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Bowen v. Lewis

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

July 14, 2014

GREGORY R. BOWEN PLAINTIFF
v.
SHERIFF TYRONE LEWIS DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          F. KEITH BALL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment [27] filed by Defendant Sheriff Tyrone Lewis, in this action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, Gregory R. Bowen, has not responded to the motion. The Court held an Omnibus Hearing in this matter, at which time the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, and the District Judge subsequently entered an Order of Reference. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. Bowen is proceeding in this matter in forma pauperis and pro se. For the reasons explained in this opinion, the Court finds that the motion for summary judgment should be granted on the basis that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a).

         I. CLAIMS

         Bowen alleges that his constitutional rights were violated during his confinement at the Hinds County Detention Center (“HCDC”). Former Sheriff Tyrone Lewis is the only defendant in this action. In Bowen's Complaint [1] Dated: July 14, 2014, and filed in this Court on August 4, 2014, he alleges a number of broad claims regarding the conditions of confinement at HCDC. The majority of Bowen's claims appear to date back to July 2013, when he was held in the booking area of the facility for an unspecified period of time. [1] at 5. He asserts that housing in the booking area was overcrowded with both convicted inmates and pretrial detainees; that he lacked hygiene products, access to showers, and changes of clothes; and that he was housed with sick people who needed medical attention. Id. His complaint also presents allegations regarding an unspecified month in which he was housed in unit B-2, where he allegedly experienced mold and gnats in the showers, exposure to naked wires, and lack of light in his cell. Id. In his Complaint, Bowen states that he has sued Lewis because the conditions he allegedly experienced “could lead to future health problems.” Id. at 4.

         At the omnibus hearing, Bowen expanded his claims to include ones based upon the time period of May to August 2014. [27-1] at 7-8. Contrary to his Complaint, [1] at 1, he alleged that he was a pretrial detainee during his period of confinement at the HCDC. [27-1] at 6. At the hearing, he clarified that he was housed in the booking area for about two weeks in January 2014. Id. at 11. Although he asserted that he had been denied prescription psychiatric medication during those two weeks, id. at 7, 12, he admitted that he received his medication thereafter. Id. at 15. Subsequently, he was moved to two other cells in Units B and C, where, he alleged, he had to flush his toilet with a bucket of water for about one month, the water was not “fit to drink, ” and his lights did not work properly. Id. at 8-9, 14. Even so, Bowen admitted that he did not suffer any injuries as a result of his conditions of confinement. Id. at 8, 15.

         Bowen also testified regarding his attempts to exhaust his administrative remedies. He alleged that he filed an administrative grievance related to these claims, some dating back to 2013, about two and one-half weeks before signing his Complaint on July 14, 2014, and which was filed with the Court on August 4, 2014. He stated that he never received a response from the grievance before he was transferred to another facility on August 12, 2014. Id. at 10.

         Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that he is entitled to dismissal on the merits of the case. In addition, Defendant Lewis argues that Bowen has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. As explained below, the Court finds sufficient evidence in the record to grant summary judgment on the basis that Bowen failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.

         II. RELEVANT STANDARDS

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states, in relevant part, that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue of fact is genuine if the "'evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable factfinder to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Lemoine v. New Horizons Ranch and Center, 174 F.3d 629, 633 (5th Cir. 1999)(quoting Colston v. Barnhart, 146 F.3d 282, 284 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 119 S.Ct. 618 (1998)). Issues of fact are material if Aresolution of the issues might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Lemoine, 174 F.3d at 633. The Court does not, "however, in the absence of any proof, assume the nonmoving [or opposing] party could or would prove the necessary facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994)(en banc)(emphasis omitted). Moreover, the non-moving party's burden to come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, " Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986), is not satisfied by "conclusory allegations" or by "unsubstantiated assertions, " or by only a "scintilla" of evidence. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

         Statutory law and case law require a prisoner to exhaust administrative remedies, regardless of the relief sought, before bringing a § 1983 action in federal court. The relevant portion of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, as amended by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), states the following:

No 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)(Supp. 2000). In Booth v. Churner, 121 S.Ct. 1819 (2001), the Supreme Court held that 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, revised as a part of the PLRA, requires an inmate to exhaust administrative remedies before bringing an action with respect to prison conditions, regardless of the relief offered through administrative procedures. Booth, 121 S.Ct. at 1825. The United States Supreme Court further explained that the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is mandatory and 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. See Porter v. Nussle, 122 S.Ct. 983 (2002); see also Jones v. Bock, 127 S.Ct. 910 (2007)(reaffirming that exhaustion is mandatory; stating that it is an affirmative defense).

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has reiterated the principles found in these cases. In Gonzales v. Seal, 702 F.3d 785 (5th Cir. 2012), the Fifth Circuit recognized that exhaustion of administrative remedies prior to suit is mandatory, and that district courts have no discretion to stay ' 1983 prisoner cases when they are filed before prisoners have exhausted administrative remedies. The Fifth Circuit concluded, as follows:

District courts have no discretion to excuse a prisoner's failure to properly exhaust the prison grievance process before filing their complaint. It is irrelevant whether exhaustion is achieved during the federal proceeding. Pre-filing exhaustion is mandatory, and the case must be ...

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