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Names of Prison Staff Not Required In Grievances

By Brandon Sample

New York state prisoners do not have to name prison officials in their grievances in order to exhaust administrative remedies, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decided February 2, 2009.

The court's decision comes in response to an appeal by Cesar Espinal, a New York prisoner, who sued various state prison officials for First and Eighth Amendment violations. Espinal alleged that he was subjected to excessive force and denied medical treatment for his injuries in retaliation for a previous lawsuit that he filed.

The district court dismissed Espinal's medical treatment and retaliation claims, holding that Espinal failed to exhaust his administrative remedies because he did not name the prison officials involved in the alleged misconduct in his grievances. Espinal's excessive force claims were tried before a jury and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants.

On appeal, Espinal argued that district court erred in dismissing his medical treatment and retaliation claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Espinal pointed to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007), which held that the procedures for exhaustion are governed "by the prison grievance process itself." Id. at 218. New York's prison grievance procedures, Espinal argued, do not require prisoners to name prison staff in their grievances.

The Second Circuit agreed. "The New York IGP [inmate grievance program) regulations do not state that a prisoner's grievance must name the responsible party," the court wrote. Rather, “the IGP regulations offer the general guidance that a grievance should 'contain a concise, specific description of the problem.’" Because New York's IGP "does not articulate an identification requirement,” the court concluded, "it is plain that a New York state prisoner is not required to name responsible parties in order to exhaust administrative remedies."

Turning to Espinal's retaliation claims, the court rejected the defendants' argument that the alleged retaliation against Espinal was not severe enough to deter most from exercising their rights. "We have no trouble finding on the record in this case that there is a triable issue of fact as to whether a severe beating by officers over the course of thirty minutes would deter a person of 'ordinary firmness' from exercising his rights," the court wrote.

Further, the court concluded, a sufficient causal connection existed between the alleged retaliatory acts and the filing of Espinal's prior suit. The passage of six months between Espinal's suit and the alleged retaliatory acts was not enough to defeat the existence of a causal connection as "it is plausible that the officers waited to exact their retaliation at an opportune time…in order to have a ready explanation for any injuries suffered by Espinal," the court wrote.

The judgment of the district court was accordingly reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings. See: Espinal v. Goord, 554 F.3d 216 (2d Cir. 2009).

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Related legal case

Espinal v. Goord