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Ochoa v. Johns

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

September 20, 2017

JUAN RAMON OCHOA, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN T. JOHNS, Respondent.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          R. STAN BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Petitioner Juan Ramon Ochoa (“Ochoa”), who is currently housed at D. Ray James Correctional Institution (“D. Ray James”) 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. 8.) For the reasons which follow, I RECOMMEND that the Court DISMISS without prejudice Ochoa's Petition, DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case, and DENY Ochoa in forma pauperis status on appeal.

         BACKGROUND

         Ochoa is currently serving a 168-month federal sentence for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1). (Doc. 8-1, pp. 4-6.) He has a projected release date of October 14, 2017. (Id. at p. 5.)

         Ochoa states that the Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), issued a detainer against him in June 2005, then again on July 27, 2010, and in December 2016. (Doc. 1-1, p. 2.) It is not clear from Ochoa's Petition what he requests the Court do in this case. However, it appears that Ochoa seeks to have the Court remove the immigration detainer against him so that he may be eligible for halfway house placement. Respondent asserts that the Court should not review the relative merits of Ochoa's Petition because he has not exhausted his available administrative remedies. (Doc. 8.) Additionally, Respondent argues that the Court cannot grant Ochoa the relief he seeks.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Whether Ochoa 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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