Ross v. Blake

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: June 6, 2016
  • Case #: 15-339
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: KAGAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, ALITO, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. BREYER, J., filed an opinion concurring in part.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the Prison Litigation Reformation Act of 1995 (PRLA), there is no “special circumstances” exception that allows prisoners to bring a lawsuit without having first exhausted all administrative remedies available.

Respondent, an inmate in a Maryland prison was assaulted by two prison guards, the Petitioners. Respondent reported the assault and, in conformance with state law, the Internal Investigative Unit (IIU) conducted a year-long investigation. Ultimately, they condemned one of Petitioners actions. As an affirmative defense, one Petitioner argued that the PRLA’s exhaustion requirement barred Respondent’s claim. The district court dismissed the suit for failing to satisfy the requirement. Respondent appealed and the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the decision holding that a judge-made exception may be made when a prisoner “reasonably,” albeit mistakenly, believes that they have sufficiently exhausted all administrative remedies available to them. Petitioners appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. The Court held that the Fourth Circuit had incorrectly interpreted the language of the statute. The Court reasoned that the language of the provision was mandatory, which meant that, absent Congressional intent, no judicial discretion could be exercised. The Court determined from legislative history that Congress intended for the provision to be mandatory by removing any discretionary language from the provision. The Court did, however, notice a textual exception to the mandatory requirement, which applies when administrative remedies are not made available to the prisoner seeking them. The Court gave three scenarios where a remedy might become unavailable for a prisoner if it: 1) becomes a dead-end, 2) is too confusing to use, or 3) is unavailable due to machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation. VACATED AND REMANDED.

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