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Sauder v. Harkin

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Pensacola Division

November 6, 2019




         Plaintiff, Brian Shawn Sauder, brings an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging excessive use of force and state law battery by two prison guards, Goyer and Stanley, and failure to train, supervise or discipline those guards by Captain Harkin.[1] ECF Doc. 17. Sauder also brings a count against the Florida Department of Corrections (“FDOC”) for injunctive relief, seeking to enjoin the FDOC from housing Sauder at any facility where Goyer and Stanley are employed. Id. The FDOC filed a motion to dismiss, arguing Sauder failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. ECF Doc. 43. Upon review of Sauder's response, ECF Doc. 52, as well as Sauder's Notice of Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies (ECF. Doc. 5), the undersigned respectfully recommends the FDOC's motion to dismiss be granted.

         I. Factual Background

         Sauder alleges the following in this amended complaint. ECF Doc. 17. On June 9, 2018, Plaintiff was a prisoner housed in the H-Dorm Confinement Unit at Walton Correctional Institution. On that date, Sergeant Goyer and Officer Stanley escorted Plaintiff from the showers back to his confinement cell. Plaintiff was fully restrained, with his hands handcuffed behind his back and his ankles shackled. When Plaintiff, Sergeant Goyer, and Officer Stanley arrived at Plaintiff's cell, Sergeant Goyer requested Plaintiff provide information regarding an alleged gang “hit” that was placed against Plaintiff's life in 2010. Plaintiff declined to comment on the alleged gang hit.

         After Plaintiff declined to comment on the alleged gang hit, Sergeant Goyer forcefully grabbed Plaintiff and slammed him face-first onto the concrete floor while Plaintiff was still fully restrained and unable to defend himself or protect himself from the fall. Plaintiff suffered significant injuries to his head and his right eye. Sergeant Goyer then jumped on Plaintiff's back and placed all his bodyweight on Plaintiff's lower back, causing significant injury to Plaintiff's back.

         Sergeant Goyer and Officer Stanley lifted Plaintiff by grabbing him by his arms and carrying him downstairs. Once downstairs, Sergeant Goyer and Officer Stanley pulled both of Plaintiff's arms, which were still handcuffed behind his back, nearly over the top of his head, causing significant injury to Plaintiff's shoulders and rotator cuffs. Sergeant Goyer and Officer Stanley then threw Plaintiff into the shower, where another officer instructed Plaintiff to make a statement on a video recorder. Captain Harkin used his cell phone to take pictures of Plaintiff's head and right eye.

         Prior to Plaintiff's injuries on June 9, 2018, Colonel Johnson and Captain Harkin received numerous reports that Sergeant Goyer and Officer Stanley had multiple prior incidents involving the use of excessive force against inmates at Walton Correctional Institution and took no action to prevent future use of excessive force by either of them.

         II. Legal Standards

         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 such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Exhaustion of all available administrative remedies is a mandatory precondition to suit. See Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 739 (2001). The exhaustion requirement “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.” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). Exhaustion is required whether the plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary damages, or both. See Booth, 532 U.S. at 734, 741. The requirement is not subject to waiver by a court or futility or inadequacy exceptions. See Id. at 741 n.6.

         Moreover, the PLRA requires “proper exhaustion” so that the agency has an opportunity to address the issues on the merits. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93-94 (2006); see also Id. at 95 (“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.”). “Requiring exhaustion allows prison officials an opportunity to resolve disputes concerning the exercise of their responsibilities before being haled into court. This has the potential to reduce the number of inmate suits, and also to improve the quality of suits that are filed by producing a useful administrative record.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 204 (2007). A court must dismiss an action if satisfied the inmate failed to properly exhaust his available administrative remedies before filing suit. See Higginbottom v. Carter, 223 F.3d 1259, 1261 (11th Cir. 2000).

         In Jones, the Supreme Court held that “to properly exhaust administrative remedies prisoners must complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules -- rules that are defined not by the PLRA, but by the prison grievance process itself.” Id. Compliance with prison grievance procedures, therefore, is all that is required by the PLRA to properly exhaust. Id. at 218 (“The level of detail necessary in a grievance to comply with the grievance procedures will vary from system to system and claim to claim, but it is the prison's requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion.”).

         The defense of failure to exhaust should be treated as a matter in abatement. See Bryant v. Rich, 530 F.3d 1368, 1374 (11th Cir. 2008). “This means that procedurally the defense is treated ‘like a defense for lack of jurisdiction,' although it is not a jurisdictional matter.” Turner v. Burnside, 541 F.3d 1077, 1082 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1374). Because exhaustion is a matter in abatement, “it should be raised in a motion to dismiss or be treated as such if raised in a motion for summary judgment.” Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1374-75 (citation and internal quotation omitted).

         Deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies involves two steps. See Turner, 541 F.3d at 1082. “First, the court looks to the factual allegations in the defendant's motion to dismiss and those in the plaintiff's response, and if they conflict, takes the plaintiff's version of the facts as true. If, in that light, the defendant is entitled to have the complaint dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, it must be dismissed.” Id. (citing Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1373-74).

         “If the complaint is not subject to dismissal at the first step, where the plaintiff's allegations are assumed to be true, the court then proceeds to make specific findings in order to resolve the disputed factual issues related to exhaustion.” Id. (citing Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1373-74, 1376). “The defendants bear the burden of proving that the plaintiff has failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies.” Id. (citing Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007)). “Once the court makes findings on the disputed ...

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