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The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a California inmate had to first file a grievance before bringing a suit claiming he was punished for alleged inappropriate activity with volunteer priests. Justices decided on a 6-3 vote that because Viet Mike Ngo missed a state prison system deadline for grievances, he could not bring the federal court lawsuit. New Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court, said that the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, considered one of the most liberal in the country, was wrong in allowing Ngo’s lawsuit. Ngo, serving a life sentence for murder, was barred from Bible study and from corresponding with a Catholic chapel volunteer after the alleged incidents at San Quentin State Prison in 2000. Ngo attempted to file a grievance with prison officials, but he missed a 15-day deadline. He then sued in federal court, arguing the punishment violated his constitutional right to free practice of religion and alleging that prison officials defamed him by saying he engaged in sexual relations with volunteer Catholic priests. Alito said that court did not agree with Ngo’s claim that requiring inmates to follow state prison grievance systems “is harsh for prisoners, who generally are untrained in the law and are often poorly education.” In a dissent, Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that “the Constitution guarantees that prisoners, like all citizens, have a reasonably adequate opportunity to raise constitutional claims before impartial judges.” The case is Woodford v. Ngo, 05-416. Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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