US Supreme Court: Prejudice Not Ground for Three-Strikes Rule Under Prison Litigation Reform Act, 1995

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The three- strikes Rule had many interpretations by several lower courts. The Judgment came in response to clear the position. The Supreme Court held that the dismissal of a suit for failure to state a claim counts as a strike; whether or not with prejudice. 

Background 

Prisoner Arthur Lomax, an inmate in the Colorado prison was part of the sex- offender treatment program. He sued the prison officials in forma pauperis (IFP) for taking him off the program. Before this suit, he had bought three unsuccessful legal actions in his time in prison. According to the Section 1915 (g) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, he cannot contend another suit IFP. Arthur contended that these suits were dismissed without prejudice. Therefore, they would not count as strikes. The lower courts held that these suits would in fact be strikes. The Supreme Court has now taken cognizance of the same.

The Three-Strikes Rule 

The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA) established what has become known as the three-strike rule. It prevents a prisoner from bringing suit in forma pauperis (IFP) if he has had three or more prior suits. The suits “dismissed on the grounds that [they were] frivolous, malicious, or fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” In forma pauperis is a concept of allowing the suit without liability of Court fees. The three-strike rule was brought in curb with the flood of frivolous prison litigation. 

Petitioner’s Arguments 

The petitioner claimed that since two of his suits were not dismissed with prejudice, they do not count as strikes. He contended that Section 1915 (g)’s phrase “dismissed for failure to state a claim” refers only to dismissals with prejudice. He supported this view with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b). This section treats dismissal as dismissal with prejudice only. This rule would allow Lomax to undercut his position. 

Opinion Of the Court 

The Court said that the case begins and ends with the text of the Section 1915(g) of PLRA. The Supreme Court made the intent of the law makers clear. The grounds for dismissal do not include “dismissed with prejudice”. This inclusion would have caused inconsistencies and has, with intent been omitted. Courts can sometimes dismiss frivolous actions suits without prejudice. The point of the PLRA, as its terms show, was to cabin not only abusive but also simply meritless prisoner suits.

Court’s Decision 

The main issue was whether a suit dismissed for failure, to state a claim counts as a strike when the dismissal was without prejudice. The Court held that Section 1915(g) refers to dismissal for failure to state claim, whether with or without prejudice.


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