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Jackson v. Fong

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 31, 2017

Charlie David Jackson, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
R. Fong; K. Freiha; P. Burton, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued and Submitted May 17, 2017 San Francisco, California

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California Charles R. Breyer, Senior District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 3:12-cv-02516-CRB

          Gregory S. Bok (argued), Carolyn S. Small, Jessica R. Culpepper, Daniel R. Adler, and Blaine H. Evanson, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Los Angeles, California, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Alicia A. Bower (argued), Deputy Attorney General; Thomas S. Patterson, Supervising Deputy Attorney General; Jonathan L. Wolff, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Office of the Attorney General, San Francisco, California, for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge, Mary H. Murguia, Circuit Judge, and Jon P. McCalla, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Prisoner Civil Rights

         The panel reversed the district court's summary judgment dismissal of a prisoner's action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and remanded for further proceedings.

         Plaintiff filed his lawsuit while a prisoner at San Quentin State Prison in California. After his release, he amended his complaint with leave of court. The district court then granted summary judgment to the defendants based on plaintiff's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies as a "prisoner" under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).

         The panel held that a plaintiff who was in custody at the time he initiated his suit but was released from custody when he filed his amended operative complaint is not a "prisoner" subject to a Prison Litigation Reform Act's exhaustion defense. Accordingly, in this case plaintiff was not a prisoner when he filed his operative third amended complaint, and the district court erred in granting summary judgment to defendants.

         Concurring in the judgment, Judge McCalla stated that the district court improperly determined that plaintiff had not exhausted his claims, not because the Prison Litigation Reform Act was inapplicable to his post-release third amended complaint, but because plaintiff's failure to exhaust was excusable under § 1997e(a). Judge McCalla would find that plaintiff exhausted his available administrative remedies when the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation closed his still-pending appeal due to his release.

          OPINION

          MURGUIA, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         This appeal arises from a prison's alleged indifference to an inmate's medical needs. The plaintiff, Charles "Charlie" Jackson, first filed suit while a prisoner at San Quentin State Prison in California. After his release, Jackson amended his complaint with leave of court. The district court then granted summary judgment to the defendants based on Jackson's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies as a "prisoner" under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The question on appeal is whether Jackson is subject to the PLRA's exhaustion requirement because he initiated his suit when he was a prisoner, or if instead Jackson is not subject to the exhaustion requirement because he filed the operative complaint after his release from custody. We hold that a plaintiff who was in custody at the time he initiated his suit but was free when he filed his amended operative complaint is not a "prisoner" subject to a PLRA exhaustion defense. We therefore reverse and remand.

         I.

         In May 2010, Jackson became a prisoner at San Quentin State Prison (San Quentin) in San Quentin, California. He was serving a term for second-degree burglary. On June 11, 2012, while still incarcerated in San Quentin, Jackson filed a pro se prisoner complaint in federal district court challenging the conditions of his confinement under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Unless otherwise stated, the following facts assume the truth of the allegations in Jackson's operative third amended complaint, construed liberally.

         In 2010, suffering from mental health problems, [1]Jackson met with a series of prison doctors (the Doctors). On June 15, he met with Dr. R. Fong, who told Jackson that he did not qualify for the prison's mental health program. On June 24, Jackson sent a health services request. Responding to that request on June 30, Dr. K. Freiha also met with Jackson and denied his request for treatment, stating that Jackson could not "dictate the program and would not be provided treatment."

         On August 27, 2010, Jackson met with Dr. P. Burton, and requested administrative segregation (solitary confinement) to help address his mental health issues. After Burton denied his request, Jackson threatened violence unless prison officials placed him in solitary confinement. Subsequently, prison officials placed Jackson in solitary confinement from August 27, 2010 to November 5, 2011. During that time, Jackson's physical and mental health "deteriorated significantly." He "would often miss numerous medical appointments and classification hearings . . . because he could not leave his cell [due] to severe social phobia, panic attacks, and depression." He lost good-time credits and spent "unnecessary time in prison" because of his time in solitary confinement.

         II.

         The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has an administrative review process with well-established procedures and three levels of review. On-site staff process health care appeals at the first and second level. Third level appeals go to staff in the Inmate Correspondence and Appeals Branch within the headquarters of the California Correctional Health Care Services.

         In March 2012, Jackson filed an inmate health care appeal for review of the Doctors' decisions and their alleged denial of mental health treatment. San Quentin's Health Care Appeals Office dismissed Jackson's appeal as untimely. Jackson concedes his administrative appeal was untimely.

         Jackson then submitted an appeal-effectively to the second level of review-arguing that officials should excuse his untimeliness in light of the mental health issues he had experienced. The Health Care Appeals Office received the ...


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