On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Adams, Weis, and Van Dusen, Circuit Judges.
Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 29 L. Ed. 2d 619, 91 S. Ct. 1999 (1971), established that a citizen seeking damages for an injury to a constitutionally protected interest may invoke the general federal question jurisdiction of a district court directly under the Constitution to obtain relief against responsible federal officials.
Presented in these consolidated appeals is the question whether a federal prisoner who seeks only money damages for violations of his constitutional rights by prison officials must exhaust administrative remedies prior to bringing a Bivens- type suit in federal court. Tariq Muhammad, a federal prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, alleges in two unrelated actions both constitutional and tort violations by various prison officials. In both cases federal jurisdiction was invoked under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (1982).
The district court dismissed the two complaints as frivolous under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d) (1982) on the ground that they were filed prematurely inasmuch as Muhammad had failed to exhaust available administrative remedies before resorting to the federal courts for relief. Muhammad filed a timely appeal. We have jurisdiction to consider the consolidated appeals under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1982) and must determine whether the district court erred as a matter of law in dismissing the complaints for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.
In Muhammad v. Carlson (No. 83-3575), the plaintiff claims that the warden and other prison officials wrongfully instituted disciplinary proceedings against him before the Inmate Disciplinary Committee whose deliberations ultimately resulted in his placement in administrative detention for seven days. This confinement, Muhammad alleges, violated his constitutional rights to practice his religion and to secure access to the courts because the detention occurred during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan and also prevented him from using the prison law library to prepare his appeals.
In Muhammad v. Kroner (No. 83-3632), the plaintiff alleges that Dr. Kroner, the prison physician at Lewisburg Penitentiary, denied him medical treatment including pain medication for a back injury sustained before his incarceration. Muhammad argues that because Kroner and other members of the medical staff were grossly negligent in failing to prescribe the requested medication, they violated his constitutional rights and thus are liable for damages.
We begin our analysis by observing that pro se prisoner complaints "however inartfully pleaded" are held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 50 L. Ed. 2d 251, 97 S. Ct. 285 (1976) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S. ct. 594, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652 (1972)). Using this liberal standard we note that in C.A. No. 83-3573, under Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 52 L. Ed. 2d 72, 97 S. Ct. 1491 (1977) and Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 60 L. Ed. 2d 447, 99 S. Ct. 1861 (1979), Muhammad has pleaded violations of his First and Fifth Amendment rights by prison officials, thus giving rise to a cause of action under Bivens. In C.A. No. 83-3632, Muhammad alleges both a claim for negligence against the prison physician for substandard medical care and a violation of his constitutional rights, which we take to mean a violation of the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment.
In Davis v. Passman, 442 U.S. 228, 60 L. Ed. 2d 846, 99 S. Ct. 2264 (1979), the Supreme Court set forth the criteria for bringing a Bivens action. A person seeking to recover damages from a federal agent under Bivens first must assert that a constitutionally protected right has been violated. 442 U.S. at 234. . The litigant is then required to state a cause of action sufficient to invoke the general federal question jurisdiction of the district court. Id. at 239-44. Furthermore, the complaining party, after ...