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Jarrell v. Corizon Health Inc.

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

July 13, 2018

CORIZON HEALTH INC, et al., Defendants.



         Presently pending before the Court is Plaintiff's complaint (ECF No. 1) seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Also pending are Defendants' motions to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint (ECF Nos. 27, 30) and Plaintiff's motions for discovery, (ECF No. 19) judgment, (ECF No. 22) leave to amend, (ECF No. 29) and appointment of counsel (ECF No. 33). For the reasons explained below, Plaintiff's motions for discovery, judgment, and appointed counsel are denied. His motion to amend is granted. Finally, it is recommended that Defendants' motions to dismiss be granted and Plaintiff's original and amended claims be dismissed.


         Plaintiff's claims arise out of an alleged incident at Rutledge State Prison (“RSP”). He claims Defendants failed to provide him with adequate medical treatment and alleges the following facts. On May 21, 2017, Plaintiff, a “paranoid schizophrenic” and “[l]evel 3 mental health inmate, ” swallowed approximately eighteen razor blades “because [he] was hearing voices & seeing things.” Compl. 5-6, ECF No. 1. At least one corrections officer and several inmates witnessed Plaintiff swallow the blades. See Attach. 1 to Compl. 3, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, ECF No. 1-1. The corrections officers on duty “called a code in, ” and Defendant Thornton, a captain at RSP, ordered a “CERT officer” to place Plaintiff in a “strip cell.” Compl. 5. Plaintiff was then taken to the medical department where the health services administrator, Defendant Vaughn, and a prison nurse stated that “the razors would dissolve in [Plaintiff's] stomach.” Id. Plaintiff was then returned to the strip cell where he remained for approximately six hours until he was transferred to the “Crisis Stabilization Unit” at Georgia State Prison by order of Defendant Thompson, the prison psychologist. Id. Plaintiff contends that prison policy requires a physician be contacted in such circumstances to “medically clear[]” a prisoner for transport. See Id. Plaintiff was treated at the Crisis Stabilization Unit for three days, released by a prison psychiatrist, and transported back to RSP. Id. After returning to RSP, he was placed in administrative segregation for six days before being returned to “E-[building].” Compl. 6.

         On October 19, 2017, the Court allowed only Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Thornton, Vaughn, and Thompson to proceed following preliminary review. Order & R. & R. 11, ECF No. 11; Order, ECF No. 21. Defendants Thornton and Vaughn filed their motion to dismiss (ECF No. 27) on January 3, 2018. The next day, Defendant Thompson filed his motion to dismiss (ECF No. 30).


         I. Defendants' Motions to Dismiss

         Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint alleging, inter alia, that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. (ECF Nos. 27, 30.) Because the Court finds that Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies, the Court declines to address Defendant's other grounds for dismissal.

         A. Exhaustion Standard

         Title 42, United States Code section 1997e(a) provides that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title . . . by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” “[W]hen a state provides a grievance procedure for its prisoners, as Georgia does here, an inmate alleging harm suffered from prison conditions must file a grievance and exhaust the remedies available under that procedure before pursuing a § 1983 lawsuit.” Johnson v. Meadows, 418 F.3d 1152, 1156 (11th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The argument that a plaintiff has failed to satisfy section 1997e(a) is properly raised in a motion to dismiss. Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1375 (11th Cir. 2008) (“[E]xhaustion should be decided on a Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss[.]”). Furthermore, since dismissal for failure to exhaust is not an adjudication on the merits, the Court can resolve factual disputes using evidence from outside the pleadings. Id. at 1376.

         “[D]eciding a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies is a two-step process.” Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077, 1082 (11th Cir. 2008). “First, the court looks to the factual allegations in the defendant's motion to dismiss and those in the plaintiff's response, and if they conflict, takes the plaintiff's versions of the facts as true.” Id. If, taking plaintiff's facts as being true, the defendant is entitled to dismissal for failure to exhaust, then the complaint should be dismissed. Id. “If the complaint is not subject to dismissal at the first step . . ., the court then proceeds to make specific findings in order to resolve the disputed factual issues related to exhaustion.” Id. The defendant bears the burden of proof during this second step. Id.

         B. Plaintiff's Failure to Exhaust

         Defendants contend Plaintiff failed to fully utilize the Georgia Department of Corrections (“GDOC”) grievance procedure-applicable to all inmates-before filing his complaint. First Br. in Supp. 5-7, ECF No. 27-1.[1] Plaintiff's complaint states that he presented his complaints via institutional grievance and appealed its denial to the highest possible level. Compl. 3-4. He responded to Defendants' exhaustion arguments by stating he has not been “instructed or advised about the grievance process” and contending that his suit should not be dismissed based on an “inability to understand the complexities of law.” Pet'r's Aff. 2, ECF No. 34; Pet'r's Aff. 2, ECF No. 35. Because at the first stage of the exhaustion analysis the Court must take Plaintiff's version of the facts as being true, Plaintiff's Complaint cannot be dismissed for lack of exhaustion at this first step. Turner, 541 F.3d at 1082; see also Dollar v. Coweta Cty. Sheriff Office, 446 Fed.Appx. 248, 251-52 (11th Cir. 2011).

         Since the Complaint was not dismissed at the first step, the Court can make factual findings relating to exhaustion. A defendant bears the burden of establishing a lack of exhaustion at the second step of the inquiry. Turner, 541 F.3d at 1082-83. The Court makes the following factual findings and ...

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