FLETCHER v. MENARD CORRECTIONAL CENTER (October 28, 2010)

Anthony Fletcher is an inmate at Menard Correctional Center in Illinois. He claims that prison guards used excessive force while they were transferring him to a new cell. He further claims that he suffered significant injuries and that he was denied medical treatment for those injuries and for his asthma and diabetes. He brought suit asserting those constitutional violations and attempted to proceed in forma pauperis. Unfortunately, he had three "strikes" (prior frivolous suits) and thus could not proceed in forma pauperis without relying on the "under imminent danger of serious physical injury" exception. Even more unfortunately, his judge had presided over one of those earlier "strikes" in which Fletcher alleged a failure to treat his asthma and diabetes. Fletcher's medical records in that case showed that he did not have asthma or diabetes. Judge Baker (C.D. Ill.) ruled that he therefore did not come within the exception and dismissed his complaint. Fletcher appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Bauer, Posner, and Wood affirmed. Although the Court affirmed the dismissal, it did so on different grounds. On the imminent danger exception to the three strike rule, the Court concluded that the district court erred. Although Fletcher did not have asthma or diabetes, the district court did not consider his additional allegation that he was denied treatment for injuries suffered from the excessive force. Untreated injuries could pose as much a threat as untreated illnesses and could qualify as an “imminent danger.” Nevertheless, the Court found an alternative ground to affirm the dismissal. The Prison Litigation Reform Act requires a prisoner to exhaust administrative remedies before bringing suit. The Court imagined a scenario in which a prisoner would not be required to exhaust administrative remedies -- if he is in imminent danger and no administrative remedy is available to avert that danger. Here, however, Illinois has an emergency procedure under which a grievance is directed immediately to the warden. Fletcher took advantage of that procedure but waited only two days before filing his suit. Under these circumstances, the Court concluded that he was not excused from the exhaustion requirement of the Act.