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Griggs v. Holt

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

April 29, 2019

EUGENE GRIGGS; CAMERON MADDOX; and CHRISTOPHER VARNER, Plaintiffs,
v.
AHMED HOLT, in his official capacity as Assistant Regional Director, Georgia Department of Corrections; EDWARD PHILBIN, in his official capacity as Warden, Augusta State Medical Prison; STAN SHEPARD, in his individual capacity; VERNEAL EVANS, ANTONIO BINNS, JUSTIN WASHINGTON, LENON BUTLER, RODGERICK NABORS, JULIAN GREENAWAY, and JERRY BEARD, Former Correctional Officers, Augusta State Medical Prison, in their individual capacities; TREI BLUITT, JANSON CREAGOR, and JOHN DOE, Correctional Officers, Augusta State Medical Prison, in their individual capacities, Defendants.

          ORDER

          J. RANDAL HALL, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for entry of final judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). (Doc. 102.) Plaintiffs request certification of the Court's October 24, 2018 Order dismissing Plaintiff Christopher Varner's excessive force claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs' motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case concerns three Plaintiffs' joint challenge to the use of excessive force at Augusta State Medical Prison (``ASMP") . Each Plaintiff's individual excessive force claim is based on different incidents at ASMP involving different Defendants. (See Am. Compl., Doc. 7, ¶¶ 138-50.) Nevertheless, Plaintiffs joined their claims in a single suit to address ASMP's "pervasive and longstanding practice" of using excessive force on inmates with mental illness. (See id. ¶ 1.)

         On October 24, 2018, the Court entered an Order granting Defendants'[1] motions to dismiss Plaintiff Christopher Varner's excessive force claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ('' PLRA") . (Doc. 78, at 10-21.) Varner's claims were dismissed with prejudice, but Plaintiffs Eugene Griggs and Cameron Maddox's excessive force and prospective relief claims[2] were allowed to proceed. (Id. at 21- 26.) Varner was the only Plaintiff against whom Defendants raised an exhaustion defense.

         Currently, Maddox and Griggs are litigating their claims in this Court with discovery set to end on June 7, 2019, and dispositive motions due by July 8, 2019. (Order of Mar. 12, 2019, Doc. 115.) Plaintiffs filed a motion for entry of final judgment under Rule 54(b) so Varner can appeal the Court's October 24th Order dismissing his claims for failure to exhaust without waiting for Maddox and Griggs to resolve their own excessive force claims.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Generally, to file an appeal, there must be a final judgment adjudicating the rights and liabilities of all parties on all claims. Ebrahimi v. City of Huntsville Bd. of Educ, 114 F.3d 162, 165 (11th Cir. 1997). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) provides an exception to that rule by allowing the district court to certify a final judgment on fewer than all claims or parties. Id.; see also Lloyd Noland Found., Inc. v. Tenet Health Care Corp., 483 F.3d 773, 777 (11th Cir. 2007).

         The Supreme Court and the Eleventh Circuit have counseled district courts to exercise their discretion under Rule 54(b) "conservatively"; limiting the rule's application to ``the unusual case in which the costs and risks of multiplying the number of proceedings and of overcrowding the appellate docket are outbalanced by pressing needs of the litigants for an early and separate judgment as to some claims or parties." Ebrahimi, 114 F.3d at 166 (quoting Morrison-Knudsen Co. v. Archer, 655 F.2d 962, 965 (9th Cir. 1981)); see also Curtiss-Wright Corp. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 446 U.S. 1, 10 (1980).

         To enter a final partial judgment under Rule 54(b), district courts employ a two-step analysis. First, the court must decide whether its judgment is, in fact, both "final" and a ``judgment." Curtiss-Wright Corp., 446 U.S. at 7. ``It must be a judgment in the sense that it is a decision upon a cognizable claim for relief, and it must be final in the sense that it is `an ultimate disposition of an individual claim entered in the course of a multiple claims action.'" Id. (quoting Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Mackey, 351 U.S. 427, 436 (1956)).

         Second, the district court must determine that ``there is no `just reason for delay' in certifying [the judgment] as final and immediately appealable." Lloyd Nolan Found., Inc., 483 F.3d at 777 (quoting Curtiss-Wright Corp., 446 U.S. at 8). Here, the district court balances judicial administrative interests with the relative equitable concerns. Ebrahimi, 114 F.3d at 165-66. Consideration of judicial administrative interests is necessary to "preserve[] the historic federal policy against piecemeal appeals." Id. at 166 (quoting Sears, 351 U.S. at 438). In a similar way, analyzing the relevant equities ensures Rule 54 (b) certification is limited to situations where immediate appeal is necessary to alleviate some danger of hardship or injustice associated with delay. Id.

         The Supreme Court has declined to ``fix or sanction narrow guidelines for the district courts to follow" under the second prong. Curtiss-Wright Corp., 446 U.S. at 10-11. Nevertheless, courts analyzing judicial administrative interests should consider factors including "whether the claims under review were separable from the others remaining to be adjudicated and whether the nature of the claims already determined was such that no appellate court would have to decide the same issues more than once even if there were subsequent appeals." Id. at 8. Further, with respect to the equities involved, district courts enjoy a greater degree of deference because the district court ``is `the one most likely to be familiar with the case and with any justifiable reasons for delay.'" See id. at 10 (quoting Sears, 351 U.S. at 437).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants do not contest that the Court's October 24th Order dismissing Varner's claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies was a final judgment for the purposes of Rule 54(b). The parties only dispute the second prong - ...


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