Darwin Ramirez v. Warden

In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 15‐3298 DARWIN RAMIREZ, Plaintiff‐Appellant, v. RICHARD YOUNG, et al., Defendants‐Appellees. ____________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 13‐3362 — Colin S. Bruce, Judge. ____________________ ARGUED APRIL 4, 2018 — DECIDED OCTOBER 9, 2018 ____________________ Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and BAUER and SYKES, Circuit Judges. WOOD, Chief Judge. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA), “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under [42 U.S.C. § 1983], or any other Fed‐ eral law, by a prisoner … until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) (emphasis 2 No. 15‐3298 added). This appeal concerns the availability of administra‐ tive remedies described to a prisoner by prison officials only in a language they knew he could not understand. We hold that this was not enough to render those remedies “available” to the prisoner. We therefore reverse the judgment dismissing Darwin Ramirez’s federal suit for failure to exhaust and re‐ mand for further proceedings. I Ramirez, who is a Spanish speaker, sued administrators and officers of the Western Illinois Correctional Center under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged constitutional wrongs. He was in prison at the time he filed his action, and so it was subject to the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Western Illinois indisputably had administrative remedies available for prisoners’ use. Ramirez did not use those proce‐ dures in a timely fashion to complain about the issues raised in his federal action, and so the defendants moved for sum‐ mary judgment based on Ramirez’s failure to exhaust. Ramirez responded that Western Illinois’s existing grievance process was unavailable to him and he was thus excused from the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement. See id.; Ross v. Blake, 136 S. Ct. 1850, 1858–59 (2016). The district court held an eviden‐ tiary hearing on the availability question as required by Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739 (7th Cir. 2008), after which it dismissed Ramirez’s complaint without prejudice. It concluded that remedies are unavailable under the PLRA only under certain exclusive circumstances: if prison officials fail to respond to properly filed grievances; if prison officials affirmatively pre‐ vent exhaustion through misconduct; or if compliance with the grievance process is impossible. None of those applies to Ramirez. No. 15‐3298 3 Ramirez has now appealed from the order dismissing his action. Ordinarily, the fact that the district court’s dismissal was without prejudice would bar an appeal on grounds of lack of finality, but that is not the case here. Ramirez is no longer in custody, and so he cannot remedy his failure to ex‐ haust. The dismissal was thus effectively a final order, and we may proceed with the appeal. See Kaba v. Stepp, 458 F.3d 678, 680 (7th Cir. 2006). If, as in this case, a prisoner’s complaint is dismissed after a Pavey hearing for failure to exhaust, we review factual find‐ ings for clear ...

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