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DIEZCABEZA v. LYNCH

November 29, 1999

SERGIO DIEZCABEZA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN E. LYNCH, ROBERT M. MCCARROLL, MCFARLIN DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stein, District Judge.

OPINION

Sergio Diezcabeza brought this action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendants John E. Lynch, Robert McCarroll, and an individual denominated as "McFarlin" violated plaintiff's Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Defendant Lynch has moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) on the grounds that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (PLRA).*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion is granted.

I. Background

Plaintiff, currently an inmate at the New York State Department of Correctional Service facility in Elmira, New York, alleges that while he was an inmate at the Fishkill Correctional Facility he was brutally beaten by the defendants, who were correctional officers at that facility. He allegedly suffered serious injuries, including a broken foot and broken nose.

As noted above, Lynch has now moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) on the grounds that plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to bringing suit. Because Diezcabeza did not file a response to that motion, he was directed to show cause why the motion should not be granted. Plaintiff subsequently submitted a letter to the Court which shall be construed liberally, see McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276, 280 (2d Cir. 1999), and shall be deemed to be plaintiff's response to Lynch's motion.

II. Discussion

Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996, which amended 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), see Pub. L No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1997 (West Supp. 1998) and 18 U.S.C. § 3626 (West Supp. 1998)), "no action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 or any other federal law . . . until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Prior to the PLRA, it was not mandatory that the prisoner exhaust his administrative remedies prior to commencing litigation and the exhaustion requirement itself was limited to actions brought pursuant to section 1983.*fn2 The PLRA extended the scope of the exhaustion requirement to actions brought pursuant to section 1983 and "any other Federal law," whereas the previous version applied only to section 1983 claims.

The gravamen of plaintiff's complaint is that defendants used excessive force in violation of Diezcabeza's Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The issue before this Court is whether the PLRA's mandatory exhaustion requirement applies to claims of excessive force, an issue about which numerous courts have disagreed. See Liner v. Goord, 196 F.3d 132, 135-135 (2d Cir. 1999) (noting that the law in this area is in "great flux"). Several courts have held that a plaintiff's administrative avenues of redress need not be exhausted for actions based on excessive force because they are not "action[s] . . . with respect to prison conditions," and therefore are not covered by the PLRA's mandatory exhaustion requirement. See Baskerville v. Goord, No. 97 Civ. 6413, 1998 WL 778396, at*3-*5 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 5, 1998; White v. Fauver, 19 F. Supp.2d 305, 312-15 (D.N.J. 1998); Rodriguez v. Berbary, 992 F. Supp. 592, 593 (W.D.N.Y. 1998); Johnson v. O'Malley, No. 96 C 6598, 1998 WL 292421, at*3 (N.D.Ill. May 19, 1998).

Other courts have found that the phrase "action . . . with respect to prison conditions" should be interpreted to encompass excessive force claims and that as a result excessive force claims may not proceed in federal court until any administrative remedies have been exhausted. See Beeson v. Fishkill Correctional Facility, 28 F. Supp.2d 884, 888 (S.D.N.Y. 1998); Johnson v. Garraghty, 57 F. Supp.2d 321, 322-323 (E.D.Va. 1999); Moore v. Smith, 18 F. Supp.2d 1360, 1362-63 (N.D.Ga. 1998); Morgan v. Arizona Department of Corrections, 976 F. Supp. 892, 896 (D.Ariz. 1997).

The phrase "action . . . with respect to prison conditions" is not defined in 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). However, this phrase is defined in 18 U.S.C. § 3626, which was enacted as part of the PLRA. See Pub.L. No. 104-134, § 802(a), 110 Stat. 1321, 1321-70 (1996). Section 3626(g)(2) states, in relevant part, that

  the term "civil action with respect to prison
  conditions" means any civil proceedings arising under
  Federal law with respect to the conditions of
  confinement or the effects of actions by government
  officials on the lives of persons confined in prison,
  but does not include habeas corpus proceedings
  challenging the fact or duration of confinement in
  prison.

In interpreting section 1997e(a)'s exhaustion requirement, it is appropriate for this Court to draw upon the statutory definition contained in 18 U.S.C. § 3626. Identical language used in different parts of the same statute should be interpreted to have the same meaning. See Mertens v. Hewitt Associates, 508 U.S. 248, 260, 113 S.Ct. 2063, 124 L.Ed.2d 161 (1993) ("[L]anguage used in one portion of a statute [] should be deemed to have the same meaning as the same language used elsewhere in the statute."); United Savings Association of Texas v. Timbers of Inwood Forest, 484 U.S. 365, 371, 108 S.Ct. 626, 630, 98 L.Ed.2d 740 (1988) ("A provision that may seem ambiguous in isolation is often clarified by the remainder of the statutory scheme — because the same terminology is used elsewhere in a context that makes its meaning clear.").

Relying on this canon of statutory construction, the phrase "prison conditions" should be interpreted consonant with Congress's express definition of the phrase elsewhere in the same statute. See Beeson, 28 F. Supp.2d at 888 ("When Congress, in one statute, uses the same words in two different places, those words should generally be read to mean the same thing in both places.") (citing Baggett v. First Nat'l Bank of Gainesville, 117 F.3d 1342, 1350 (11th Cir. 1997)). Indeed, section 3626's definition is "the best indication of ...


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