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Broken Gate? A Study of the PLRA Exhaustion Requirement Past, Present, and Future
Unformatted Document Text:  Broken Gate? Opinion in Jones v. Bock (Maddex, 2007, 504). In 2007, the Court heard argument in Jones v. Bock, a consolidation of section 1983 cases brought by several inmates held in the Michigan Department of Corrections (Maddex, 2007). In Jones, the prisoner- plaintiffs argued that the Michigan District Court had read Woodford’s proper exhaustion requirement even more strictly than previous courts and had, therefore, exceeded the scope permissible under the PLRA (Maddex, 2007). The Supreme Court agreed and reversed the lower court’s opinion on several fronts (Maddex, 2007). In so doing, the Court acknowledged that, while strictly construed, the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement must allow for some subjective considerations (Maddex, 2007). The Court held that “proper” exhaustion did not require an inmate to have specifically named each of the individuals alleged to have violated his or her civil rights in the institutional grievance process in order to proceed against such individuals in federal court (Maddex, 2007). The Court also concluded that the PLRA could not be interpreted to place the burden of proving “proper” exhaustion on the prisoner-plaintiff (Maddex, 2007). Plainly, Jones symbolized a retraction – albeit a small one – from the broad breadth given previous lower courts in applying the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement (Maddex, 2007). A reluctant Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the unanimous Court, stated: “We are not insensitive to the challenges faced by the lower courts in managing their dockets and attempting to separate, when it comes to prisoner suits, not so much wheat from chaff as needles from haystacks... [However,] adopting different and more onerous pleadings rules to deal with particular categories of cases should be done through established rulemaking procedures, and not on a case-by-case basis by the courts.” Jones, 2007, 926. 23

Authors: Passarelli, Mariah.
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Broken Gate?
Opinion in Jones v. Bock (Maddex, 2007, 504).  In 2007, the Court heard argument in 
Jones v. Bock, a consolidation of section 1983 cases brought by several inmates held in 
the Michigan Department of Corrections (Maddex, 2007).  In Jones, the prisoner-
plaintiffs argued that the Michigan District Court had read Woodford’s proper exhaustion 
requirement even more strictly than previous courts and had, therefore, exceeded the 
scope permissible under the PLRA (Maddex, 2007).  
The Supreme Court agreed and reversed the lower court’s opinion on several 
fronts (Maddex, 2007).  In so doing, the Court acknowledged that, while strictly 
construed, the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement must allow for some subjective 
considerations (Maddex, 2007).  The Court held that “proper” exhaustion did not require 
an inmate to have specifically named each of the individuals alleged to have violated his 
or her civil rights in the institutional grievance process in order to proceed against such 
individuals in federal court (Maddex, 2007).  The Court also concluded that the PLRA 
could not be interpreted to place the burden of proving “proper” exhaustion on the 
prisoner-plaintiff (Maddex, 2007).  Plainly, Jones symbolized a retraction – albeit a small 
one – from the broad breadth given previous lower courts in applying the PLRA’s 
exhaustion requirement (Maddex, 2007).  A reluctant Chief Justice John Roberts, writing 
for the unanimous Court, stated: 
“We are not insensitive to the challenges faced by the lower 
courts   in   managing   their   dockets   and   attempting   to 
separate,   when   it   comes   to   prisoner   suits,   not   so   much 
wheat from chaff as needles from haystacks... [However,] 
adopting different and more onerous pleadings rules to deal 
with particular categories of cases should be done through 
established rulemaking procedures, and not on a case-by-
case basis by the courts.”
Jones, 2007, 926.

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