Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Inmate beating can proceed on the merits

This guy was beaten up at the Suffolk County Jail by correction officers who objected when plaintiff exchanged pleasantries with another inmate who was convicted of killing a police officer. His case against the officers was dismissed in the district court because plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies at the jail before filing suit. The Court of Appeals reinstates the case.

The case is Hubbs v. Suffolk County Sheriff's Department, decided on June 2. The Prison Litigation Reform Act requires inmates to file a grievance with the jail over their prison conditions before they can sue the officers in court. The idea is that the jail might resolve the problem before the case reaches court or at least make some preliminary findings that might assist the court in deciding the case. An inmate's failure to comply with the PLRA is the reason many of these lawsuits never see the light of day. This one is allowed to proceed.

Hubbs did not file a grievance. He argues that he did not have to because the inmate handbook says the jail does not entertain grievances about matters that fall outside the warden's control.The handbook does not entitle the County dismissal. It is not clear whether what happened to Hubbs fell within the warden's control. The County also cites an affidavit from a jail official that said a grievance "concerning an act or occurrence that took place while the inmate was detained in the County Court Holding facility would be accepted by the grievance coordinator and a determination would be made regarding what action should be taken to resolve and rectify the matter." The Court of Appeals says this affidavit is vague and "does not address whether any remedies were in fact available for such a grievance."

After scrutinizing the affidavit in other ways and determining that it just doesn't cut the mustard, the Court of Appeals (Calabresi, Cabranes and Raggi) says "on the record before us, no administrative remedies were available to [plaintiff], and there was thus nothing for him to exhaust. Hubbs is therefore free to proceed with the merits of his suit in federal court."

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