Williams v. Reeves et al
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION of the U.S. Magistrate Judge that re 15 MOTION to Dismiss should be granted and the re 1 Complaint should be dismissed without prejudice closing this case. Objections to R&R due by 12/5/2022. Signed by Magistrate Judge Brian K. Epps on 11/17/22. (loh)
Case 1:22-cv-00062-JRH-BKE Document 24 Filed 11/17/22 Page 1 of 11
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
JEREMY NATHANIEL WILLIAMS,
MAGISTRATE JUDGE’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Phillips State Prison in Buford, Georgia, is proceeding
pro se and in forma pauperis (“IFP”) in this case concerning events alleged to have occurred at
Augusta State Medical Prison (“ASMP”). Defendant Reeves filed a pre-answer motion to
dismiss, (doc. no. 15), which Plaintiff opposes, (doc. no. 21). For the reasons set forth below,
the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS Defendant’s motion to dismiss be GRANTED.
Plaintiff originally named four Defendants, all of whom worked at ASMP when the
events forming the basis of this lawsuit occurred. (See doc. no. 1.) As Plaintiff is proceeding
IFP, the Court screened the complaint, and but for an excessive force claim against Defendant
Reeves, all claims and Defendants were dismissed from the case. (See doc. nos. 9, 11, 14.)
Defendant Reeves returned a waiver of personal service, (doc. no. 12), and in lieu of an answer,
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filed a pre-answer motion to dismiss, (doc. no. 15). Defendant also filed a motion to stay
discovery pending resolution of the motion to dismiss, and the Court granted that stay. (Doc.
nos. 16, 20.)
In his motion to dismiss, Defendant argues the case should be dismissed in its entirety
because Plaintiff failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing his
complaint. (Doc. no. 15-1, pp. 2-7.) Plaintiff does not provide any substantive opposition to
Defendant’s argument, focusing instead on his dissatisfaction with the type of receipt provided
to a prisoner when a grievance is filed and on the factual substance of his claims. (Doc. no.
In his complaint signed on May 1, and filed on May 17, 2022, Plaintiff alleges
Defendant, a correctional officer at ASMP, attacked Plaintiff on September 19, 2021, with a
pair of “suicide scissors” he had been using to cut away a sheet Plaintiff’s roommate had
wrapped around the door tray flap to prevent it from closing. (Doc. no. 1, p. 6.) Plaintiff
attempted to prevent the flap from closing by sticking his hand out of the flap, and he persisted
in sticking his hand out of the flap because he did not think Defendant “would really cut [him].”
(Id.) To Plaintiff’s surprise, Defendant attacked him again with the scissors and nearly cut off the
tip of one of Plaintiff’s fingers. (Id.) When Plaintiff began recording Defendant and the injured,
bleeding finger, Defendant stuck his arm through the tray flap from outside the cell, trying to cut
Plaintiff again even though he was no longer trying to stick his hand out of the tray flap. (Id. at 7.)
Plaintiff states he utilized the prison grievance procedure and filed an administrative appeal at the
highest level. (Id. at 4-5.) Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Defendant.
(Id. at 8.)
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Plaintiff’s Relevant Grievance History
In support of the motion to dismiss, Defendant produced the declaration of Haley
Chester, Grievance Coordinator at ASMP. (See doc. no. 15-2, Chester Decl. ¶ 2.) Ms. Chester
is familiar with the Georgia Department of Corrections (“GDC”) grievance process, and her
responsibilities as Coordinator include ensuring compliance with the applicable grievance
Standard Operating Procedure (“SOP”), coordinating investigations and responses to inmate
grievances, and maintaining information and records regarding inmate grievances. (Id. ¶¶ 3,
Ms. Chester has identified four grievances Plaintiff filed between September 19, 2021,
the date of Plaintiff’s interaction with Defendant forming the basis of this lawsuit, and May
17, 2022, the date the Clerk of Court filed Plaintiff’s complaint. 1 (Id. ¶¶ 20-26.) Of those four
grievances, only one related to the events at issue in this lawsuit, Grievance Number 338434
(“the Grievance”). (Id. ¶¶ 22-25 & Exs. D, E, F, G.) In the Grievance filed on May 5, 2022,
Plaintiff alleged: (1) his original grievance about the events of September 19th was never
turned in; (2) his request to speak to a mental health counselor about an issue caused by his
roommate had been ignored; (3) his roommate had sexually harassed him; and (4) Defendant
cut the tip of Plaintiff’s finger. (Chester Decl. ¶ 25 & Ex. G.) The Grievance was rejected on
May 26, 2022, because it contained more than one issue, in violation of SOP 227.02. (Chester
Decl. ¶ 25 & Ex. G.) Plaintiff filed an appeal the next day, but the appeal was rejected on June
2, 2022, and not addressed on the merits because Plaintiff did not follow the proper procedure
Ms. Chester attached a true and correct copy of Plaintiff’s Grievance History as
maintained in the GDC computer system SCRIBE as Exhibit B to her declaration.
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for filing a formal grievance when he raised more than one issue. (Chester Decl. ¶ 25 & Ex.
The Legal Framework for Determining Exhaustion
Where, as here, a defendant has filed a motion to dismiss based on failure to exhaust
administrative remedies, the Eleventh Circuit has laid out a two-step process for courts to use in
resolving such motions. First, the court looks to the factual allegations made by both parties,
taking the plaintiff’s version as true where they conflict, and if in that light the complaint is
subject to dismissal for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, the defendant’s motion will
be granted. Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077, 1082-83 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Bryant v. Rich,
530 F.3d 1368, 1373-74 (11th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted)). If the complaint is not subject to
dismissal at the first step, then at step two the court makes specific findings to resolve the
disputed factual issues, with the defendant bearing the burden of proving that the plaintiff has
failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Id. Based on its findings as to the disputed factual
issues, the court determines whether the prisoner has exhausted his available administrative
remedies and thus whether the motion to dismiss should be granted. Id. Because exhaustion “is
treated as a matter of abatement and not an adjudication on the merits, it is proper for a judge to
consider facts outside the pleadings and to resolve factual disputes so long as the factual disputes
do not decide the merits and the parties have sufficient opportunity to develop a record.” Bryant,
530 F.3d at 1376 (citations omitted).
Section 1997e(a) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) 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
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such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Because
exhaustion of administrative remedies is a “precondition” to filing an action in federal court,
the Eleventh Circuit requires prisoners to complete the administrative process before initiating
Poole v. Rich, 312 F. App’x 165, 166 (11th Cir. 2008) (per curiam); see also
Higginbottom v. Carter, 223 F.3d 1259, 1261 (11th Cir. 2000). “The filing of a civil suit
without properly exhausting all available administrative remedies is a procedural misstep that
is fatal to the underlying case.” McKeithen v. Jackson, 606 F. App’x 937, 939 (11th Cir. 2015)
(per curiam) (citing Johnson v. Meadows, 418 F.3d 1152, 1158-59 (11th Cir. 2005)).
The PLRA’s mandatory exhaustion requirement “applies to all prisoners seeking
redress for prison circumstances or occurrences.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 520 (2002).
Moreover, the Court does not have discretion to waive the requirement, even if it can be shown
that the grievance process is futile or inadequate. See Smith v. Terry, 491 F. App’x 81, 83
(11th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing Alexander v. Hawk, 159 F.3d 1321, 1325-26 (11th Cir.
1998)). Under the PLRA, the Court has no discretion to inquire into whether administrative
remedies are “plain, speedy, [or] effective.” Porter, 534 U.S. at 524; see also Alexander, 159
F.3d at 1326. Rather, under the PLRA’s “strict exhaustion” requirement, administrative
remedies are deemed “available” whenever “‘there is the possibility of at least some kind of
relief.’” Johnson, 418 F.3d at 1155, 1156.
Furthermore, the PLRA also “requires proper exhaustion.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S.
81, 93 (2006). In order to properly exhaust his claims, a prisoner must “us[e] all steps” in the
administrative process; he must also comply with any administrative “deadlines and other
critical procedural rules” along the way. Id. at 90 (internal quotation omitted). If a prisoner
fails to complete the administrative process or falls short of compliance with procedural rules
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governing prisoner grievances, he does not satisfy the exhaustion requirement. Johnson, 418
F.3d at 1159.
The United States Supreme Court has identified three circumstances where
administrative remedies are not available and therefore exhaustion “does not come into play”:
(1) prison officials refuse to follow established grievance policy; (2) the administrative process
is so confusing or vague as to be “essentially unknowable”; and (3) prison officials prevent
filing grievances through “machination, misrepresentation or intimidation.” Ross v. Blake,
578 U.S. 632, 643-44 (2016). Here, Plaintiff does not contend administrative remedies were
not available to him. To the contrary, Plaintiff echoes the statements in Ms. Chester’s
declaration regarding his use of the grievance procedure but complains only that the copies
provided to inmates do not sufficiently memorialize the information provided in a submitted
grievance. (See generally Chester Decl; doc. no. 21.)
The Administrative Grievance Procedure
The administrative grievance procedure applicable to this case is GDC’s SOP Policy
Number (“PN”) 227.02, which became effective May 10, 2019. (Chester Decl. ¶¶ 5-19 & Ex.
A.) The grievance procedure has two steps: (1) Original Grievance, and (2) Central Office
Appeal. PN 227.02 § IV(C). At ASMP, the administrative remedies procedure commences
with filing an Original Grievance with a counselor. Id. § IV(C)(1)(c) & (d); Chester Decl.
¶ 11. The inmate has ten calendar days “from the date the offender knew, or should have
known, of the facts giving rise to the grievance” to file the grievance. PN 227.02 § IV(C)(1)(b).
The timeliness requirements of the administrative process may be waived upon a showing of
good cause. Id. The grievance coordinator screens the grievance to determine whether to
accept it for processing or recommend the Warden reject it. Id. § IV(C)(1)(e)(i). The grievance
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may be rejected, inter alia, if it raises one of the listed non-grievable issues, includes threats
or insults, or raises more than one issue/incident. Id. § IV(C)(1)(e)(ii).
The policy requires the Warden provide a response to the prisoner who filed the
grievance within forty calendar days from submission of the original grievance; a onetime tencalendar-day extension may be granted. Id. § IV(C)(1)(f)(v). If the grievance is rejected, or
if the time allowed for a response to the grievance has expired without action, the offender
may proceed to step two of the grievance process, a central office appeal. Id.
§§ IV(C)(1)(e)(v) & (C)(1)(f)(viii); § IV(C)(2)(a). The inmate has seven calendar days from
the date he receives the Warden’s response to the grievance to file a central office appeal, but
this time limit may be waived for good cause. Id. § IV(C)(2)(b). The Commissioner or his
designee then has 120 calendar days after receipt of the grievance appeal to deliver a decision
to the prisoner who filed the appeal, at which time the grievance procedure is complete. Id.
§ IV(C)(2)(e); Chester Decl. ¶ 19.
Plaintiff’s Failure to Exhaust
The events forming the basis of this lawsuit occurred on September 19, 2021. (Doc.
no. 1, p. 6.) Plaintiff signed his complaint on May 1, 2022, and it was filed by the Clerk of
Court on May 17, 2022. (Id. at 8.) The relevant Grievance which raised Defendant’s use of
scissors against Plaintiff was filed on May 5, 2022. (Chester Decl. ¶ 25; doc. no. 21.) As
described in the official summary of the Grievance, Plaintiff alleged he previously submitted
a grievance about the events at issue in this lawsuit, but that form was never “turned in.”
(Chester Decl. Ex. G.) In his complaint, Plaintiff states he utilized the prison grievance
procedure and filed an administrative appeal at the highest level. (Doc. no. 1, pp. 4-5.) Plaintiff
also states in his opposition to the motion to dismiss he originally gave his grievance to Ms.
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Holiday, a mental health counselor, although he does not state when he did so. (Doc. no. 21,
pp. 2-3.) Under step one of Turner, the Court takes Plaintiff’s version of the facts as true,
concludes dismissal is not appropriate because of the uncertainty about Plaintiff’s initial
attempts to file a grievance at some point prior to May 5, 2022, and moves to step two. See
Turner, 541 F.3d at 1082.
Under the second Turner step, the Court must make specific findings to resolve the
factual disputes regarding exhaustion, and Defendant has the burden to prove Plaintiff did not
exhaust administrative remedies. See Maldonado v. Baker Cnty. Sheriff’s Office,
23 F.4th 1299, 1307 (11th Cir. 2022). As explained in detail below, the Court concludes
Defendant has made the requisite showing that Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative
Defendant has shown through the Chester Declaration that Plaintiff filed one grievance
related to the events forming the basis of this lawsuit, Grievance Number 338434. (Chester
Decl. ¶¶ 22-25.) When faced with the Chester Declaration signed under penalty of perjury,
Plaintiff’s unsworn response focuses on the type of receipts provided to prisoners filing a
grievance and the absence of the attachment to the May 5th grievance which Plaintiff maintains
detailed the material facts of Defendant’s actions on September 19, 2021. (See doc. no. 21.)
However, even if the Court assumes for the sake of argument there was a missing grievance
that Plaintiff submitted but was not “turned over” prior to the Grievance filed May 5, 2022,
Defendant has still satisfied his burden to show Plaintiff did not follow the proper grievance
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First, Plaintiff does not dispute the Grievance addressed more than one topic, a violation
of PN 227.02 § IV(C)(1)(e) (ii)(4).2 He states only that all the facts related to one, of multiple
issues, was not presented in Exhibit G to Ms. Chester’s declaration. Second, even if the
Grievance had addressed only the one topic concerning Defendant’s use of scissors against
Plaintiff, and even if the Grievance would have been considered timely because the original
grievance which Plaintiff claims was submitted at some unknown time prior to May 5th was
lost through no fault of his own, 3 Plaintiff filed his complaint prior to completion of the twostep grievance process. Specifically, Plaintiff signed his complaint on May 1st, prior to
submission of the Grievance on May 5th. Even if the Court were to consider the date the Clerk
of Court filed the complaint on May 17, 2022, as the relevant date, the rejection of Plaintiff’s
appeal did not occur until June 2, 2022, after commencement of this federal lawsuit but well
within the 120 days permitted for ruling on an appeal. PN 227.02 § IV(C)(2)(e) & Chester
Decl. ¶ 19 & Ex. G.
Plaintiff’s focus on grievance receipts and the full substance of an attachment to the
Grievance does not refute Defendant’s showing that Plaintiff failed to follow the proper
procedure when utilizing the administrative remedy process. The exhaustion requirement is
not satisfied if a prisoner fails to complete the administrative process or falls short of
When prison administrators consider the merits of a procedurally improper grievance, the
exhaustion defense may be waived. See Whatley v. Smith, 898 F.3d 1072, 1083-84 (11th Cir.
2018). Here, however, as discussed above, the merits of the Grievance were not considered, and
the exhaustion defense has not been waived.
Plaintiff offers no evidence to substantiate the assertion he submitted a grievance that was
not turned over, but even if he had, there is no evidence to even suggest Plaintiff filed a Central
Office Appeal, as contemplated by PN 227.02 § IV(C)(1)(f)(viii) & § IV(C)(2)(a)(ii), when he did
not receive a response to this initial grievance he claims to have submitted.
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compliance with procedural rules. Johnson, 418 F.3d at 1159. Thus, the Court finds Plaintiff
did not exhaust the two-part grievance procedure.
The Supreme Court has explained the rationale behind requiring “proper exhaustion”
The benefits of exhaustion can be realized only if the prison grievance system
is given a fair opportunity to consider the grievance. The prison grievance
system will not have such an opportunity unless the grievant complies with the
system’s critical procedural rules. A prisoner who does not want to participate
in the prison grievance system will have little incentive to comply with the
system’s procedural rules unless noncompliance carries a sanction. . . . For
example, a prisoner wishing to bypass available administrative remedies could
simply file a late grievance without providing any reason for failing to file on
time. If the prison then rejects the grievance as untimely, the prisoner could
proceed directly to federal court. And acceptance of the late grievance would
not thwart the prisoner’s wish to bypass the administrative process; the prisoner
could easily achieve this by violating other procedural rules until the prison
administration has no alternative but to dismiss the grievance on procedural
grounds. We are confident that the PLRA did not create such a toothless scheme.
Woodford, 548 U.S. at 95; see also Johnson, 418 F.3d at 1159 (allowing an untimely grievance
to satisfy exhaustion requirement would defeat aims of PLRA to review the merits of a
prisoner’s claim, does “not spur the corrective action that might have obviated the need for
litigation, . . . filter . . . potential frivolous claims, . . .[or] develop . . . an administrative
record to assist the courts in deciding the controversy”).
Therefore, based on the above, the Court finds Defendant has met his burden to show
Plaintiff did not satisfy the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement prior to filing this lawsuit.
Because Plaintiff did not properly exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to his
claims forming the basis of this lawsuit prior to initiating this case, the motion to dismiss
should be granted. Leal v. Ga. Dep’t of Corr., 254 F.3d 1276, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001) (per
curiam) (“‘[U]ntil such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted,’ a prisoner is
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precluded from filing suit in federal court.”) (citations omitted); Higginbottom, 223 F.3d at
For the reasons set forth above, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS
Defendants’ motion to dismiss be GRANTED, (doc. no. 15), and that this case be
DISMISSED without prejudice and CLOSED.
SO REPORTED and RECOMMENDED this 17th day of November, 2022, at Augusta,
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