Ross v Blake

Ross sued Blake under 42 USC 1983 alleging excessive force. The district court dismissed pursuant to 42 USC 1997e(a) ruling Ross failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The 4th Circuit reversed holding special circumstances applied here excusing the failure. The Court, with one justice concurring in part and in judgment and another concurring in part, reversed. The majority held that the text of 1997e(a) is mandatory having the operative verb “shall” and requires exhaustion of remedies and the Court has rejected extratextual  exception in past cases. It also held the history of 1997e(a) being adopted to replace an earlier discretionary exhaustion scheme also supports reversal here. The majority remanded the case to evaluate if the administrative remedies here were “available” (meaning the procedures set out in the Maryland policy here were actually available and not dead ends through inability or unwillingness to grant relief, not so opaque as to be unusable and inmates are not thwarted through official misconduct such as misrepresentation or intimidation) as there is evidence that excessive force grievances are routinely dismissed by wardens at step one if an internal investigation is underway on the excessive force complaint while the appeals unit sometimes acts on the  grievances at the next step even though they were dismissed.. Thomas concurred in part and in judgment arguing that the documentation on treatment of excessive force grievances was not in the appellate record and judicial notice should not have been taken of them. Breyer concurred in part arguing that normal administrative law exceptions to exhaustion are included in the statutory term “exhausted”.

Simmons v Himmelreich

Simmons sued Himmelreich alleging excessive force after his case against the prison was dismissed under the discretionary functions exception o the Federal Tort Claims Act. The government moved to dismiss based on the judgment bar in the Act. The 6th Circuit ultimately denied the motion on the ground that eh judgment bar did not apply. The Court, resolving a circuit split on the issue of whether the bar applied, affirmed. It held the plain language of the Act stated none of the Act’s exceptions to liability applied when a dismissal is done under the discretionary functions provision, the judgment bar is one of the exceptions and thus it does not apply. The Court further distinguished an earlier case holding it dealt with an amendment to the Act which specifically made certain claims subject to the exceptions and noted adopting the government position would multiply claims against employees undermining the Act’s purpose of channeling claims towards the government.