Submitted: June 12, 2019
from United States District Court for the Southern District
of Iowa - Des Moines
LOKEN, KELLY, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.
inmates Rodney Minter and Anthony Bertolone brought this
§ 1983 action against the Iowa Department of Corrections
("IDOC") and four IDOC officials acting in their
official capacities, alleging that IDOC's administration
of its Sex Offender Treatment Program violates their
constitutional rights to equal protection, due process, and
necessary medical care. The district court dismissed these
federal claims without prejudice for failure to exhaust
administrative remedies, as 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a)
requires, and as barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512
U.S. 477 (1994). The court declined to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claims and
dismissed the entire action. Minter and Bertolone appeal.
Reviewing the dismissal of their federal claims under Rule
12(b)(6) de novo, we reverse in part and remand.
See Martin v. Iowa, 752 F.3d 725, 727 (8th Cir.
2014) (standard of review).
and Bertolone were convicted of Iowa sexual abuse offenses in
2012 and 2013. Each was sentenced to serve a lengthy prison
term. Their Complaint alleges: (i) they are required to
complete Iowa's Sex Offender Treatment Program
("SOTP"), a six to eighteen month program; (ii)
satisfactory completion of the SOTP program reduces an
inmate's sentence by accruing earned-time credits that
shorten his date of discharge; (iii) IDOC offers the SOTP
program only at a single, overcrowded correctional facility;
and (iv) plaintiffs are unable to participate in the program
because of its limited capacity, which under Iowa Code §
903A.2(2) prevents any reduction of their sentences. They
allege that exclusion from the SOTP program deprives them of
their Fourteenth Amendment procedural and substantive due
process liberty rights and to equal protection of the law,
and their Eighth Amendment right to necessary psychological
or psychiatric medical care. The Complaint seeks actual and
punitive damages, attorneys' fees, and entry of a lengthy
order that would mandate the recalculation of earned-time
credits and effectively require the district court to
micro-manage the IDOC's SOTP program.
district court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss
without prejudice on two grounds. First, the court ruled that
Plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies before
bringing suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as 42 U.S.C.
§ 1997e(a) requires. Second, the court ruled that
"success on their claims would necessarily implicate the
invalidity of their lost earned-time credits," and
therefore the suit was Heck-barred. Plaintiffs
appeal, arguing Defendants have not met their burden to
establish the affirmative defense of failure to exhaust, and
their suit is not precluded under Heck. We agree
with the first contention and, in part, with the second.
Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies.
once again called upon to interpret 42 U.S.C. §
1997e(a), part of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995
No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions
under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law,
by a prisoner confined in any . . . correctional facility
until such administrative remedies as are available are
Belk v. State, the Supreme Court of Iowa held that
an inmate may file an action for state post-conviction relief
under Iowa Code § 822.2(1)(e) "when alleging an
unconstitutional denial of his or her liberty interest based
on the IDOC's failure to offer SOTP when SOTP is a
necessary prerequisite to parole." 905 N.W.2d 185, 191
(Iowa 2017). The district court concluded that the federal
claims must be dismissed without prejudice under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1997e(a) because "plaintiffs have not exhausted
their available postconviction remedies" under
Belk. We disagree.
district court's conclusion that state post-conviction
judicial remedies are "administrative
remedies" that must be exhausted under § 1997e(a)
is contrary to the plain meaning of the statute. The term
"administrative remedies" is not defined in the
PLRA so we look to its plain meaning. Consistent with common
understanding, Black's Law Dictionary defines
"administrative remedy" as "[a] nonjudicial
remedy provided by an administrative agency."
Black's Law Dictionary 1320 (8th ed. 2004). In Iowa, as
elsewhere, "[a] postconviction proceeding is a civil
action." Belk, 905 N.W.2d at 188. Defendants
cite no case holding that post-conviction judicial remedies
are "administrative remedies" that must be
exhausted under § 1997e(a). We have not found an opinion
that even addresses the question.
requiring exhaustion of state judicial remedies under §
1997e(a) would modify the well-established principle that
exhaustion of state remedies "is not a
prerequisite to an action under § 1983," even an
action by a state prisoner. Patsy v. Bd. of Regents of
Fla., 457 U.S. 496, 501, 507 (1982) (emphasis added).
This likely explains why Congress chose to limit §
1997e(a) exhaustion to "administrative remedies."
As the ...