McCarthy v. Madigan - 503 U.S. 140 (1991)


OCTOBER TERM, 1991

Syllabus

McCARTHY v. MADIGAN ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

No.90-6861. Argued December 9, 1991-Decided March 4,1992

While a federal prisoner, petitioner McCarthy filed a damages action under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388, alleging that respondent prison officials had violated his Eighth Amendment rights by their deliberate indifference to his needs and medical condition resulting from a back operation and a history of psychiatric problems. The District Court dismissed his complaint on the ground that he had failed to exhaust the Federal Bureau of Prisons' administrative remedy procedure, which, inter alia, includes rapid filing and response timetables to promote efficient dispute resolution but does not provide for any kind of hearing or for the granting of any particular type of relief. The court then denied McCarthy's motion for reconsideration, rejecting his argument that exhaustion was not required because he sought only money damages, which the Bureau could not provide. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Exhaustion of the Bureau of Prisons' administrative procedure is not required before a federal prisoner can initiate a Bivens action solely for money damages. Pp. 144-156.

(a) Exhaustion serves the twin purposes of protecting administrative agency authority and promoting judicial efficiency. Where Congress specifically mandates, exhaustion is required. Otherwise, the federal courts must exercise sound judicial discretion, determining whether to require exhaustion by balancing the individual's interest in retaining prompt access to a federal judicial forum against countervailing institutional interests favoring exhaustion. Individual interests have weighed heavily where resort to the administrative remedy would occasion undue prejudice to subsequent assertion of a court action, where there is some doubt as to whether the agency is empowered to grant effective relief, or where the administrative body is shown to be biased or has otherwise predetermined the issue before it. Pp. 144-149.

(b) Congress has not required exhaustion of a federal prisoner's Bivens claim. And, given the type of claim McCarthy raises and the particular characteristics of the Bureau's general grievance procedure, McCarthy's individual interests outweigh countervailing institutional interests favoring exhaustion. The procedure's short, successive filing deadlines and the absence of any monetary remedy heavily burden a


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petitioning inmate's individual interests. In contrast, while the Bureau has a substantial interest in encouraging internal resolution of grievances and in preventing the undermining of its authority by unnecessary resort of prisoners to the federal courts, other institutional concerns do not weigh heavily in favor of exhaustion. The Bureau's alleged failure to render medical care implicates only tangentially its authority to carry out the control and management of the federal prisons, and the Bureau does not bring to bear any special expertise on the type of issue presented for resolution here. Nor are the interests of judicial economy advanced substantially by the grievance procedure, which does not create a formal factual record of the type that can be relied on conclusively by a court for disposition of a prisoner's claim on the pleadings or at summary judgment without the aid of affidavits. Pp. 149-156.

914 F.2d 1411, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, C. J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which SCALIA and THOMAS, JJ., joined, post, p. 156.

Paul M. Smith argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner.

Deputy Solicitor General Mahoney argued the cause for respondents. With her on the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Assistant Attorney General Mueller, Amy L. Wax, Victor D. Stone, and William D. Braun.

JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court. The issue in this case is whether a federal prisoner must resort to the internal grievance procedure promulgated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons before he may initiate a suit, pursuant to the authority of Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388 (1971), solely for money damages. The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that exhaustion of the grievance procedure was required. 914 F.2d 1411 (1990). We granted certiorari to resolve a conflict among the Courts of Appeals.1 499 U. S. 974 (1991).

1 Compare Hessbrook v. Lennon, 777 F.2d 999 (CA5 1985) (exhaustion required), and Brice v. Day, 604 F.2d 664 (CAlO 1979) (same), cert. denied, 444 U. S. lO86 (1980), with Muhammad v. Carlson, 739 F.2d 122 (CA3


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