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. Great observation Smith. By my lights, speaking personally, they already have. They counted my religious perspective in a pro-life context as a symptom of mental illness and then violated all semblance of due process to banish me for life from the Indiana bar. The headline reveals the truth of the Hoosier elite's animus. Details here: Denied 2016 petition for cert (this time around): (“2016Pet”) Amicus brief 2016: (“2016Amici”) As many may recall, I was banned for five years for failing to "repent" of my religious views on life and the law when a bar examiner demanded it of me, resulting in a time out to reconsider my "clinging." The time out did not work, so now I am banned for life. Here is the five year time out order: Denied 2010 petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): (“2010Pet”) Read this quickly if you are going to read it, the elites will likely demand it be pulled down or pile comments on to bury it. (As they have buried me.)

  2. if the proabortion zealots and intolerant secularist anti-religious bigots keep on shutting down every hint of religious observance in american society, or attacking every ounce of respect that the state may have left for it, they may just break off their teeth.

  3. "drug dealers and traffickers need to be locked up". "we cannot afford just to continue to build prisons". "drug abuse is strangling many families and communities". "establishing more treatment and prevention programs will also be priorities". Seems to be what politicians have been saying for at least three decades now. If these are the most original thoughts these two have on the issues of drug trafficking and drug abuse, then we're no closer to solving the problem than we were back in the 90s when crack cocaine was the epidemic. We really need to begin demanding more original thought from those we elect to office. We also need to begin to accept that each of us is part of the solution to a problem that government cannot solve.

  4. What is with the bias exclusion of the only candidate that made sense, Rex Bell? The Democrat and Republican Party have created this problem, why on earth would anyone believe they are able to fix it without pushing government into matters it doesn't belong?

  5. This is what happens when daddy hands over a business to his moron son and thinks that everything will be ok. this bankruptcy is nothing more than Gary pulling the strings to never pay the creditors that he and his son have ripped off. they are scum and they know it.