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Broken Gate? A Study of the PLRA Exhaustion Requirement Past, Present, and Future
Unformatted Document Text:  Broken Gate? cases initiated by the Third Circuit opinion in Spruill (Bennett & Del Carmen, 1997, pp. 432-433). If an inmate can irretrievably default his or her administrative grievance procedure by failing to file a timely initial grievance (sometimes required to be filed in as little as 15 days from the complained of conduct), and thereby be forever barred from litigating their claims in federal court, how can an inmate who deliberately sits on his or her rights until they are released from prison avoid a similar peril? A case recently adjudicated in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania is illustrative of this quandary. In that matter, Perez v. Sweet, et al., the prisoner-plaintiff’s claims arouse from the correction staff’s alleged failure to protect him from a September 3, 2004 rape by his cellmate (Perez, 2006). Although Perez was clearly aware of his obligation to exhaust administrative remedies at the institutional level, as demonstrated by previous grievances he had filed on unrelated matters, he did not grieve the staff’s supposed involvement in this rape (Perez, 2006). When Perez was subsequently released from prison over 18 months after the complained- of staff misconduct, he proceeded directly to federally litigating the matter (Perez, 2006). Thus, under the current state of the law, although Perez’s circumvention of the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement appeared quite deliberate, he was able to proceed without ever having presented his claims administratively by virtue of the fact that he initiated his lawsuit after his release from prison (Perez, 2006). To date, no Court has curtailed an inmates’ ability to similarly avoid the otherwise strict PLRA exhaustion provision. Conclusion Ten yeas before passage of the PLRA, a federal district judge in the Eastern 26

Authors: Passarelli, Mariah.
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Broken Gate?
cases initiated by the Third Circuit opinion in Spruill (Bennett & Del Carmen, 1997, pp. 
432-433).  If an inmate can irretrievably default his or her administrative grievance 
procedure by failing to file a timely initial grievance (sometimes required to be filed in as 
little as 15 days from the complained of conduct), and thereby be forever barred from 
litigating their claims in federal court, how can an inmate who deliberately sits on his or 
her rights until they are released from prison avoid a similar peril?  
A case recently adjudicated in the United States District Court for the Western 
District of Pennsylvania is illustrative of this quandary.  In that matter, Perez v. Sweet, et 
al., the prisoner-plaintiff’s claims arouse from the correction staff’s alleged failure to 
protect him from a September 3, 2004 rape by his cellmate (Perez, 2006).  Although 
Perez was clearly aware of his obligation to exhaust administrative remedies at the 
institutional level, as demonstrated by previous grievances he had filed on unrelated 
matters, he did not grieve the staff’s supposed involvement in this rape (Perez, 2006). 
When Perez was subsequently released from prison over 18 months after the complained-
of staff misconduct, he proceeded directly to federally litigating the matter (Perez, 2006). 
Thus, under the current state of the law, although Perez’s circumvention of the PLRA’s 
exhaustion requirement appeared quite deliberate, he was able to proceed without ever 
having presented his claims administratively by virtue of the fact that he initiated his 
lawsuit after his release from prison (Perez, 2006).  To date, no Court has curtailed an 
inmates’ ability to similarly avoid the otherwise strict PLRA exhaustion provision.
Ten yeas before passage of the PLRA, a federal district judge in the Eastern 

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