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for Jails, Prisons and Detention Facilities


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Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996

     Monthly Law Journal Article: Prison Litigation Reform Act: Exhaustion of Remedies - Part One, 2011 (4) AELE Mo. L. J. 301.
     Monthly Law Journal Article: Prison Litigation Reform Act: Exhaustion of Remedies - Part Two
, 2011 (5) AELE Mo. L. J. 301.
     Monthly Law Journal Article: The "Three Strikes" Rule In Prisoner Civil Rights Litigation, Part 1, 2016 (6) AELE Mo. L. J. 301.

     Monthly Law Journal Article: The "Three Strikes" Rule In Prisoner Civil Rights Litigation, Part 2, 2016 (7) AELE Mo. L. J. 301.


     The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the order of a special three-judge court ordering that the California state prison system reduce its population from 156,000 prisoners, nearly double capacity, by approximately 46,000 prisoners, or 137.5% of design capacity within two years. Current overcrowding was found to have resulted in inadequate medical care and mental health treatment. The Court found that the injunctive order complied with the stringent requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, and that the court below properly gave "substantial weight" to any potential adverse impact on public safety from the order. Brown v. Plata, #091233, 2011 U.S. Lexis 4012.
     Federal trial court did not have authority, under Prison Litigation Reform Act, to enjoin further transfer of female prisoners eligible for state incarceration from county jails to an allegedly overcrowded Alabama state prison, since only a three-judge panel may issue "prisoner release orders," and only under certain circumstances. 18 U.S.C. Sec. 3626(a)(3). Further, the requested order would conflict with an existing order by a state court in pending litigation in which the state officials had been ordered to accept "state-ready inmates" sent from county jails. At the same time, the defendant prison officials' alleged "lack of funds" did not excuse them from presenting a satisfactory plan to alleviate problems of overcrowding at a state women's prison previously found to violate inmates' Eighth Amendment rights. Laube v. Haley, 242 F. Supp. 2d 1150 (M.D. Ala. 2003). [N/R]
     296:120 Man confined in a state mental hospital based on a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity was not a "prisoner" for purposes of the Prison Litigation Reform Act's filing fee or "three strikes" rules; no rule prohibited him from pursuing federal civil rights claim himself rather than through his court-appointed guardian. Kolocotronis v. Morgan, No. 01-1308WM, 247 F.3d 726 (8th Cir. 2001).
     [N/R] Prison Litigation Reform Act does not prohibit trial court from allowing plaintiffs the right to amend their complaints when dismissing a lawsuit for failure to state a claim. Lopez v. Smith, No. 97-16987, 203 F.3d 1122 (9th Cir. 2000).
     275:170 Texas prisoner was deemed to have exhausted administrative remedies when he properly filed grievance, despite the fact that prison system did not address some of his arguments in its response to his grievance; lawsuit over alleged failure to protect him from assault by another prisoner could proceed. Powe v. Ennis, #98-40234, 177 F.3d 393 (5th Cir. 1999).
     270:90 Trial judge properly dismissed prisoner's lawsuit alleging that he was placed in a cell with a dangerous inmate who injured him, when lawsuit failed to name prison officials claimed to be responsible; plaintiff prisoner was not entitled, under Prison Litigation Reform Act, to notice or an opportunity to amend complaint before court dismissed it. Lopez v. Smith, #97-16987, 160 F.3d 567 (9th Cir. 1998).
     » Editor's Note: See also In re Prison Litigation Reform Act, #97-01, 105 F.3d 1131 (6th Cir. 1997), holding that the PLRA clearly overruled the "opportunity to amend or correct" rule for pro se prisoner-litigants proceeding as paupers.
     259:107 Correctional officer's Christian proselytizing activities did not violate the Free Exercise or Establishment of Religion Clauses of the First Amendment; Muslim prisoner's right to practice his religion was not substantially burdened; federal appeals court also rules that First Amendment claims are not impacted by provision of Prison Litigation Reform Act barring claims for mental and emotional injury without physical injury. Canell v. Lightner, 1998 U.S. App. Lexis 9281 (9th Cir.).
     260:123 Federal appeals court finds unconstitutional, on separation of powers grounds, provision of Prison Litigation Reform Act calling for immediate termination of consent decrees entered without factual or legal findings that relief granted is "narrowly drawn," goes no further than necessary to correct a violation of a federal right, and uses the "least intrusive means necessary"; 9th Circuit appeals court stands alone in rejecting constitutionality of this provision. Taylor v. U.S., 1998 U.S. App. Lexis 8550 (9th Cir. 1998). » » Editor's Note: All other federal appeals courts to date which have addressed this issue have reached the opposite conclusion from the one announced by the Ninth Circuit in the case reported on above. See Hadix v. Johnson, 133 F.3d 940 (6th Cir. 1998) (Sec. 3626(b)(2) does not violate separation of power principles); Dougan v. Singletary, 129 F.3d 1424 (11th Cir. 1997) (same); Inmates of Suffolk Co. Jail v. Rouse, 129 F.3d 649 (1st Cir. 1997) (same); Gavin v. Branstad, 122 F.3d 1081 (8th Cir. 1997) (same); Plyler v. Moore, 100 F.3d 365 (4th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 117 S.Ct. 2460 (1997) (same); and Benjamin v. Jacobson, 124 F.3d 162 (2d Cir. 1997) (Section 3626(b)(2) is constitutional but does not terminate consent decree; only jurisdiction of federal court terminated).
     260:125 Federal appeals court overturns trial court's injunctive order requiring prison officials to provide religiously mandated vegetarian, non-dairy diet containing no grape products to prisoner who claimed to be a "Nazarite Disciple" of Jesus Christ Messiah and then asserted that he was a Rastafarian; trial judge improperly failed to allow defendants to respond to prisoner's assertion of Rastafarian faith and failed to make findings required for injunctive relief under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Oluwa v. Gomez, 133 F.3d 1237 (8th Cir. 1998).
     261:136 Lawsuit alleging that correctional officers themselves assaulted prisoner was not a lawsuit over "prison conditions" requiring the exhaustion of available administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, as lawsuit alleging officers failed to protect prisoner from assault by other inmates would have been. Rodriguez v. Berbary, 992 F.Supp. 592 (W.D.N.Y. 1998). » Editor's Note: In the following cases, prisoners were required to exhaust administrative remedies before pursuing federal civil rights lawsuits: Tafoya v. Simmons, 116 F.3d 489 (Table) (10th Cir. 1997) (inmate must exhaust administrative remedies regardless of whether or not the administrative action is futile); Morgan v. Arizona Dept. of Corrections, 976 F.Supp. 892 (D. Ariz. 1997) (inmate's claim that prisoner officials threatened his safety and allowed other inmates to assault him considered a prison condition and therefore must be grieved); Midgette v. Doe, 1997 U.S. Dist. Lexis 15918, 1997 WL 634280 (S.D.N.Y.) (inmate must exhaust his administrative remedies in a failure to protect claim); Mitchell v. Gomez, 1997 WL 305273, No. C96-3939 FMS, (N.D. Cal. June 2, 1997) (inmate must exhaust administrative remedies for a claim that prison guards incited other inmates to assault him); McCoy v. Scott, 1997 WL 414185, No. C 97-0472 TEH(PR), (N.D. Cal. July 15, 1997) (inmate must exhaust administrative remedies for a claim that prison officials ignored his concerns about problems with his cellmate).
     262:151 Provision of PLRA barring prisoners from seeking damages for mental or emotional injury without a showing of physical injury did not apply to lawsuit paroled prisoner brought against prison officials after he was released, federal appeals court holds; court rejects his argument, however, that participation in substance abuse program constituted "brainwashing" that was cruel and unusual punishment. Kerr v. Puckett, 138 F.3d 321 (7th Cir. 1998).
     263:168 "Three strikes" provision of Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), barring prisoners from proceeding as paupers in further lawsuits after three suits are dismissed as frivolous, did not apply to prisoner lawsuit pending at time PLRA became law. Garcia v. Silbert, #96-2154, 141 F.3d 1415 (10th Cir. 1998).
     262:152 Federal appeals court rejects argument that "separation of powers" was violated by provisions of PLRA providing for immediate termination of past consent decrees or injunctive orders entered without specific factual findings of violation of a federal right. Hadix v. Johnson, 133 F.3d 940 (6th Cir. 1998). » Editor's Note: A number of other courts have rejected similar arguments. See Dougan v. Singletary, 129 F.3d 1424 (11th Cir. 1997) (district courts retain jurisdiction to amend consent decrees as significant changes in law and fact require); Inmates of Suffolk Co. Jail v. Rouse, 129 F.3d 649 (1st Cir. 1997) (consent decrees mandating forward-looking injunctions are final judgments subject to revision to the extent required by equity); Benjamin v. Jacobson, 124 F.3d 162 (2nd Cir. 1997) (termination provision of PLRA merely limits remedial jurisdiction of federal courts); Gavin v. Branstad, 122 F.3d 1081 (8th Cir. 1997) (consent decree is an executory form of relief that remains subject to later developments); Plyler v. Moore, 100 F.3d 365 (4th Cir. 1996) (judgment providing for injunctive relief remains subject to subsequent changes in the law). Only one federal appeals court to date appears to have accepted the argument that separation of powers is violated by these provisions. See Taylor v. U.S., 143 F.3d 1178 (9th Cir. 1998), reported in Jail & Prisoner Law Bulletin, No. 260, p. 123-124 (August 1998).
     249:136 Requirement that prisoner pay filing fee for appeal in civil rights case applied retroactively to appeal pending at the time Prison Litigation Reform Act became effective. Moreno v. Collins, 105 F.3d 955 (5th Cir. 1997).
     250:154 Prison Litigation Reform Act's provisions requiring prisoners to pay filing fees for lawsuits and appeals did not violate prisoner's right to access to courts, First Amendment freedoms, due process, equal protection or protection against "double jeopardy." Hampton v. Hobbs, 106 F.3d 1281 (6th Cir. 1997). » Editor's Note: See also Roller v. Gunn, 107 F.3d 227 (4th Cir. 1997), holding that the PLRA's fee provisions do not impose unconstitutional barriers to the right of access to the courts.
     250:154 Filing fee requirements of Prison Litigation Reform Act applied retroactively to prisoner's pending appeal, filed before effective date of the statute, federal appeals court rules. Strickland v. Rankin Co. Correctional Facility, 105 F.3d 972 (5th Cir. 1997).
     253:10 Prison Litigation Reform Act provision denying prisoners the right to file civil lawsuits as paupers after having three prior suits dismissed as frivolous or malicious is upheld. Carson v. Johnson, 112 F.3d 818 (5th Cir. 1997).
     253:10 Sore and bruised ear inmate had after incident with correctional officer was too minor an injury to be the basis for an excessive force claim; prisoner's claim also failed requirement, under Prison Litigation Reform Act, that he show a "physical injury" to support any claim for emotional or mental suffering. Siglar v. Hightower, 112 F.3d 191 (5th Cir. 1997).
     254:22 Federal appeals court rules that provisions of Prison Litigation Reform Act requiring a prisoner seeking to proceed as a pauper pay a filing fee and file a certified copy of his prison fund account did not apply to a former prisoner, now free, appealing the dismissal of his lawsuit; plaintiff was still required to file affidavits showing his current assets. Haynes v. Scott, 116 F.3d 137 (5th Cir. 1997).
     255:39 Federal appeals court rules that federal statute requires appealing prisoner to pay filing fee for his appeal despite the fact that court was ruling that appeal notice was filed late and that appeal would therefore be dismissed. Williams v. Roberts, 116 F.3d 1126 (5th Cir. 1997).
     255:39 Prisoner who had previously had three lawsuits dismissed as frivolous could still proceed with new lawsuit, despite "three strikes" rule of Prison Litigation Reform Act, when new lawsuit claimed that prison librarian put him in imminent threat of serious physical injury by allowing inmate law clerk to read his legal papers indicating that he was a government informant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3rd Cir. 1997).
     257:76 Filing fee prepayment requirements applied to prisoner who filed notice of appeal while incarcerated, but was subsequently released while appeal was pending. Gay v. Tex. Dept. of Corrections State Jail Div., 117 F.3d 240 (5th Cir. 1997). » Editor's Note: Another federal appeals court reached the same conclusion in Robbins v. Switzer, 104 F.3d 895 (7th Cir. 1997). On the other hand, in McGann v. Commissioner, 96 F.3d 28 (2d Cir. 1996), the court found that a released prisoner "may litigate without further prepayment of fees upon satisfying the poverty affidavit requirement applicable to all non-prisoners." This decision was followed by another federal appeals court In Re Prison Litigation Reform Act, 105 F.3d 1131 (6th Cir. 1997).
     257:76 Prisoner was not barred, under the PLRA, from filing a second civil rights lawsuit as a pauper, even though he had only paid fourteen cents towards $120 filing fee in prior lawsuit, when he had shown that there was nothing in his inmate fund account. Walp v. Scott, 115 F.3d 508 (5th Cir. 1997).
     258:87 Federal appeals court rules that dismissal of a lawsuit as frivolous, or dismissal of an appeal as frivolous, will each count as one "strike" against a prisoner under the "three strikes" rule of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, even if the prisoner paid a full filing fee for the lawsuit or appeal. Duvall v. Miller, 122 F.3d 489 (7th Cir. 1997).
     259:104 Federal appeals court upholds section of Prison Litigation Reform Act barring claims for damages for mental or emotional injury without a showing of physical injury; prisoners could not recover damages for their alleged exposure to asbestos when no physical injury was claimed. Zehner v. Trigg, 133 F.3d 459 (7th Cir. 1997).
     [N/R] Provision of Prison Litigation Reform Act allowing court to dismiss lawsuit by prisoner determined to be frivolous or malicious applies to cases pending prior to statute's passage; prisoner's claim that correctional officials "smashed" his property and legal work in retaliation for his writing of a letter complaining about the lack of "black culture" churches in prison state valid First Amendment claim. Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483 (11th Cir. 1997).
     [N/R] Prison Litigation Reform Act's filing fee provisions do not violate prisoners' right of access to the courts. Norton v. Dimazana, 122 F.3d 286 (5th Cir. 1997).
     [N/R] Prisoner who filed appeal after trial court certified that appeal would not be taken in good faith could still proceed with appeal, but must pay full amount of appellate filing fee, either in installments or else pay the full amount "up front" if he has acquired "three strikes" before through frivolous lawsuits or appeals. Henderson v. Norris, 129 F.3d 481 (8th Cir. 1997).
     [N/R] Provision of Prison Litigation Reform Act requiring full payment of filing fees by prisoners did not apply retroactively; trial court erred in dismissing lawsuit as frivolous after accepting partial payment of filing fee without allowing plaintiff prisoner a chance to cure any defects in his complaint before dismissal. Church v. Attorney General of Com. of Va., 125 F.3d 210 (4th Cir. 1997).
     261:137 Prisoner's federal lawsuit about alleged delay in cataract surgery on his eye dismissed when he could not show that he pursued all administrative appeals available to him in the California correctional system. Alexandroai v. Calif. Dept. of Corrections, 985 F.Supp. 968 (S.D. Cal. 1997).
     [N/R] Prisoner's lawsuit claiming that prison officials retaliated against him after he filed a lawsuit against another prison official was properly dismissed due to his failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. White v. McGinnis, 131 F.3d 593 (6th Cir. 1997).
     [N/R] Prisoner who filed appeal after trial court certified that appeal would not be taken in good faith could still proceed with appeal, but must pay full amount of appellate filing fee, either in installments or else pay the full amount "up front" if he has acquired "three strikes" before through frivolous lawsuits or appeals. Henderson v. Norris, 129 F.3d 481 (8th Cir. 1997). 242:23 Federal appeals court rules that Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 applies retroactively to plaintiff prisoner's pending appeal as a pauper of dismissal of federal civil rights lawsuit as frivolous. Marks v. Solcum, 98 F.3d 494 (9th Cir. 1996).
     244:54 Federal appeals court rules that requirements of Prison Litigation Reform Act that prisoners pay filing fees applied both to $5 filing fee and $100 "docketing" fee required for appeal; obligation on prisoner to be imposed prior to determination as to whether or not appeal was frivolous. Leonard v. Lacy, 88 F.3d 181 (2nd Cir. 1996).
     245:71 Prisoner was not required to comply with fee provisions of Prison Litigation Reform Act when his appeal was fully submitted for consideration to the appeals court prior to the Act's effective date. Ramsey v. Coughlin, 94 F.3d 71 (2nd Cir. 1996).
     [N/R] Compensation of special master appointed to oversee implementation of court orders concerning inadequate medical care of inmates was not subject to limitations in Prison Litigation Reform Act when master was appointed before effective date of the law. Coleman v. Wilson, 933 F.Supp. 954 (E.D. Cal. 1996).
     238:147 Federal Prison Litigation Reform Act becomes law, makes numerous changes in prison litigation, including scope of injunctive orders, standards for termination of injunctive orders, amount of attorneys' fees, standard for prisoner release orders in overcrowding cases, prisoner payment of filing fees and court costs, barring inmates who repetitively file frivolous suits from further filings, no awards for mental/emotional distress in the absence of physical injury, and revocation of federal prisoner's good time credits if they file malicious lawsuits or testify falsely, among other highlights.

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