Preserving Your Claim Underthe Prison Litigation Reform Act             (PLRA)Portions of this pamphlet are derived from A...
Purpose of This PamphletThis pamphlet is intended to provide some backgroundinformation on the PLRA and also explain how t...
Main Parts of the PLRAExhaustion Requirement(42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a))The PLRA requires that all “administrative remedies” bee...
Three Strikes Provision(28 U.S.C. § 1915(g))Under normal circumstances, you may bring a federal claim informa pauperis, me...
However, there are still some types of relief you can get withoutphysical injury. In some circumstances you may be eligibl...
How to Exhaust Your Administrative    Remedies in a Pennsylvania State Prison: The      Pennsylvania Department of Correct...
3. If your grievance has to do with discipline procedures, youmust file an appeal as described in policy DC-ADM 801, “Inma...
11. If you file five grievances within 30 days which are determinedto be frivolous, you may be placed on grievance restric...
d. Any specific relief you seek, including      compensation or legal relief normally available from a      court.      e....
2. The FGC will make sure that your grievance complies with theprocedures manual. If so, the FGC will assign the grievance...
b. Authorized Temporary Absence (ATA) for an      extended period.      c. Another delay with mail delivery.Note: If you a...
b. The top of the document should be clearly labeled to      show that it is an appeal, and should include the grievance  ...
Part V – Appeal to the Secretary’s Office of InmateGrievances and Appeals (SOIGA) – Final AppealNote: There are separate p...
Appeals, if your facility has not yet started using the Appeal      to Final Review Form).      c. All required documentat...
5. After completing final review, the SOIGA will respond directlyto you. If you are released or paroled, you must provide ...
Conclusion       If you follow the procedures described in this pamphlet,you should be able to have a court address the me...
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Preserving Your Claim Under the Prision Litigation Reform Act (PLRA)

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Written by law student Alex Rubenstein (and vetted by his law professors at Rutgers), this information is meant to help prisoner understand their rights under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (PLRA)

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Preserving Your Claim Under the Prision Litigation Reform Act (PLRA)

  1. 1. Preserving Your Claim Underthe Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA)Portions of this pamphlet are derived from American Civil Liberties Union, Know Your Rights:The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), http://www.aclu.org/images/asset_upload_file79_25805.pdf (last viewed Mar. 31, 2011); Sarah Ricks & Ellen Tennenbaum, CurrentIssues in Constitutional Litigation: A Context and Practice Casebook (2011); PolicyStatement, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Inmate Grievance System, Policy No. DC-ADM 804, Dec. 1, 2010 (Effective Dec. 8, 2010). 1  
  2. 2. Purpose of This PamphletThis pamphlet is intended to provide some backgroundinformation on the PLRA and also explain how the law impactscourt claims filed while in jail or prison. Additionally, thispamphlet will explain how to properly follow the grievanceprocess employed by the Pennsylvania Department ofCorrections, in order to help protect any claims you may bringrelating to prison conditions from being dismissed for failure toexhaust administrative remedies. Even for claims that are notaffected by the exhaustion requirement, this pamphlet shouldserve as a helpful tool for correctly filing grievances. PLRA Background - Passed in 1996. - Arose out of a concern that too many frivolous lawsuits were being filed by prisoners. - Creates several roadblocks to filing a claim in federal court, and limits the types of claims that can be successful. 2  
  3. 3. Main Parts of the PLRAExhaustion Requirement(42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a))The PLRA requires that all “administrative remedies” beexhausted before a claim based on prison conditions is filed incourt, and mandates dismissal for claims that do not meet thisrequirement. This requirement is normally fulfilled by using theprison’s grievance process. However, the process must befollowed to the letter.Evan a small deviance from the established procedure can cause acourt to dismiss your claim. For example, in Keys v. Craig,1 theThird Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a Pennsylvania inmate’sretaliation claim because he failed to attach all of the documentsrequired for a final appeal in his appeal to the Secretary’s Office ofInmate Grievances and Appeals (SOIGA). The court found thatthe inmate’s decision to forward the documents, which had beendelayed, to the Department of Corrections Secretary wasinsufficient, since PA DOC procedures mandate that final appealsbe sent to the SOIGA. Therefore, the claim was thrown outwithout even considering its merits.You may be able to be excused from this requirement if you canshow that it was impossible for you to follow the grievanceprocess, but proving this is very difficult.                                                            1  160 Fed. Appx. 125, 126 (3d Cir. 2005).   3  
  4. 4. Three Strikes Provision(28 U.S.C. § 1915(g))Under normal circumstances, you may bring a federal claim informa pauperis, meaning that you may file a suit without prepaying afiling fee if you can show that you cannot afford the fee.However, if you have three cases dismissed while incarcerated as“frivolous,” “malicious,” or even if you simply “fail[] to state aclaim upon which relief may be granted,” any claim after the firstthree is not eligible for in forma pauperis filing unless you can showthat you are “under imminent danger of serious injury.”Physical Injury Requirement(42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e))In order to receive compensatory damages under the PLRA, youmust show physical injury. Thus, if you have suffered mental oremotional injury without physical injury, you are not eligible forcompensatory damages under the PLRA. Additionally, courtshave discretion to decide whether or not a physical injury that hasactually been suffered is sufficient to state a claim, or if it is deminimis, or minimal, and therefore not enough to state a claim.2                                                            2  Some examples of harm that have and have not met the standard are included here, but note that courts have a great deal of discretion in deciding if the harm you suffered was a physical injury. Injuries that have met the standard include headaches, cramps, nosebleeds and dizziness that were caused where an inmate was not given blood pressure medication (Munn v. Toney, 433 F.3d 1087, 1089 (8th Cir. 2006)) and “an upset stomach and a serious case of diarrhea” caused by food tampering (Bond v. Rhodes, No. 2:05CV241, 2006 WL 1617892, at *3 (W.D. Pa. June 8, 2006)).  On the other hand, courts have found no physical injury with ailments such as migraine headaches (Osterback v. Ingram, No. 3:96CV580/LAC/SMN, 2000 WL 297840, at *10 (N.D. Fla. Jan. 12, 2000)), a loss of between 20 and 30 pounds (Ghashiyah v. Wis. Dept. of Corr., No. 01‐C‐10, 2006 WL 2845701, at *11 (E.D. Wis. Sept. 29, 2006), and symptoms caused by food poisoning (Watkins v. Trinity Serv. Grp., Inc., No. 8:05‐cv‐1142‐T‐24MSS, 2006 WL 3408176, at *4 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 27, 2006)).   4  
  5. 5. However, there are still some types of relief you can get withoutphysical injury. In some circumstances you may be eligible fornominal relief (where the court says you were wronged andawards you $1) or declaratory or injunctive relief (where the courtorders the prison to stop the practice which is the subject of yourcomplaint). Also, in very rare cases of extreme conduct by theprison, the prison may face punitive damages, where it is punishedfor its conduct but you are not compensated for the specific harmyou suffered. 5  
  6. 6. How to Exhaust Your Administrative Remedies in a Pennsylvania State Prison: The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Grievance ProcessNote: This summary is based on the DOC’s PolicyStatement on Policy Number DC-ADM 804: InmateGrievance System. Please consult that policy statement for amore detailed explanation of the procedures. It can be foundat:http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/document/919465/804_inmate_grievances_pdfPart I – General Guidelines1. A formal grievance must be filed within 15 working days of theevent complained of. If an extension is needed, you must notifythe Facility Grievance Coordinator of the reason for the delay. Anextension may be granted if the delay was caused by: a. A temporary or permanent transfer from the facility where the grievance should have been filed b. Authorized Temporary Absence (ATA) for an extended period c. Another delay with mail delivery2. Each facility has additional procedures in place to help illiterateand non-English speaking inmates submit grievances. Ask a staffmember at your facility for information regarding theseprocedures. 6  
  7. 7. 3. If your grievance has to do with discipline procedures, youmust file an appeal as described in policy DC-ADM 801, “InmateDiscipline.” Similarly, a grievance related to the administrativecustody process must be addressed through the procedures inDC-ADM 802, “Administrative Custody Procedures.”4. You may only file a grievance on your own behalf. Therefore,you cannot file a grievance for someone else, and you cannot file agrievance as part of a group.5. Grievances regarding separate events should be filed separately,unless you need to combine the issues to support your full claim.6. You may not bring a grievance which presents an issue that hasalready been addressed in a previous grievance.7. PA DOC policy explicitly prohibits any type of retaliationagainst you for good faith use of the grievance system.8. You may not file a grievance after parole or release fromincarceration. However, grievance issues regarding parole may befiled.9. If you are transferred to a facility that is not part of thePennsylvania state prison system, you must use that facility’sgrievance process for any grievances which arise at that facility.10. You may withdraw your grievance at any time by using andsigning the Inmate Grievance Withdrawal Form. However, if youchoose to withdraw a grievance, you cannot later choose to refileit, or appeal any decision that has already been made on thegrievance. 7  
  8. 8. 11. If you file five grievances within 30 days which are determinedto be frivolous, you may be placed on grievance restriction for upto 90 days.Part II – Initial Grievance Filing1. Before filing a formal grievance, you are strongly encouraged toexpress concerns directly to prison staff either verbally, or inwriting using form DC-135A – Inmate Request to Staff Member.Staff members are expected to attempt to resolve non-frivolousconcerns expressed to them. Although this step is not mandatory,the formal grievance form has space for you to state that you firsttried to resolve your complaint informally.2. A formal grievance should be filed using form DC-804, Part 1,and submitted to the Facility Grievance Coordinator at the facilitywhere the event forming the basis of your complaint occurred.3. Your grievance must include the following: a. Any attempt at informal resolution of the grievance, which should be noted in Section B of the form. b. A statement of facts which must be legible, understandable, and presented in a courteous manner. The statement of facts may not be more than two pages long (space provided on the DC-804, Part 1 form and one one- sided 8 ½” x 11” page of “writing paper”), and may be written or typed. c. Any claims you wish to make regarding violations of DOC directives, regulations, court orders, or other law. 8  
  9. 9. d. Any specific relief you seek, including compensation or legal relief normally available from a court. e. If your grievance concerns a publication denial, you must include a copy of the Inmate Publication Review Committee Denial Form. f. A grievance related to a claim of missing property must include documentation proving rightful possession of the property in question. This may include form DC-153A, a Personal Property Inventory Sheet, Confiscated Items Receipt, or a Commissary/Outside Purchase Form. g. Any other documents which you believe support your grievance. NOTE: Any documents attached in support of a grievance (or grievance appeal) will not be returned to you, so make copies of anything you submit.4. The Facility Grievance Coordinator (FGC) will review yourgrievance and decide if the grievance will be accepted for review.If so, only the pink copy will be returned to you. If your grievanceis rejected, the entire grievance packet will be returned to youalong with any exhibits.Part III – Initial Grievance Review1. Upon receipt of your grievance, the FGC will assign yourgrievance a tracking number in the Automated Inmate GrievanceTracking System. 9  
  10. 10. 2. The FGC will make sure that your grievance complies with theprocedures manual. If so, the FGC will assign the grievance to astaff member who will serve as the Grievance Officer. If not, thegrievance will be returned to you with a Grievance RejectionForm explaining why your grievance was rejected. If you chooseto resubmit the grievance, you must do so within five workingdays of the rejection notice date.3. The Grievance Officer will provide you with a written response(approved by the FGC) within 15 working days from the date thatyour grievance was entered into the Automated Inmate GrievanceSystem. In some circumstances, the Grievance Officer may begranted an extension of up to 10 working days to respond to you.NOTE: If your grievance deals with allegations of abuse, it ishandled in accordance with the “Inmate Abuse AllegationMonitoring Process,” DC-AMD 001, which provides the officerreviewing the grievance 30 days to respond your grievance inorder to conduct an investigation.Part IV – Appeals to the Facility Manager (First Appeal)1. If you want to appeal the Initial Review Response/Rejection,you must make an appeal to the Facility Manager in writing within15 working days of the date of the Initial ReviewResponse/Rejection or notice of grievance restriction. You mustreceive an initial response to your grievance before you appeal. Ifan extension is needed, you must notify the Facility Manager ofthe reason for the delay. An extension may be granted if the delaywas caused by: a. A temporary or permanent transfer from the facility where the grievance should have been filed. 10  
  11. 11. b. Authorized Temporary Absence (ATA) for an extended period. c. Another delay with mail delivery.Note: If you are transferred at any time during the appealsprocess, notify the Facility Manager for the facility where you filedyour grievance.2. You may only appeal the following: a. The issue you raised in your grievance b. A determination that your grievance was frivolous c. Rejection of your grievance d. Placement on grievance restrictionNote: You must appeal the issue you raised in your grievance anda determination of frivolousness at the same time, if you need toappeal both.3. If your case involves personal property, publication, orphotograph denial, you must notify the Facility Manager orFacility Grievance Coordinator to keep the property, publicationor photograph until your appeal is complete.3. Your appeal must include the following: a. Text which is legible, understandable, and presented in a courteous manner. 11  
  12. 12. b. The top of the document should be clearly labeled to show that it is an appeal, and should include the grievance number, if you are appealing an initial response/rejection. Your appeal must be sure to clearly identify the response or rejection and explain why you are appealing. If you are also appealing a determination of frivolousness or grievance restriction, you must make that clear as well. c. A statement of facts, which contains reasons for the appeal and is handwritten or typed on “writing paper” (two one-sided or one double-sided 8 ½” x 11” page). This may also be submitted on the Appeal to the Facility Manager Form.4. If the Facility Manager determines that your appeal is correctlyprepared, the date your appeal was received will be entered intothe Automated Inmate Grievance Tracking System. The FacilityManager will inform you of the decision on your appeal within 15working days of receiving it. You will receive one of the followingresponses: Uphold Response (FGC’s decision), Uphold Inmate,Dismiss, Dismiss Untimely, or Uphold in Part/Deny in Part. Theresponse will also contain a brief explanation of the reasons forthe decision. The date of the decision will be entered in theAutomated Inmate Grievance Tracking System.Note: Instead of issuing a decision, the Facility Manager canremand your grievance to the FGC, who will have 15 workingdays to respond to you. You may appeal the FGC’s new decisionusing the same procedures as your initial appeal. However, youmay not appeal the Facility Manager’s decision to remand yourgrievance. 12  
  13. 13. Part V – Appeal to the Secretary’s Office of InmateGrievances and Appeals (SOIGA) – Final AppealNote: There are separate procedures for appealing the denial of apublication or photograph, and for appealing expulsion from theState Intermediate Punishment program. For informationregarding these procedures, consult DC-ADM 804, “InmateGrievance System Procedures Manual, Section 2 – Appeals.”1. After you have received the Facility Manager’s decisionregarding your appeal (other than a remand), you have 15 workingdays to file an Inmate Appeal to Final Review (which may onlyappeal issues you appealed to the Facility Manager). If anextension is needed, you must notify the SOIGA of the reason forthe delay. An extension may be granted if the delay was caused by: a. A temporary or permanent transfer from the facility where the grievance should have been filed b. Authorized Temporary Absence (ATA) for an extended period c. Another delay with mail delivery2. Your appeal must include the following: a. Text which is legible, understandable, and presented in a courteous manner. b. A statement of facts, which contains reasons for the appeal and is handwritten or typed on “writing paper” (two one-sided or one double-sided 8 ½” x 11” page). This may also be submitted on the Appeal to Final Review Form (or the Appeal to the Secretary’s Office of Inmate Grievance 13  
  14. 14. Appeals, if your facility has not yet started using the Appeal to Final Review Form). c. All required documentation relevant to the appeal, including photocopies of the Initial Grievance, Initial Review Response/Rejection, the Inmate Appeal to the Facility Manager, the Facility Manager’s decision, and a written appeal to SOIGA. NOTE: Any documentation you provide will not be returned, so be sure to make copies instead of sending original documents. d. If appealing a grievance restriction, you must also include photocopies of the written notice of the restriction from the Facility Grievance Coordinator, the appeal of the restriction to the Facility Manager, the Facility Manager’s response, and an appeal to the SOIGA. Like the other appeals documents, any documentation you provide will not be returned. NOTE: If you are indigent, as defined in DC-ADM 803, “Inmate Mail and Incoming Publications,” you may receive up to $10 for the cost of copies and legal postage. A non- indigent inmate will be charged for these services.3. Your appeal must be addressed to:Chief, Secretary’s Office of Inmate Grievances and AppealsDepartment of Corrections2520 Lisburn Road, P.O. Box 598Camp Hill, PA 17001-05984. The SOIGA will respond to your appeal within 30 workingdays of receiving it, although extensions may be allowed. 14  
  15. 15. 5. After completing final review, the SOIGA will respond directlyto you. If you are released or paroled, you must provide aforwarding address to SOIGA, which SOIGA will forward theresponse to. If you do not provide an address, SOIGA will sendits response to your last address of record.6. SOIGA will give one of the following responses to your appeal:Uphold Response, Uphold Inmate, Dismiss, Dismiss Untimely, orUphold in Part/Deny in Part.Note: Instead of issuing a decision, the SOIGA can remand yourgrievance to the Facility Manager, who will have 15 working daysto respond to you. You may appeal the Facility Manager’s newdecision using the same procedures as your first final appeal.However, you may not appeal the SOIGA’s decision to remandyour grievance.7. If you disagree with the final decision of the SOIGA, you willhave exhausted your administrative remedies under the PLRA andmay file a claim in court.NOTE: If you have personal property, publications, orphotographs being held in connection with your grievance, youmust notify the Facility Grievance Coordinator in writing withyour signature that you plan to file a court action related to theproperty within 20 working days of the final SOIGA decision.Failure to do so will result in the property being destroyed. 15  
  16. 16. Conclusion If you follow the procedures described in this pamphlet,you should be able to have a court address the merits of yourcase, should you choose to file a claim. However, remember thatthe purpose of requiring you to go through this process is to givethe prison an opportunity to address your grievance withoutmaking you file a lawsuit. It you are considering filing a lawsuit, besure to visit your prison’s law library and learn more about whattype of harm you must suffer under the PLRA in order to succeedin court. Because of the three strikes rule, it is important to besure that your claim is strong enough to have a chance of winning.Furthermore, when you file a new claim, judges have the ability tocheck and see if you have filed any claims previously. If you havehad other claims dismissed, especially if they were dismissed forbeing frivolous, the judge may be skeptical of your new claim.Therefore, before filing a claim, be sure to get an idea of yourchances of success. 16  

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