Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 11 (2002)

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526

PORTER v. NUSSLE

Opinion of the Court

As to precedent, the pathmarking opinion is McCarthy v. Bronson, 500 U. S. 136 (1991), which construed 28 U. S. C. 636(b)(1)(B) (1988 ed.), a Judicial Code provision authorizing district judges to refer to magistrate judges, inter alia, "prisoner petitions challenging conditions of confinement." 5 The petitioning prisoner in McCarthy argued that 636(b)(1)(B) allowed nonconsensual referrals "only when a prisoner challenges ongoing prison conditions." 500 U. S., at 138. The complaint in McCarthy targeted no "ongoing prison conditions"; it homed in on "an isolated incident" of excessive force. Ibid. For that reason, according to the McCarthy petitioner, nonconsensual referral of his case was impermissible. Id., at 138-139.

We did not "quarrel with" the prisoner's assertion in McCarthy that "the most natural reading of the phrase 'challenging conditions of confinement,' when viewed in isolation, would not include suits seeking relief from isolated episodes of unconstitutional conduct." Id., at 139. We nonetheless concluded that the petitioner's argument failed upon reading the phrase "in its proper context." Ibid. We found no suggestion in 636(b)(1)(B) that Congress meant to divide

recognize the utility of the administrative process to satisfy, reduce, or clarify prisoner grievances. Id., at 737. While the canon on which the Second Circuit relied may be dependable in other contexts, the PLRA establishes a different regime. For litigation within 1997e(a)'s compass, Congress has replaced the "general rule of non-exhaustion" with a general rule of exhaustion.

5 Title 28 U. S. C. 636(b)(1)(B) provides in relevant part: "(b)(1) Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary—

. . . . . "a judge may . . . designate a magistrate to conduct hearings, including evidentiary hearings, and to submit to a judge of the court proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition, by a judge of the court, . . . of applications for posttrial relief made by individuals convicted of criminal offenses and of prisoner petitions challenging conditions of confinement."

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