Appeals — Court of Appeals May, But Generally Will Not, Affirm on Other Grounds Supported by Record But Not Considered by District Court — Inherent Power Sanctions Should First Be Sought in Lower Court

Zappulla v. Annucci, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 4089 (2d Cir. Mar. 4, 2016):

Plaintiff Guy Zappulla appeals from a summary judgment award in favor of defendants Anthony J. Annucci and Carl Koenigsmann on Zappulla's claims that his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by inadequate medical treatment while in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.1 The challenged award was based on a finding that Zappulla had failed adequately to exhaust administrative remedies under the Prison [*2]  Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), because he did not specifically name Annucci and Koenigsmann in his administrative complaint. See Zappulla v. Annucci, No. 11-CV-6733 (JMF), 2015 WL 925928, at *6-7 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 4, 2015). The parties agree that this was error in light of established precedent. See Espinal v. Goord, 558 F.3d 119, 127 (2d Cir. 2009) ("Where New York's grievance procedures do not require prisoners to identify the individuals responsible for alleged misconduct, neither does the PLRA for exhaustion purposes."); see also Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007) (holding that PLRA does not itself require naming defendants, but requires only that necessary to exhaust under state procedures). Zappulla further seeks sanctions under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 for defendants' failure to alert the district court to controlling contrary authority on this point. Defendants nevertheless urge us to affirm on other grounds supported by the record.

1   Zappulla is serving a term of incarceration of 25 years to life for murder in the second degree and escape in the second degree. This conviction was secured on retrial, see People v. Zappulla, 103 A.D.3d 759, 959 N.Y.S.2d 538 (2013), after this court granted a writ of habeas corpus based on error in his initial murder trial, see Zappulla v. New York, 391 F.3d 462 (2d Cir. 2004).

While we are certainly authorized to do so, see Shumway v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 118 F.3d 60, 63 (2d Cir. 1997), we "generally 'will not review an issue the district court did not decide,'" Macey v. Carolina Cas. Ins. Co., 674 F.3d 125, 131 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Colavito v. N.Y. Organ Donor Network, Inc., 486 F.3d 78, 80 (2d Cir. 2007)). The district court not having addressed [*3]  the alternative grounds urged by defendants, we here vacate the summary judgment award based on the acknowledged Espinal error, and we remand the case for the district court to consider in the first instance alternative arguments for summary disposition. We further decline to decide in advance of the district court whether defendants should be sanctioned as Zappulla urges for arguing an exhaustion issue contrary to Espinal. "Our authority to impose sanctions is grounded, first and foremost, in our inherent power to control the proceedings that take place before this Court." Ransmeier v. Mariani, 718 F.3d 64, 68 (2d Cir. 2013). Because the alleged misconduct occurred before the district court, appellee should first move for sanctions in that court, which he can do on remand.

Accordingly, the judgment of the district court is VACATED and the case is REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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