SCOTUS denies cert in Indiana case

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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."


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues