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7th Circuit examines 3-strike rule on prisoner suits

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has followed in the footsteps of some of its sister Circuits, holding that a pro se prisoner suit should proceed because an Indiana federal judge wrongly determined the frequent suit-filing inmate had three strikes rather than two in terms of frivolous claims.

In a decision Thursday in Michael Hunter Haury v. Bruce Lemmon, et al., No. 11-2148, a three-judge panel granted pro se prisoner Michael Haury’s request to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal and reversed a decision by U.S. Judge Robert Miller in the Northern District that found the inmate had already filed too many suits considered “frivolous”

Haury filed the 42 U.S.C. §1983 suit against prison personnel and other defendants, alleging that they violated his civil rights by interfering with the delivery of his mail and failing to provide a sufficient law library in prison. Judge Miller denied Haury’s request to proceed as a pauper on the grounds that three prior suits had already been dismissed as frivolous under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 and that prohibits him from filing any more. An exemption applies if the prisoner is in danger of serous injury, but that wasn’t the case here.

On appeal, the panel made up of Judges John Coffey, David Hamilton, and Ilana Diamond Rovner found a problem with how Judge Miller determined Haury already had three strikes under his belt and couldn’t move forward on this suit. The District judge cited a Southern District of Indiana case from the early 1990s that he described as being “frivolous for want of jurisdiction.” But the appeals judges noted that isn’t accurate since the court had dismissed part of that complaint for failing to state a claim and the rest for lack of jurisdiction. Since the court didn’t go as far as saying the claims were frivolous, that can’t be held here when applied to this instant case.

“We have never held in a published opinion that dismissal for lack of jurisdiction warrants a strike under 28 U.S. §1915(g), though we have upheld a strike in an unpublished order where a district court dismissed a frivolous lawsuit, at least where the assertion of jurisdiction was itself also frivolous,” the per curiam opinion says. “Dismissal for failure to state a claim is an enumerated ground for acquiring a strike, but the statute does not mention dismissal for lack of jurisdiction.”

Other courts – such as the 2nd, 9th, and District of Columbia Circuit courts – have held that dismissal for lack of jurisdiction doesn’t warrant imposing a strike, and the 7th Circuit panel found that reasoning persuasive.

“We agree that a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction does not warrant a strike … at least when the assertion of jurisdiction is not itself found to be frivolous,” the ruling says.

As a result, Haury has only two strikes and remains eligible for pauper status if he qualifies otherwise. Judge Miller will need to determine if a viable claim exists and if it might earn the inmate a third strike, but that remains open.
 

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  1. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  2. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  3. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  4. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  5. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

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