United States District Court, Northern District of California
June 4, 2003
RONALD A. MCCLURE, PLAINTIFF(S),
SALINAS VALLEY STATE PRISON, ET AL., DEFENDANT(S).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles R. Breyer, United States District Judge
ORDER OF DISMISSAL
Plaintiff, a State of California prisoner incarcerated at Salinas Valley State Prison ("SVSP"), has filed a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging various aspects of his confinement at SVSP and San Quentin State Prison, where he was initially housed. Plaintiff seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and requests that the court excuse his obligation to exhaust available administrative remedies because he has not "received a response as of 5-14-03."
The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 amended 42 U.S.C. § 1997e to provide that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under [42 U.S.C. § 1983], 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. § 1997e(a). Although once within the discretion of the district court, exhaustion in prisoner cases covered by § 1997e(a) is now mandatory. Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002). All available remedies must now be exhausted; those remedies "need not meet federal standards, nor must they be `plain, speedy, and effective.'" Id. (citation omitted). Even when the prisoner seeks relief not available in grievance proceedings, notably money damages, exhaustion is a prerequisite to suit. Id.; Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001). Similarly, exhaustion is a prerequisite to all prisoner suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong. Porter, 534 U.S. at 532.
The State of California provides its prisoners the right to appeal administratively "any departmental decision, action, condition or policy perceived by those individuals as adversely affecting their welfare." Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.1(a). It also provides them the right to file appeals alleging misconduct by correctional officers/officials. Id. § 3084.1(e). In order to exhaust available administrative remedies within this system, a prisoner must proceed through several levels of appeal: (1) informal resolution, (2) formal written appeal on a CDC 602 inmate appeal form, (3) second level appeal to the institution head or designee, and (4) third level appeal to the Director of the California Department of Corrections. Barry v. Ratelle, 985 F. Supp. 1235, 1237 (S.D. Cal. 1997) (citing Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084,5). A final decision from the Director's level of review satisfies the exhaustion requirement under § 1997e(a). Id. at 1237-38.
Nonexhaustion under § 1997e(a) is an affirmative defense which should be brought by defendant(s) in an unenumerated motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b). Wyatt v. Terhune, 315 F.3d 1108, 1119 (9th Cir. 2003). However, a complaint may be dismissed by the court for failure to exhaust if a prisoner "conce[des] to nonexhaustion" and "no exception to exhaustion applies." Id. at 1120. Here, plaintiff concedes he did not exhaust available administrative remedies through the Director's level of review before filing suit, but argues that the exhaustion requirement should be excused because he has not received a response as of May 14, 2003. A review of the attachments to the complaint shows that plaintiff submitted some of his appeals to the Director's level of review at late as May 13, 2003, however. There is no basis to excuse the exhaustion requirement in this case based on delay. Cf. Porter, 534 U.S. at 524 (noting that available administrative remedies need not be speedy).*fn1
Accordingly, plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis (doc #3) is DENIED and the complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice to refiling after exhausting California's prison administrative process. See McKinney v. Carey, 311 F.3d 1198, 1199-1201 (9th Cir. 2002) (action must be dismissed without prejudice unless prisoner exhausted available administrative remedies before he filed suit, even if prisoner fully exhausts while the suit is pending).
The Clerk shall enter judgment and close the file. No fee is due.