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Wright v. Utley

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

December 4, 2018

ROBERT UTLEY, Defendant.



         Pending before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 81), which the Court construes as a motion to dismiss. For the reasons explained below, it is recommended that Defendant's motion be granted.


         Plaintiff states that on October 30, 2014, he was attacked by a fellow inmate at Dooly State Prison (“DSP”). Compl. 10, ECF No. 1. Plaintiff alleges he “was blindsided with a blow to [his] face while trying to leave [his] cell and avoid trouble” and that he “was knocked-out” by the blow. Id. Plaintiff notified prison officials, who took photos of the injuries, confirmed Plaintiff was attacked by another inmate, and placed Plaintiff in “‘the hole' . . . where prisoners are sent to be punished” with no other treatment. Id. at 10-11. The next day, Plaintiff was transported to the Taylor Regional Trauma Center by prison guards Westley Harper and Cornelius Hollis. Suppl. Compl. 2, ECF No. 13. There, x-rays revealed Plaintiff suffered a badly fractured jaw. Compl. 11. Although the emergency room doctor stated that Plaintiff “needed immediate treatment, ” Harper and Hollis refused and stated that “Atlanta” would not pay for Plaintiff's care. Id.; see also Suppl. Compl. 2. Harper and Hollis returned Plaintiff to DSP and placed him back in the hole until November 4, 2014; Plaintiff received little to no medical attention until he was transferred to Augusta State Medical Prison on that date. Suppl. Compl. 2; Compl. 11. On November 5, 2014, Plaintiff had surgery to remove several teeth and implant a metal plate in his jaw. Compl. 11.

         Plaintiff was transferred back to DSP in February 2015, and received no additional treatment for the next eleven months, until his aunt called the governor. Id. Plaintiff then saw several medical professionals who referred Plaintiff to the prison dentist for further treatment consisting of a custom mouth guard and medication to relax the nerves in Plaintiff's jaw. Id. Plaintiff states he was given two call-out slips to go to the dental department at DSP. On both occasions, he was told they would need to be re-scheduled, which never happened. Compl. 7. Plaintiff alleges that “[n]o dental treatment was done, ” until April 25, 2017, when Plaintiff received surgery to remove two teeth at the Augusta State Medical Prison. Id. at 6-7, 11-12; see also Suppl. Compl. 2. Defendant was employed by MHM Correctional Services, Inc. and was assigned to provide dental services at DSP. Utley Aff. ¶ 4, ECF No. 55.

         After a preliminary review of Plaintiff's original and supplemental complaints, his claims for deliberate indifference against Harper, Hollis, and Defendant were allowed to proceed. Order & R. & R. 6-8, Jun. 29, 2017, ECF No. 14. On April 25, 2018, this Court recommended that the claims against Harper and Hollis be dismissed due to Plaintiff's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies. Order & R. & R. 12, ECF No. 72. That Order and Recommendation was adopted and made the Order of the Court on June 29, 2018. Order 17, ECF No. 77. Defendant moved for summary judgment (ECF No. 81) on August 8, 2018 and Plaintiff responded on August 24, 2018 (ECF No. 84).


         Defendant moves for summary judgment (ECF No. 81) claiming, inter alia, that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Br. in Supp. of Mot. 5-10, ECF No. 81-1.[1] Because the Court finds that Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies, the other grounds raised in Defendant's motion will not be addressed.

I. Exhaustion Standard

         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 . . . 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). “[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.” Brown v. Sikes, 212 F.3d 1205, 1207 (11th Cir. 2000) (emphasis added). “To exhaust administrative remedies in accordance with the PLRA, prisoners must properly take each step within the administrative process. If their initial grievance is denied, prisoners must then file a timely appeal.” Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1378 (11th Cir. 2008) (citation and punctuation omitted).

         The argument that a plaintiff has failed to satisfy section 1997e(a) is properly raised in a motion to dismiss. Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1375 (“[E]xhaustion should be decided on a Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss[.]”). Further, 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.

         II. Plaintiff's Failure to Exhaust

         Defendant moves to dismiss for lack of exhaustion, claiming the Georgia Department of Corrections (“GDOC”) has a grievance procedure that applies to all inmates, which Plaintiff failed to fully utilize regarding his claims. Br. in Supp. of Mot. 5-10. Plaintiff responds that he did file a grievance but the grievance procedure is futile and, in reality, unavailable as a remedy. Compl. 3; Pl.'s Opp'n to Mot. 2-4, ECF No. 84. Because at this stage of the exhaustion analysis the Court must take Plaintiff's version of the facts as true, Plaintiff's Complaint cannot be dismissed 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) (per curiam).

         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 ...

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