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Broken Gate? A Study of the PLRA Exhaustion Requirement Past, Present, and Future
Unformatted Document Text:  Broken Gate? Although many scholars have been quick to point to the supposed ineffectiveness of the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement, comparatively few have proposed practical alternatives that would still enable the Act to perform the meaningful gate-keeping function envisioned by Congress and the courts. On potential solution, known as “constructive exhaustion,” was first proposed in the Second Circuit in 2004 in the aforementioned matter Hemphill v. New York, and borrows heavily from traditional concepts of substantial compliance (Novikov, 2008). According to proponents of constructive exhaustion, an inmate would be deemed to have complied with the PLRA if his or her administrative remedies “are so inaccessible to the plaintiff as to be effectively unavailable” (Novikov, 2008, pp. 834-835). Detractors of this concept argue that the practical implications of constructive exhaustion are essentially identical to the now-defunct adequacy of remedies consideration introduced in McCarthy and subsequently eliminated in Booth (Novikov, 2008). Perhaps a more attractive solution to the ineffective application of the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement would simply be to employ some sort of subjective screening mechanism prior to federal court filing. An analogous pre-filing screening of inmate litigation, in fact, already occurs as part of the federal In Forma Pauperis (IFP) statute (Proceedings in Forma Pauperis, 1996). A companion of the PLRA, the IFP statute performs essentially two (2) countervailing functions (Proceedings in Forma Pauperis, 1996). First, federal court screeners acting pursuant to the IFP statute evaluate the ability of pro se prisoner-litigants to pay for the considerable federal court filing fee (Proceedings in Forma Pauperis, 1996, §(a)). Inmates deemed indigent (i.e., unable to pay) are permitted to initiate their lawsuit without the filing fee and, instead, pay the fee 20

Authors: Passarelli, Mariah.
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Broken Gate?
Although many scholars have been quick to point to the supposed ineffectiveness 
of the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement, comparatively few have proposed practical 
alternatives that would still enable the Act to perform the meaningful gate-keeping 
function envisioned by Congress and the courts.
On potential solution, known as “constructive exhaustion,” was first proposed in 
the Second Circuit in 2004 in the aforementioned matter Hemphill v. New York, and 
borrows heavily from traditional concepts of substantial compliance (Novikov, 2008). 
According to proponents of constructive exhaustion, an inmate would be deemed to have 
complied with the PLRA if his or her administrative remedies “are so inaccessible to the 
plaintiff as to be effectively unavailable” (Novikov, 2008, pp. 834-835).  Detractors of 
this concept argue that the practical implications of constructive exhaustion are 
essentially identical to the now-defunct adequacy of remedies consideration introduced in 
McCarthy and subsequently eliminated in Booth (Novikov, 2008). 
Perhaps a more attractive solution to the ineffective application of the PLRA’s 
exhaustion requirement would simply be to employ some sort of subjective screening 
mechanism prior to federal court filing.  An analogous pre-filing screening of inmate 
litigation, in fact, already occurs as part of the federal In Forma Pauperis (IFP) statute 
(Proceedings in Forma Pauperis, 1996).  A companion of the PLRA, the IFP statute 
performs essentially two (2) countervailing functions (Proceedings in Forma Pauperis, 
1996).  First, federal court screeners acting pursuant to the IFP statute evaluate the ability 
of pro se prisoner-litigants to pay for the considerable federal court filing fee 
(Proceedings in Forma Pauperis, 1996, §(a)).  Inmates deemed indigent (i.e., unable to 
pay) are permitted to initiate their lawsuit without the filing fee and, instead, pay the fee 
20


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