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Moore v. Stephens

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

May 3, 2018

JUANTAVIOUS MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
JACOB STEPHENS, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

          TILMAN E. SELF, III, JUDGE

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         For purposes of this motion [Doc. 6], the Court assumes the following undisputed facts to be true. On May 11, 2016, Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Sumter Youth Development Campus (“SYDC”) in Americus, Georgia. [Doc. 1 at ¶ 7]. Plaintiff claims that while he was eating lunch in the SYDC cafeteria, Defendant, an SYDC corrections officer, aggressively approached him, handcuffed him, and escorted him out of the cafeteria. [Id. at ¶¶ 57, 58]. Once they were outside the building, Defendant allegedly threw Plaintiff on the ground and lifted Plaintiff's arms behind his back, breaking Plaintiff's arm. [Id. at ¶ 59]. Plaintiff suffered a spiral fracture of his arm and scarring to his face, and underwent surgery to repair his arm. [Id. at ¶¶ 61, 62]. The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice investigated the incident and determined that “there is sufficient evidence to support an allegation of Inappropriate Use of Physical Intervention against Captain Jacob Stephens.” [Doc. 1-1 at 8-9]. As a result of the investigation findings, SYDC fired Defendant. [Doc. 1-2 at 2].

         On August 31, 2017, Plaintiff sent a letter titled “Anti-Litem Notice” [sic] to Jessie Milledge, the Director of SYDC. [Doc. 9-1]. In the letter, Plaintiff's counsel informed Mr. Milledge of potential claims “against the State of Georgia, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice/Sumter Youth Development Campus, Captain Jacob Stephens and others unknown at this time, ” citing O.C.G.A. § 50-21-26.[1] [Id. at 2]. After enumerating the facts of Plaintiff's incident with Defendant, Plaintiff's letter contains a “Liability” section that states “the only question should be finding a fair settlement value for this case.” [Id. at 5]. The letter concludes by demanding “the full statutory limits of one-million ($1, 000, 000.00) dollars.” [Id.]

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on November 12, 2017, seeking compensatory and punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 for Defendant's alleged use of cruel and unusual punishment. [Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 1, 76]. Defendant filed his Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 6] on January 29, 2018, contending that Plaintiff “failed to exhaust administrative remedies that were available to him during his [SYDC] detention.” [Doc. 6-1 at 2].

         In response, Plaintiff argues that instead of following the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice's formal grievance procedure, he brought “his grievance directly to the attention of the [SYDC] director, ” which he contends he did by mailing the August 31, 2017 “Anti-Litem Notice” letter. [Doc. 9 at 2]. Alternatively, Plaintiff argues that he may amend his complaint because he “has now completed the other available grievance process by placing the grievance form in the collection box at the Savannah Youth Detention Center [where he is now incarcerated] on or about January 30, 2018.” [Id. at 6]. A grievance officer reviewed this latest grievance and rejected it on February 2, 2018. [Doc. 10-3 at 2]. Plaintiff appealed the rejection the same day, and the Savannah Youth Detention Center Director denied his appeal. [Id.] Finally, Plaintiff appealed the rejection to the Ombudsman of the Department of Juvenile Justice, who informed Plaintiff that “action has been taken and the case is now closed.” [Doc. 9-3 at 2].

         CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         A. Standard of Review.

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), “[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.” 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). Defendant bears the burden of proving that Plaintiff did not satisfy the exhaustion requirement. Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077, 1082 (11th Cir. 2008).

         B. Plaintiff's ante litem notice does not satisfy the exhaustion requirement of the PLRA.

         Defendant's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 6] hinges on his contention that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (“PLRA”), prior to filing suit. With regard to administrative remedies, the PLRA states 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). Exhaustion of the available administrative remedies is mandatory, and “unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007).

         At the time Plaintiff suffered his injuries, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Policy Number 15.2 set forth the applicable grievance procedures for SYDC. [Doc. 6-3]. The policy states that “[t]he formal grievance process is the only process allowed for a youth to file a grievance.” [Id. at 3 (emphasis added)]. This single and mandatory process requires an incarcerated youth to submit a grievance form or written statement, which is reviewed by the facility's Grievance Officer. [Id.] The youth may appeal the Grievance Officer's decision to the facility's director, and that decision may then be appealed to the Grievance Analyst at the Department of Juvenile Justice Office of the Ombudsman. [Id.] Clearly, Plaintiff failed to follow this policy prior to filing his suit.

         Notwithstanding this omission, Plaintiff claims that his ante litem notice to the director exhausted his administrative remedies because the policy manual also provides that “[g]rievances made by parents or guardians[2] may be mailed to the Director or deposited in a box in an area accessible to the public marked ‘Director.'” [Id. at 4]. SYDC's Local Operating Procedures confirm this method of filing a grievance. [Doc. 6-4 at 2].

         Thus, the question the Court must answer is whether Plaintiff's ante litem notice should be considered a “grievance” within the meaning of Policy Number 15.2 and SYDC Local Operating Procedures. ...


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