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Ninth Circuit: Exhaustion Prior to Amended Complaint Satisfies PLRA

Ninth Circuit: Exhaustion Prior to Amended Complaint Satisfies PLRA

by Mark Wilson

On January 14, 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that claims raised in an amended complaint satisfy administrative exhaustion requirements under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) if they are exhausted before the amended complaint is filed.

On December 4, 2007, Arizona prisoner Erineo Cano filed suit alleging that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his mental illness and risk of committing suicide. He then moved to submit a first amended complaint, asserting religious diet and court access claims that arose before the original complaint was filed.

Although Cano had exhausted the new claims before seeking to file his amended complaint, prison officials moved to dismiss them, arguing that the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), requires exhaustion of all claims before an action is filed. The district court agreed, and since Cano did not exhaust until after the initial complaint was filed, his amended claims were dismissed.

The Ninth Circuit reversed, noting it had recently held “that a prisoner may file an amended complaint and add new claims where the additional cause of action arose after the initial filing, as long as he has exhausted administrative remedies as to those additional claims before filing the amended” complaint. See: Rhodes v. Robinson, 621 F.3d 1002 (9th Cir. 2010) [PLN, May 2012, p.28] and Akhtar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202 (9th Cir. 2012) [PLN, Dec. 2013, p.42]. Cano presented “a slightly different factual situation,” however, in that his amended claims arose prior to his initial complaint but were exhausted before filing the amended complaint.

“Following the logic of Rhodes and Akhtar,” the appellate court held “that claims that arose as a cause of action prior to the filing of the initial complaint may be added to a complaint via an amendment, as long as they are administratively exhausted prior to the amendment.” The Ninth Circuit also affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Cano’s claim related to mental health care.

Cano has since been released from prison, and the case remains pending on remand. See: Cano v. Taylor, 739 F.3d 1214 (9th Cir. 2014).


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Related legal cases

Cano v. Taylor

Akhtar v. Mesa

Rhodes v. Robinson