies and thus whether the motion to dismiss should be granted. Id . Because exhaustion "is treated as a matter of abatement and not an adjudication on the merits, it is proper for a judge to consider facts outside the pleadings and to resolve factual disputes so long as the factual disputes do not decide the merits and the parties have sufficient opportunity to develop a record." Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1376 (citations omitted).
Section 1997e(a) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") provides 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." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The PLRA's mandatory exhaustion requirement "applies to all prisoners seeking redress for prison circumstances or occurrences." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 520 (2002). Moreover, the Court does not have discretion to waive the requirement, even if it can be shown that the grievance process is futile or inadequate. See Smith v. Terry, 491 F.Appx. 81, 83 (11th Cir. 2012); Alexander v. Hawk, 159 F.3d 1321, 1325 (11th Cir. 1998).
Furthermore, the PLRA also "requires proper exhaustion." Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93 (2006). In order to properly exhaust his claims, a prisoner must "us[e] all steps" in the administrative process; he must also comply with any administrative "deadlines and other critical procedural rules" along the way. Id. at 90 (internal quotation omitted). If a prisoner fails to complete the administrative process or falls short of compliance with procedural rules governing prisoner grievances, he does not satisfy the exhaustion requirement. Johnson v. Meadows, 418 F.3d 1152, 1159 (11th Cir. 2005).
Also, because exhaustion of administrative remedies is a "precondition" to filing an action in federal court, the Eleventh Circuit requires prisoners to complete the administrative process before initiating suit. Poole v. Rich, 312 F.Appx. 165, 166 (11th Cir. 2008); see also Higginbottom v. Carter, 223 F.3d 1259, 1261 (11th Cir. 2000). Finally, under the PLRA, the Court has no discretion to inquire into whether administrative remedies are "plain, speedy, [or] effective." Porter, 534 U.S. at 524; see also Alexander, 159 F.3d at 1326. Rather, under the PLRA's "strict exhaustion" ...