United States District Court, Southern District of New York
March 1, 2000
JOSE CASTILLO, PLAINTIFF,
CHARLES BUDAY, W. GLASSER, J. PERYEA, AND C. GRIMA, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sprizzo, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff pro se brings this action against Charles Buday, W.
Glasser, J. Peryea, and C. Grima, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
alleging that defendants violated his Eight Amendment rights.
Defendants move to dismiss this action pursuant to Rule 12(b) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the ground that plaintiff
has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by
the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 ("PLRA"). For the
reasons stated below, defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.
The following facts, taken from plaintiff's complaint, are, of
course, assumed to be true. On October 4, 1997, plaintiff, an
inmate at Green Haven Correctional Facility ("Green Haven"),
alleges that defendants pushed him without provocation, and that
defendants subsequently beat him, inflicting serious physical
injuries, including lacerations to his face and body.
While plaintiff acknowledges that there is a grievance
procedure in place at Green Haven, plaintiff readily admits that
he did not present the facts of this case to the grievance
committee because "[a]ll inmate complaints of assault by staff
are routinely denied, and they are found to be without merit by
the N.Y.S. Department of Correctional Services." Complaint at ¶
Defendants move to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for failure to
exhaust administrative remedies as required by the PLRA. The PLRA
amended 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) and 18 U.S.C. § 3626 to require that
"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) (West Supp. 1998). Here, plaintiff seeks
monetary damages resulting from defendants' use of excessive
force and it is beyond dispute that plaintiff has failed to
exhaust his administrative remedies.*fn1 Thus, the Court must
first determine whether the PLRA's administrative exhaustion
requirement bars plaintiff from proceeding in this forum.
Some courts that have addressed the applicability of the PLRA's
administrative exhaustion requirement in actions for excessive
force have questioned whether such claims are actions "with
respect to prison conditions," within the meaning of § 1997e(a).
Compare Baskerville v. Goord, No. 97 Civ. 6413, 1998 WL 778396,
at *3-*5 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 5, 1998); Wright v. Dee, 54 F. Supp.2d 199,
204 (S.D.N.Y. 1999); Carter v. Kiernan, 98 Civ. 2664, 1999
WL 14014, at *2 (January 14, 1999); 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); with
Freeman v. Francis, 196 F.3d 641, 643-44 (6th Cir. 1999)
(holding that excessive force claims are subject to the PLRA's
administrative exhaustion requirement); Diezcabeza v. Lynch,
75 F. Supp.2d 250, 255 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (same); Beeson v. Fishkill
Correctional Facility, 28 F. Supp.2d 884, 888 (S.D.N.Y. 1998)
(same); Johnson v. Garraghty, 57 F. Supp.2d 321, 322-323
(E.D.Va. 1999) (same); Moore v. Smith, 18 F. Supp.2d 1360,
1362-63 (N.D.Ga. 1998) (same); Morgan v. Arizona Dep't of
Corrections, 976 F. Supp. 892, 896 (D.Ariz. 1997) (same).
The phrase "with respect to prison conditions" is not defined
anywhere in 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The phrase, however, is defined
in 18 U.S.C. § 3626 which was adopted as part of the PLRA.
Section 3626(g)(2) states, in 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
18 U.S.C. § 3626(g)(2) (West Supp. 1998).
In analyzing the phrase "with respect to prison conditions" in
§ 1997e(a), the Court should rely upon the same language defining
the phrase in § 3626(g)(2), since the same or similar language
used in different parts of a statute should be interpreted as
having the same or similar 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."). Thus, this Court joins with those
courts that have found the phrase "with respect to prison
conditions" to encompass the definition found in § 3626(g)(2).
See Diezcabeza, 75 F. Supp.2d at 253; Beeson, 28 F. Supp.2d at
888-89. Accordingly, the Court is constrained to conclude that
plaintiff's excessive force claims fall within the plain language
of § 3626(g)(2) that defines "action with respect to prison
conditions" to include any civil proceeding with respect to "the
effects of actions by government officials on the lives of
persons in prison." 18 U.S.C. § 3626(g)(2). Thus, plaintiff's
admission that he did not exhaust the administrative remedies
available to him at the prison mandates dismissal of the instant
As noted above, several courts have held that an "action . . .
with respect to prison conditions" does not include those suits
alleging excessive force by corrections officials. To the extent
those cases rely upon the fact that an amendment of § 1997e(a) in
1996 limited the scope of the prior version of the statute to
claims brought "with respect to prison conditions," the Court
does not find them persuasive. Rather than narrowing the scope of
the prior version of the statute, the 1996 amendment actually
broadened the scope of the administrative exhaustion requirement
to include all civil claims under federal law, not just those
brought pursuant to § 1983 (as did the prior version of §
1997e(a)). Moreover, nowhere in the 1996 amendment is there even
a suggestion that the phrase "prison conditions" should be
defined differently from the definition provided for by Congress
in 18 U.S.C. § 3626, which was enacted as part of the PLRA. It
follows that excessive force claims are subject to the statutory
exhaustion requirement as acts of government officials having an
effect on the lives of those in prison.*fn2
The Court is likewise not persuaded by the argument relied upon
by some courts that two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994)
and Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 112 S.Ct. 995, 117 L.Ed.2d
156 (1992), support the position that excessive force claims are
different from typical conditions-of-confinement claims, and
hence not subject to
exhaustion.*fn3 See Baskerville, 1998 WL 778396, at *3-*4;
White, 19 F. Supp.2d at 314-15; Rodriguez, 992 F. Supp. at 593;
Johnson, 1998 WL 292421, at *3. As Judge Mukasey noted in
Beeson, the Court's responsibility in interpreting § 1997e(a)
is to determine the intent of Congress, not the Supreme Court,
see Beeson, 28 F. Supp.2d at 890, and there is no indication
that Congress intended to adopt the distinction regarding
conditions-of-confinement claims and excessive force claims that
the Supreme Court announced in Hudson. See id. In fact, the
opposite is true. Congress has clearly enunciated its own
definition, so that resort to language in Hudson is neither
relevant nor appropriate.
In sum, the Court concludes that the PLRA requires that
excessive force claims must be administratively exhausted before
being brought in federal court.
Nevertheless, plaintiff contends that since he seeks monetary
relief, and such relief is not available under the grievance
program at Green Haven, that he does not have to pursue his
administrative claims since it would be futile. Plaintiff
apparently relies on several decisions by courts that have held
that the administrative exhaustion requirement of the PLRA is
inapplicable where the plaintiff seeks monetary relief, and where
such relief is not available through the administrative process.
Compare Garrett v. Hawk, 127 F.3d 1263, 1266 (10th Cir. 1997)
(holding that the administrative exhaustion requirement of the
PLRA inapplicable in those cases where the administrative process
does not provide for the relief requested); Whitley v. Hunt,
158 F.3d 882, 886-87 (5th Cir. 1998) (same); Lunsford v.
Jumao-As, 155 F.3d 1178, 1179 (9th Cir. 1998) (same); Vasquez
v. Artuz, No. 97 Civ. 8427, 1999 WL 440631, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. June
28, 1999) (same); Polite v. Barbarin, No. 96 Civ. 6818, 1998 WL
146687, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. March 25, 1998) (same), with Alexander
v. Hawk, 159 F.3d 1321, 1325-27 (11th Cir. 1998) (holding that
exhaustion is required even where ultimate relief sought is not
available); Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65, 70 (3rd Cir. 2000)
(same); Freeman v. Francis, 196 F.3d 641, 643 (6th Cir. 1999)
(same); Perez v. Wisconsin Dep't of Corrections, 182 F.3d 532,
537-38 (7th Cir. 1999) (same); Santiago v. Meinsen,
89 F. Supp.2d 435, 439 (2000); Cruz v. Jordan, 80 F. Supp.2d 109,
119-20 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (same); Edney v. Karrigan, 69 F. Supp.2d 540,
544 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (same) (collecting cases); Beeson, 28
F. Supp.2d at 896 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (same).*fn4
The argument advanced by those courts that have held that
exhaustion is not required under the PLRA relies on the phrase
"available remedy" contained in § 1997e(a). They reason that
prisoner seeks a remedy that is not available through the
administrative process, such as monetary relief, exhaustion is
not required since there is no "available remedy" to the inmate
within the meaning of § 1997e(a). Since there is no "available
remedy," these courts have concluded that requiring an inmate to
file a grievance "would be but an empty formality." White, 19
F. Supp.2d at 317.
The Court is not persuaded by this line of reasoning since it
is inconsistent with the plain language of § 1997e(a) and
Congress' amendment of this provision in 1996. The PLRA as
enacted in 1996 deleted various provisions from § 1997e(a),
including, inter alia, the requirement that a prisoner exhaust
all "plain, speedy, and effective remedies as are available," and
removing all references to judicial or executive approval of
those administrative remedies. See Beeson, 28 F. Supp.2d at 892.
This amendment, which must be presumed to have real and
substantial effect, suggests strongly that "Congress now
conditions prisoner suits on the exhaustion of such
administrative remedies as are available, without regard to
whether those remedies are `effective' without regard to whether
they substantially comply with `minimum acceptable standards' and
without regard to whether they are `just and effective.'"
Beeson, 28 F. Supp.2d at 894 (quoting Spence v. Mendoza,
993 F. Supp. 785, 787 (E.D.Cal. 1998)). Furthermore, any construction
of § 1997e(a) that conditions exhaustion on the administrative
grievance procedure of each state would make 1997e(a) subject to
the vagaries and peculiarities of state law and frustrate
Congress' stated intent of reducing the "heavy volume of
frivolous prison litigation in state court." Id. at 893
(citations omitted). For all of these reasons, the Court
concludes that the PLRA mandates exhaustion even in those cases
where a prisoner seeks relief that is unavailable through the
In any event, to the extent that the state grievance procedure
may not provide monetary relief that is not a persuasive reason
to disregard the clearly manifested Congressional intent that
claims for excessive force be exhausted before proceeding in the
federal courts. To the extent that monetary relief is not
available, it would be open to the plaintiff to argue in a
subsequent federal suit that res judicata or collateral estoppel
do not preclude a claim for monetary relief, since such relief
could not have been asserted before the administrative agency. Of
course both sides may face preclusive effect in a subsequent
federal suit as to the facts which underlie the grievance.
However, that circumstance does not in itself make the remedy
For all of these reasons, the Court holds that as a
prerequisite to bringing suit in federal court, the PLRA requires
exhaustion of all administrative procedures as are available to
an inmate, regardless of whether such administrative procedures
permit recovery of the relief ultimately sought by an inmate.
Accordingly, defendants' motion to dismiss shall be and hereby is
granted, and the complaint is dismissed without prejudice to
being renewed upon exhaustion of all administrative remedies. The
Clerk of Court is directed to close the above-captioned action.
It is SO ORDERED.