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Sewell v. Chatman

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

April 14, 2015

JEFFERY SEWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
BRUCE CHATMAN; WINDELL FOWLER; LARRY BREWTON; JOHN PAUL; and FREDDIE DAVIS, Defendants.

ORDER and MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

R. STAN BAKER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, who is currently incarcerated at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia, filed a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 to contest certain conditions of his confinement. (Doc. 1.) Defendants Bruce Chatman, John Paul, Wendell Fowler, Larry Brewton, and Freddie Davis ("Defendants") filed a Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 46.) Plaintiff filed a Response, (doc. 56), and Defendants filed a Reply. (Doc. 60.) Plaintiff filed a Surreply. (Doc. 62.) For the reasons which follow, Defendants' Motion should be GRANTED. Additionally, Plaintiff should be DENIED leave to appeal in forma pauperis .

BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff is a Suna Muslim and avers that his religion is a "well known" fact within Georgia State Prison. (Doc. 1, p. 6.) Plaintiff also states that certain members of the administration at Georgia State Prison labeled him a "Mob" gang member "[a]t some point in 2013." (Id.). Plaintiff asserts he informed Defendants Chatman, Fowler, Paul, and Brewton on several occasions that he was incorrectly labeled a member of the Mob gang, even though his religion does not allow affiliation with a gang. Plaintiff contends the Mob gang "was heavily at war with the bloods and the [C]rips. This war had led to the death of inmates and [left] many [severely] injured." (Doc. 1, p. 7.)

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Brewton placed him in a cell with a known leader of the Crips gang on February 26, 2013. According to Plaintiff, this Crips gang member knew Plaintiff is a Muslim because Plaintiff had a kufi and a prayer rug. Plaintiff contends that he wrote Defendants Chatman, Fowler, Paul, and Brewton and spoke to them about being in fear for his life, particularly because he had been falsely labeled as a member of the "Mob" gang. Plaintiff states he feared for his life, even though Defendant Brewton told him no other inmate was aware of Plaintiff being labeled a member of the "Mob" gang. (Id.)

Plaintiff asserts he and Defendant Davis got into a physical confrontation on May 9, 2013, and after this confrontation, Defendant Davis told Plaintiff, "I promise you, I'm going to make you pay for it.'" (Id. at p. 8.) Plaintiff asserts he and his roommate discussed this incident, but it was "no big deal" between the two of them. (Id.) Plaintiff maintains his roommate asked him about the incident with Defendant Davis about a week later. According to Plaintiff's roommate, Defendant Davis asked why Plaintiff was a coward. Plaintiff states he felt like more happened in his roommate's conversation with Defendant Davis because his roommate seemed more distant and was not talking to him. (Id.)

Approximately a week later, Plaintiff was awakened by his roommate during the early morning hours, and his roommate was holding a homemade knife to his neck. Plaintiff contends his roommate stabbed him numerous times after telling him that Defendant Davis showed him Plaintiff's file which showed Plaintiff's alleged gang affiliation. (Id. at 9.) Plaintiff contends he was stabbed eighteen (18) times and received injuries as a result. Plaintiff avers he has constant headaches, his wounds ache during certain weather, he is forgetful at times, and he has nightmares and difficulty sleeping. (Id.)[2]

DISCUSSION

Defendants set forth several grounds for dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint in their Motion. First, Defendants contend Plaintiff did not properly exhaust his administrative remedies regarding the claims set forth in his Complaint. Defendants also argue Plaintiff fails to set forth a viable deliberate indifference claim against them. Defendants further argue they are entitled to qualified immunity. Finally, Defendants maintain Plaintiff is not entitled to the injunctive relief he seeks. As set forth below, the undersigned agrees that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies properly and that Plaintiff's Complaint is due to be dismissed on this ground.

I. Standard of Review

The determination of whether an inmate exhausted his available administrative remedies prior to filing a cause of action in federal court is a matter of abatement and should be raised in a motion to dismiss. Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1374 (11th Cir. 2008). "Even though a failure-to-exhaust defense is non-jurisdictional, it is like" a jurisdictional defense because such a determination "ordinarily does not deal with the merits" of a particular cause of action. Id. (internal punctuation and citation omitted). Further, a judge "may resolve factual questions" in instances where exhaustion of administrative remedies is a defense before the court. Id.

Where Congress explicitly mandates, 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). Section 1997e(a) of Title 42 of the United States Code 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).

In Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1079 (11th Cir. 2008), the Eleventh Circuit clarified how the lower courts are to examine the issue of exhaustion of administrative remedies. First, the court is to take the plaintiff's version of the facts regarding exhaustion as true. Id. at 1082. If, even under the plaintiff's version of the facts, plaintiff has not exhausted, the complaint must be dismissed. Id. However, if the parties' conflicting facts leave a dispute as to whether plaintiff has exhausted, the court need not accept all of plaintiff's facts as true. Id. Rather, "the court then proceeds to make specific findings in order to resolve the disputed factual issues[.]" Id. "Once the court makes findings on the disputed issues of fact, it then decides whether under those findings the prisoner has exhausted his available administrative remedies." Id. at 1083. The Eleventh Circuit has held that a district court may consider materials outside of the pleadings and resolve factual disputes regarding exhaustion in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss so long as the factual disputes do not decide the merits of the case. See Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1376-77.

The requirement that the exhaustion of remedies occur "first in an agency setting allows the agency [to] develop the necessary factual background upon which decisions should be based' and giv[es] the agency a chance to discover and correct its own errors.'" Green v. Sec'y for Dep't of Corr., 212 F.Appx. 869, 871 (11th Cir. 2006) (quoting Alexander v. Hawk, 159 F.3d 1321, 1327 (11th Cir. 1998) (first alteration in original)). "However, while [Section] 1997e(a) requires that a prisoner provide as much relevant information as he reasonably can in the administrative grievance process, it does not require more.'" Id. (quoting Brown v. Sikes, 212 F.3d 1205, 1207 (11th Cir. 2000)). Nevertheless, the purpose of section 1997e(a) is not that "fact-intensive litigation" result over whether every fact relevant to the cause of action was included in the grievance. Hooks v. Rich, CV605-65, 2006 WL 565909, at *5 (S.D. Ga. Mar. 7, 2006) (internal citation omitted). "As long as the basic purposes of exhaustion are fulfilled, there does not appear to be any reason to require a prisoner plaintiff to present fully developed legal and factual claims at the administrative level.'" Id. ...


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