Silva v. Di Vittorio

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: 09-26-2011
  • Case #: 08-15620
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: District Judge Kendall for the Court; Circuit Judge Paez; Circuit Judge O’Scannlain dissenting
  • Full Text Opinion

A prisoner’s right to access the court under the First and Fourteenth Amendments includes a right “to litigate claims challenging their sentences or the conditions of their confinement to conclusion without active interferences by prison officials.”

Matthew Silva, a Washington State prison inmate, challenged the district court’s sua sponte dismissal of his pro se civil rights action against various Washington State actors and prison officials (“Defendants”) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Silva alleged, inter alia, that Defendants violated his right to access the courts under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. According to Silva, Defendants deliberately hindered his ability to litigate his pending civil suits by repeatedly transferring Silva between different prisons and seizing and destroying his legal files, which led to the dismissal of his pending suits. The district court dismissed Silva’s right to access the courts claim, because that right “is only a right to bring petitions or complaints to the federal court and not a right to discover such claims or even to litigate them effectively once filed with the court.” The Ninth Circuit disagreed; concluding that a prisoner’s First and Fourteenth Amendment right to access the courts without undue interference extends beyond the pleading stage. Defendants argued on appeal that the “three-strikes” rule under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) barred Silva from proceeding in forma pauperis (“IFP”) with this appeal, because Silva had at least three prior dismissals. The Court held that § 1915(g) under the PLRA requires that a prior dismissal of “an action or appeal” be final before it amounts to a “strike.” Accordingly, the Court declined to revoke Silva’s IFP status since two of Silva’s dismissal orders were still pending when he filed this appeal. REVERSED in part, AFFIRMED in part, and REMANDED.

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