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SCOTUS denies cert in Indiana case

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The nation's highest court has declined to take an Indiana case asking whether a prisoner suing under the Prison Litigation Reform Act has the right to a jury trial on any debatable factual issue relating to a failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

In a June 2008 ruling, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago decided in Christopher Pavey v. Patrick Conley, et al., No. 07-1426, that prisoner Pavey didn't have that right. The panel had reversed a ruling from U.S. District Judge Robert Miller in the Northern District of Indiana's South Bend Division, who'd decided that the answer to that question was yes.

The Supreme Court of the United States considered the case during its private conference March 20 and issued a denial in its order list released today. Therefore the 7th Circuit's decision stands.

Pavey sued under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against a prison guard who he claimed, in removing him from his cell, used excessive force and broke his arm. Defendants claimed Pavey hadn't exhausted his administrative remedies because he hadn't filed a timely grievance with prison authorities; Pavey responded that his injury and subsequent transfer to another prison prevented him from doing that. He argued any factual issues should be resolved by a judge without a jury, unless that jurist decided to convene an advisory jury.

But in rejecting his claim, the 7th Circuit noted the generalization that emerges from such examples is that juries do not decide what forum a dispute should be resolved in.

"Juries decide cases, not issues of judicial traffic control," authoring Judge Richard Posner wrote. "Until the issue of exhaustion is resolved, the court cannot know whether it is to decide the case or the prison authorities are to."

Only one appellate court has weighed in on the question of whether a prisoner has a right to a jury trial if genuine issues of material fact exist about compliance with the duty to exhaust, the panel wrote. In Wyatt v. Terhune, 315 F.3d 1108, 1119-20 (9th Cir. 2003), the 9th Circuit held that because previous cases had held that a failure to exhaust remedies is a "matter in abatement," properly raised not by a motion for summary judgment but by a motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b), the judge must decide exhaustion even if that requires him to make findings of fact.

Not finding that approach persuasive, Judge Posner wrote that the panel also agreed with the result from its appellate colleagues because Rule 12(b) doesn't say anything about who finds the facts. Defendants are also correct in noting that not every factual issue is triable to a jury as a matter of right.

"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."

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  1. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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