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Broken Gate? A Study of the PLRA Exhaustion Requirement Past, Present, and Future
Unformatted Document Text:  Broken Gate? requirement, and thereby create[ ] an overwhelming incentive for a prisoner to pursue his claims to the fullest within the administrative grievance system” (Spruill, 2004, 230). However, in the same year as the Third Circuit decided Spruill, the Second Circuit decided as case called Hemphill v. New York, which moved in almost precisely the exact opposite direction (Novikov, 2008, p. 826). In Hemphill, the prisoner- plaintiff’s section 1983 case was dismissed by the district court for failure to exhaust administrative remedies (Novikov, 2008). In reversing that decision on appeal, the Second Circuit set forth a new three-prong test for district judges to use in examining failure to exhaust arguments pursued by prison officials (Novikov, 2008). First, according to the Hemphill court, judges must consider “whether the asserted administrative remedies were in fact available to the prisoner within the meaning of the statute” (Novikov, 2008, p. 826). Although the court remained fairly vague about this point, it was clear that this inquiry was aimed at situations in which, although “nominally available” or technically available, a prisoner’s avenue of administrative redress may be practically or actually foreclosed to him or her (Novikov, 2008, p. 826). Second, the Hemphill court stated that judges “must consider” “whether the defendants may have forfeited the affirmative defense of non-exhaustion by failing to raise or preserve it” (Novikov, 2008, p. 827). Although this principle of waiver existed in most other districts at the time, the Second Circuit expanded upon it, making clear that such an estoppel argument would also be appropriate where, through threats or intimidation, corrections staff had caused an inmate to abandon his or her efforts to exhaust at the grievance level (Novikov, 2008, p. 827). Finally, with regard to the third prong, the Hemphill court stated that judge should take into account “special circumstances” which would excuse 15

Authors: Passarelli, Mariah.
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Broken Gate?
requirement, and thereby create[ ] an overwhelming incentive for a prisoner to pursue his 
claims to the fullest within the administrative grievance system” (Spruill, 2004, 230).
However, in the same year as the Third Circuit decided Spruill, the Second 
Circuit decided as case called Hemphill v. New York, which moved in almost precisely 
the exact opposite direction (Novikov, 2008, p. 826).  In Hemphill, the prisoner-
plaintiff’s section 1983 case was dismissed by the district court for failure to exhaust 
administrative remedies (Novikov, 2008).  In reversing that decision on appeal, the 
Second Circuit set forth a new three-prong test for district judges to use in examining 
failure to exhaust arguments pursued by prison officials (Novikov, 2008).  
First, according to the Hemphill court, judges must consider “whether the asserted 
administrative remedies were in fact available to the prisoner within the meaning of the 
statute” (Novikov, 2008, p. 826).  Although the court remained fairly vague about this 
point, it was clear that this inquiry was aimed at situations in which, although “nominally 
available” or technically available, a prisoner’s avenue of administrative redress may be 
practically or actually foreclosed to him or her (Novikov, 2008, p. 826).  Second, the 
Hemphill court stated that judges “must consider” “whether the defendants may have 
forfeited the affirmative defense of non-exhaustion by failing to raise or preserve it” 
(Novikov, 2008, p. 827).  Although this principle of waiver existed in most other districts 
at the time, the Second Circuit expanded upon it, making clear that such an estoppel 
argument would also be appropriate where, through threats or intimidation, corrections 
staff had caused an inmate to abandon his or her efforts to exhaust at the grievance level 
(Novikov, 2008, p. 827).  Finally, with regard to the third prong, the Hemphill court 
stated that judge should take into account “special circumstances” which would excuse 
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