New opinion—administrative-exhaustion tolling for prisoner suits still applies after prisoner’s release

Jones v. Unknown D.O.C. Bus Driver—prisoner rights—partial reversal—Bibas

Say you’re in prison, and you want to bring a civil rights suit against prison officials for something they did to you in custody. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for bringing a civil rights suit is two years. But, because you’re a prisoner subject to the PLRA, you first have to exhaust administrative remedies before you’re allowed to file your suit, and the two-year clock is tolled while you’re exhausting.

Former prisoners are free to file civil rights suits for things done to them in prison, of course, and the same two-year time limit applies. But the PLRA’s administrative exhaustion requirement doesn’t apply to former prisoners.

So, imagine the following scenario. A prison guard mistreats you, and you immediately file a complaint to begin administratively exhausting. Six months later, before administrative exhaustion is complete, you are released. How long you have to file the suit? Was the two-year clock still tolled during the six months you spent administratively exhausting, even though now the exhaustion requirement doesn’t apply to you any more?

Today, the Third Circuit answered that question in the affirmative, holding that the time a former prisoner spent exhausting administrative remedies does not count toward the two-year limitation period. Otherwise, the court noted, prison officials could prevent former prisoners from ever suing them by drawing out the grievance process more than two years: “That cannot be so.”

Joining Bibas were Hardiman and Greenaway, Jr. Arguing counsel were Amir Ali of the MacArthur Justice Center for the prisoner and Anthony Kovalchick of the Pa. A.G.’s office for the prison officials.