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Jefferson v. Roy

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 26, 2019

Bobby Earl Jefferson, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Tom Roy et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Wilhelmina M. Wright United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the May 8, 2019 Report and Recommendation (R&R) of United States Magistrate Judge Steven E. Rau. (Dkt. 130.) The R&R recommends granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment, dismissing this case without prejudice, and denying as moot Plaintiff's motion to compel discovery and motion to appoint an expert. Plaintiff filed timely objections to the R&R, and Defendants responded. For the reasons addressed below, Plaintiff's objections are overruled, the R&R is adopted, and this case is dismissed without prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         The R&R contains a detailed recitation of the factual and procedural background of this case. As relevant here, while he was incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater (MCF-Stillwater), Plaintiff Bobby Earl Jefferson, Jr., worked in the metal foundry. Jefferson alleges that he was exposed to harmful toxins while working at the metal foundry. In the six months after his release in January 2016, Jefferson experienced chest pain and visited multiple hospitals to address the symptoms he attributes to his work at the metal foundry.

         Beginning in July 2016, Jefferson was incarcerated again. This time he was housed at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Lino Lakes (MCF-Lino Lakes). During this period of incarceration, Jefferson met with medical staff at MCF-Lino Lakes after experiencing difficulty breathing. In a September 7, 2016 letter that Jefferson sent to several Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) officials, Jefferson wrote that “[t]he following is a formal notice of grievance, ” and proceeded to address his allegations pertaining to the toxin exposure at the metal foundry at MCF-Stillwater. A DOC official responded to Jefferson's letter on September 26, 2016, with “factual information regarding the environmental concerns” raised in Jefferson's letter.

         Five days earlier, on September 21, 2016, Jefferson commenced this lawsuit, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Defendants DOC, Minncorr Industries, and several DOC employees. Jefferson alleges that Defendants' actions violated the Fifth Amendment, Eighth Amendment, and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court subsequently granted several Defendants' motions to dismiss. But Jefferson's individual-capacity claims against twelve DOC employees remain. Defendants now move for summary judgment and seek dismissal of the individual-capacity claims with prejudice. The R&R recommends dismissing these remaining claims without prejudice based on Jefferson's failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. The R&R also recommends denying as moot Jefferson's motion to compel discovery and motion seeking appointment of an expert.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Jefferson's Objections

         A district court reviews de novo those portions of an R&R to which an objection is made and “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3); LR 72.2(b)(3).

         Jefferson objects on several grounds to the R&R's determination that he failed to exhaust all available administrative remedies. As a threshold matter, Jefferson asserts that the exhaustion requirement is inapplicable to his claims because he was not incarcerated when he filed his amended complaint. Jefferson also argues, in the alternative, that an administrative remedy was not available to him at MCF-Lino Lakes or his September 2016 letter satisfies the exhaustion requirement.

         A. Applicability of the Exhaustion Requirement

          The Court first addresses Jefferson's argument that the PLRA's exhaustion requirement does not apply to his claims because he was on parole when he filed the now-operative amended complaint in this case. Under the PLRA, “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 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 exhaustion requirement applies only to individuals who are incarcerated or detained. It “does not apply to plaintiffs who file § 1983 claims after being released from incarceration.” Nerness v. Johnson, 401 F.3d 874, 876 (8th Cir. 2005).

         Although the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has not addressed whether the exhaustion requirement applies to a plaintiff who was incarcerated at the commencement of the lawsuit and is released on parole while the lawsuit was pending, see Barber v. Schmidt, No. 10-3317, 2011 WL 3476878, at *5 n.4 (D. Minn. July 12, 2011) (observing that Eighth Circuit has not addressed this issue), the majority of circuits that have addressed this issue have concluded that the relevant time when determining the applicability of the PLRA is the date when the lawsuit was filed. See, e.g., Williams v. Henagan, 595 F.3d 610, 618-19 (5th Cir. 2010); Berry v. Kerik, 366 F.3d 85, 87 (2d Cir. 2004); Cox v. Mayer, 332 F.3d 422, 424-25 (6th Cir. 2003); Dixon v. Page, 291 F.3d 485, 488-89 (7th Cir. 2002); Hopkins v. Addison, 36 Fed.Appx. 367, 369 (10th Cir. 2002); Harris v. Garner, 216 F.3d 970, 972-80 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc). As such, the substantial weight of persuasive authority holds that the PLRA applies to lawsuits commenced by an incarcerated plaintiff even when the plaintiff subsequently is released from custody before the conclusion of the lawsuit.

         This holding is consistent with the plain language of the PLRA's exhaustion requirement, which applies to actions “brought . . . by a prisoner.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (emphasis added); see, e.g., Harris, 216 F.3d at 974 (concluding that the term “brought” in the PLRA's exhaustion provision refers to when the lawsuit was “commenced”); accord United States ex rel. Carter v. Halliburton Co., 866 F.3d 199, 206 (4th Cir. 2017) (collecting cases for the proposition that a plaintiff “brings” an action when they commence a lawsuit). Notably, the Supreme Court of the United States has described the PLRA's exhaustion requirement as “a prerequisite to suit, ” Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002), and as a “precondition to bringing suit in federal court, ” Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 88 (2006) (characterizing petitioner's prevailing argument). And as the Eleventh Circuit reasoned in Harris, when enacting the PLRA, ‚ÄúCongress made confinement status at ...


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