Administrative remedies must be exhausted

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Prisoners who file suits for damages before exhausting all administrative remedies are not entitled to a jury trial to debate factual issues relating to the exhaustion under the Seventh Amendment, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today. The opinion outlines the steps a U.S. District Court judge should take to determine whether a suit may go to trial.

The federal appellate court overturned the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division's ruling in the case Christopher Pavey v. Patrick Conley, et al., No. 07-1426. Pavey filed a suit under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act against guards he claimed broke his arm using excessive force to remove him from his cell.

The defendants argued Pavey failed to exhaust all his administrative remedies prior to filing the suit. Pavey countered he couldn't use those remedies because his left arm was broken and he is left-handed and unable to write, and that he was transferred to another prison before an investigation was conducted.

Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, actions can't be brought under federal law until all administrative remedies available are exhausted. Trying the merits before exhaustion is unsatisfactory because it would thwart Congress' effort to bar trials of prisoner cases before the prisoner has used all administrative remedies, wrote Judge Posner.

As a result, a jury may decide the merits of a case that never should have gotten to that stage because a judge should have found the prisoner had failed to use all available administrative remedies.

The 7th Circuit decision outlines a sequence to be followed in contested exhaustion cases: first, a U.S. District Court judge conducts a hearing on exhaustion and allows discovery only related to exhaustion; next, if the judge decides the prisoner didn't exhaust all remedies, then the plaintiff can attempt to exhaust the available remedies.

If the plaintiff exhausted all remedies, but the failure to exhaust was innocent, such as the plaintiff was presented by prison officials to proceed, he would be allowed to go back and exhaust. If the failure to exhaust is the prisoner's fault, then the case is over, Judge Posner wrote.

Finally, if a U.S. District Court judge determines the plaintiff has correctly exhausted all remedies, the case can proceed to pretrial discovery and possibly a trial on the merits. The jury wouldn't be bound by any findings made previously by the judge during the exhaustion proceedings.

"We emphasize that discovery with respect to the merits must not be begun until the issue of exhaustion is resolved. If merits discovery is allowed to begin before that resolution, the statutory goal of sparing federal courts the burden of prisoner litigation until and unless the prisoner has exhausted his administrative remedies will be thwarted," he wrote.


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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.