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Ladeairous v. Sessions

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

March 16, 2018

Joseph Michael Ladeairous, Appellant
v.
Jeff Sessions, U.S. Attorney General and Michael E. Horowitz, U.S. Inspector General, Appellees

          Argued February 15, 2018

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:15-cv-00954)

          Dawn E. Murphy-Johnson, appointed by the court, argued the cause as amicus curiae in support of appellant. With her on the briefs was Anthony F. Shelley, appointed by the court.

          Joseph Michael Ladeairous, pro se, filed the briefs for appellant.

          Peter C. Pfaffenroth, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief were Jessie Liu, U.S. Attorney, and R. Craig Lawrence, Assistant U.S. Attorney.

          Before: Srinivasan and Wilkins, Circuit Judges, and Williams, Senior Circuit Judge.

          OPINION

          Williams, Senior Circuit Judge.

         We recently decided that under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (the "PLRA") a district court's decision to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims does not count as a "strike" against a prisoner seeking in forma pauperis ("IFP") privileges in later litigation. Fourstar v. Garden City Grp., Inc., 875 F.3d 1147 (D.C. Cir. 2017). This case presents a wrinkle on that one: what happens when a district court in effect, though not in its exact terms, declines to hear state law claims in situations where 28 U.S.C. § 1367 would authorize it to resolve them? Following the principle of Fourstar, we again hold that this is not a strike under the PLRA. We therefore grant appellant's petition to proceed IFP in this court, and we remand with instructions for the district court to do the same.

         Appellant Joseph Michael Ladeairous filed his pro se complaint in the district court in June 2015, alleging abusive investigation and persecution by state and federal officials because of his activities in support of the Irish republican cause. Ladeairous v. Lynch, Civil No. 15-954, ECF No. 1 (D.D.C. June 22, 2015). Those claims are not before us; we are called simply to answer the threshold question of whether Ladeairous can proceed in the district court IFP. The district court found that he had already accumulated three strikes under the PLRA and so denied his IFP petition. Ladeairous v. Lynch, Civil No. 15-954, ECF No. 11 (D.D.C. Feb. 29, 2016).

         Before the PLRA, federal courts had broad discretion to exempt indigent prisoners from paying court filing fees. See Ibrahim v. District of Columbia, 208 F.3d 1032, 1036 (D.C. Cir. 2000). The PLRA now regulates courts' discretion to grant IFP status to prisoners who have a history of litigation that Congress effectively deemed meritless. In what is known as the "three strikes" provision, the PLRA requires that:

In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.

28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

         The government and the court-appointed amicus agree that Ladeairous accumulated two strikes before filing the instant case in district court: namely, Ladeairous v. Goldsmith, Civil No. 13-673, 2015 WL 1787297 (E.D. Va. Apr. 15, 2015) (dismissed for frivolousness and for failure to state a claim), and Ladeairous v. Pearson, Civil No. 12-307, 2013 WL 5962932 (E.D. Va. Nov. 6, 2013) (same). They dispute whether the district court should have counted a third dismissal, Ladeairous v. Attorney General of New York, Civil No. 14-250 (N.D.N.Y. July 8, 2014) ("Ladeairous NDNY"), as a strike.

         The PLRA requires a district court to bar a prisoner from proceeding IFP "only if that district court determines that a prisoner has three strikes. District courts must independently evaluate prisoners' prior dismissals to determine whether there are three strikes." Fourstar, 875 ...


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