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Milton v. Edwards

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 12, 2018




         Plaintiff, Jeremy Milton, filed this pro se and in forma pauperis complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In this lawsuit, he challenged the conditions of his former confinement at the Terrebonne Parish Jail[1] and named the following defendants: Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards; Warden Brandon Pinion; Assistant Warden Schirra M. Finn; Norman Carter; Stewart Murphy; Chad Hickey; Kenneth Berteau; Daniel Hernandez; Randall Garcia; Freeman Ramsey; D. Holiday; Tori Brown; and Ahmad Bickham.[2]

         On September 20, 2017, the claims against Berteau and Hickey were dismissed without prejudice pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(m).[3]

         The remaining defendants have now filed a motion for summary judgment.[4] Plaintiff has opposed that motion.[5] The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge.[6]

         In their motion, the defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because plaintiff failed to comply with the federal requirement that he exhaust his administrative remedies before filing suit. Regarding such motions, the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained:

[The federal summary judgment] standards require the court to grant summary judgment if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In making this determination, the court should “construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Dillon [v. Rogers], 596 F.3d [260, ] 266 [(5th Cir. 2010)] (internal quotation marks omitted).
Failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense, such that the defendants have the burden of demonstrating that [the plaintiff] failed to exhaust administrative remedies. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216, 127 S.Ct. 910, 166 L.Ed.2d 798 (2007). At the summary-judgment stage, this means that the defendants “must establish beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the defense of exhaustion to warrant summary judgment in their favor.” Dillon, 596 F.3d at 266.

Wilson v. Epps, 776 F.3d 296, 299 (5th Cir. 2015). Here, the defendants have made that showing.

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”), as amended, provides that “[n]o 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Because plaintiff was incarcerated at the time he filed suit, the exhaustion requirement applies despite the fact that he was subsequently released. See, e.g., Williams v. Henagan, 595 F.3d 610, 619 (5th Cir. 2010); Lay v. Medical Staff, Civ. Action No. 09-3349, 2010 WL 2360967, at *2 (E.D. La. June 8, 2010); see also Cox v. Mayer, 332 F.3d 422 (6th Cir. 2003); Dixon v. Page, 291 F.3d 485, 488-89 (7th Cir. 2002); Harris v. Garner, 216 F.3d 970, 978-79 (11th Cir. 2000).

         Federal courts have taken a strict approach to the exhaustion requirement. For example, the United States Supreme Court held that the exhaustion requirement is “mandatory, ” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002), and “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, ” id. at 532. The Supreme Court further held that “an inmate must exhaust irrespective of the forms of relief sought and offered through administrative avenues.” Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 n.6 (2001). The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals therefore concluded that “[q]uibbles about the nature of a prisoner's complaint, the type of remedy sought, and the sufficiency or breadth of prison grievance procedures were laid to rest in Booth.” Wright v. Hollingsworth, 260 F.3d 357, 358 (5th Cir. 2001).

         The Fifth Circuit has emphatically held that the mandatory exhaustion requirement may not be excused by a federal court. The Fifth Circuit stated:

[T]here can be no doubt that pre-filing exhaustion of prison grievance processes is mandatory. We thus hold that Underwood [v. Wilson, 151 F.3d 292 (5th Cir. 1998), ] has been tacitly overruled and is no longer good law to the extent it permits prisoner lawsuits challenging prison conditions to proceed in the absence of pre-filing administrative exhaustion. District courts have no discretion to excuse a prisoner's failure to properly exhaust the prison grievance process before filing their complaint. It is irrelevant whether exhaustion is achieved during the federal proceeding. Pre-filing exhaustion is mandatory, and the case must be dismissed if available administrative remedies were not exhausted.

Gonzalez v. Seal, 702 F.3d 785, 788 (5th Cir. 2012) (emphasis added; footnote omitted). Although the mandatory nature of the exhaustion requirement may seem harsh, it is necessary to accomplish the PLRA's goals. As the United States Supreme Court has explained:

Beyond doubt, Congress enacted § 1997e(a) to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits; to this purpose, Congress afforded corrections officials time and opportunity to address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a federal case. In some instances, corrective action taken in response to an inmate's grievance might improve prison administration and satisfy the inmate, thereby obviating the need for litigation. In other instances, the internal review might “filter out some frivolous claims.” And for ...

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