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Justus v. Stamps

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division

July 22, 2019

HARRY JUSTUS, JR., Plaintiff,
DR. RUANNE STAMPS, et al., Defendants.



         This case is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss for Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies filed by Defendant Ruanne Stamps, M.D. and Defendant Kayla Nivert. (Doc. 72). The motion has been fully briefed. and the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 66). For the following reasons, the motion will be granted and the claims against Defendants Stamps and Nivert will be dismissed.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Harry Justus, Jr. is an offender in the Missouri Department of Corrections (“MDOC”). At all times relevant to this action, he was incarcerated at the Moberly Correctional Center (“MCC”) in Moberly, Missouri. On November 16, 2017, Plaintiff filed his original pro se prisoner civil rights complaint in this Court. (Doc. 1). The Court subsequently appointed counsel for Plaintiff, and through counsel, Plaintiff amended his complaint several times. In the Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against five defendants: Dr. Ruanne Stamps and Kayla Nivert[1] (the “Medical Defendants”), who were medical professionals working at MCC; and Darryl Taylor, Joshua Crader, and Tammy Gittemeier, who were employed by MDOC and working at MCC (the “MDOC Defendants”). Plaintiff alleges a single count of deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's medical condition against each defendant, asserting that each defendant responded inadequately or inappropriately to his complaints of severe abdominal pain in or around October 2017.

         On February 27, 2019, the MDOC Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the claims against them, arguing that dismissal was required because Plaintiff had failed to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing his initial complaint, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). On May 14, 2019, the Court granted the MDOC Defendants' motion and dismissed the claims against the MDOC Defendants, without prejudice.

         On June 11, 2019, the Medical Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss. The Medical Defendants make the same argument as the MDOC Defendants did: that Plaintiff's claims against them must be dismissed because Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing his initial complaint. Although the Medical Defendants brought their motion as a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, they relied on materials outside the pleadings for their motion. Specifically, they attached prison records to their motion showing the following: On October 30, 2017, Plaintiff filed an Informal Resolution Request (“IRR”) claiming deliberate indifference to medical needs related to his abdominal pain. See Def's Ex. A, Doc. 74, at 4. On November 13, 2017, the director of nursing at MCC, Deborah Willis, responded to Plaintiff's IRR. Id. at 6. On November 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed a grievance indicating that the response to the IRR was inadequate. Id. at 1-2. On December 18, 2017, Health Service Administrator Bonnie Boley responded to the grievance and found no deliberate indifference. Id. at 3.[2]

         On June 24, 2019, Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss in which Plaintiff did not acknowledge the evidence presented in support of Defendants' motion, but rather stated that Defendants had failed to establish the affirmative defense of absence of exhaustion because “no evidence has been adduced.” See Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n, Doc. 76, at 1. Plaintiff argued that Defendants' argument would be more appropriately reviewed on a motion for summary judgment. On June 26, 2019, after review of the motion and Plaintiff's opposition, the Court entered an order stating that because Defendants had presented materials outside the pleading in support of their motion, the Court would treat Defendants' motion an as a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 12(d). To avoid any possible prejudice to Plaintiff, the Court gave Plaintiff until July 3, 2019, to file a supplemental response in which Plaintiff could address Defendants' evidence and present any contrary evidence or argument, and gave the Medical Defendants until July 10, 2019, to file a reply. Plaintiff did not file any supplemental response. On July 10, 2019, the Medical Defendants filed their reply. The motion is therefore fully briefed and ready for ruling.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper “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). See also Hill v. Walker, 737 F.3d 1209, 1216 (8th Cir. 2013). The movant “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion” and must identify “those portions of [the record] . . . which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant does so, the nonmovant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (quotation marks omitted). “On a motion for summary judgment, ‘facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts.'” Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         III. Discussion

         In their motion, the Medical Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims against them must be dismissed because Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies prior to his initial filing of the case. The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) states, “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). See also Porter v. Sturm, 781 F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2015) (“An inmate must exhaust all available administrative remedies before bringing a § 1983 suit.”). To properly exhaust available administrative remedies, prisoners must “complete the administrative review process in accordance with the applicable procedural rules.” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007) (quoting Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88 (2006)). Those rules “are defined not by the PLRA, but by the prison grievance process itself.” Id.; accord Burns v. Eaton, 752 F.3d 1136, 1141 (8th Cir. 2014). “An inmate satisfies § 1997e(a) by pursuing ‘the prison grievance process to its final stage' to ‘an adverse decision on the merits.'” Porter, 781 F.3d at 451 (quoting Burns, 752 F.3d at 1141). “Nonexhaustion is an affirmative defense, and defendants have the burden of raising and proving the absence of exhaustion.” Id. at 451 (citing Jones, 549 U.S. at 211-12).

         The Eighth Circuit has made it clear that exhaustion of administrative remedies under the PLRA must have occurred before the lawsuit was initially filed; it is not sufficient for the prisoner to exhaust his or her administrative remedies after filing suit. Johnson v. Jones, 340 F.3d 624, 627 (8th Cir. 2003). In Johnson, the Eighth Circuit stated:

Under the plain language of section 1997e(a), an inmate must exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit in federal court. Thus, in considering motions to dismiss for failure to exhaust under section 1997e(a), the district court must look to the time of filing, not the time the district court is rendering its decision, to determine if exhaustion has occurred. If exhaustion was not completed at the time of filing, dismissal is mandatory.

340 F.3d at 627 (emphasis added). See also Harrison v. Sachse, No. 4:15-CV-631-AGF, 2016 WL 728306, at *3-4 (E.D. Mo. Feb. 24, 2016) (relying on Johnson to dismiss a complaint where the plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies only after the filing of his complaint; stating, “It does not matter if the plaintiff was able to fully exhaust ...

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