Coleman v. Tollefson

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: May 18, 2015
  • Case #: 13–1333
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: BREYER, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
  • Full Text Opinion

The three strikes provision of the forma pauperis statute counts a dismissal that is currently on appeal as a strike.

Petitioner, a prisoner in Michigan, filed three federal lawsuits. The lawsuits he filed were deemed frivolous by 2010. Petitioner filed four new lawsuits between April 2010 and January 2011. Petitioner moved to file the cases in forma pauperis. Petitioner denies that his third lawsuit counts as a strike under §1915(g) because he appealed the dismissal and a decision has not yet been rendered in a prior lawsuit. The district court found against the petitioner, holding that a dismissal counts as a strike even when an appeal is pending. The Sixth Circuit agreed with the court of appeals. The majority of other Courts of Appeals hold that pending appeals do not count as a strike under §1915(g).

The Court affirmed the decision of the Sixth Circuit. The Court interpreted the statute literally, determining that a strike occurs on dismissal. The dismissal need not be affirmed because linguistically, “was dismissed” has never meant an affirmative dismissal in prior cases. The words “prior occasion” do not complicate the statute. Read literally, §1915(g) counts pending appeals as a strike. The literal reading is consistent with trial court decisions, which are considered final, despite an appeal. A literal interpretation also favors the purpose of the statute, which was to remove frivolous claims from the system. The Petitioner argues he would be deprived the right to appeal the dismissal if this is to count as a strike. The Solicitor General agrees with the Petition. The Court chose not to rule on this question, as it was unnecessary to the present issue. Affirmed.

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