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Garrett v. Meeks

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

May 21, 2018

CARL GARRETT, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHNATHAN MEEKS, Defendant.

          ORDER AND MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          R. STAN BAKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, an inmate at Rogers State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia, filed a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff also filed and was granted a Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. (Docs. 2, 4.) For the reasons set forth below, I find Plaintiff plausibly states a colorable Eighth Amendment excessive force claim against Defendant. However, I RECOMMEND that the Court DISMISS Plaintiff's official capacity damages claim against Defendant. The Court DIRECTS the United States Marshal to serve Defendant with a copy of this Order and Plaintiff's Complaint.

         PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS[1]

         On September 23, 2017, Defendant used excessive force against Plaintiff. (Doc. 1, p. 5.) Plaintiff states that as he was attempting to go to breakfast, Defendant came from behind and punched Plaintiff in the head and face. Plaintiff contends Defendant assaulted him because, just moments before, they had been arguing about Plaintiff's right to go eat breakfast, which Defendant allegedly was trying to deny. Plaintiff asserts that several witnesses, who are named in his Complaint, observed this attacked and gave written statements.[2] (Id.) Plaintiff states that he has suffered physical and emotional harm due to Defendant's attack. As relief for Defendant's “excessive use of force, ” Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief. (Id. at p. 6.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Plaintiff brings this action in forma pauperis. (Docs. 2, 4.) Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), the Court may authorize the filing of a civil lawsuit without the prepayment of fees if the plaintiff submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all of his assets and shows an inability to pay the filing fee and also includes a statement of the nature of the action which shows that he is entitled to redress. Even if the plaintiff proves indigence, the Court must dismiss the action if it is frivolous or malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(ii). Additionally, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a complaint in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity. Upon such screening, the Court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion thereof, that is frivolous or malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or which seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         When reviewing a complaint on an application to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court is guided by the instructions for pleading contained in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 (“A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain [among other things] . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 10 (requiring that claims be set forth in numbered paragraphs, each limited to a single set of circumstances). Further, a claim is frivolous under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) “if it is ‘without arguable merit either in law or fact.'” Napier v. Preslicka, 314 F.3d 528, 531 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Bilal v. Driver, 251 F.3d 1346, 1349 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under Section 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Thompson v. Rundle, 393 Fed.Appx. 675, 678 (11th Cir. 2010). Under that standard, this Court must determine whether the complaint contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A plaintiff must assert “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not” suffice. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Section 1915 also “accords judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.” Bilal, 251 F.3d at 1349 (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)).

         In its analysis, the Court will abide by the long-standing principle that the pleadings of unrepresented parties are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys and, therefore, must be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006) (“Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys . . . .”) (quoting Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157, 1160 (11th Cir. 2003)). However, Plaintiff's unrepresented status will not excuse mistakes regarding procedural rules. McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) (“We have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel.”).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Exhaustion

         A. Exhaustion at Frivolity Review Stage

         Failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense, and inmates are not required to specially plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaint. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007). However, the normal pleading rules still apply, and when an affirmative defense appears on the face of a complaint making it clear that a prisoner cannot state a claim for relief, dismissal is warranted under the screening process set out in 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Id. at 214-15. “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. Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1374 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal punctuation and citation omitted). Thus, when a prisoner admits in his complaint that he has not exhausted the grievance process, the Court should dismiss the lawsuit during the frivolity screening. See Okpala v. Drew, 248 Fed.Appx. 72, 73 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam); Cole v. Ellis, No. 5:10-CV-00316-RS-GRJ, 2010 WL 5564632, at *3 (N.D. Fla. Dec. 28, 2010); Rashid v. Liberty Cty. Jail, CV410-092, 2010 WL 3239241, at *1 n.1 (S.D. Ga. May 3, 2010) (“Nothing in Jones . . . forbids the Court from dismissing a complaint pursuant to § 1997e(a) if it is clear from the face.”)

         B. Legal Requirements for Exhaustion

         Where Congress explicitly mandates, prisoners seeking relief for alleged constitutional violations must first exhaust available 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. 534 U.S. at 523; see also O'Brien v. United States, 137 Fed.Appx. 295, 301-02 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (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”). However, prisoners “need not exhaust unavailable” administrative remedies. Ross v. Blake, 578 U.S. ___, ___, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1858 (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 Fed.Appx. 869, 871 (11th Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (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 ...


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