HURST v. HANTKE (February 10, 2011)

Joseph Hurst suffered a stroke while incarcerated in an Illinois prison. More than eight months later, he filed a grievance complaining of his treatment by the prison’s medical staff. The prison denied the grievance on the grounds that it was not filed within 60 days, as required by law. Hurst appealed the denial, contending that the stroke left him almost totally incapacitated "until just recently." The prison rejected his appeal on the ground that Hurst provided no justification. Hurst brought suit pursuant to § 1983 alleging deliberate indifference on the part of the prison’s medical staff. Judge Kapala (N.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment for the defendants on the ground that Hurst had failed to exhaust his internal prison remedies. Hurst appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Posner, Evans, and Hamilton affirmed. The Court concluded that the prison was wrong in denying Hurst's appeal. The law does not require an inmate to submit evidence in support of a claim of good cause any more than a plaintiff is required to submit evidence with a complaint. The prison could have insisted on additional substantiation, in which case Hurst would have had to supply it. Notwithstanding the error at the internal prison level, the Court nevertheless affirmed. Because when he sued, and when the defendants moved for summary judgment, Hurst was required to present evidence that he exhausted his administrative remedies -- that is, that he had filed a grievance as soon as he was reasonably able. He had an opportunity -- and an obligation -- at that stage to substantiate his good cause claim. Because he did not, summary judgment for defendants was appropriate.