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June 8, 2020

SCOTUS issues short unanimous opinion clarifying prisoner filing limits of PLRA

With a large number of high-profile (and likely divisive) civil cases still left to resolve in the current SCOTUS Term, the US Supreme Court this morning just issued one little unanimous opinion and it happened to be the one last case on the docket dealing with criminal justice matters.  Specifically, Justice Kagan wrote a seven-page opinion for a unanimous Court in Lomax v. Ortiz-Marquez, 18-8369 (S. Ct. June 8, 2020) (available here).  The opinion begins and ends this way:

To help staunch a “flood of nonmeritorious” prisoner litigation, the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA) established what has become known as the three-strikes rule.  Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 203 (2007).  That rule generally prevents a prisoner from bringing suit in forma pauperis (IFP) — that is, without first paying the filing fee — if he has had three or more prior suits “dismissed on the grounds that [they were] frivolous, malicious, or fail[ed] to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. §1915(g).  Today we address whether a suit dismissed for failure to state a claim counts as a strike when the dismissal was without prejudice.  We conclude that it does: The text of Section 1915(g)’s three-strikes provision refers to any dismissal for failure to state a claim, whether with prejudice or without....

The text of the PLRA’s three-strikes provision makes this case an easy call.  A dismissal of a suit for failure to state a claim counts as a strike, whether or not with prejudice.  We therefore affirm the judgment below.

June 8, 2020 at 10:14 AM | Permalink


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