Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

PLRA Administrative Exhaustion an Affirmative Defense

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (4th Circuit) has reversed a District Court dismissal of a prisoner civil rights action for not showing that available administrative remedies were exhausted before suit was filed.

In 1999, Rodney Anderson began serving time in a Virginia prison. While there, he broke his arm. In 2002, he sued Virginia prison officials in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexander, claiming he was not given adequate medical care for his arm.

Anderson’s complaint didn’t allege that he had pursued any administrative remedies, such as grievances, etc. The prison officials didn’t raise the exhaustion issue, but the District Court dismissed the case on that ground. Anderson appealed.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), at 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a), requires prisoners to exhaust all available administrative remedies before suing prison officials in federal court. The question on appeal was whether the same allows federal courts to dismiss cases in which prisoners do not address the exhaustion issue, without giving them any notice on opportunity to address it.

On appeal, the 4th Circuit found that seven federal circuit courts had ruled that the PLRA exhaustion-of-administrative-remedies requirement does no more than create an affirmative defense which must be raised by the defendant. Only two such courts, on the other hand, had ruled that the same was grounds for dismissal in and of itself.

When all was said and done, the 4th Circuit agreed with the majority and held that Anderson’s failure to demonstrate in his complaint that he had exhausted any available administrative remedies created an affirmative defense to be pled by the defendants. On that basis, the case was remanded to the District Court with instructions to look into the remedy-exhaustion issue and take appropriate action. See: Anderson v. XYZ Correctional Health Services, Inc., 407 F.3d 674 (4th Cir. 2005).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Anderson v. XYZ Correctional Health Services, Inc.