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Broken Gate? A Study of the PLRA Exhaustion Requirement Past, Present, and Future
Unformatted Document Text:  Broken Gate? PLRA’s exhaustion requirement regarding a similar issue known as “substantial compliance.” In the year 2000, while the Circuit Courts were still essentially debating the availability of the futility exception, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit considered a case called Camp v. Brennan (Camp, 2000). Camp, a pro se prisoner confined within the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, argued that unlawfully excessive force was used against him by corrections staff there (Camp, 2000). Camp contended that he had attempted to pursue the institutional grievance process regarding this alleged assault, but was thwarted by officers who assured him his grievances would not be processed and by the fact that he was on a grievance restriction (Camp, 2000). Affecting yet another interpretation of the phrase “as are available,” the Third Circuit court concluded that inmate Camp’s efforts amounted to “substantial compliance,” and were therefore sufficient to satisfy the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement (Camp, 2000). Although this notion has since been seemingly eroded, it has never been directly addressed, resulting in a confused and loop-hole ridden state of jurisprudence. In 2004, the Third Circuit revisited the issue of the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement in the matter Spruill v. Gillis (Spruill, 2004). Borrowing from comparable inmate habeas corpus law, the Circuit Court introduced – for the first time – the issue of “procedural default” in the context of inmate civil rights litigation (Spruill, 2004). Specifically, the Circuit Court held that, implicit in the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement, was the notion that an inmate may default on his exhaustion obligation by failing to adhere to the specific, logistic requirements of his or her institution’s administrative grievance procedure. (Spruill, 2004). The imposition of a procedural default mechanism, the Circuit Court reasoned, would prevent “an end-run around the exhaustion 14

Authors: Passarelli, Mariah.
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Broken Gate?
PLRA’s exhaustion requirement regarding a similar issue known as “substantial 
compliance.”  In the year 2000, while the Circuit Courts were still essentially debating 
the availability of the futility exception, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third 
Circuit considered a case called Camp v. Brennan (Camp, 2000).  Camp, a pro se 
prisoner confined within the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, argued that 
unlawfully excessive force was used against him by corrections staff there (Camp, 2000). 
Camp contended that he had attempted to pursue the institutional grievance process 
regarding this alleged assault, but was thwarted by officers who assured him his 
grievances would not be processed and by the fact that he was on a grievance restriction 
(Camp, 2000).  Affecting yet another interpretation of the phrase “as are available,” the 
Third Circuit court concluded that inmate Camp’s efforts amounted to “substantial 
compliance,” and were therefore sufficient to satisfy the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement 
(Camp, 2000).  Although this notion has since been seemingly eroded, it has never been 
directly addressed, resulting in a confused and loop-hole ridden state of jurisprudence.  
In 2004, the Third Circuit revisited the issue of the PLRA’s exhaustion 
requirement in the matter Spruill v. Gillis (Spruill, 2004).  Borrowing from comparable 
inmate habeas corpus law, the Circuit Court introduced – for the first time – the issue of 
“procedural default” in the context of inmate civil rights litigation (Spruill, 2004). 
Specifically, the Circuit Court held that, implicit in the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement, 
was the notion that an inmate may default on his exhaustion obligation by failing to 
adhere to the specific, logistic requirements of his or her institution’s administrative 
grievance procedure.  (Spruill, 2004).  The imposition of a procedural default mechanism, 
the Circuit Court reasoned, would prevent “an end-run around the exhaustion 

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