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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that dismissal for lack of jurisdiction warrants a strike under 28 U.S. §1915(g), though we have upheld a strike in an unpublished order where a district court dismissed a frivolous lawsuit, at least where the assertion of jurisdiction was itself also frivolous,” the per curiam opinion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. I'm not sure what's more depressing: the fact that people would pay $35,000 per year to attend an unaccredited law school, or the fact that the same people "are hanging in there and willing to follow the dean’s lead in going forward" after the same school fails to gain accreditation, rendering their $70,000 and counting education worthless. Maybe it's a good thing these people can't sit for the bar.

  2. Such is not uncommon on law school startups. Students and faculty should tap Bruce Green, city attorney of Lufkin, Texas. He led a group of studnets and faculty and sued the ABA as a law student. He knows the ropes, has advised other law school startups. Very astute and principled attorney of unpopular clients, at least in his past, before Lufkin tapped him to run their show.

  3. Not that having the appellate records on Odyssey won't be welcome or useful, but I would rather they first bring in the stray counties that aren't yet connected on the trial court level.

  4. Aristotle said 350 bc: "The most hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest, which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. Wherefore of an modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural.

  5. Oh yes, lifetime tenure. The Founders gave that to the federal judges .... at that time no federal district courts existed .... so we are talking the Supreme Court justices only in context ....so that they could rule against traditional marriage and for the other pet projects of the sixties generation. Right. Hmmmm, but I must admit, there is something from that time frame that seems to recommend itself in this context ..... on yes, from a document the Founders penned in 1776: " He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."

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