Albino v. Baca

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 04-03-2014
  • Case #: 10-55702
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: En Banc: Circuit Judge Fletcher for the Court; Chief Judge Kozinski and Circuit Judges Reinhardt, Wardlaw, Tallman, Bybee, M. Smith, Ikuta, Murguia and Watford; Dissent by Circuit Judge N.R. Smith
  • Full Text Opinion

If a defendant in litigation subject to the Prison Litigation Reform Act believes a plaintiff has not met the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s exhaustion requirements, the issue of “exhaustion should be decided, if feasible, before reaching the merits of a prisoner’s claim [via a motion for summary judgment]”; a courts’ decision regarding disputed factual question(s) relevant to exhaustion at the beginning of litigation does not bind the jury, if considering the same disputed fact(s) is necessary for deciding the merits of the case.

Albino sued the Sheriff and County of Los Angeles (“Defendants”) under claims subject to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). Albino alleged he had been raped and seriously injured while confined in the Los Angeles County Jail. Albino claimed he doggedly pled with jail staff to be protected through his segregated confinement apart from general population. Jail staff apparently refused to answer his pleas for protection. Defendants’ were granted summary judgment on the basis that Albino had failed to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the PLRA. The Ninth Circuit first overruled Wyatt v. Terhune, which required defendants to raise a claim of failure to exhaust as an “unenumerated Rule 12(b) motion.” The panel, citing Jones v. Bock, held the “failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense that the defendant must plead and prove in a PLRA case.” The panel outlined suggested procedures for this particular defense, consistent with those “essentially” followed in the Second, Third, Fifth, and Seventh Circuits. The panel held exhaustion “should be decided, if feasible, before reaching the merits of a prisoner’s claim [via a motion for summary judgment].” The panel also held that while courts should decide disputed factual questions relevant to exhaustion at the beginning of litigation, this judicial finding should not bind the jury if considering the same factual dispute is necessary for deciding the merits of the case. Defendants’ couldn’t show Albino failed to exhaust available administrative remedies because the record disclosed any remedies were practically unavailable to Albino. The panel, sua sponte, granted Albino summary judgment on Defendants’ exhaustion claim. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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