High Court Eases Path for Inmates to Pursue Lawsuits
The Associated Press
A unanimous Supreme Court on Monday sided with three Michigan inmates by
making it easier for them to pursue lawsuits complaining about their
treatment behind bars.
The Court reversed lower court rulings that had thrown out the prisoners'
suits on grounds that all three had failed to exhaust the administrative
Chief Justice John Roberts said the procedural rules that the 6th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals used in the cases are not required under the Prison
Litigation Reform Act. The law requires prisoners to go through a lengthy
administrative grievance process before they may sue in court.
Roberts said the Michigan inmates are not required to demonstrate that they
have exhausted the administrative complaint procedure. The chief justice
said nothing in Michigan prison policy requires that an individual be named
in an administrative grievance.
The Supreme Court is "not insensitive to the challenges faced by the lower
federal courts in managing their dockets and attempting to separate, when it
comes to prison suits ..., needles from haystacks," Roberts wrote.
But the chief justice added that adopting "different and more onerous
pleading rules ... should not be done on a case-by-case basis by the
In addition, Roberts wrote, the prison litigation law does not require
dismissing the entire lawsuit when an inmate fails to exhaust some of the
inmate's claims administratively.
With courts flooded by inmate litigation, the Republican-controll
approved a law in 1995 that sought to limit the number of federal lawsuits
filed by prisoners over the conditions of their incarceration.
Nearly 42,000 civil rights petitions were filed in 1995 before the law took
effect. About 24,000 are now filed each year. Some prisoner advocates have
expressed worries that the law has led to some legitimate claims being
pushed aside because of technicalities.
The Supreme Court decision came in the cases of Michigan inmates Lorenzo
Jones, John Walton and Timothy Williams on grounds that all three had failed
to exhaust the administrative grievance procedure.
The cases are Jones v. Bock, 05-7058, and Williams v. Overton, and Walton v.
Source : Associated Press