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Talamantes v. Leyva

August 6, 2009

RUBEN TALAMANTES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
RAY LEYVA; GILBERT AGUILAR; LEE BACA; R. DOYLE CAMPBELL; COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES; LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT; JOHN L. SCOTT; DENNIS A. CONTE; JOHN VANDER HORCK; DENNIS H. BURNS; KENNETH J. BRAZILE; LEE C. MCCOWN; JOHN H. CLARK, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California Gary A. Feess, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. CV-04-06792-GAF(Ex).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wallace, Senior Circuit Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

Argued and Submitted January 16, 2009-San Francisco, California

Before: J. Clifford Wallace, Jerome Farris and M. Margaret McKeown, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Talamantes appeals from the district court's judgment dismissing his action for failure to exhaust administrative remedies pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). We have jurisdiction over Talamantes' timely filed appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We reverse the judgment of dismissal and remand to the district court.

I.

Talamantes, who was held in the custody of the County of Los Angeles Sheriff's Department from April 11, 2003 until June 5, 2003, filed a federal complaint alleging that certain events occurred during his incarceration, which violated his constitutional rights. The complaint was filed long after his release from jail.

Talamantes was initially incarcerated in the Men's Central Jail, and he alleges that while he was there, he was attacked by other inmates. He was then placed in administrative segregation and housed in a single-man cell, during which time he alleges that he was deprived of food and toilet paper. He alleges that on May 9, 2003, prison officials allowed two inmates to enter his cell and attack him with inmate-manufactured knives, while the officials watched. Talamantes was subsequently transferred to the Twin Towers Correctional Facility for mental observation, and then moved to a medical unit, where he alleges that medical staff failed to diagnose properly and treat his injuries. Soon afterwards, on June 5, 2003, Talamantes was released from jail.

While Talamantes was in custody, his father contacted Lieutenant Aguilar, the watch commander for the Men's Central Jail, and complained that his son had been involved in an altercation with deputies, and had suffered some sort of trauma. Talamantes' father also expressed concern about his son's mental condition. Aguilar conducted an investigation and issued a written "Watch Commander's Service Comment Report," concluding that "there is no merit or basis for Mr. Talamantes' questions about his son's stay in custody." The report recommended that no further action be taken regarding Talamantes' father's inquiry. Neither Talamantes' father nor Talamantes pursued the grievance any further within the jail system.

The County of Los Angeles Sheriff's Department had an administrative appeals process in place at the time Talamantes was incarcerated and following his release. The "Custody Division Manual" provided a written procedure for handling inmate complaints. Inmates first filed an "Inmate Complaint Form." If the initial complaint was denied, the inmates could appeal the decision. The Custody Division Manual also provided a process for reviewing complaints from released inmates. Talamantes does not allege that he participated in this grievance process, either during his incarceration or after his release.

Instead, on August 16, 2004, over a year after his release from custody, Talamantes filed a complaint in the district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments had been violated while he was in custody. Defendants moved to dismiss Talamantes' complaint on the ground that he failed to exhaust administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The district court held that Talamantes "must exhaust his administrative remedies before filing an action under Section 1983 relating to his conditions of confinement, even if [he] is no longer incarcerated." Because Talamantes failed to meet this exhaustion requirement, the district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss.

II.

We review the district court's legal conclusions in its dismissal of a case for failure to exhaust administrative remedies de novo. Griffin v. Arpaio, 557 F.3d 1117, 1119 (9th Cir. 2009). We review its factual findings for clear error. Id. Interpretation of the PLRA is a question of law which ...


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