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Federal Prisoner Raising Due Process Claim Sanctioned for Pattern of Frivolous Filing

Federal Prisoner Raising Due Process Claim Sanctioned for Pattern of Frivolous Filing

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has sanctioned a federal prisoner after a history of deception and misuse of the legal system.

Robert Neal, convicted of wire fraud, received telephone and commissary suspensions by prison officials after being caught forging a court document. Neal filed a habeas corpus petition in a federal trial court, alleging a due process violation and also seeking relief through a fictitious binding agreement for arbitration. The trial court denied arbitration, and as Neal’s allegations did not involve his custody, habeas relief was not available and also denied. Neal subsequently appealed, his only claim, denial of arbitration. On September 3, 2014, finding Neal’s persistence in arguing a fabricated arbitration agreement to be unacceptable, plus considering Neal’s prior sanctions, the appellate court imposed a fine, set a virtual ban from filing in court, and ordered relevant paperwork sent to a federal prosecutor for possible criminal charges.

Neal, serving a 327 month prison sentence in Indiana, was disciplined by prison officials for signing the alias “David J. Nelson” to a court document. As a result, his telephone and commissary privileges were suspended for 180 days. Neal then sought habeas corpus relief in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, arguing that he had been penalized without due process. During these proceedings, Neal filed several motions to compel arbitration, submitting an alleged arbitration agreement between Neal – who had once again signed ”David J. Nelson” – and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Neal argued that under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), the agreement must be honored.

The district court denied the motion, finding that the motion has no legal basis. The court further held that as Neal had not alleged anything involving his custody, habeas relief was not appropriate. Neal appealed, challenging only the denial of arbitration.

In affirming the district court’s judgment, the appellate court pointed out that the BOP denied any agreement between them and Neal and that the FAA “governs only maritime contracts and contracts involving interstate commerce.” However, as Neal’s documents were “fabrications,” the appellate court also opined that “the judicial system cannot tolerate deception from litigants.” The appellate court noted previous sanctions imposed against Neal for frivolous filing, including a $500 fine and restriction to court filings – not including habeas relief, which Neal attempted to use. The appellate court therefore (1) “impos[ed] an additional fine of $500, “(2) disallowed Neal to file any documents in the circuit courts besides those “attack[ing] a state-court criminal judgment” “[u]ntil he pa[id] all outstanding fees and sanctions,” (3) “order[ed] Neal to show cause…why [he] should not [be] sanction[ed]…under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38 for filing a frivolous appeal” and (4) directed the Clerk of the court to send the relevant documentation to the U.S. district attorney for possible prosecution for perjury or other offenses. See: Neal v. LaRiva, 765 F.3d 788 (7th Cir. 2014).

Related legal case

Neal v. LaRiva