Squire Servance

Document Type

Supreme Court Commentaries

Publication Date




Subject Category

Constitutional Law | Law


On January 22, 2007, the Supreme Court decided the consolidated cases of Jones v. Bock , Williams v. Overton , and Walton v. Bouchard , all of which were Sixth Circuit cases. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court provided clarity to what constitutes exhaustion of prison grievance procedures under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA). The Court's decision also offers its view on the correct way to balance the burden between prisoner plaintiffs and the judiciary, which labors to process prisoner complaints. Broken into three discreet issues, the essential holding provides a small victory for prison litigants. First, it determined that a prisoner litigating under the PLRA does not have the burden to plead and demonstrate exhaustion in the complaint. Rather, the defendant must raise lack of exhaustion as an affirmative defense. Second, it addressed whether a prisoner's initial administrative grievance must identify and name all the individuals charged in its complaint. This determination lowered the bar outlined by the Sixth Circuit. Finally, it reviewed whether the PLRA requires dismissal of an entire complaint when some, but not all of the claims asserted have been exhausted. Once again, this issue was decided in favor of prisoners' rights.