First, while the settled meaning of a term may be instructive in
interpreting a statute, Congress can always indicate that a term
has a different meaning. In this instance, Congress undertook to
define prison conditions to include claims of excessive force in
the definitions section of 18 U.S.C. § 3626. Congress's attempt
to define the phrase in plain language is the best and most
persuasive indication of what the phrase was intended to include.
It is only appropriate for the Court to consider the common law
meaning of a term when Congress has not indicated how it should
Moreover, to the extent that the Supreme Court's jurisprudence
provides guidance as to how the phrase should be interpreted,
McCarthy v. Bronson, 500 U.S. 136, 111 S.Ct. 1737, 114 L.Ed.2d
194 (1991), suggests a broader reading of the term. In that case,
the Supreme Court held that the term "conditions of confinement"
included petitions challenging the use of excessive force. See
id. at 142-43, 111 S.Ct. 1737. The McCarthy court was
construing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), which authorizes a U.S.
District Judge to refer prisoner petitions challenging conditions
of confinement to a magistrate judge. The Supreme Court
specifically found that the broader reading of the term "comports
with the policy behind the [Federal Magistrates] Act," which was
to "authorize greater use of magistrates to assist federal judges
`in handling an ever-increasing caseload.'" Id. at 142, 111
S.Ct. 1737 (quoting S.Rep. No. 94-625).
Accordingly, if this Court were to rely on legislative history
as a guide for determining which reading of the phrase was
intended, Supreme Court precedent is consistent with a broader
reading. To the extent that the legislative history is helpful or
instructive in this instance, it indicates that the purposes
behind the PLRA were to reduce what were perceived as frivolous
prisoner petitions as well as the caseload of the federal courts.
See, e.g., 141 Cong. Rec. S7498-01, S7526 (1995) (statement of
Senator Kyl that overall purpose of PLRA is to deter and reduce
the numbers of "frivolous inmate lawsuits . . . clogging the
courts and draining precious judicial resources"). Based on this
view of legislative history, both the Federal Magistrates Act and
the PLRA are intended to manage and reduce the burden of prisoner
litigation on the federal courts. Accordingly, the term "prison
conditions" in the PLRA should be read, like the analogous term
in the Federal Magistrates Act, to include claims of excessive
Thus, plaintiff must exhaust the available administrative
avenues of redress before he may commence litigation alleging the
use of excessive force.
III. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Because Diezcabeza must exhaust his available administrative
remedies before he is entitled to bring this action, the question
is whether he has done so.*fn3
Plaintiff's allegations must be accepted as true for the
purposes of analyzing a motion for judgment on the pleadings, and
this Court must draw all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's
favor. See Sheppard v. Beerman, 18 F.3d 147, 150 (2d Cir.)
cert. denied 513 U.S. 816, 115 S.Ct. 73, 130 L.Ed.2d 28 (1994).
The motion may only be granted, and the complaint dismissed, if
"`it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of
facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to
relief.'" Burnette v. Carothers, 192 F.3d 52, 55-56 (2d Cir.
1999) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct.
99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)).
Officer Lynch contends that plaintiff failed to exhaust the
In support of that contention, defendant submitted an affidavit
from Thomas G. Eagen, Director of the New York Department of
Correctional Services' Inmate Grievance Program, and one from
John R. VanTassel, Sergeant at Fishkill Correctional Facility.
Both affidavits state that there is no record that Diezcabeza
ever submitted a grievance regarding the incident described in
the amended complaint. However, on the face of his amended
complaint plaintiff indicated that he did "present the facts
relating to [his] complaint in the state prisoner grievance
procedure." See Amended Complaint, page 2.
The Court may, at its discretion, consider the affidavits
attached to the motion and thereby treat the instant motion as
one for summary judgment. See Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(c). However in
order to do so, all parties must be given a "reasonable
opportunity to present all material made pertinent to such a
motion by Rule 56." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c).
Because this Court finds that plaintiff was required to have
exhausted his remedies before he may proceed in this action,
plaintiff is hereby put on notice that he must present to the
court affidavits or other evidence indicating that he did indeed
exhaust his administrative remedies. Plaintiff must understand
that in order to avoid a final judgment against him he must
submit evidence in support of his claim that he did in fact
exhaust his remedies.
This Court finds that the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996
requires plaintiff to have exhausted his administrative remedies
prior to commencing this litigation claiming a violation of his
right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment pursuant to
the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Accordingly, defendant's motion is granted without prejudice to
plaintiff submitting additional evidence, within thirty days,
that he did in fact exhaust the available administrative
remedies. Plaintiff is hereby advised that should he fail to
present evidence that he exhausted the available remedies, this
action will be dismissed without prejudice to his renewing his
claims after he exhausts his administrative remedies.