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Smith v. Municipality of Fresno County

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 27, 2019



         Gary Paul Smith (“Plaintiff”) is a state prisoner proceeding pro se in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff filed the complaint commencing this action on May 14, 2019. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint on June 10, 2019. (ECF No. 6.)

         It appears from the face of the First Amended Complaint that Plaintiff did not exhaust his available administrative remedies before filing this action. Plaintiff appears to admit that the grievance process was available to him, but that he did not complete the process. (ECF No. 6, p. 2.)

         Accordingly, the Court will order Plaintiff to file a response within thirty days, explaining why this action should not be dismissed for failure to exhaust available administrative remedies. Such a dismissal would be without prejudice, so that Plaintiff may be able to refile the action after exhausting administrative remedies, to the extent those remedies are still available to him.


         "The California prison grievance system has three levels of review; an inmate exhausts administrative remedies by obtaining a decision at each level." Reyes v. Smith, 810 F.3d 654, 657 (9th Cir. 2016) (citing Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.1(b) (2011) & Harvey v. Jordan, 605 F.3d 681, 683 (9th Cir. 2010)). See also Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.7(d)(3) ("The third level review constitutes the decision of the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on an appeal, and shall be conducted by a designated representative under the supervision of the third level Appeals Chief or equivalent. The third level of review exhausts administrative remedies....").

         Section 1997e(a) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA") provides 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).

         Prisoners are required to exhaust the available administrative remedies prior to filing suit. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007); McKinney v. Carey. 311 F.3d 1198. 1199-1201 (9th Cir. 2002) (per curiam). The exhaustion requirement applies to all prisoner suits relating to prison life. Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). Exhaustion is required regardless of the relief sought by the prisoner and regardless of the relief offered by the process, unless "the relevant administrative procedure lacks authority to provide any relief or to take any action whatsoever in response to a complaint." Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 736, 741 (2001); Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1857, 1859 (2016).

         "Under the PLRA, a grievance suffices if it alerts the prison to the nature of the wrong for which redress is sought. The grievance need not include legal terminology or legal theories, because [t]he primary purpose of a grievance is to alert the prison to a problem and facilitate its resolution, not to lay groundwork for litigation. The grievance process is only required to alert prison officials to a problem, not to provide personal notice to a particular official that he may be sued." Reyes, 810 F.3d at 659 (alteration in original) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         As discussed in Ross, 136 S.Ct. at 1862, there are no “special circumstances” exceptions to the exhaustion requirement. The one significant qualifier is that “the remedies must indeed be ‘available' to the prisoner.” Id. at 1856. The Ross Court described this qualification as follows:

[A]n administrative procedure is unavailable when (despite what regulations or guidance materials may promise) it operates as a simple dead end-with officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates. See 532 U.S., at 736, 738, 121 S.Ct. 1819. . . .
Next, an administrative scheme might be so opaque that it becomes, practically speaking, incapable of use. . . .
And finally, the same is true when prison administrators thwart inmates from taking advantage of a grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation. . . . As all those courts have recognized, such interference with an inmate's pursuit of relief renders the administrative process unavailable. And then, once again, § 1997e(a) poses no bar.

Id. at 1859-60.

         “When prison officials improperly fail to process a prisoner's grievance, the prisoner is deemed to have exhausted available administrative remedies.” Andre ...

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