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Media Alerts - Antonio Pearson v. Secretary Dept. of Corrections et al. - Third Circuit
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January 27, 2015
  Antonio Pearson v. Secretary Dept. of Corrections et al. - Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit Holds that § 1983 Actions are Tolled for Statute of Limitations Purposes where a Prisoner files an action through administrative proceedings under Pennsylvania's Prison Litigation Reform Act.

Area of Law: Section 1983 and Statute of Limitations

Issues Presented: Whether Pennsylvania's statute of limitations is tolled while a prisoner exhausts administrative remedies prior to filing a civil rights lawsuit as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), or in the alternative, whether federal equitable tolling principles are applicable.

Brief Summary: A prisoner filed a § 1983 action where the underlying actions all occurred more than two years prior to the complaint, seemingly barring the action by Pennsylvania's two-year statute of limitations for civil actions. The Third Circuit held that because Pennsylvania's Prison Litigation Reform Act requires exhaustion of administrative remedies prior to the filing of a § 1983 complaint in federal court, the statute of limitations is tolled during this period.

Extended Summary: In addition to the case at bar, Pearson filed a state civil lawsuit and at least seven grievances during his prison sentence. He alleged that because of these complaints, Department of Corrections employees engaged in a two-year campaign of harassment against him. Pearson filed his § 1983 action on February 28, 2009 and defendants sought to dismiss the case based on Pennsylvania's two year statute of limitations because all events occurred prior to March 1, 2007. The magistrate judge found that only one claim could be considered timely, that Pearson had been removed from a prison work position because of the grievances he had filed. However, the magistrate judge found that there were no facts that allowed a plausible inference that the termination was caused by any of plaintiff's protected activity. The district court adopted the magistrate judge's report and recommendation.

Pearson objected to these findings and averred that the statute of limitations should have been tolled while he exhausted his administrative remedies pursuant to the PLRA. The magistrate issued a second report and recommendation that rejected this argument and found that Pearson made no showing that prison officials had prevented Pearson from completing the grievance process to run out the statute of limitations. Again, the district court adopted the report and recommendation.

The Third Circuit looked to its own non-precedential opinions, opinions of other circuits, and opinions of district courts within the Third Circuit. The panel held that there is no ambiguity in the PLRA and that it is a clear statutory prohibition that prevents prisoners from filing § 1983 actions until all administrative remedies are exhausted. Proceeding through PLRA administrative remedies thus tolls the statute of limitations for § 1983 actions. The case was remanded to the district court for findings on whether Pearson exhausted his administrative remedies.
The Third Circuit next found that for the only claim the district court found to be timely, the retaliatory discharge claim, all administrative remedies were exhausted and the claim should continue to discovery. Further, it was a plausible complaint because it could be considered a pattern of antagonism.

To read the full opinion, please visit http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/131412p.pdf

Panel (if known): McKee, Chief Judge, Rendell and Sloviter, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: November 20, 2014

Date of Issued Opinion: January 7, 2015

Docket Number: No. 13-1412

Decided: Vacated and Remanded

Case Alert Author: Antoinette Snodgrass

Counsel: Jessica C. Collins, Esq., for Appellant. Kemal A. Mericili, Esq., for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Sloviter

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 01/27/2015 11:27 AM     3rd Circuit  

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