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Wilson v. Danforth

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

December 19, 2017

WILLIAM DANFORTH, Former Warden; FRED GAMMAGE, Deputy Warden of Security, Telfair State Prison; ROBERT TOOLE, Field Operations Officer, Georgia Department of Correction; TERENCE KILPATRICK, Unit Manager, Telfair State Prison; ZACHARY MIXON, Sergeant of CERT Team, Telfair State Prison; PHILLIP HALL, Warden; and RODNEY MCCLOUD, Unit Manager, Defendants.



         Plaintiff, an inmate at Telfair State Prison (“TSP”) in Helena, Georgia, brought this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis (“IFP”). The Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS Defendants' motion to dismiss be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART (doc. no. 63) and all claims for monetary relief against Defendants be DISMISSED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         With respect to the remaining defendants in this action, Plaintiff alleges the following facts, which must be taken as true for purposes of the motion to dismiss.

         On November 25, 2011, unnamed and unknown assailants assaulted Plaintiff at Hancock State Prison. (Doc. no. 38, p. 5.) On May 23, 2014, Plaintiff was transferred to TSP, and immediately notified Defendant Danforth of his belief that his previous assailants were also housed at TSP and posed a threat to Plaintiff's safety. (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff also informed Unit Manager Jacob Beasley of his safety concerns, believing members of the gangs which assaulted him were housed in the same dorm. (Id.) Both Beasley and Defendant Danforth ignored Plaintiff's pleas and concerns. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges Defendants Danforth, Gammage, Kilpatrick, Mixon, Toole, McCloud, and Hall have given supervisory and disciplinary authority to gang leaders and allowed gang leaders to govern gang members and other inmates through violence. (Id. at 9-12.) Plaintiff further alleges these Defendants have instructed gang leaders to respond to each other with violence, and, as a result, Plaintiff has been placed at a substantial risk of harm due to generalized conditions of dangerousness. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges he informed these Defendants of his safety concerns, and they ignored his pleas and grievances, allowing the gang violence and attacks at TSP to escalate. (Id.) On one occasion, gang violence and stabbings occurred and Plaintiff was roughly pushed as he fled to hide in a cell in fear of his life. (Id. at 10.)

         B. Grievance History

         Plaintiff filed four grievances regarding the allegations in his complaint. He filed grievance number 173822 on May 28, 2014, alleging he had been stabbed by inmates while incarcerated at Hancock State Prison, the inmates who stabbed him are currently at TSP, and he fears for his safety. (Doc. no. 63-5, p. 20.) On July 7, 2014, Warden Danforth evaluated and denied grievance 173822 on the ground Plaintiff provided no specific details regarding his concerns. (Id. at 21.) On August 14, 2014, the Central Office denied his appeal. (Id. at 17.)

         Plaintiff filed grievance number 178451 on July 21, 2014, alleging he had been “denied [his] right to an appeal” on June 19, 2014, which created a “significant threat to [his] safety and welfare . . . .” (Id. at 31.) On August 5, 2014, Warden Danforth evaluated and denied grievance 178451 on the ground Plaintiff filed the grievance outside the time frame established by the policies. (Id. at 35.) On October 15, 2014, the Central Office denied his appeal. (Id. at 28.)

         Plaintiff filed grievance number 209270 on December 10, 2015, alleging from December 1, 2015, through December 3, 2015, Defendants Toole, Upton, Dansforth, and Gammage “allowed groups to be formed under their own authority to govern themselves causing brutal violence and war . . . .” (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff claimed Defendants' inaction “establish[ed] deliberate indifference to [his] welfare and safety . . . .” (Id.) On December 30, 2015, Warden Danforth evaluated and denied grievance 209270 on the ground Plaintiff raised more than one issue in the grievance. (Id. at 5.) On February 25, 2016, the Central Office denied his appeal. (Id. at 2.)

         Plaintiff filed grievance number 214894 on March 10, 2016, alleging on March 3, 2016, a “gang member” was stabbed in Room 117 in B2. (Id. at 13.) Plaintiff alleged prison officials “did not take reasonable measures to guarantee [his] safety . . . under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm . . . .” (Id.) Plaintiff also alleged officials “allow[ed] the forming and gathering of groups and gangs . . . giving the leaders authority to oversee . . . security [on] their own . . . .” (Id.) On April 15, 2016, Warden Hall evaluated and denied grievance 214894 on the ground Plaintiff was not involved in the altercation and provided no evidence to substantiate his allegations. (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff did not appeal the denial of grievance 214894. (Doc. no. 63-4.)


         A. Plaintiff's Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         1. The Legal Framework

         The Eleventh Circuit formulated a two-step inquiry for evaluating motions to dismiss based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies. First, the Court looks to the factual allegations made by both parties, taking the plaintiff's version as true where they conflict, and if in that light the complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, the defendant's motion will be granted. Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077, 1082-83 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1373-74 (11th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted), cert. denied, 555 U.S. 1074 (2008)).

         If the complaint is not subject to dismissal at the first step, then at step two the Court makes specific findings to resolve the disputed factual issues, with defendant bearing the burden of proving Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Id. Based on its findings as to the disputed factual issues, the Court determines whether the prisoner has exhausted his available administrative remedies and thus whether the motion to dismiss should be granted. Id. Because exhaustion “is treated as a matter of abatement and not an adjudication on the merits, it is proper for a judge to consider facts outside 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.” Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1376 (citations omitted).

         Section 1997e(a) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) provides that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The PLRA's mandatory exhaustion requirement “applies to all prisoners seeking redress for prison circumstances or occurrences.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 520 (2002). Moreover, the Court does not have discretion to waive the requirement, even if it can be shown the grievance process is futile or inadequate. See Smith v. Terry, 491 F. App'x 81, 83 (11th Cir. 2012); Alexander v. Hawk, 159 F.3d 1321, 1325 (11th Cir. 1998).

         Furthermore, the PLRA also “requires proper exhaustion.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93 (2006). In order to properly exhaust his claims, a prisoner must “us[e] all steps” in the administrative process; he must also comply with any administrative “deadlines and other critical procedural rules” along the way. Id. at 90 (internal quotation omitted). If a prisoner fails to complete the administrative process or falls short of compliance with procedural rules governing prisoner grievances, he procedurally defaults his claims. Johnson v. Meadows, 418 F.3d 1152, 1159 (11th Cir. 2005).

         Additionally, “implicit in [the exhaustion] requirement is an obligation on the prisoner to provide those officials who will pass upon the grievance all the relevant information he has, including the identity of any officials he thinks have wronged him and any witnesses.” Brown v. Sikes, 212 F.3d 1205, 1207-08 (11th Cir. 2000); see also Sewell v. Ramsey, No. CV 406-159, 2007 WL 201269, at *3 (S.D. Ga. Jan. 24, 2007) (“a grievance satisfies § 1997e(a)'s exhaustion requirement so long as it provides prison officials with enough information to investigate and address the inmate's complaint internally”). This does not require a prisoner to provide information he does not have or cannot reasonably obtain, but it does require a prisoner to include “relevant information about his claims, including the identity of those directly involved in the alleged deprivation . . . .” Brown, 212 F.3d at 1210; see also Thompson v. Corr. Corp. of Am., No. CV 510-069, 2011 WL 6941680, at *3 (S.D. Ga. Aug. 30, 2011), report and recommendation adopted, No. CV 510-069, 2012 WL 12682 (S.D. Ga. Jan. 3, 2012), aff'd, 485 F. App'x 345 (11th Cir. 2012) (“Plaintiff need not have used any particular words or phrases in his informal grievances. Nevertheless, there must be some assertion set forth in a grievance, whether informal or formal, which would alert the person against whom the grievance was filed that the inmate's complaint concerned him or her.”).

         Because exhaustion of administrative remedies is a precondition to filing an action in federal court, the Eleventh Circuit requires prisoners to complete the administrative process before initiating suit. Poole v. Rich, 312 F. App'x 165, 166 (11th Cir. 2008); see also Higginbottom v. Carter, 223 F.3d 1259, 1261 (11th Cir. 2000). Finally, under the PLRA, the Court has no discretion to inquire into whether administrative remedies are “plain, speedy, [or] effective.” Porter, 534 U.S. at 524; see also Alexander, 159 F.3d at 1326. Rather, under the PLRA's “strict exhaustion” requirement, administrative remedies are deemed “available” whenever “‘there is the possibility of at least some kind of relief.'” Johnson, 418 F.3d at 1155, 1156.

         2. The Applicable Administrative Grievance Procedure

         Because the dates of the alleged incidents are between May 2014 and June 2016, the administrative grievance procedure applicable in this case is Georgia Department of Corrections' Standard Operating Procedure (“SOP”) IIB05-0001, which became effective on December 10, 2012, and was revised on July 20, 2015.[1] (See doc. no. 63-3.) The administrative remedies procedure commences with the filing of a grievance with the inmate's counselor. SOP IIB05-0001 § VI(D)(1)-(3). The inmate's counselor forwards the grievance to the grievance coordinator, who must screen the grievance to determine whether to accept it or recommend the Warden reject it. Id. § VI(D)(3), (5)(a). The inmate has ten calendar days from “the date the offender knew, or should have known, of the facts giving rise to the grievance” to file the grievance. Id. § VI(D)(4). The timeliness requirements of the administrative process may be waived upon a showing of good cause. See Id. ยง VI(D)(5)(b)(2). Should ...

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