Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516 (2002)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the second circuit

No. 00-853. Argued January 14, 2002—Decided February 26, 2002

Without filing a grievance under applicable Connecticut Department of Correction procedures, plaintiff-respondent Nussle, a state prison inmate, commenced a federal-court action under 42 U. S. C. 1983, charging that corrections officers, including defendant-petitioner Porter, had subjected him to a sustained pattern of harassment and intimidation and had singled him out for a severe beating in violation of the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishments." The District Court dismissed Nussle's suit, relying on a provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), 42 U. S. C. 1997e(a), that directs: "No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 . . . , or any other Federal law, by a prisoner . . . until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." The Second Circuit reversed, holding that exhaustion of administrative remedies is not required for a claim of the kind Nussle asserted. The appeals court concluded that 1997e(a)'s "prison conditions" phrase covers only conditions affecting prisoners generally, not single incidents that immediately affect only particular prisoners, such as corrections officers' use of excessive force. In support of its position, the court cited legislative history suggesting that the PLRA curtails frivolous suits, not actions seeking relief from corrections officer brutality; the court also referred to prePLRA decisions in which this Court distinguished, for proof of injury and mens rea purposes, between excessive force claims and conditions of confinement claims.

Held: The PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong. Cf. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U. S. 294, 299, n. 1. Pp. 523-532.

(a) The current exhaustion provision in 1997e(a) differs markedly from its predecessor. Once within the district court's discretion, exhaustion in 1997e(a) cases is now mandatory. See Booth v. Churner, 532 U. S. 731, 739. And unlike the previous provision, which encompassed only 1983 suits, exhaustion is now required for all "action[s] . . . brought with respect to prison conditions." Section 1997e(a), designed to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits, affords corrections officials an opportunity to address complaints internally

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