The underlying facts are horrific.  Jaquetta Coopwood, a pregnant jail detainee with serious mental illness was kicked in the stomach by an officer, resulting in a miscarriage. She failed to file a grievance in accordance with the Wayne County, Michigan, jail process because she had been taken off her psychiatric medications due to her pregnancy, and so was unable to understand or process information.  She later sued the jail officer for the assault in the federal district court for the Eastern District of Michigan.   
Ms. Coopwood has appealed the dismissal to the 6th Circuit.  The sole issue on appeal is her exhaustion of administrative remedies.


Under the PLRA (the Prison Litigation Reform Act), a prisoner cannot bring an action challenging her prison conditions unless she has first exhausted her administrative remedies – in this case, the prison’s grievance process.   The Michigan District Court held that, although the PLRA contains an exception to its exhaustion requirement where a grievance process is “unavailable,”  a prisoner’s lack of cognitive capacity to access the process does not make it unavailable, and so it dismissed her lawsuit for failure to exhaust. Ms. Coopwood filed a motion for reconsideration, and the District Court denied that as well. 


The appeal was filed on August 4, 2022. We filed our amicus brief on November 17, 2022. Appellee’s brief was filed on February 28. Oral argument was held on May 1, 2023. The Sixth Circuit issued its opinion on July 17, reversing the lower court’s decision and remanding for further proceedings. The Court found an issue of material fact as to whether the jail staff thwarted Ms. Coopwood’s attempts to access the grievance process. Because of this conclusion, the Court did not make a determination as to whether Ms. Coopwood’s psychiatric condition made the grievance process unavailable to her.


Freda Levenson, Jennifer Wedekind, Daniel S. Korobkin, Corey Shapiro, Stella Yarbrough

Date filed

November 17, 2022


U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals


Won appeal

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