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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides one Indiana case today

In Pavey v. Conley (ND Ind., CJ Miller), a 6-page opinion, Judge Posner writes:

The question presented by this interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) is whether a prisoner plaintiff in a suit for damages governed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act is entitled by the Seventh Amendment to a jury trial on any debatable factual issues relating to the defense of failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The district court answered yes. * * *

The generalization that emerges from these examples and others that might be given is that juries do not decide what forum a dispute is to be resolved in. Juries decide cases, not issues of judicial traffic control. Until the issue of exhaustion is resolved, the court cannot know whether it is to decide the case or the prison authorities are to. * * *

The sequence to be followed in a case in which exhaustion is contested is therefore as follows: (1) The district judge conducts a hearing on exhaustion and permits whatever discovery relating to exhaustion (and only to exhaustion) he deems appropriate. (2) If the judge determines that the prisoner did not exhaust his administrative remedies, he will then determine whether (a) the plaintiff has unexhausted remedies, and so he must go back and exhaust; (b) or, although he has no unexhausted remedies, the failure to exhaust was innocent (as where prison officials prevent a prisoner from exhausting his remedies), in which event he will be allowed to go back and exhaust; or (c) the failure to exhaust was the prisoner’s fault, in which event the case is over. (3) If and when the judge determines that the prisoner has properly exhausted his administrative remedies, the case will proceed to pretrial discovery, and if necessary a trial, on the merits; and if there is a jury trial, the jury will make all necessary findings of fact without being bound by (or even informed of) any of the findings made by the district judge in determining that the prisoner had exhausted his administrative remedies.

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.

The judgment of the district court is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. must not be begun until the issue of exhaustion is resolved.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 5, 2008 10:57 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions