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Ramirez v. Johns

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

April 30, 2019




         Petitioner Randy Ramirez (“Ramirez”), who is currently incarcerated at D. Ray James Correctional Facility in Folkston, Georgia, filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2241 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. Doc. 1. Respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss, and Ramirez filed a Response. Docs. 7, 10. Ramirez also filed a Motion for Default Judgment. Doc. 9. For the reasons which follow, I RECOMMEND the Court GRANT Respondent's Motion to Dismiss and DISMISS without prejudice Ramirez's Petition based on his failure to exhaust his administrative remedies. In the alternative, I RECOMMEND the Court GRANT Respondent's Motion and DENY Ramirez's Petition. I further RECOMMEND the Court DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case and enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal and DENY Ramirez leave to appeal in forma pauperis. I DENY Ramirez's Motion for Default Judgment.


         Ramirez was convicted in the Southern District of Florida on March 15, 2017 of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while onboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, in violation of 46 U.S.C. § 70506(b), and was sentenced to 48 months' imprisonment. Doc. 7-1 at 6. He has a projected release date of May 24, 2020 via good conduct time release. Id. at 7.

         As a result of disciplinary hearing proceedings based on a Code 108 charge for possession a cellular telephone, Ramirez was sanctioned with the loss of 41 days' good conduct time, 54 days non-vested good conduct time, and visitation, commissary, and telephone privileges for 6 months. Doc. 1 at 2; Doc. 7-2 at 7-9.


         In his Petition, Ramirez asserts the imposed sanctions were too severe, as other inmates received 27 days of good conduct time loss, this was his first disciplinary sanction, and he accepted responsibility and cooperated with prison staff immediately. Doc. 1 at 6. Ramirez states his right to due process was violated when the disciplinary hearing officer (“DHO”) lied about Ramirez being in possession of a cellular telephone because the telephone was in a Thermos but punished Ramirez for being in possession of a cellular telephone. Id. at 7. As relief, Ramirez requests either a lesser sanction equivalent to other inmates' sanctions or a declaration that his sanctions are null and void. Id. at 8.

         Respondent avers Ramirez failed to exhaust his administrative remedies because he did not complete both necessary steps in the appeals process. Doc. 7 at 6. Respondent alleges Ramirez fails to set forth an equal protection or a due process claim, and those claims should be dismissed. Id. at 6-9.

         The Court addresses Ramirez's Motion for Default and Respondent's arguments for dismissal in turn.

         I. Respondent is not in Default

         Ramirez seeks a default judgment against Respondent under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55. Doc. 9 at 1. Ramirez states Respondent did not comply with this Court's July 31, 2018 Order, because Respondent did not file any responsive pleading to Ramirez's Petition within 21 days of that Order. Id. at 2.

         This Court's July 31, 2018 Order directed Respondent to file a response or motion to dismiss Ramirez's Petition within 21 days “of service of the Petition.” Doc. 3 at 1. A copy of Ramirez's Petition was served upon Respondent on August 20, 2018. Doc. 5. Accordingly, Respondent had 21 days from August 20, 2018, or until September 10, 2018, to file his desired response to Ramirez's Petition. Respondent filed his Motion to Dismiss on September 10, 2018, rendering his response timely. In addition, the entry of default judgment is not contemplated in habeas corpus proceedings, even if Respondent's Motion to Dismiss were untimely, which it is not. Latif v. Gartland, Civil Action No. 5:17-cv-69, 2017 WL 4227403, at *1 n.2 (S.D. Ga. Aug. 28, 2017), adopted by 2017 WL 4209730 (Sept. 19, 2017); see also Aziz v. Leferve, 830 F.2d 184, 187 (11th Cir. 1987) (finding that a default judgment is not contemplated in habeas corpus cases); Goodman v. Keohane, 663 F.2d 1044, 1048 n.4 (11th Cir. 1981) (rejecting petitioner's argument that the government's tardiness in responding to petition entitled him to habeas relief). The Court, therefore, DENIES Ramirez's Motion for Default Judgment. Doc. 9.

         II. Whether Ramirez Exhausted his Administrative Remedies

         A. Legal Requirements for Exhaustion

         The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a § 2241 petitioner's failure to exhaust administrative remedies is not a jurisdictional defect. Santiago-Lugo v. Warden, 785 F.3d 467, 474 (11th Cir. 2015); see also Fleming v. Warden of FCI Tallahassee, 631 Fed.Appx. 840, 842 (11th Cir. 2015) (“[Section] 2241's exhaustion requirement was judicially imposed, not congressionally mandated, and . . . nothing in the statute itself support[s] the conclusion that the requirement [is] jurisdictional.”). Nevertheless, the Eleventh Circuit has noted “that the exhaustion requirement is still a requirement and that courts cannot ‘disregard a failure to exhaust . . . if the respondent properly asserts the defense.'” Id. (citing Santiago-Lugo, 785 F.3d at 475). 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). Additionally, the United States Supreme Court has “held that the PLRA's [“Prison Litigation Reform Act's”] text suggests no limits on an inmate's obligation to exhaust- irrespective of any ‘special circumstances.' And that mandatory language means a court may not excuse a failure to exhaust, even to take such circumstances into account.” Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1856 (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) (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).[1]

         The United States 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 words, an institution's requirements define what is considered exhaustion. Jones, 549 U.S. at 218. It is not the role of the court to consider the adequacy or futility of the administrative remedies afforded to the inmate. Higginbottom v. Carter, 223 ...

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