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Timmons v. Reid

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

October 20, 2017

TIMOTHY TIMMONS, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER REID; and OFFICER SANDERS, Defendants.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          R. STAN BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, who is currently housed at Ware State Prison in Waycross, Georgia, filed a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 contesting certain events while he was housed at Rogers State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia. (Doc. 1.) Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 15), to which Plaintiff filed a Response, (doc. 20). Defendants filed a Reply, and Plaintiff filed a Surreply. (Docs. 21, 22.) For the reasons which follow, I RECOMMEND the Court GRANT Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and DISMISS without prejudice Plaintiff's Complaint for his failure to exhaust his administrative remedies. I also RECOMMEND the Court DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case and enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal and DENY Plaintiff in forma pauperis status on appeal.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed this action on May 24, 2016, regarding events that occurred on May 6, 2015. (Doc. 1.) On that date, Defendants Reid and Sanders transferred Plaintiff to the Tattnall County Jail to be charged with assault on a corrections officer. (Id. at p. 6.) Plaintiff attempted to step into the transport van unassisted by the officers. However, the milk crate that he used as a step to get into the van gave way, and Plaintiff fell backwards onto the ground on his left side. Plaintiff then asked Defendants Reid and Sanders to assist him as he was on the ground in “tears, agony, and in excruciating pain.” (Id.) Plaintiff also asked Defendants to call an ambulance or take him to a hospital. However, Defendants refused to assist Plaintiff, ordered him to get into the transport van, and then “yanked [Plaintiff] up aggressively” and forced him into the van. (Id.)

         Defendants Reid and Sanders then transferred Plaintiff to the Tattnall County Magistrate Court. Plaintiff states that he asked for medical attention throughout the trip to the courthouse, but Defendants told him to “shut up” and that he “wasn't getting any.” (Id. at p. 7.) Plaintiff was required to walk to the hearing room and stand during the hearing, which caused him great pain. After the hearing in Tattnall County Magistrate Court, Defendants Reid and Sanders transferred Plaintiff back to Rogers State Prison. (Id.) Plaintiff states Defendants forced him to walk a long distance and up two flights of stairs while handcuffed, which caused him great pain. He states that, while he had to pass medical to get to his unit, Defendants Reid and Sanders refused to take him to the medical unit and that they laughed at and threatened him. (Id.) Plaintiff states that he later learned that he suffered a herniated disc, as well as pinched nerves, from the fall.

         The Court directed service of Plaintiff's Complaint on Defendants by Order dated August 23, 2016. (Doc. 10.) Defendants then filed their Motion to Dismiss on November 7, 2016. (Doc. 15.)

         DISCUSSION

         In their Motion, Defendants assert Plaintiff failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies prior to the filing of his Complaint. In response, Plaintiff contends he exhausted his administrative remedies as to the assertions he made in his Complaint, to the extent those remedies were made available to him.

         As set forth below, I agree that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to the filing of his Complaint, and Defendants' Motion is due to be granted on this basis.

         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). “Because exhaustion of administrative remedies is a matter in abatement and not generally an adjudication on the merits, an exhaustion defense . . . is not ordinarily the proper subject for a summary judgment; instead, it should be raised in a motion to dismiss, or be treated as such if raised in a motion for summary judgment.” Id. at 1374-75 (internal citation omitted). “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. 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 factual disputes so long as the factual disputes do not decide the merits and the parties have sufficient opportunity to develop a record.” Id. at 1376.

         In Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1079 (11th Cir. 2008), the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals set forth a “two-step process” that lower courts must employ when examining 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, the 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.

         II. Exhaustion Requirements

         A. Legal Requirements for Exhaustion

         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; see also O'Brien v. United States, 137 F. App'x 295, 301-02 (11th Cir. 2005) (finding lack of exhaustion where prisoner “prematurely filed his civil complaint . . . and . . . ‘failed to heed that clear statutory command' requiring that his administrative remedies be exhausted before bringing suit”). Additionally, the Supreme Court has “held that the PLRA's [Prison Litigation Reform Act's] text suggests no limits on ...


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