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Tenth Circuit: Grievance Restrictions Don't Excuse Failure to Exhaust

On June 23, 2010, the Tenth Circuit court of appeals held that the fact that a prisoner was placed on grievance restriction did not excuse his failure to exhaust administrative remedies when he failed to avail himself of the restricted grievance procedures available to him.

Jerry L. Thomas, an Oklahoma state prisoner, filed two civil rights actions challenging prison conditions pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court. In one case, the court held that Thomas had abandoned two claims, failed to state a claim for relief on two other claims and failed to exhaust administrative remedies on the remaining claims. Thomas appealed and the Tenth Circuit affirmed. Thomas v. Parker, 318 Fed. Appx. 626 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 130 S.Ct. 249 (2009).

In the second case, the district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Thomas filed motions for relief from the judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(3) in both cases, alleging defendants had committed fraud on the court by altering grievances and other documents they submitted to the court. The motions were overruled and Thomas appealed.

The Tenth Circuit noted that, although Thomas had been placed on grievance restriction, that status did not prevent him from following all three steps of the grievance procedure, but imposed the extra condition of requiring him to provide a notarized detailed statement of previously-filed grievances before appealing the decision in the first step. Thomas submitted an unnotarized statement with one-word descriptions. This was rejected and Thomas was given ten days to correct the statement. Instead of doing so, Thomas appealed the decision to require the statement and refused to participate in the grievance procedure. Thus, he did not exhaust administrative remedies and his claims were properly dismissed.

The Tenth Circuit noted that Thomas had previously litigated and lost on this issue in the aforementioned appeal, the motions and appeal were abusive. Because Thomas's complaints about the use of altered grievances was not baseless, the Tenth Circuit granted him in forma pauperis status in that appeal, denying it in the other one. This didn't change the fact that the claims were not exhausted. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. See: Thomas v. Parker, 609 F.3d 1114 (10th Cir. 2010); Thomas v. Guffy, Nos. 09-2133, 09-2183 (10th Cir. 2010).

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Related legal cases

Thomas v. Parker

Thomas v. Guffy