United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
February 15, 2018
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia (No. 1:15-cv-00954)
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.
Michael Ladeairous, pro se, filed the briefs for appellant.
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.
Williams, Senior Circuit Judge.
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
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).
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).
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.
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 ...