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Oakley v. Howard

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

June 18, 2019

JERRY L. HOWARD II, Sergeant, North Central Unit, ADC, et al. DEFENDANTS


         The following Recommended Disposition (“Recommendation”) has been sent to United States District Judge James M. Moody, Jr. You may file written objections to all or part of this Recommendation. If you do so, those objections must: (1) specifically explain the factual and/or legal basis for your objection; and (2) be received by the Clerk of this Court within fourteen (14) days of the date of this Recommendation. If you do not file objections, Judge Moody can adopt this Recommendation without independently reviewing all of the evidence in the record. By not objecting, you may waive the right to appeal questions of fact.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Claude B. Oakley (“Oakley”), a prisoner at the Grimes Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction (“ADC”), has filed a pro se § 1983 Complaint alleging that Defendants violated his constitutional rights. Doc. 2. Before Oakley may proceed with this case, the Court must screen his allegations.[1]

         II. Discussion

         Oakley alleges that, on March 24, 2016, his “left leg had a spasm” while he was trying to comply with an order to kneel by Defendant Sergeant Jerry L. Howard II (“Howard”). According to Oakley: (1) Howard then “violently jump[ed] him, ” choked him until he almost passed out, and punched him in the face; (2) Defendant Corporal Goforthe (“Goforthe”) held Oakley's legs down while Howard slammed his face into the floor, causing his nose to bleed and making him “dizzy with pain”; and (3) Defendant Captain Aaron Rodger (“Rodger”) “watched the whole assault” and failed to intervene. Doc. 2 at 5-6. Oakley alleges that, the same day, Howard wrote a “false” disciplinary report against him, which caused him to be placed in segregation.[2] Id. at 6, 11-12.

         The Court may properly dismiss a prisoner's in forma pauperis § 1983 complaint, as frivolous or failing to state claim for relief, when it is apparent from the face of the complaint that the statute of limitations has run. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007); Myers v. Vogal, 960 F.2d 750, 751 (8th Cir. 1992); see Winston v. Burl, 596 Fed.Appx. 525, 525 (8th Cir. 2015) (affirming § 1915A dismissal of claims that were barred by statute of limitations); Hall v. Elrod, 399 Fed.Appx. 136, 137 (8th Cir. 2010) (same); Housley v. Erwin, 325 Fed.Appx. 474, 475-76 (8th Cir. 2009) (same).

         Because § 1983 does not contain a statute of limitations, federal courts must apply the forum state's statute of limitations period for personal injury actions. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007). Arkansas's statute of limitations for personal injury actions is three years. See Ark. Code Ann. § 16-56-105(3). Accordingly, the limitations period for § 1983 actions, arising in Arkansas, is three years. Spradling v. Hastings, 912 F.3d 1114, 1119 (8th Cir. 2019); Miller v. Norris, 247 F.3d 736, 739 (8th Cir. 2001).

         A § 1983 cause of action accrues “when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action, … that is, when the plaintiff can file suit and obtain relief.” Wallace, 549 U.S. at 388. In other words, accrual occurs when the plaintiff “discovers, or with due diligence should have discovered, the injury that is the basis of the litigation.” Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Beckham, 138 F.3d 325, 330 (8th Cir. 1998). The events giving rise to all of Oakley's claims occurred on March 24, 2016. If not tolled, the three-year statute of limitations expired on March 24, 2019. Oakley filed the instant case on June 11, 2019, almost three months beyond the limitations period.[3]

         Because the PLRA obligates prisoners to pursue their administrative remedies before commencing a § 1983 action, the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled while they complete the exhaustion process. Williams v. Pulaski County Detention Facility, 278 Fed.Appx. 695, 695-96 (8th Cir. 2008) (remanding case to determine whether limitations period was tolled due to inmate's argument that he had not received a final decision on his administrative grievance); see also, e.g., Battle v. Ledford, 912 F.3d 708, 717-18 (4th Cir. 2019) (collecting cases and joining the “consensus” of courts that equitably toll the § 1983 limitations period during the PLRA exhaustion period); Gonzalez v. Hasty, 651 F.3d 318, 323 (2d Cir. 2011) (“The catch-22 is self-evident … the prisoner who files suit … prior to exhausting administrative remedies risks dismissal based on [the PLRA]; whereas the prisoner who waits to exhaust his administrative remedies risks dismissal based upon untimeliness.”) (quoting Johnson v. Rivera, 272 F.3d 519, 522 (7th Cir. 2001)).

         According to the documents Oakley attached to his Complaint, he initiated the grievance process on March 25, 2016, and his final administrative appeal was completed on May 19, 2016. Doc. 2 at 8-10. Giving Oakley the benefit of equitable tolling through May 19, 2019, his § 1983 Complaint - filed more than three weeks later -- is still time-barred.

         Because it is clear from the face of Oakley's Complaint that all of Defendants' alleged conduct occurred more than three years before he filed this case on June 11, 2019, this case should be dismissed in its entirety, with prejudice. In addition, because a dismissal due to a violation of the statute of limitations is tantamount to a dismissal for failure to state a claim, Jones, 549 U.S. at 215, the Court recommends that this dismissal be treated as a strike pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

         III. Conclusion


         1. Oakley's Complaint (Doc. 2) be ...

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