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Loja v. Johns

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

September 19, 2017

HUGO RAMIRO ACOSTA LOJA, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN T. JOHNS, Respondent.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          R. STAN BAKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Petitioner Hugo Ramiro Acosta Loja (“Acosta Loja”), who is currently housed at D. Ray James Correctional Facility in Folkston, Georgia, filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. (Doc. 1.) Respondent filed a Response. (Doc. 11.) For the reasons which follow, I RECOMMEND that the Court DISMISS without prejudice Acosta Loja's Petition, DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case, and DENY Acosta Loja in forma pauperis status on appeal.

         BACKGROUND

         Acosta Loja is currently serving a 120-month federal sentence for possession of heroin with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A). (Doc. 12-1, p. 7.) He has a home detention eligibility date of July 3, 2019, and a projected release date of January 3, 2020. (Id.) On May 22, 2016, prison officials issued an incident report against Acosta Loja for alleged violations of the Bureau of Prisons' (“BOP”) discipline regulations. (Doc. 1-1, p. 5.) At the discipline hearing, Acosta Loja admitted to possession of a hazardous tool, namely a cell phone. (Id.) As a result, Acosta Loja was sanctioned with, among other things, loss of 41 days' good conduct time and forfeiture of 90 days' non-vested good conduct time. (Id.)

         On March 30, 2017, Acosta Loja filed this Petition contesting the loss of his good conduct time. (Doc. 1.) Acosta Loja maintains that the BOP improperly penalized him by sanctioning both his good conduct time and his non-vested good conduct time. (Id. at pp. 6, 8.) Respondent argues that the sanctions were appropriate because they comport with BOP policy, and Petitioner received appropriate process during the disciplinary proceedings. (Doc. 12, pp. 6- 10.) However, Respondent asserts that the Court should not review the relative merits of Acosta Loja's Petition because he has not exhausted his available administrative remedies concerning his good time credit sanctions. (Id.)

         DISCUSSION

         I. Whether Acosta Loja Exhausted his Administrative Remedies

         A. Legal Requirements for Exhaustion

         The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a Section 2241 petitioner's failure to exhaust administrative remedies is not a jurisdictional defect. Santiago-Lugo v. Warden, 785 F.3d 467, 474 (11th Cir. 2015); see also Fleming v. Warden of FCI Tallahassee, 631 F. App'x 840, 842 (11th Cir. 2015) (“[Section] 2241's exhaustion requirement was judicially imposed, not congressionally mandated, and . . . nothing in the statute itself support[s] the conclusion that the requirement [is] jurisdictional.”). Nevertheless, the Eleventh Circuit has noted “that the exhaustion requirement is still a requirement and that courts cannot ‘disregard a failure to exhaust . . . if the respondent properly asserts the defense.'” Id. (citing Santiago-Lugo, 785 F.3d at 475). Failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense and inmates are not required to specially plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaint. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007). However, the normal pleading rules still apply, and dismissal is appropriate when an affirmative defense appears on the face of a complaint-making it clear that a prisoner cannot state a claim for relief. Id. at 214-15. Thus, when a party admits in his complaint or petition that he has not exhausted the grievance process, dismissal is warranted. See Okpala v. Drew, 248 F. App'x 72 (11th Cir. 2007); Cole v. Ellis, No. 5:10-CV-00316-RS-GRJ, 2010 WL 5564632, at *3 (N.D. Fla. Dec. 28, 2010); Rashid v. Liberty Cty. Jail, CV410-092, 2010 WL 3239241, at *1 n.1 (S.D. Ga. May 3, 2010) (“Nothing in Jones . . . forbids the Court from dismissing a complaint pursuant to [42 U.S.C.] § 1997e(a) if it is clear from the face of the complaint that the prisoner has not exhausted all administrative remedies available to him.”).

         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. App'x 869, 871 (11th Cir. 2006) (quoting Alexander v. Hawk, 159 F.3d 1321, 1327 (11th Cir. 1998) (first alteration in original)). Furthermore, requiring exhaustion in the prison setting “eliminate[s] unwarranted federal-court interference with the administration of prisons” and allows “corrections officials time and opportunity to address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a federal case.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93 (2006).[1]

         The United States Supreme Court has noted exhaustion must be “proper.” Id. at 92. “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, 549 U.S. at 218. It is not the role of the court to consider the adequacy or futility of the administrative remedies afforded to the inmate. Higginbottom v. Carter, 223 F.3d 1259, 1261 (11th Cir. 2000). The court's focus should be on what remedies are available and whether the inmate pursued these remedies prior to filing suit. Id.

         Thus, under the law, prisoners must do more than simply initiate grievances; they must also appeal any denial of relief through all levels of review that comprise the agency's administrative grievance process. Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1378 (11th Cir. 2008) (“To exhaust administrative remedies in accordance with the PLRA [Prison Litigation Reform Act], prisoners must ‘properly take each step within the administrative process.'”) (quoting Johnson v. Meadows, 418 F.3d 1152, 1157 (11th Cir. 2005)); Sewell v. Ramsey, No. CV406-159, 2007 WL 201269 (S.D. Ga. Jan. 27, 2007) (finding that a plaintiff who is still awaiting a response from the warden regarding his grievance is still in the process of exhausting his administrative remedies).

         B. Standard of Review for Exhaustion

         “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. Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1374 (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. In these instances, “it is proper for a judge to consider facts outside of the pleadings and to resolve ...


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