Lane v. Francis

Decision Date14 June 2019
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 5:19-00176
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of West Virginia
PartiesEUGENE LANE, Plaintiff, v. MR. FRANCIS, Administrator, Defendant.

Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees (Document No. 6), filed on March 29, 2019. Having examined Plaintiff's Complaint, the undersigned has concluded that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted in this matter and therefore respectfully recommends that Plaintiff's Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees be denied and this matter be dismissed.


On March 13, 2019, Plaintiff, acting pro se, filed his Complaint claiming entitlement to relief under 42 U.S.C. §1983.1 (Document No. 1.) In his Complaint, Plaintiff names Mr. Francis, Administrator of the Southern Regional Jail, as the sole Defendant. (Id.) Plaintiff appears to allege that the conditions of his confinement are in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment. (Id.) Specifically, Plaintiff states as follows:

I'm filing this claim due to my living conditions at Southern Regional Jail. First, I have black mold growing all over my ceiling and around my window frame. My window is busted, and my ceiling leaks water and I don't have cold water. I havebeen living in this condition for about a month. I've asked gold badges and sent out grievances and I get laughed at and my grievance come up gone or never returned.

(Id., p. 4.) As relief, Plaintiff requests "to have someone come out and take pictures of this immediately and be brought to the proper authority's attention." (Id., p. 5.)


Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court is required to screen each case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. On screening, the Court must recommend dismissal of the case if the complaint is frivolous, malicious or fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. A "frivolous" complaint is one which is based upon an indisputably meritless legal theory. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 112 S.Ct. 1728, 118 L.Ed.2d 340 (1992). A "frivolous" claim lacks "an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 1831 - 32, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989). A claim lacks an arguable basis in law when it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory." Id., 490 U.S. at 327, 109 S.Ct. at 1833. A claim lacks an arguable basis in fact when it describes "fantastic or delusional scenarios." Id., 490 U.S. at 327 - 328, 109 S.Ct. at 1833. A complaint therefore fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted factually when it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. With these standards in mind, the Court will assess Plaintiff's allegations in view of applicable law.

This Court is required to liberally construe pro se documents, holding them to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976); Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (1978). Liberal construction, however, "does not require courts to construct arguments or theories for a pro se plaintiff because this would place a court in the improper role of an advocate seeking out the strongest argumentsand most successful strategies for a party." Miller v. Jack, 2007 WL 2050409, at * 3 (N.D.W.Va. 2007)(citing Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir.1978)). Further, liberal construction does not require the "courts to conjure up questions never squarely presented to them." Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). In other words, a court may not construct legal argument for a plaintiff. Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411 (7th Cir.1993). Finally, the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the Court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege facts which set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Department of Social Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir.1990)). Where a pro se Complaint can be remedied by an amendment, however, the District Court may not dismiss the Complaint with prejudice, but must permit the amendment. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 34, 112 S.Ct. 1728, 1734, 118 L.Ed.2d 340 (1992); also see Goode v. Central Va. Legal Aide Society, Inc., 807 F.3d 619 (4th Cir. 2015).

1. Exhaustion:

The Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)(1996), requires that inmates exhaust available administrative remedies prior to filing civil actions though the administrative process may not afford them the relief they might obtain through civil proceedings.2 Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 126 S.Ct. 2378, 2382-83, 165 L.Ed.2d 368 (2006); Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 122 S.Ct. 983, 152 L.Ed.2d 12 (2002)(The Prison Litigation Reform Act's exhaustionrequirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.); Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 121 S.Ct. 1819, 1820,149 L.Ed.2d 958 (2001)("Under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), an inmate seeking only money damages must complete any prison administrative process capable of addressing the inmate's complaint and providing some form of relief, even if the process does not make specific provision for monetary relief."). Exhaustion of administrative remedies is also required when injunctive relief is requested. Goist v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 2002 WL 32079467, *4, fn.1 (D.S.C. Sep 25, 2002), aff'd, 54 Fed.Appx. 159 (4th Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 538 U.S. 1047, 123 S.Ct. 2111, 155 L.Ed.2d 1088 (2003). "[A] court may not excuse a failure to exhaust" because the PLRA's mandatory exhaustion scheme "foreclose[es] judicial discretion." Ross v. Blake, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1856-57, 195 L.Ed.2d 117 (2016)("[A] court may not excuse a failure to exhaust, even to take [special circumstances] into account."). But the plain language of the statute requires that only "available" administrative remedies be exhausted. Id. at 1855("A prisoner need not exhaust remedies if they are not 'available.'"); also see Dale v. Lappin, 376 F.3d 652, 656 (7th Cir. 2004); Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523, 529 (3d Cir. 2003)(inmate lacked available administrative remedies for exhaustion purposes where inmate was unable to file a grievance because prison officials refused to provide him with the necessary grievance forms); Miller v. Norris, 247 F.3d 736, 740 (8th Cir. 2001)(allegations that prison officials failed to respond to his written requests for grievance forms were sufficient to raise an inference that inmate had exhausted his available administrative remedies.)

If an inmate exhausts administrative remedies with respect to some, but not all, of the claims he raises in a Section 1983, Bivens or FTCA action, the Court must dismiss the unexhaustedclaims and proceed with the exhausted ones. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 127 S.Ct. 910, 913, 166 L.Ed.2d 798 (2007)("The PLRA does not require dismissal of the entire complaint when a prisoner has failed to exhaust some, but not all, of the claims included in the complaint. * * * If a complaint contains both good and bad claims, the court proceeds with the good and leaves the bad.") It appears to be the majority view as well that exhausting administrative remedies after a Complaint is filed will not save a case from dismissal. See Neal v. Goord, 267 F.3d 116, 121-22 (2d Cir. 2001)(overruled on other grounds), a Section 1983 action, citing numerous cases. The rationale is pragmatic. As the Court stated in Neal, allowing prisoner suits to proceed, so long as the inmate eventually fulfills the exhaustion requirement, undermines Congress' directive to pursue administrative remedies prior to filing a complaint in federal court. Moreover, if during the pendency of a suit, the administrative process were to produce results benefitting plaintiff, the federal court would have wasted its resources adjudicating claims that could have been resolved within the prison grievance system at the outset. Neal, 267 F.3d at 123. In Freeman v. Francis, 196 F.3d 641, 645 (6th Cir. 1999), the Court stated: "The plain language of the statute [§ 1997e(a)] makes exhaustion a precondition to filing an action in federal Court.. . .The prisoner, therefore, may not exhaust administrative remedies during the pendency of the federal suit." Thus, the PLRA requires that available administrative remedies must be exhausted before the filing of a suit in Federal Court. It is further clear that the PLRA does not require that an inmate allege or demonstrate that he has exhausted his administrative remedies. See Jones v. Bock, supra; Anderson v. XYZ Correctional Health Services, 407 F.3d 674, 677 (4th Cir. 2005), abrogated on other grounds by Custis v. Davis, 851 F.3d 358 (4th Cir. 2017). Failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense. Prison officials have the burden of proving that the inmate had available remedies which he did not exhaust. Jones v. Bock, supra, 549 U.S. at 216, 127 S.Ct. at921(Failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense that a defendant must generally plead and prove); also see Dale v. Lappin, 376 F.3d 652, 655 (7th Cir. 2004)("Although exhaustion of administrative remedies is a precondition to a federal prisoner filing a Bivens suit, [citations omitted] failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense that the defendants have the burden of pleading and proving." (Citations omitted)) The Court is not precluded, however, from considering at the outset whether an inmate has exhausted administrative remedies. "A court may sua sponte dismiss a complaint when the alleged facts in the complaint, taken as true, prove that the inmate failed to exhaust...

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