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Supreme Court declines to expand prisoner litigants’ ability to waive filing fee
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Supreme Court declines to expand prisoner litigants’ ability to waive filing fee

The US Supreme Court rejected an argument Monday that would have expanded a prisoner’s ability to file lawsuit without paying a filing fee.

Prisoner litigants often bring lawsuits in forma pauperis (IFP), or without a filing fee. The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) declares that prisoners are not able to acquire this status if they have had three lawsuits “dismissed on the grounds that [they were] frivolous, malicious, or fail[ed] to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.”

In the case decided Monday, Lomax, a prisoner litigant, filed a lawsuit against prison officials for expelling him from a sex-offender treatment program. Lomax moved for IFP status, but lower courts rejected his attempt, as he already filed three lawsuits that had been dismissed.

Lomax’s central argument was that the “three strikes” provision of the PLRA only applies to cases dismissed with prejudice. Two of Lomax’s previous lawsuits were dismissed without prejudice.

In a unanimous decision, court rejected this contention, providing that the “dismissal” language of the PLRA was drafted broadly. The court also noted that drawing Lomax’s distinction would create inconsistencies in the meaning of “dismissal” in the text.

Though a different ruling could have given Lomax and other prisoner litigants more agency to bring lawsuits, the court ultimately concluded that “the text of the PLRA’s three-strikes provision makes this case an easy call.”