Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California Lawrence J. O'Neill, District Judge, Presiding, DC No. No. 08-16363.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tashima, Circuit Judge
Submitted June 15, 2010*fn1 -- San Francisco, California
Before: Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, A. Wallace Tashima, and Carlos T. Bea, Circuit Judges.
The district court sua sponte dismissed claims thirteen through thirty-three of prisoner Kavin Rhodes' ("Rhodes") second amended complaint ("SAC"), holding that they had not been exhausted, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), which states "[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." See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). We reverse, holding that the claims were sufficiently alleged to survive sua sponte dismissal under the PLRA.
Rhodes is a prisoner in the California prison system who has filed numerous administrative grievances about the treatment he received from guards while in custody at the California Correctional Institution at Tehachapi ("CCI"). On December 26, 2001, Rhodes initiated this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, by placing his original complaint in the prison mail system. He alleged that prison guards at CCI had violated his civil rights by retaliating against him for exercising his First Amendment right to pursue the prison grievance process against them. The complaint was officially filed with the district court on January 4, 2002.
Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Rhodes' claims, which the district court granted. We reversed on appeal. See Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559 (9th Cir. 2005). On remand to the district court, Rhodes filed his SAC on March 20, 2006, which added claims thirteen through thirty-three. These claims allege that the same defendant guards perpetrated new retaliatory acts against Rhodes between January 2, 2002, and November 15, 2003, in response to his initiating this lawsuit. Rhodes' SAC was filed on a form for pro se prisoner-litigants. He checked boxes on the form that stated, and thereby alleged, that he had completed the grievance process available at CCI concerning the facts relating to the new claims alleged in the SAC. Nothing in his SAC, or any documents attached to it, controverted that allegation.
The PLRA incorporates a screening procedure, which provides that the "court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Upon review, the court may dismiss the complaint, or any portion of it, if it "is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). Defendants suggested that the district court screen the SAC in order to "determine whether Plaintiff failed to satisfy the mandatory precondition to bringing suit in federal court, to wit: exhaustion of any available administrative remedies before challenging prison conditions in federal court."
The district court sua sponte dismissed claims thirteen through thirty-three for failure to exhaust under § 1997e. It interpreted our decision in McKinney v. Carey, 311 F.3d 1198, 1199-1201 (9th Cir. 2002) (per curiam), as requiring that claim exhaustion must occur prior to the filing of the original complaint. It then held that Rhodes had failed properly to exhaust claims thirteen through thirty-three, reasoning that because they arose from events occurring between January 2, 2002, and November 15, 2003, "any exhaustion of these claims necessarily occurred after the filing of this action," on January 4, 2002.
Rhodes timely appeals.*fn2 The district court had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We review the district court's legal conclusions de novo. See Wyatt v. Terhune, 315 F.3d 1108, 1117 (9th Cir. 2003).
The district court erred in dismissing the additional claims set forth in Rhodes' SAC for failure to exhaust under § 1997e. The district court reasoned that the PLRA's exhaustion requirement bars amended complaints from asserting new claims based on conduct that occurred after the initial complaint was "brought," even when the prisoner has exhausted the administrative remedies available to address this new conduct before filing the amended complaint. In doing so, the district court relied on our opinion in McKinney. More recently, we interpreted the PLRA's exhaustion requirement in Vaden v. Summerhill, 449 F.3d 1047 (9th Cir. 2006). Neither of these cases, however, addresses the circumstance of the case at bench, in ...