ILNews

Court mulls 'vicarious exhaustion' in jail suit

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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A court ruling issued Monday by a federal judge in Indianapolis touches on a legal nuance that's yet to be addressed by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago and is also a relatively new argument for Indiana.

In the jail-condition prisoner suit of Trevor Richardson v. Monroe County Sheriff, et al., No. 1:08-cv-0174 U.S., Judge Richard Young of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, denied a motion from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office to dismiss the suit and granted the plaintiff's motion to certify as a class action.

Trevor Richardson filed suit in February when he was incarcerated in Monroe County Correctional Center, contending that overcrowding led to unsafe and hazardous conditions for inmates. He filed a grievance and two appeals with correctional officers, but he received no response before filing his suit and asking for class-action status. He was released within a week of that filing.

Though Richardson has been released and his individual claims are moot, Judge Young determined that the case warranted class-action status as it could impact the proposed class. But jail officials argued that each prisoner should have to prove they satisfy the requirements to join the class.

In a footnote, Judge Young points out that the related issue of "vicarious exhaustion of administrative remedies" exists in this case - whether the exhaustion of administrative remedies should be carried over to all members of the class.

That issue has only come up before in a Sept. 24, 2007, decision in Wade Meisberger and Ernest Tope v. J. David Donahue, No. 1:06-cv-1047, when Judge Larry McKinney in the Southern District of Indiana found that the vicarious exhaustion requirement applies to cases brought under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals hasn't directly addressed that issue, but the Southern District tackled that nuance in the ruling last year and relied on precedent from other District Courts and the 11th Circuit in Atlanta.

In that ongoing suit that has been stayed pending a potential settlement, the court agreed with the prisoners that the "vicarious exhaustion" should apply and the court agreed, pointing out that it was a new issue for the 7th Circuit. At the time, Judge McKinney wrote that it would be wasteful to require each and every prisoner to present the same claim to the Department of Correction when the agency has already had the chance to address it in the named plaintiff's claim.

"The court sees no reason to diverge from its earlier ruling," Judge Young wrote in Monday's footnote.
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  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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