206 F.3d 289 (3rd Cir. 2000), 97-7487, Booth v. Churner

Docket Nº:97-7487, 97-7488
Citation:206 F.3d 289
Party Name:TIMOTHY BOOTH, Appellant v. CHURNER, C.O.; WORKENSHER, Sgt.; RIKUS, Lt.; W. GARDNER, Capt.
Case Date:March 07, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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206 F.3d 289 (3rd Cir. 2000)




Nos. 97-7487, 97-7488

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

March 7, 2000

Argued: September 27, 1999

On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civ. No. 3: CV-97-0611) District Judge: William J. Nealon

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Attorneys for Appellant: NANCY WINKELMAN, ESQUIRE (ARGUED) RALPH SIANNI, ESQUIRE Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, LLP 1600 Market Street, Suite 3600 Philadelphia, PA 19103-7286

Attorneys for Appellees: D. MICHAEL FISHER, ATTORNEY GENERAL GWENDOLYN T. MOSLEY, ESQUIRE (ARGUED) Senior Deputy Attorney General JOHN G. KNORR, III, Chief Deputy Attorney General Office of Attorney General 15th Floor, Strawberry Square Harrisburg, PA 17120

Before: BECKER, Chief Judge, MCKEE, and NOONAN,[*] Circuit Judges.


BECKER, Chief Judge.

This appeal by Timothy Booth from an order of the District Court dismissing his prisoner's civil rights action presents two important questions about the meaning of the mandatory administrative exhaustion requirement in the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (the PLRA). Booth alleges that while he was confined in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's State Correctional Institute at Smithfield, several prison guards, on several occasions, punched him in the face, threw cleaning material in his face, shoved him into a

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shelf, and tightened and twisted his handcuffs in such a manner as to injure him. Asserting his Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, Booth, acting pro se, brought this 42 U.S.C. S 1983 excessive force action in the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, requesting various forms of monetary and injunctive relief. He did so without first exhausting the administrative remedies available to him at Smithfield. Because of this failure to exhaust his administrative remedies, the District Court dismissed his action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. S 1997e(a).

As amended by the PLRA, S 1997e(a) provides that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. S 1997e(a) (amended by Pub. L. 104-134, Title I, S101(a), 110 Stat. 1321-71 (1996)). The first question raised by Booth's appeal concerns the applicability of S 1997e(a) to S 1983 excessive force actions; i.e., whether excessive force is a "prison condition" for purposes of the PLRA. This important and difficult question is a matter of first impression for this court. Booth contends that S 1997e(a)'s "action . . . with respect to prison conditions" language applies only to complaints about the physical conditions in prisons, and does not apply to his S 1983 excessive force action. Therefore, he concludes, the District Court erred in analyzing his action under S 1997e(a). We reject this argument and hold that S 1997e(a) applies to excessive force actions. We base this decision on the plain meaning of the language of the PLRA, case law from our sister circuits, and recent Supreme Court precedent interpreting similar prisoner litigation legislation.

The second question raised by Booth's appeal has to do with the application of S 1997e(a)'s exhaustion requirement. Booth argues that even if S 1997e(a) applies to his action, exhaustion would have been futile, because the available administrative process could not provide him with the monetary relief he seeks. Accordingly, he contends, his failure to exhaust such procedures is not mandated by S 1997e(a), which only requires the exhaustion of administrative remedies "as are available."

Our recent decision in Nyhuis v. Reno, No. 98-3543, 204 F.3d 65, 78 (3d Cir. Feb. 15, 2000), rejected this argument. Nyhuis was a Bivens action brought by a federal inmate, in which we held that "the PLRA amended S 1997e(a) in such a way as to make exhaustion of all administrative remedies mandatory--whether or not they provide the inmate-plaintiff with the relief he says he desires in his federal action." Id. at 67. The reasoning of Nyhuis applies equally in the S 1983 context, as S 1997e(a) treats Bivens actions and S 1983 actions as functional equivalents. Nyhuis is therefore controlling in this case.

Accordingly, even though this is an excessive force action, and even though the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's inmate grievance process could not provide Booth with the money damages he sought, we hold that Booth was required by S 1997e(a) to exhaust the administrative remedies available to him prior to filing this action. Because he admittedly has not done so, we will affirm the judgment of the District Court.1


On April 21, 1997, Booth began this action in the District Court, using a form provided by the court to prisoners filing pro se complaints under 42 U.S.C. S 1983. He named Corrections Officer Churner, Sergeant Workensher, Lieutenant Rikus, and Captain W. Gardner as defendants. He stated that he had presented the facts of the case in the state prisoner grievance

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procedure and that his allegations were "dismissed or covered up." He added, "There isn't any help because of retaliation because I spoke up about abuse and corruption." In the space provided for "Parties" he added Superintendent Morgan to the list of defendants. In the space labeled "Statement of Claim" he wrote nothing. In the space labeled "Relief " he asked both for a "preliminary injunction," and for a "protection order for transfer to another prison as my safety and life is at stake."

In a handwritten document filed with his form complaint, Booth alleged the following facts, which gave rise to his S 1983 action. He first complained that, in April 1996, he had been "assaulted by a Sgt Robinson and a C/O named Thomas . . . ." As a result of that assault, he alleges, he has "a shoulder that slips in and out." Subsequent to that incident, he contends, he was denied an operation on his shoulder with "deliberate indifference to [his] shoulder and back." Booth next averred that on February 6, 1997, he threw water on Corrections Officer Thomas, who then took him to a storage room and threw a cup of cleaning material in his face.

Booth further claimed that on February 7, 1997, after an exchange of words with Lieutenant Rikus, Rikus shoved him into the shelf in the storage room and Thomas pushed him into a door, while Sergeant White looked on. He alleges that shortly thereafter he was taken back to his cell, where Thomas tightened and twisted his handcuffs in such a way that bruised his wrists. Booth last complained that, on March 23, 1997, Corrections Officer Churner punched him in the face and mouth, while Sergeant Workensher and Corrections Officer Kulian watched. As a result, he contends, his mouth "was busted open" and he received three stitches. Booth ended this narrative, "I need out of this jail before they kill me. And I want each and every officer to be punished for assaulting me. Please, I'm in fear of my life."

In a document dated May 19, 1997, he petitioned "To Show Cause for Appointment of Counsel, To Keep Top Officials as Defendants, Amending Relief Plaintiff Seeks." In this petition, he asked for "an injunction to stop the continuous beating," an order "to get operation," a transfer to another prison, and "money damages $750,000 (permanent damages)." In later paragraphs, he again asked for an injunction, a transfer, and for money damages in different amounts; he also asked for an order to improve the prison law library and to fine prison officials for contempt of court, for an order to hire paralegal assistance for himself, and for "money damages $300,000." In "Plaintiff 's Amendment to Specific Relief," filed the next day, he asked for a protective order to be transferred to another jail, appointment of counsel, a pretrial hearing, a disclosure order for prison records, and $400,000 for "nominal, punitive, exemplary, and compensatory" damages.

The District Court, acting sua sponte and without requiring an answer from the Defendants, dismissed Booth's action without prejudice on May 30, 1997, as it had the power to do under 42 U.S.C. S 1997e(c). The rationale for the Court's order was that Booth had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies pursuant to 42 U.S.C. S 1997e(a) before filing his S 1983 action. The Court observed that at the time Booth filed his action the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections had a three-step grievance procedure. Booth had taken the first step in the process but made no showing that he had taken the second and third steps, which required that he appeal the decision reached by the prison officials in the first step.2 The

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court concluded that as Booth had not exhausted his available remedies, dismissal was required by S 1997e(a). In reaching this conclusion, the District Court assumed, without discussion, that Booth's excessive force action was governed by S 1997e(a).

On June 9, 1997, Booth moved for reconsideration of this order. On July 3, the District Court denied this motion. Booth moved to amend his complaint, and on July 17, 1997, this motion was "dismissed as moot, as plaintiff 's case was closed on May 30, 1997." Booth thereafter appealed. The District Court had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. S 1331. We have appellate jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. S 1291.3


We first examine whether the words "action . . . with respect to prison conditions" in S 1997e(a) were intended to apply to excessive force actions such as Booth's. Section 1997e(a) provides that

[n]o action...

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