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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. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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