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Castillo v. Strickland

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

November 21, 2017




         Plaintiff, who is currently housed at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia, filed a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 contesting certain conditions of his confinement. (Doc. 1.) Defendant Strickland filed a Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 10), to which Plaintiff filed Responses, (docs. 16, 17, 33, 35, 37). For the reasons which follow, I RECOMMEND the Court GRANT Defendant Strickland's Motion to Dismiss, DISMISS without prejudice Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Strickland for his failure to exhaust his administrative remedies, and DENY Plaintiff in forma pauperis status on appeal.[1]


         Plaintiff contends that Defendant Brantley, a correctional officer at Georgia State Prison, was assigned to administrative lockdown on May 1, 2014, and was picking up the food trays. Plaintiff asserts he previously notified Defendant Brantley's supervisor that Defendant Brantley was not giving ice to prisoners in administrative lockdown, even though it was May and beginning to get hot. Plaintiff asserts that, when he put his cup out to get ice, Defendant Brantley intentionally closed the box on Plaintiff's hand, resulting in the destruction of the middle finger on Plaintiff's right hand. (Doc. 1, p. 5.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Brantley walked away from the cell and left Plaintiff's finger in the cell door box, despite Plaintiff yelling and bleeding. Plaintiff maintains his cell mate helped remove his finger from the box, and after yelling for a period of time, an officer came to the cell. Plaintiff showed this officer his finger and said he needed medical attention, and this officer reported Plaintiff's injuries and need for medical attention to Defendant Brantley. In response, Defendant Brantley said, “Don't worry about it he would be alright [sic].” (Id. at p. 8.)

         Plaintiff contends Captain Johnson came to his cell and asked what happened, and Captain Johnson took Plaintiff to the infirmary where he received seven (7) stitches. Plaintiff maintains Dr. Chavez scheduled for Plaintiff to be seen in the infirmary on a daily basis, but she did not request that Plaintiff be sent to the medical unit. (Id. at p. 9.)

         Nurse Strickland was passing out medication in the dorm on some later date[2], and Plaintiff showed her his finger. Nurse Strickland stated she would report his injuries to the medical staff, but Plaintiff did not receive medical treatment that day, including from Nurse Strickland. Plaintiff also showed his finger to an officer, who said he would report it to his supervisor. Approximately two hours later, this officer informed Plaintiff that his supervisor was aware of his injury, yet Plaintiff did not receive medical treatment. Plaintiff avers he was in pain for twelve days before he finally received medical treatment, and he does not have any feeling in his right middle finger.[3] (Id. at p. 13.)

         On August 8, 2016, I recommended that the Court dismiss Plaintiff's monetary damages claims against Defendants in their official capacities and dismiss his claims against Defendants King, Smith, Johnson, Chavez, Cox, Benit, McCray, Paul, Kilgore, Foster, and Robinson. (Doc. 7.) However, I directed service of Plaintiff's Complaint on Defendants Strickland and Brantley. (Doc. 8.) Defendant Strickland then filed her Motion to Dismiss on October 11, 2016. (Doc. 10.) Subsequently, the Court adopted the Report and Recommendation, (doc. 13), and, after a number of issues regarding service of the Complaint, Defendant Brantley filed an Answer, (doc. 49).


         In her Motion, Strickland asserts Plaintiff failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies as to his claims against her prior to the filing of his Complaint. Strickland also asserts Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Doc. 10-1, p. 1.) In response, Plaintiff contends he exhausted his administrative remedies as to the assertions he made in his Complaint against Strickland, to the extent those remedies were made available to him. (Doc. 16, p. 1.) Plaintiff avers Defendant Strickland was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. (Doc. 17.)[4]

         As set forth below, I agree that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to his claims against Defendant Strickland prior to the filing of his Complaint, and Defendant's 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 an inmate's obligation to exhaust-irrespective of any ‘special circumstances.' And that mandatory language means a court may not excuse a failure to exhaust, even to take such circumstances into account.” Ross v. Blake, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1856 (June 6, 2016).

         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 ...

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