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Parson v. Vanallen

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

November 13, 2019

D. VANALLEN, et al., Defendants.



         I. Status

         Plaintiff Davion Parson, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on July 26, 2018, by filing a pro se Civil Rights Complaint (Complaint; Doc. 1) with exhibits (Docs. 1-1 through 1-3). In the Complaint, Parson asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants D. Vanallen, C. Lavoie, S. Thompson, R. Robert, S. Douglass, E. Duncan, T. Hewitt, B. Warner, C. Williams, T. Beard, and G. Espino.[1] He also filed a Declaration (Doc. 5) in support of the Complaint. He alleges that Defendants Vanallen, Lavoie, Thompson, Robert, Douglass, Duncan, Hewitt, Warner, and Williams violated his Eighth Amendment right when they used excessive force against him on November 21, 2017, at Florida State Prison. Additionally, he asserts that Defendant Espino failed to correct the misconduct and documented false information in the medical record, and Defendant Beard stapled his facial wounds closed without cleaning and numbing the area. As relief, he requests monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Espino and Beard's Motion to Dismiss (Motion; Doc. 53). They submitted exhibits in support of the Motion. See Doc. 53-1.[2] The Court advised Parson that granting a motion to dismiss would be an adjudication of the case that could foreclose subsequent litigation on the matter and gave him an opportunity to respond. See Order (Doc. 11). Parson filed a response in opposition to the Motion. See Response to Defendants Espino and Beard's Motion to Dismiss (Response; Doc. 54). Thus, Defendants' Motion is ripe for review.

         II. Plaintiff's Allegations[3]

         Parson asserts that Defendant Vanallen escorted him to the doctor's office on November 21, 2017, to consult with Defendant Espino about pain in his lower back, head, neck and left cheekbone. See Complaint at 5. He states that as he was explaining his injuries to Espino, Vanallen screamed “what are you doing Mr. Parson pulling out a knife on the doctor.” Id. According to Parson, Defendant Vanallen, later accompanied by Defendants Thompson, Robert, Duncan, Williams, Warner, Douglass, Lavoie, and Hewitt, then used excessive force against him while he was in hand, waist, and leg restraints. See id. at 5. He avers that Dr. Espino instructed Nurse Beard to staple Parson's facial wounds closed to stop the bleeding. See id. at 7. According to Parson, Beard complied with Espino's instructions, however, she failed to clean the wounds and numb the area before doing so. See id. at 7-8. Parson states that he “received” fourteen staples (five on his right eyebrow and nine under his chin). Id. at 8. He maintains that he complained about the ongoing pain in multiple sick call requests, but never saw a doctor. See id. at 9. Parson complains that he “was only given ibuprofen for the pain.” Id. Although Dr. Espino documented in the medical record that FDOC personnel used force because Parson reached for something on his left side, the FDOC never issued a disciplinary report against Parson for the alleged possession of a weapon. See id. Parson believes that Espino made the false notation because he “was told to cover up all tracks.” Id.

         III. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 n.1 (2002); see also Lotierzo v. Woman's World Med. Ctr., Inc., 278 F.3d 1180, 1182 (11th Cir. 2002). In addition, all reasonable inferences should be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 705 (11th Cir. 2010). Nonetheless, the plaintiff must still meet some minimal pleading requirements. Jackson v. Bellsouth Telecomm., 372 F.3d 1250, 1262 63 (11th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). Indeed, while “[s]pecific facts are not necessary[, ]” the complaint should “‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Further, the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         A “plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do[.]” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotations omitted); see also Jackson, 372 F.3d at 1262 (explaining that “conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal”) (internal citation and quotations omitted). Indeed, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions[, ]” which simply “are not entitled to [an] assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 680. Thus, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must determine whether the complaint contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face[.]'” Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). And, while “[p]ro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed, ” Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998), “‘this leniency does not give the court a license to serve as de facto counsel for a party or to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action.'” Alford v. Consol. Gov't of Columbus, Ga., 438 Fed.Appx. 837, 839 (11th Cir. 2011)[4](quoting GJR Invs., Inc. v. Cty. of Escambia, Fla., 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998) (internal citation omitted), overruled in part on other grounds as recognized in Randall, 610 F.3d at 706).

         IV. Summary of the Arguments

         In the Motion, Defendants Espino and Beard request dismissal of Parson's claims against them because Parson failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), before filing the instant 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit. See Motion at 4-7. Next, Defendants argue that Parson fails to state plausible Eighth Amendment claims against them, see id. at 7-8, and they are entitled to qualified immunity, see id. at 8-9. They also assert that the Eleventh Amendment bars Parson's claims for monetary damages against them in their official capacities. See id. at 9-10. Finally, they maintain that Parson is not entitled to compensatory and punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) because he has not alleged any physical injury resulting from Defendants' acts and/or omissions. See id. at 10-11. In his Response, Parson maintains that he states plausible Eighth Amendment claims against Defendants Espino and Beard. See Response at 1-3.

         V. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         A. PLRA Exhaustion

         The PLRA requires an inmate wishing to challenge prison conditions to first exhaust all available administrative remedies before filing an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Nevertheless, a prisoner such as Parson is not required to plead exhaustion. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007). Instead, the United States Supreme Court has recognized “failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense under the PLRA[.]” Id. Notably, 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. 2008). Not only is there an exhaustion requirement, “the PLRA exhaustion requirement requires proper exhaustion.” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 93 (2006).

Because exhaustion requirements are designed to deal with parties who do not want to exhaust, administrative law creates an incentive for these parties to do what they would otherwise prefer not to do, namely, to give the agency a fair and full opportunity to adjudicate their claims. Administrative law does this by requiring proper exhaustion of administrative remedies, which “means using all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that the agency addresses the issues on the merits).” Pozo, [5] 286 F.3d, at 1024. . . .

Woodford, 548 U.S. at 90. And, “[p]roper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules . . . .” Id. As such, the United States Supreme Court has emphasized:

Courts may not engraft an unwritten “special circumstances” exception onto the PLRA's exhaustion requirement. 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.”

Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1862 (2016).

         The determination of whether an inmate exhausted his available administrative remedies prior to filing a cause of action in federal court is a matter of abatement and should be raised in a motion to dismiss or be treated as such if raised in a summary judgment motion. Bryant, 530 F.3d at 1374-75 (citation omitted). The Eleventh Circuit has explained the two-step process that the Court must employ when examining the issue of exhaustion of administrative remedies.

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. See Turner, 541 F.3d at 1081.[6] ] 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; see also id. at 1082 (explaining that defendants bear the burden of showing a failure to exhaust).

Whatley v. Warden, Ware State Prison, 802 F.3d 1205, 1209 (11th Cir. 2015); see Pavao v. Sims, 679 Fed.Appx. 819, 823-24 (11th Cir. 2017) (per curiam).

         B. Florida's Prison Grievance Procedure

         State law “determines what steps are required to exhaust.” Dimanche v. Brown, 783 F.3d 1204, 1207 (11th Cir. 2015); see also Jones, 549 U.S. at 218 (stating that “it is the prison's requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion”). The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) provides an internal grievance procedure for its inmates. See FLA. ADMIN. CODE r. 33-103.001 through 33-103.018. Generally, to properly exhaust administrative remedies, a prisoner must complete a three-step sequential process. First, an inmate must submit an informal grievance to a designated staff member at the institutional level. See FLA. ADMIN. CODE r. 33-103.005. If the issue is not resolved, the inmate must submit a formal grievance at the institutional level. See FLA. ADMIN. CODE r. 33-103.006. If the matter is not resolved at the institutional level, the inmate must file an appeal to the Office of the FDOC Secretary. See FLA. ADMIN. CODE r. 33-103.007. However, under specified circumstances, an inmate can bypass the informal-grievance stage and start with a formal grievance at the institutional level. See FLA. ADMIN. CODE r. 33-103.005(1); 33-103.006(3). Or, an inmate can completely bypass the institutional level ...

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