Hall v. Palmer

Decision Date20 October 2017
Docket NumberCase No. 3:15-cv-824-J-39JRK
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida
PartiesENOCH DONNELL HALL, Plaintiff, v. JOHN PALMER etc.; et al., Defendants.
I. Status

Plaintiff Enoch Donnell Hall is an inmate confined on death row at Florida State Prison (FSP). He is proceeding on a Fourth Amended Complaint - Injunctive Relief Sought (Fourth Amended Complaint) (Doc. 22) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and is represented by counsel. Plaintiff filed his original Complaint (Doc. 1) pro se on July 1, 2015.

This cause is before the Court on two pending motions to dismiss: Defendants' [Jones, Gay, McClellan, and Palmer] Motion to Dismiss and/or Sever (Defendants' Motion) (Doc. 35) and Defendant Ellis' Motion to Dismiss (Ellis' Motion) (Doc. 51).1 Plaintiff filed responses to these motions. See Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and/or Sever (Response) (Doc. 64); Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to Defendant Ellis'Motion to Dismiss (Response/Ellis). The Court notes that Defendants Amanda Maddox and Lance Simmons, although served (Docs. 37 & 42), have not responded to the Fourth Amended Complaint.

II. Motion to Dismiss

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain 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 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

III. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

Defendant Ellis contends that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit regarding his claim of excessive force (Count V of the Fourth Amended Complaint) and Ellis seeks the dismissal of that claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Ellis' Motion at 2-7. Ellis asserts that Plaintiff "never filed any grievances alleging that Ellis or any other officer assaultedhim in May 2014." Id. at 2. See Declaration of Tammy Gibson (Doc. 51-1); Declaration of Lawanda Sanders (Doc. 51-2).

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires exhaustion of available administrative remedies before a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action with respect to prison conditions by a prisoner may be initiated in this Court. Title 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) provides: "No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted."

Defendant Ellis bears the burden of proving a failure to exhaust available administrative remedies. Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077, 1082-83 (11th Cir. 2008), relying on Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007). In order to make this determination, guidelines are provided for reviewing a prisoner civil rights action for exhaustion compliance:

Before a prisoner may bring a prison-conditions suit under § 1983, the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 requires that he exhaust all available administrative remedies. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); seealsoBooth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 736, 121 S.Ct. 1819, 1822, 149 L.Ed.2d 958 (2001). The purpose of the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is to "afford 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, 126 S.Ct. 2378, 2387, 165 L.Ed.2d 368 (2006) (quotation omitted). To properly exhaust, a prisoner must "[c]ompl[y] with prison grievance procedures." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S.199, 218, 127 S.Ct. 910, 922-23, 166 L.Ed.2d 798 (2007).

Whatley v. Warden, Ware State Prison, 802 F.3d 1205, 1208 (11th Cir. 2015).

Several factors guide the Court in reviewing the matter of exhaustion of administrative remedies. Initially, the Court recognizes that exhaustion of available administrative remedies is "a precondition to an adjudication on the merits" and is mandatory under the PLRA. Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1374 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 555 U.S. 1074 (2008); Jones, 549 U.S. at 211; Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 85 (2006) ("Exhaustion is no longer left to the discretion of the district court, but is mandatory.") (citation omitted). The Supreme Court has stated that "failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense under the PLRA[.]" Jones, 549 U.S. at 216. Although, "the PLRA exhaustion requirement is not jurisdictional[,]" Woodford, 548 U.S. at 101, "exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA[;]" therefore, "unexhausted claims cannot be brought." Pavao v. Sims, No. 15-11790, 2017 WL 540989, at * 3 (11th Cir. Feb. 10, 2017) (per curiam) (citation omitted).

This Court explained,

"The only limit to § 1997e(a)'s mandate is the one baked into its text: An inmate need exhaust only such administrative remedies as are 'available.'" 136 S. Ct. 1850, 1862 (2016). For an administrative remedy to be available, the "remedy must be 'capable of use for the accomplishment of [its] purpose.'" Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077, 1084 (11thCir. 2008) (quoting Goebert v. Lee Cty., 510 F.3d 1312, 1322-23 (11th Cir. 2007)).
In Ross,[2] the Supreme Court identified three circumstances in which administrative remedies would be considered unavailable. First, "an administrative procedure is unavailable when (despite what regulations or guidance materials may promise) it operates as a simple dead end—with officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates." 136 S. Ct. at 1859. Second, "an administrative scheme might be so opaque that it becomes, practically speaking, incapable of use. In this situation, some mechanism exists to provide relief, but no ordinary prisoner can discern or navigate it." Id. Third, an administrative remedy is unavailable "when prison administrators thwart inmates from taking advantage of a grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation." Id. at 1860.

Davis v. Sec'y, Dept. of Corr., No. 3:15-CV-649-J-34JRK, 2017 WL 1885366, at *3-4 (M.D. Fla. May 9, 2017) (emphasis added).

In undertaking a review of the question of exhaustion, "[t]he only facts pertinent to determining whether a prisoner has satisfied the PLRA's exhaustion requirement are those that existed when he filed his original complaint. Smith v. Terry, 491 F. App'x 81, 83 (11th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing Harris v. Garner, 216 F.3d 970, 981 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc)). Indeed, "[t]he time the [PLRA] sets for determining whether exhaustion of administrative remedies has occurred is when the legal action is brought, because it is then that the exhaustion bar is to be applied." Wheeler v.Davis, No. 5:14CV271/WS/CJK, 2017 WL 1029119, at *3 (N.D. Fla. Feb. 6, 2017) (report and recommendation) (quoting Goebert v. Lee Cty., 510 F.3d 1312, 1324 (11th Cir. 2007)) (emphasis in Wheeler), report and recommendation adopted by No. 5:14CV271-WS/CJK, 2017 WL 1027035 (N.D. Fla. Mar. 16, 2017). Thus, the relevant question before this Court is whether Plaintiff properly exhausted his available administrative remedies as of July 1, 2015.

As noted by Defendant Ellis, Plaintiff was required to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing his lawsuit. Ellis' Motion at 2. The question of availability of the procedure goes to whether the administrative procedure was available before July 1, 2015, prior to the filing of the initial complaint. To construe the exhaustion requirement otherwise would render the PLRA "a toothless scheme." Woodford, 548 U.S. at 95.

Plaintiff asserts that he alleged sufficient facts in his Complaint to satisfy the exhaustion requirement, and alternatively, his failure to exhaust administrative remedies should be excused because Defendant Ellis threatened Plaintiff with further harm if Plaintiff's continued to complain about his conditions. Response/Ellis at 1. Indeed, Plaintiff contends that, through his actions, "Ellis effectively waived, or should otherwise be estopped from asserting" Plaintiff's failure to satisfy the exhaustion requirement. Id.

In undertaking a review concerning the exhaustion of administrative remedies, the Court must employ a two-step process:

After a prisoner has exhausted the grievance procedures, he may file suit under § 1983. In response to a prisoner suit, defendants may bring a motion to dismiss and raise as a defense the prisoner's failure to exhaust these administrative remedies. SeeTurner, 541 F.3d at 1081. In Turner v. Burnside we established a two-step process for resolving motions to dismiss prisoner lawsuits for failure to exhaust. 541 F.3d at 1082. First, district courts look to the factual allegations in the motion to dismiss and those in the prisoner's response and accept the prisoner's view of the facts as true. The court should dismiss if the facts as stated by the prisoner show a failure to exhaust. Id. Second, if dismissal is not warranted on the prisoner's view of the facts, the court makes specific findings to resolve disputes of fact, and should dismiss if, based on those findings, defendants have shown a failure to exhaust. Id. at 1082-83; seealsoid. at 1082 (explaining that defendants bear the burden of showing a failure to exhaust).

Whatley, 802 F.3d at 1209.

Additionally, not only is there a recognized exhaustion requirement, "the PLRA exhaustion requirement requires proper exhaustion." Woodford, 548 U.S at 93.

Because exhaustion requirements are designed to deal with parties who do not want to exhaust, administrative

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