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Davis v. Union County Sheriff

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

April 25, 2014



ROBERT J. CONRAD, Jr., District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on an initial review of Plaintiff's complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. No. 1). See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).


According to his pro se § 1983 complaint, Plaintiff was confined in the Union County Jail and apparently awaiting state charges of an unidentified nature at the time the following allegations took place. Plaintiff complains that while confined, he was denied proper medical treatment and he was denied access to legal materials. Plaintiff alleges that he filed grievances but never received a response from prison officials. Plaintiff also contends that Defendant Machell, whom he identifies as a nurse in the jail, informed Plaintiff that excessive radiation could harm his body if he "got too' many x-rays..." (Doc. No. 1 at 3). Plaintiff further alleges that on April 18, 2013, he was pushed to the ground by Sergeant Hanna because Plaintiff had two mattresses in his cell. Plaintiff apparently wanted to have an x-ray to survey any potential injury but Nurse Machell warned him against excessive radiation and stated that his most recent x-rays revealed that Plaintiff was fine. (Id. at 4).

In his claim for relief, Plaintiff would like to be treated by the "right doctors" or transferred to a facility where he "could be taken care of please." Plaintiff also asks that he be allowed access to a law library. Notably, Plaintiff does not seek monetary damages in his complaint or elsewhere in the record before the Court.


Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(A)(a), "[t]he court shall review... a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity." Following this initial review the "court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint- (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Id. § 1915A(b)(1). In conducting this review, the Court must determine whether the complaint raises an indisputably meritless legal theory or is founded upon clearly baseless factual contentions, such as fantastic or delusional scenarios. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989).

A pro se complaint must be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). However, the liberal construction requirement will not permit a district court to ignore a clear failure to allege facts in the complaint which set forth a claim that is cognizable under federal law. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).


As noted, Plaintiff was an inmate in the Union County Jail at the time he filed his complaint.[1] The Clerk of Court in this district served Plaintiff with a written request that he submit an affidavit or copies of the grievances to demonstrate that he had exhausted his administrative remedies as required by the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") which requires a prisoner to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to the commencement of a civil action under § 1983. The PLRA provides, in pertinent part: "[n]o 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). In response to the Clerk's Order, Plaintiff filed copies of grievances which tend to show that he participated in the available administrative process in the Union County Jail with regard to his claim for lack of medical treatment but was unsuccessful in securing either additional medical attention. See (Doc. Nos. 4 and 5).

Plaintiff's complaint identifies two specific claims: (1) denial of adequate medical care; and (2) denial of access to a law library. In considering the second claim, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that he presented any written grievance to prison authorities regarding access to a law library. In Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516 (2002), the Supreme Court held that the PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life and the Court noted that "exhaustion in cases covered by § 1997e(a) is now mandatory." Id. at 524 (citing Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 739 (2001)). The Porter Court went on to stress that the exhaustion requirement must be met before commencement of the suit. Id. Whether an inmate has properly exhausted his administrative remedies is a matter to be determined by referencing the law of the state where the prisoner is housed and where the allegations supporting the complaint arose. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007) ("The level of detail necessary in a grievance to comply with the grievance procedures will vary from system to system and claim to claim, but it is the prison's requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the boundaries of proper exhaustion.").

The Fourth Circuit has determined that the PLRA does not require that an inmate allege or demonstrate that he has exhausted his administrative remedies. Anderson v. XYZ Corr. Health Servs., 407 F.3d 674 (4th Cir. 2005). Indeed, failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense, but the Court is not prohibited from sua sponte examining the issue of exhaustion in reviewing the complaint. As the Fourth Circuit observed:

[A]n inmate's failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense to be pleaded and proven by the defendant. That exhaustion is an affirmative defense, however, does not preclude the district court from dismissing a complaint where the failure to exhaust is apparent from the face of the complaint, nor does it preclude the district court from ...

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