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Arizona Applies PLRA to State Court § 1983 Suits

by Bob Williams

Relying on the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) language providing no action shall be brought without exhaustion of remedies, and upon Congress' desire that federal rights laws be applied uniformly within each state, the Arizona court of appeals has held the PLRA exhaustion requirement applies to § 1983 complaints filed in local state courts.

John Baker filed a "Civil Rights Complaint" in state court citing 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and dozens of federal § 1983 cases. The trial court also considered it a § 1983 complaint and dismissed it based on Baker's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies through prison grievances.

On appeal, the Court found the PLRA's language at 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), Congress' intent, and the applicability of substantive federal law and attendant federal rules and policies applied when Arizona state courts have concurrent jurisdiction. Prisoners must comply with federal requirements when filing federal claims even in state court. This same finding was first reached by Ohio in 2001 and later by Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, and Nebraska. Other states such as Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Wisconsin have enacted similar state statutes mandating exhaustion.

Always exhaust your administrative remedies by filing a grievance as soon as possible and following through your particular prison's policy to its highest level. See: Baker v. Rolnick, 110 P.3d 1284 (Ariz.App., Div. 1, 2005).

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Related legal case

Baker v. Rolnick