Supreme Court rules on ‘three strikes’ provision of prisoner status law
Supreme Court rules on ‘three strikes’ provision of prisoner status law

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday in Coleman v. Tollefson [SCOTUSblog materials] that a dismissal of a prisoner’s lawsuit that is still appealable does count as one of three allotted “strikes” that limits other suits by the prisoner. The “three-strike” provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act [text] bars an inmate from filing a new lawsuit over prison conditions after three prior lawsuits had failed on the grounds of lack of merit. The question was whether a dismissal on one of the statutorily enumerated grounds of the federal law in question counts as one of those three strikes. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that a dismissal counts as one of the three strikes, even if the dismissal is the subject of an ongoing appeal. In an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, the Supreme Court affirmed:

We recognize that our interpretation of the statute may create a different risk: An erroneous trial court dismissal might wrongly deprive a prisoner of in forma pauperis status with respect to lawsuits filed after a dismissal but before its reversal on appeal. But that risk does not seem great.

The court concluded that the plain language of the statute dictated the result of the case.

In 2010 Andre Lee Coleman-Bey filed a civil rights action in the US District Court for the Western District of Michigan [official website], claiming that six of the prison’s employees had violated his constitutional rights of access to the courts. The district court denied his motion to proceed because he had three previous dismissals, or “strikes.” However, Coleman-Bey contended that he had only two previous “strikes” because his most recent dismissal was still on appeal. The Supreme Court granted certiorari [JURIST report] in October of last year. The court heard arguments [JURIST report] in February.