Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 7 (2002)

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522

PORTER v. NUSSLE

Opinion of the Court

the term "scarcely free of ambiguity." Id., at 101.2 For purposes of the PLRA's exhaustion requirement, the court concluded, the term was most appropriately read to mean " 'circumstances affecting everyone in the area,' " rather than " 'single or momentary matter[s],' such as beatings . . . directed at particular individuals." Ibid. (quoting Booth v. Churner, 206 F. 3d 289, 300-301 (CA3 2000) (Noonan, J., concurring and dissenting), aff'd on other grounds, 532 U. S. 731 (2001)).

The Court of Appeals found support for its position in the PLRA's legislative history. Floor statements "overwhelmingly suggest[ed]" that Congress sought to curtail suits qualifying as "frivolous" because of their "subject matter," e. g., suits over "insufficient storage locker space," "a defective haircut," or "being served chunky peanut butter instead of the creamy variety." 224 F. 3d, at 105 (internal quotation marks omitted). Actions seeking relief from corrections officer brutality, the Second Circuit stressed, are not of that genre. Further, the Court of Appeals referred to pre-PLRA decisions in which this Court had "disaggregate[d] the broad category of Eighth Amendment claims so

2 Another provision of the PLRA, 18 U. S. C. 3626(g)(2) (1994 ed., Supp. V), the court observed, does define "prison conditions." Nussle v. Willette, 224 F. 3d 95, 101 (CA2 2000). That provision, which concerns prospective relief, defines "prison conditions" to mean "the conditions of confinement or the effects of actions by government officials on the lives of persons confined in prison." The Second Circuit found the 3626(g)(2) definition "no less ambiguous" than the bare text of 1997e(a). Neither of the alternative 3626(g)(2) formulations, the court said, would be used in "everyday" speech to describe "particular instances of assault or excessive force." Id., at 102. But see Booth v. Churner, 206 F. 3d 289, 294-295 (CA3 2000), aff'd on other grounds, 532 U. S. 731 (2001) (reading 3626(g)(2) to cover all prison conditions and corrections officer actions that "make [prisoners'] lives worse"). The Second Circuit ultimately concluded that it would be improper, in any event, automatically to import 3626(g)(2)'s "definition of 'civil actions brought with respect to prison conditions' into 42 U. S. C. 1997e(a)" because the two provisions had "distinct statutory purposes." 224 F. 3d, at 105.

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