Custis v. Davis, No. 15-7533 (4th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff, an inmate who is missing toes on his right foot, filed suit against defendants after he fell and injured himself while ascending the stairs to his upper-tier cell. The district court sua sponte dismissed the complaint based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The court held that the district court improperly sua sponte examined defendant's administrative exhaustion requirement. In this case, it was not apparent from the face of the complaint that plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. The court explained that before Jones v. Bock, this court allowed district courts to sua sponte dismiss an inmate's complaint where exhaustion was not apparent in his pleading, so long as the court gave the inmate an opportunity to address the exhaustion question. In Jones, the Supreme Court held that failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense, and that inmates are not required to specially plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaint. After Jones, this Court held that, where exhaustion is not apparent from an inmate's pleading, a complaint may be dismissed on exhaustion grounds so long as the inmate is first given an opportunity to address the issue. The court held that to the extent that Anderson v. XYZ Corr. Health Servs., Inc., allows courts to sua sponte dismiss complaints where exhaustion is unclear so long as an inmate receives only an opportunity to address the issue, it is irreconcilable with Jones and cannot survive. Because the district court erred in this case when it sua sponte examined plaintiff's exhaustion of available administrative remedies, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings.