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Edmonds v. Warden, FCC Coleman - Medium

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

December 20, 2019

WARDEN, FCC COLEMAN MEDIUM, et al., Defendants.



         I. Status

         Plaintiff Ezekiel Edmonds, an inmate incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) in Coleman, Florida, initiated this action on October 10, 2017, by filing a pro se “Request for Relief Due to Deliberate Indifference by Medical in Not Providing Proper Medical Care (Doc. 1).[1] In accordance with the Court's January 10, 2018 Order (Doc. 8), Edmonds filed an Amended Complaint (AC; Doc. 9) on February 2, 2018. In the AC, he asserts claims pursuant to Bivens[2] against the FCC medical department, Richard Li, M.D., [3] and Warden Manuel Ocasio.[4] He alleges that Defendants violated his federal constitutional rights when they denied him adequate medical care for a broken foot. As relief, he requests monetary damages.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Ocasio and Li's Motion to Dismiss (Motion; Doc. 28) with exhibits (Docs. 28-1 through 28-11). The Court advised Edmonds 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. 22). Edmonds filed a response in opposition to the Motion.[5] See Plaintiff's Response to Motion to Dismiss Complaint (Response; Doc. 32). Thus, the Motion is ripe for review.

         II. Plaintiff's Allegations[6]

         As to the underlying facts, Edmonds asserts that, in May 2014, he kicked a metal ladder and broke his foot while sleeping in his bunk. See AC at 4-5. He claims that Dr. Li, a Bureau of Prisons employee and “the leading [d]octor in the [m]edical [d]epartment, ” was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Id. at 5-6. He maintains that “no treatment has been given since the incident, except aspirin and x-rays.” Id. at 7. He states that, on the morning of the incident, he informed his supervisor and went to sick call. See id. at 5. According to Edmonds, medical personnel told him that there was “nothing wrong” and issued pills. Id. He avers that he complained and reported to sick call for months, “but was told they could find nothing wrong.” Id. He alleges that when medical staff suggested it was a diabetic-related injury, he explained that he had kicked a metal ladder and that “there was something very wrong with [his] feet.” Id. According to Edmonds, medical personnel ordered x-rays, see id. at 6, and after a “quick examination” on January 12, 2015, they advised him that there was “nothing wrong, ” id. at 5. He asserts that the medical staff gave him “a pain killer even years after the incident, ” however, the medical department never corrected the injury. Id. He believes that his foot “healed improperly, ” id. at 6, which has caused him to suffer with arthritis, limited mobility, diabetic complications, and an inability to perform physical duties, see id. at 6-7.

         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)[7](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, counsel argues that the claims against both Defendant Ocasio and Defendant Li should be dismissed. Notably, the Court dismissed Edmonds' claims against Ocasio on February 21, 2018. See Order (Doc. 10). Therefore, the Court will consider the arguments raised in the Motion only as they relate to Defendant Li. Defendant Li requests dismissal of Edmonds' claims against him because Edmonds failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), before filing the instant Bivens lawsuit. See Motion at 5-8. Next, he argues that Edmonds fails to state plausible Eighth Amendment claims against him, see id. at 12-14, and that he is entitled to qualified immunity, see id. at 8-11. Defendant Li also asserts that he is entitled to sovereign immunity as to Edmonds' claims for monetary damages against him in his official capacity. See id. at 15-16. In his Response, Edmonds maintains that he has exhausted his administrative remedies, see Response at 2, 5, and states plausible Eighth Amendment claims, see id. at 3-6.

         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 Bivens. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a);[8] see Alexander v. Hawk, 159 F.3d 1321, 1324 (11th Cir. 1998) (stating that “section 1997e(a) by its own terms clearly applies to [plaintiff]'s Bivens action). Nevertheless, a prisoner such as Edmonds 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, [9] 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 ...

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