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Lamont Williams v. C. Ferguson

January 6, 2012

LAMONT WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
C. FERGUSON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants move to dismiss on the grounds of failure to exhaust administrative remedies, failure to state a claim, and qualified immunity. Dckt. No. 20. As discussed below, the complaint must be dismissed for failure to exhaust and, accordingly, the court does not reach defendants' other arguments.

I. Legal Standards

A. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to Exhaust

Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under [42 U.S.C. § 1983], 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). This requirement is mandatory and unequivocal. Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001); McKinney v. Carey, 311 F.3d 1198, 1200 (9th Cir. 2002) ("Congress could have written a statute making exhaustion a precondition to judgment, but it did not. The actual statute makes exhaustion a precondition to suit." (citation omitted)). A prisoner seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis in an action challenging the conditions of his confinement brings an action for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e when he submits his complaint to the court. Vaden v. Summerhill, 449 F.3d 1047, 1050 (9th Cir. 2006). Therefore, a prisoner must exhaust available administrative remedies before filing any papers in federal court and is not entitled to a stay of judicial proceedings in order to exhaust. Id. at 1051; McKinney, 311 F.3d 1198.

The failure to exhaust non-judicial administrative remedies as required by § 1997e(a) is not jurisdictional. Wyatt v. Terhune, 315 F.3d 1108, 1117 n.9 (9th Cir. 2003). Nor does § 1997e(a) require a plaintiff to plead exhaustion. Id. at 1119. Rather, "§ 1997e(a) creates a defense -- defendants have the burden of raising and proving the absence of exhaustion." Id. The Ninth Circuit determined in Wyatt that because the defense of failure to exhaust "is not on the merits" and summary judgment "is on the merits," the defense should be treated as a matter in abatement*fn1 to be resolved pursuant to a motion made under "unenumerated Rule 12(b)." Id.

The Ninth Circuit stated that "[i]n deciding a motion to dismiss for a failure to exhaust non-judicial remedies, the court may look beyond the pleadings and decide disputed issues of fact." Id. at 1119-20.

The Supreme Court confirmed in Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007), that failure to exhaust under the PLRA is an affirmative defense. If the affirmative defense can be decided on the pleadings alone, i.e. the face of the complaint establishes the fact that there has been no exhaustion, a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate. Id. at 215. Using the example of a motion to dismiss based on a statute limitations defense, the Court stated:

A complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim if the allegations, taken as true, show the plaintiff is not entitled to relief. If the allegations, for example, show that relief is barred by the applicable statute of limitations, the complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim; that does not make the statute of limitations any less an affirmative defense, see Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(c). Whether a particular ground for opposing a claim may be the basis for dismissal for failure to state a claim depends on whether the allegations in the complaint suffice to establish that ground, not on the nature of the ground in the abstract.

Id.

However, where the facts supporting the affirmative defense are not established by the allegations of the complaint and instead require the presentation of evidence outside the pleadings (including failure to exhaust as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)), a motion raising the defense is properly considered under the standards for summary judgment, with disputed material factual issues reserved for trial.*fn2 Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d) (where a party presents

Modernly, a party makes a motion under Rule 12 or Rule 41, as appropriate, instead of making a plea in abatement. See Black's Law Dictionary 4, 1151-1152 (6th ed. 1990) ("abatement of action," and "plea in abatement").

affidavits or other matters outside the pleadings in support of its motion, the court must treat the motion "as one for summary judgment under Rule 56"), 56(b); Panero v. City of North Las Vegas, 432 F.3d 949, 952 (9th Cir. 2005).*fn3 These fundamental principles under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are not changed by the PLRA. The Supreme Court in Jones made clear that, "beyond the departures specified by the PLRA itself," nothing in the PLRA suggests that usual procedural practices should not be followed and cautioned that departures from the usual procedural requirements are to be expressly made by Congress. Jones, 549 U.S. at 212, 214-16.

Thus, it appears that the requirement under Rule 12(d) that motions raising affirmative defenses that require the submission of declarations or other matters extrinsic to the complaint require that the motion be treated as a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment, applies to motions raising the failure of a prisoner to exhaust administrative remedies. Indeed, the Ninth Circuit recognized in Wyatt that when the district court looks beyond the pleadings to a factual record, which commonly occurs in deciding an exhaustion motion, the court must do so under "a procedure closely analogous to summary judgment." Wyatt, 315 F.3d at 1120, n.14.

Thus, whether a motion for failure to exhaust under the PLRA may be raised under Rule 12 or Rule 56 is not determined by whether the defense asserted in the motion goes to the "merits" of the claim. Regardless of whether judgment is sought on the merits or whether the motion seeks to bar consideration of the merits based on a technical ground that precludes reaching the merits (i.e., exhaustion, issue or claim preclusion, a statute of limitations, etc.), the determining factor is whether the factual predicate for the motion is based on the text of the pleading or instead depends upon evidence submitted with the motion. See Jones, 549 ...


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