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Nevada Supreme Court Clarifies Personal Injury Exhaustion Requirements

The Nevada Supreme Court held that state prisoners seeking compensation for personal injuries are not required to allege exhaustion of their administrative remedies, nor does the failure to exhaust administrative remedies deprive the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction.

Thomas Cotton, Wilbur Lewis Jr., and Aries Mosby, prisoners at the High Desert Correctional Center, were injured when the tractor-type cart they were riding in overturned. The prisoners claimed that after the accident they filed grievances requesting, among other things, medical care, but the grievances either went unanswered or were denied.

The prisoners subsequently filed a claim in the Eighth Judicial District Court of Clark County against the Nevada Department of Prisons (DOP) seeking damages and injunctive relief regarding medical care and work time credits. On the DOP's motion, the district court dismissed holding that pursuant to NRS 41.0322(1) (which governs personal injury actions brought by prisoners in the DOP) prior to filing their complaint, appellants must have first exhausted their administrative remedies and have pleaded exhaustion as part of their claim for relief." The prisoners appealed.
On appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court first noted that nothing in NRS 41.0322(1) specifically requires that exhaustion be pleaded. The Court then went on to hold that, although failure to exhaust administrative remedies generally deprives the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction, in this case, NRS 41.0322(3) gives the district court the authority to stay the proceeding until administrative remedies are exhausted...." Therefore, the Court concluded, the district court was not required to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that it lacked subject mater jurisdiction, as appellants' action could have remained pending until fulfillment of the administrative requirement.

Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded with orders for the district court to reinstate the prisoner's claim and to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine if appellants have exhausted their administrative remedies and if not, to allow exhaustion of their administrative remedies if appropriate." The prisoners were represented by Cal Potter of Las Vegas. See: Cotton v. State of Nevada, Supreme Court of Nevada, Case No. 39359.

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Related legal case

Cotton v. State of Nevada