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Broken Gate? A Study of the PLRA Exhaustion Requirement Past, Present, and Future
Unformatted Document Text:  Broken Gate? litigant’s denial of medical care case was dismissed by the district court because the inmate had failed to properly exhaust administrative remedies (which was, at the time, required by the Federal Bureau of Prisons) (McCarthy, 1992). Supreme Court Justice Harry Blakmun, writing for the majority, concluded that because the prisoner sought a remedy – namely, monetary relief – that was unavailable via the available administrative remedy, he was excused from the exhaustion requirement (McCarthy, 1992). Thus was born, the “futility exception” to the exhaustion requirement (Belbot, 2004, pp. 294-295). Early consideration of the impact the PLRA might have had on the futility exception was complicated by the almost non-existent body of debate prior to passage of the Act, which, under normal circumstances, would have informed courts of the relevant legislative intent (Rapp, 2001). Then, in 2001, the Supreme Court was called upon to reconsider the “futility exception” in the matter Booth v. Churner (Booth, 2001.). In Booth, Supreme Court Justice David Souter, writing for a unanimous Court, reasoned that, prior to the passage of the PLRA, district court judges had the discretion to require exhaustion of administrative remedies prior to federal suit and, thus, could consider the type of relief sought in inmate grievances (Booth, 2001.). However, the Court held that the PLRA had stripped district courts of such discretion and made the exhaustion requirement strictly mandatory (Booth, 2001.). Analyzing the precise language of the PLRA’s exhaustion provision, the Court concluded that a futility exception could not have been contemplated by the Act’s authors, and therefore, terminated its availability in all future prison litigation (Booth, 2001.). Though the availability of a futility exception appears to have been resolved by Booth, there persist significant problems with determining the precise scope of the 13

Authors: Passarelli, Mariah.
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Broken Gate?
litigant’s denial of medical care case was dismissed by the district court because the 
inmate had failed to properly exhaust administrative remedies (which was, at the time, 
required by the Federal Bureau of Prisons) (McCarthy, 1992).  Supreme Court Justice 
Harry Blakmun, writing for the majority, concluded that because the prisoner sought a 
remedy – namely, monetary relief – that was unavailable via the available administrative 
remedy, he was excused from the exhaustion requirement (McCarthy, 1992).  Thus was 
born, the “futility exception” to the exhaustion requirement (Belbot, 2004, pp. 294-295).
Early consideration of the impact the PLRA might have had on the futility 
exception was complicated by the almost non-existent body of debate prior to passage of 
the Act, which, under normal circumstances, would have informed courts of the relevant 
legislative intent (Rapp, 2001).  Then, in 2001, the Supreme Court was called upon to 
reconsider the “futility exception” in the matter Booth v. Churner (Booth, 2001.).  In 
Booth, Supreme Court Justice David Souter, writing for a unanimous Court, reasoned 
that, prior to the passage of the PLRA, district court judges had the discretion to require 
exhaustion of administrative remedies prior to federal suit and, thus, could consider the 
type of relief sought in inmate grievances (Booth, 2001.).  However, the Court held that 
the PLRA had stripped district courts of such discretion and made the exhaustion 
requirement strictly mandatory (Booth, 2001.).  Analyzing the precise language of the 
PLRA’s exhaustion provision, the Court concluded that a futility exception could not 
have been contemplated by the Act’s authors, and therefore, terminated its availability in 
all future prison litigation (Booth, 2001.).
Though the availability of a futility exception appears to have been resolved by 
Booth, there persist significant problems with determining the precise scope of the 

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