Prison Litigation Reform Act Requires Completion of Grievance Procedures Prior to Lawsuit

Grievance Procedure Deadlines Run Very Fast

To begin, deadlines run very quickly on prison grievances.  Think days not weeks.  Obtain the procedures from the subject corrections facility and follow them closely.  Because the deadlines run so quickly, Collins & Collins, P.C. does not get involved in the grievance procedure.  Chances are the grievance procedure will have run prior to Collins & Collins, P.C. even having an opportunity to review the file or possible civil rights claims.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires that inmates in prisons and jails exhaust all administrative remedies prior to filing a civil rights lawsuit against the jail or prison in federal court. Basically, this means that the inmate must complete the grievance procedure entirely through the appeals stage before filing suit.

With this in mind, it is important understand the basics of what this means and what it doesn’t.

Follow Grievance Procedure of Facility

To begin, it is important to understand that facilities may have their own grievance procedures.  There is no one grievance procedure that must be followed by all correctional facilities.  It is important that you obtain the grievance procedures and forms at your institution.  These must be provided to you under the PLRA.

PLRA Applies Only to Inmates

The PLRA applies only to inmates in jails and prisons. It does apply to those that have been released. This means that it does not apply to parolees.

PLRA Applies to Both Government and Privately Operated Prisons and Jails

The PLRA and all its rules and limitations apply whether the prison is government or privately operated.

Must Exhaust All Remedies on All Claims

It is important to note that an inmate must exhaust all remedies on all claims. This means that if there are multiple related claims such as an accident in the facility and consequent negligent medical care, then grievances must be filed on both before filing suit.  Typically, this requires each individual claim be filed separately.  Failure to complete the grievance procedure on one claim will result in its dismissal. The remaining fully exhausted claim alone will be allowed to proceed.

Must Name All Defendants

Exhaustion requires that the inmate identify each and every defendant against which the inmate intends to file a lawsuit. For instance, in the example of an accident coupled with medical negligence, the inmate would identify the defendant(s) that caused the accident, the defendant(s) that were medically negligent, anyone that inferred with medical treatment and any others that contributed to the accident or the medical negligence.

In short, if you want to sue them all, you have to identify them all and what each did wrong.

Must Meet Deadlines

Missing a grievance filing deadline will likely bar you from filing suit in federal court.  There are very few exceptions.

What Happens If You Fail to Exhaust Remedies?

In the event that you fail to exhaust remedies prior to filing a federal court lawsuit, any claims not exhausted will be dismissed without prejudice. “Without prejudice” means you can refile those claims once the requirements are fully met.

This means that you will be allowed to go back and exhaust your administrative remedies on the claims that were dismissed without prejudice. However, if the statute of limitations has already passed then those claims will be barred.  In addition, if you have missed the grievance procedure deadlines, this will very likely bar successful refiling since the courts have ruled that failure to meet grievance deadlines is a failure to properly exhaust remedies.

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