The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana didn’t err when it dismissed two lawsuits with prejudice and imposed a two-year filing bar on an inmate who knowingly submitted a fraudulent grievance form.
Based on findings of fraudulent conduct by Anthony Martin in “several” cases, both the Northern Indiana and Southern Indiana District Courts have now barred Martin from filing papers in civil cases until he pays all his outstanding federal court filing fees.
The 7th Circuit noted it chose to publish its per curiam opinion in Anthony C. Martin v. Timothy Redden, et al., 21-1937, on Monday because it hadn’t “recently issued a precedential decision that considered the propriety of a district court imposing the severe dual sanctions of dismissal and a filing bar when a litigant tries to defraud the court.”
A few years ago, the Southern Indiana District imposed a filing bar against Martin because he submitted false information in an application to proceed in forma pauperis. The 7th Circuit affirmed the sanction in Martin v. Fowler, 804 F. App’x 414 (7th Cir. 2020).
The Northern Indiana District bar arose from a case based on Martin’s allegation that a guard at the Indiana State Prison sexually assaulted him.
Following discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment on the ground that Martin had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before suing over the alleged assault, submitting evidence that Martin began but did not complete the required procedures. Martin had filed a formal grievance, which was denied and returned to him with the explanation that an investigator concluded that the assault did not happen.
In opposing summary judgment, Martin filed numerous documents.
Among those documents was a copy of an “Offender Grievance Response Report” that purported to show that Martin had checked the box to appeal the denial of his assault grievance and had signed and dated the form.
The problem was that the document contained a Bates stamp that was not Martin’s.
The defendants submitted the declaration of a paralegal in the Indiana Attorney General’s Office swearing that a Bates-stamped version of the grievance response form about the assault, stamped GRIEVANCE 000655, was given to Martin during discovery in another case, Martin v. Zimmerman, No. 3:18-CV-593-JD-MGG (N.D. Ind. Aug. 6, 2018). That version had contained no signature, date or check mark.
The defendants argued that Martin falsified other documents and forms in his summary judgment response, such as other grievances on forms that the prison did not even use.
The Northern Indiana District declined to remove the altered documents from the record, explaining that Martin was not entitled to “one free opportunity to defraud the court.” It then denied his request to appoint experts because “Martin sought to develop evidence, not interpret it.”
After reviewing the many submissions on sanctions, the district court found that Martin had knowingly submitted an altered grievance form to defeat summary judgment. The court determined that a hearing was unnecessary to resolve any issue related to the Bates-stamped form because Martin lacked any evidence that disputed the paralegal’s sworn statement.
The Northern Indiana District then determined the appropriate sanction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(h) and its inherent authority, describing Martin’s history of false statements and the sanctions that other courts had already imposed on him.
The court barred Martin for two years “from filing any document in any civil case in this court until he pays all fines and filing fees due in any federal court,” citing Support Sys. Int’l, Inc. v. Mack, 45 F.3d 185, 186 (7th Cir. 1995). The filing bar does not apply to appeals or to habeas corpus petitions.
Since Martin could not submit anything in the district court, the district court also dismissed all his pending civil cases.
On appeal, Martin argued the district court abused its discretion by imposing the two-year filing bar.
The 7th Circuit panel of Judges David Hamilton, Michael Scudder and Tom Kirsch wasn’t convinced.
“Martin’s conduct in this case and others cannot be tolerated,” the 7th Circuit wrote. “Simply dismissing Martin’s case, given that it was doomed to fail on the exhaustion defense he was trying to evade, would have been no sanction at all.
“… We fully recognize that the dismissals and the Mack bar were severe sanctions. That’s why courts do not impose them lightly. They should be imposed only when less severe sanctions have not been or appear unlikely to be sufficient deterrents to continued abusive or frivolous litigation. The severe sanctions here were appropriate given Martin’s egregious behavior, his history of litigation misconduct, and the fact that prior sanctions (including a separate Mack bar in another court) had not deterred him from lying.”