532 U.S. 731 (2001), 99-1964, Booth v. Churner

Docket Nº:Case No. 99-1964
Citation:532 U.S. 731, 121 S.Ct. 1819, 149 L.Ed.2d 958
Party Name:BOOTH v. CHURNER et al.
Case Date:May 29, 2001
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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532 U.S. 731 (2001)

121 S.Ct. 1819, 149 L.Ed.2d 958

BOOTH

v.

CHURNER et al.

Case No. 99-1964

United States Supreme Court

May 29, 2001

Argued March 20, 2001

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 amended 42 U.S. C.§ 1997e(a), which now requires a prisoner to exhaust "such administrative remedies as are available" before suing over prison conditions. Petitioner Booth was a Pennsylvania state prison inmate when he began this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action in Federal District Court, claiming that respondent corrections officers violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by assaulting him, using excessive force against him, and denying him medical attention to treat ensuing injuries. He sought various forms of injunctive relief and money damages. At the time, Pennsylvania provided an administrative grievance and appeals system, which addressed Booth's complaints but had no provision for recovery of money damages. Before resorting to federal court, Booth filed an administrative grievance, but did not seek administrative review after the prison authority denied relief. Booth's failure to appeal administratively led the District Court to dismiss the complaint without prejudice for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under § 1997e(a). The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting Booth's argument that the exhaustion requirement is inapposite to his case because the administrative process could not award him the monetary relief he sought (money then being the only relief still requested).

Held:

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), an inmate seeking only money damages must complete any prison administrative process capable of addressing the inmate's complaint and providing some form of relief, even if the process does not make specific provision for monetary relief. The meaning of the phrase "administrative remedies . . . available" is the crux of the case. Neither the practical considerations urged by the parties nor their reliance on the dictionary meanings of the words "remedies" and "available" are conclusive in seeking congressional intent. Clearer clues are found in two considerations. First, the broader statutory context in which Congress referred to "available" "remedies" indicates that exhaustion is required regardless of the relief offered through administrative procedures. While the modifier "available" requires the possibility of some relief for the action complained of, the word "exhausted" has a decidedly procedural emphasis. It makes no sense, for instance, to demand that someone exhaust "such adminisrative

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[redress]" as is available; one "exhausts" processes, not forms of relief, and the statute provides that one must. Second, statutory history confirms the suggestion that Congress meant to require procedural exhaustion regardless of the fit between a prisoner's prayer for relief and the administrative remedies possible. Before § 1997e(a) was amended by the 1995 Act, a court had discretion (though no obligation) to require a state inmate to exhaust "such . . . remedies as are available," but only if they were "plain, speedy, and effective." That scheme is now a thing of the past, for the amendments eliminated both the discretion to dispense with administrative exhaustion and the condition that the remedy be "plain, speedy, and effective" before exhaustion could be required. The significance of deleting that condition is apparent in light of McCarthy v. Madigan, 503 U.S. 140. In holding that the preamended version of § 1997e(a) did not require exhaustion by those seeking only money damages when money was unavailable at the administrative level, id., at 149-151, the McCarthy Court reasoned in part that only a procedure able to provide money damages would be "effective" within the statute's meaning, id., at 150. It has to be significant that Congress removed the very term, "effective," the McCarthy Court had previously emphasized in reaching the result Booth now seeks, and the fair inference to be drawn is that Congress meant to preclude the McCarthy result. Congress's imposition of an obviously broader exhaustion requirement makes it highly implausible that it meant to give prisoners a strong inducement to skip the administrative process simply by limiting prayers for relief to money damages not offered through administrative grievance mechanisms. Pp. 736-741.

206 F.3d 289, affirmed.

Souter, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Nancy Winkelman argued the cause for petitioner. With her on the briefs were Joseph T. Lukens and Ralph N. Sianni.

Gerald J. Pappert, First Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were D. Michael Fisher, Attorney General, John G. Knorr III, Chief Deputy Attorney General, and Gwendolyn T. Mosley and Calvin R. Koons, Senior Deputy Attorneys General.

Irving L. Gornstein argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. With him on

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the brief were Acting Solicitor General Underwood, former Solicitor General Waxman, former Assistant Attorney General Ogden, Barbara L. Herwig, and Peter R. Maier. [*]

The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 amended 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), which now requires a prisoner to exhaust

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"such administrative remedies as are available" before suing over prison conditions. The question is whether an inmate seeking only money damages must complete a prison administrative process that could provide some sort of relief on the complaint stated, but no money. We hold that he must.

I

Petitioner, Timothy Booth, was an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Smithfield, Pennsylvania, when he began this action under Rev. Stat. § 1979, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. He claimed that respondent corrections officers at Smithfield violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by assaulting him, bruising his wrists in tightening and twisting handcuffs placed upon him, throwing cleaning material in his face, and denying him medical attention to treat ensuing injuries. Booth sought various forms of injunctive relief, including transfer to another prison, as well as several hundred thousand dollars in money damages.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections provided an administrative grievance system at the time. It called for a written charge within 15 days of an event prompting an inmate's complaint, which was referred to a grievance officer for investigation and resolution. If any action taken or recommended was unsatisfactory to the inmate, he could appeal to an intermediate reviewing authority, with the possibility of a further and final appeal to a central review committee. App. 46-50. While the grievance system addressed complaints of the abuse and excessive force Booth alleged, it had no provision for recovery of money damages.[1]

Before resorting to federal court, Booth filed an administrative grievance charging at least some of the acts of

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abuse he later alleged in his action. Id., at 10-14. He did not, however, go beyond the first step, and never sought intermediate or final administrative review after the prison authority denied relief.

Booth's failure to avail himself of the later stages of the administrative process led the District Court to dismiss the complaint without prejudice for failure to exhaust "administrative remedies . . . available" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (1994 ed., Supp. V). See App. to Pet. for Cert. 38a. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed, 206 F.3d 289 (2000), rejecting Booth's argument that the statutory exhaustion requirement is inapposite to his case simply because the Commonwealth's administrative process could not award him the monetary relief he sought (money then being the only relief still requested, since Booth's transfer to another institution had mooted his claims for injunctive orders).[2] Although the Third Circuit acknowledged that several other Courts of Appeals had held the exhaustion requirement subject to exception when the internal grievance procedure could not provide an inmate-plaintiff with the purely monetary relief requested in his federal action, see, e. g., Whitley v. Hunt, 158 F.3d 882 (CA51998); Lunsford v. Jumao-As, 155 F.3d 1178 (CA9 1998); Garrett v. Hawk, 127 F.3d 1263 (CA10 1997), the court found no such exception in the statute, 206 F.3d, at 299-300; accord, Freeman v. Francis, 196 F.3d 641 (CA6 1999); Alexander v. Hawk, 159 F.3d 1321 (CA11 1998). We granted certiorari to address this conflict among the Circuits, 531 U.S. 956 (2000), and we now affirm.

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