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Crowner v. Mitchell

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

February 21, 2018

LT. MITCHELL, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, an inmate at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia, filed this cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contesting certain conditions of his confinement while incarcerated at Smith State Prison in Glennville, Georgia. (Doc. 10.) After the requisite frivolity review, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint was served on Defendant Mitchell. (Doc. 13.) Defendant then filed a Motion to Dismiss based on Plaintiff's failure to exhaust his available administrative remedies. (Doc. 17.) Plaintiff filed a “Brief in Support of His Opposition Motion to Defendant's Summary Judgment, ” and Defendant filed a Reply, and Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendant's Motion. (Docs. 31, 33, 35.) For the reasons set forth below, I RECOMMEND that the Court GRANT Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, DISMISS WITHOUT PREJUDICE Plaintiff's Amended Complaint for failure to exhaust, DISMISS AS MOOT all other pending Motions, and DENY Plaintiff leave to appeal in forma pauperis. I further RECOMMEND that the Court DIRECT the Clerk of Court to enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal and CLOSE this case.


         Plaintiff's pleading centers on several head and eye injuries he received after inmates attacked him at Smith State Prison on February 17, 2015. (Doc. 10, p. 6.) Plaintiff alleges that after the attack, Defendant Mitchell refused to take him to a hospital and instead, placed him in segregation because no medical staff was present. (Id.) Plaintiff further alleges that the care he received from Smith State Prison medical staff subsequent to the attack was inadequate and resulted in permanent damage to his eye socket. (Id. at pp. 6-11.)

         Plaintiff's only remaining claims after frivolity review were his deliberate indifference to medical needs claims against Defendant Mitchell in his individual capacity. (Doc. 13.) Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies because he did not appeal his grievances. (Doc. 17, 18, 21.) The Court directed Plaintiff to file a Response to this Motion to Dismiss, warning Plaintiff that if he did not “timely respond to Defendant's Motion, the Court will determine that Plaintiff does not oppose the Motion.” (Doc. 22, p. 3.) Plaintiff requested, and the Court granted, an extension of time to respond to the Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 25, 30.) However, instead of a Response addressing Defendant's arguments regarding Plaintiff's lack of exhaustion, Plaintiff submitted a “Brief in Support of his Opposition Motion to Defendant's Summary Judgment.” (Doc. 31.) Defendant filed a Reply stating that this Brief was wholly unresponsive to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and failed to discuss Plaintiff's exhaustion. (Doc. 33.) On February 5, 2018, two months after the time to respond had expired, Plaintiff filed a Response to the Motion to Dismiss.[1] (Doc. 35.)


         I. Dismissal for Plaintiff's Failure to Exhaust Available Administrative Remedies Before Filing Suit

         A. 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.

         B. 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 Fed.Appx. 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”).

         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 Fed.Appx. 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).

         The 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 ...

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