Supreme Court Rules Illinois Inmate's Haste Voids His Lawsuit

Federal law requires that people who claim they have been injured by the government first seek compensation from a public agency before filing a lawsuit.

McNeil wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services in January 1989 and received an inconclusive response.

Acting without a lawyer, McNeil filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Public Health Service in March 1989. Nothing much happened, so McNeil sent another letter in July 1989 to the department, which formally denied his claim.

When he sought to restart his lawsuit, government lawyers successfully argued it should be dismissed because it was filed before his claim was denied.

Writing for the court, Justice John Paul Stevens said Congress clearly required that all possible administrative remedies be exhausted before an injured party could file a lawsuit.

Stevens noted that the court has "never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel."

McNeil was represented in his high court appeal by Allen Shoenberger, a law professor at Loyola University.

Also Monday, the justices:

- Let stand a ruling by the federal appeals court in Chicago that prohibited the distribution of Gideon Bibles to public school 5th graders in Rensselaer, Ind.

The appeals court said the school district's long-standing policy violated constitutional principles requiring the separation of church and state.

- Refused to hear an appeal by Alan Masters, a former southwest suburban lawyer who was convicted on federal charges in connection with the 1982 murder of his wife, Dianne.

- Allowed black residents of Milwaukee to go ahead with their lawsuit that accuses a Wisconsin insurance company of racial discrimination, or "redlining," in the sale of homeowners coverage. In an unprecedented ruling last October, the appeals court here reinstated the lawsuit, which was brought against American Family Mutual Insurance Co., under the federal fair housing law.

The company, which denies that its practices are discriminatory, had argued that the law was intended to prevent discrimination in the sale or rental of housing but was never intended to include insurance companies.

- Declined without comment to revive an antitrust lawsuit brought against the NCAA by Braxston Banks, a former football player at Notre Dame. Banks had challenged an NCAA rule that forced him to give up his eligibility when he opted to make himself available for professional football's draft.

- Let stand the conviction of Rev. Paul Hall, founder of the Chicago boys club that bears his name. Hall was charged with sexually abusing his foster son.


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Source : http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1993-05-18/news/9305180231_1_appeals-court-ruling-high-court

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