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D.C. Circuit Holds PLRA’s Exhaustion Requirement Inapplicable to Former Prisoner

The Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has held that the administrative exhaustion requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) does not apply to suits filed by persons who are no longer incarcerated.

The lawsuit at issue, filed by former prisoner John B. Lesesne, alleged permanent, life-threatening injuries suffered while in the custody of the District of Columbia (D.C.) Department of Corrections (DOC). Lesesne was involved in an altercation on March 30, 2008 in which he was shot in the lower abdomen, causing neurological damage to his leg.

He was arrested and transported to a hospital where he remained in the custody of the D.C. Metropolitan Police for the next 48 hours. He was then taken into DOC custody but remained cuffed by his wrist and ankle to the hospital bed.

As a result of the injury to his leg, doctors prescribed physical and occupational therapies and directed Lesesne to walk in the hospital hallway. However, even after the doctors faxed their recommendations to the DOC, guards did not let Lesesne walk in the hallway and restrained movement of his injured leg.

When he was discharged from the hospital on April 8, 2008, guards forced Lesesne to walk to the transport vehicle in full restraints; he fell when guards attempted to lift him into the vehicle. Shortly after his arrival at the D.C. Jail infirmary, Lesesne was re-hospitalized due to signs of distress resulting from the transport.

He was diagnosed with having suffered a pulmonary embolism and placed in intensive care; once again, his leg was restrained to the bed. Lusesne was released from the hospital on April 21. Over the next four days, jail personnel failed to provide his prescribed medications, change his bandages or clean his gunshot wound and surgical incision. The failure to supply this medical care resulted in the wound becoming infected.

Lesesne was released from jail on April 25, 2008. Two years later he filed a pro se civil rights complaint, arguing that the DOC’s failure to treat his medical needs resulted in permanent, life-threatening injuries which require expensive therapeutic care, prescription drugs and constant pain management, as well as pain, suffering and emotional distress.

The district court granted the District of Columbia’s motion for summary judgment on grounds that Lesesne had failed to exhaust administrative remedies at the D.C. Jail as required by the PLRA. The D.C. Court of Appeals joining its sister circuits in holding that the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement did not apply to Lesesne because he was not confined when he filed his lawsuit, even though he had failed to make that argument before the district court. See: Lesesne v. Doe, 712 F.3d 584 (D.C. Cir. 2013).

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