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Prisoner's Suit Dismissed After Court Finds "Three Strikes" Litigant Not in Imminent Danger

Prisoner's Suit Dismissed After Court Finds "Three Strikes" Litigant Not in Imminent Danger

by Matt Clarke

In December 2009, Jeremy Pinson, a federal prisoner serving a 22-year sentence for threatening to kill the president, sued the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) alleging that the conditions of confinement at the Special Management Unit (SMU) at the Federal Correctional Institution in Talladega "are unconstitutionally violent and dangerous."

However, Pinson is a "three strikes" litigant, meaning that under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), he has filed at least three previous lawsuits which have been dismissed as frivolous. The PLRA requires that a prisoner who has accumulated three strikes cannot file anyfurtherlawsuits unless he either pays the full filing fee up front or shows that he is in "imminent danger of serious physical injury."

Pinson claimed that as a known homosexual and former gang member, his placement at Talladega’s SMU placed him in "a substantial risk of harm." Pinson sought to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) under 28 U.S.C. § 1915.

In January 2010, the District of Columbia district court entered an order transferring the case to the Northern District of Alabama where Pinson was incarcerated "because none of the alleged events took place in the District of Columbia." Pinson appealed that order to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which treated the appeal as a petition for a writ of mandamus.

The D.C. court found that Pinson's "three strikes" status required a finding that he was in "imminent danger," or his application to proceed IFP must be denied. The court said that the conditions of Pinson's confinement at the time he filed his suit must be examined to determine if he faced an imminent danger of serious physical harm. The parties had urged the court to consider Pinson's living conditions at the time of the appeal, which Pinson said had worsened due a transfer; and which the government said had improved.

The court found that Pinson failed to qualify for the imminent danger exception to the three strikes rule and denied his motion for IFP status his writ. The court characterized Pinson's complaint as challenging BOP's decision to designate him to a "particular facility" that had a "reputation as a dangerous place for" homosexuals and former gang members. Noting that Pinson has not alleged any actual harm, the court found that his contentions were "insufficient to satisfy the imminent danger exception."

The court gave Pinson thirty days from the date of the order to pay the filing fee up front. See: Pinson v. Samuels, 761 F.3d 1 (D.C. Cir. 2014).

Related legal case

Pinson v. Samuels