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Federal Strikes Do Not Count as Strikes for Georgia PLRA

A Georgia Court of Appeals held in March 2016 that strikes for dismissed frivolous federal lawsuits do not count as strikes under Georgia’s Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).

Since his imprisonment in 2010, Georgia state prisoner Willie Wright, Jr. has filed seven lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. All were dismissed. His sixth suit named 14 prison officials as defendants for injuries that Wright allegedly incurred when guard Antonio Brown stomped on his hand and he was denied adequate medical care.

After that case was dismissed, Wright filed related tort claims in state superior court. He requested in forma pauperis status, which the defendants opposed. They argued, and the court agreed, that the “seven previously dismissed federal lawsuits qualified as strikes” under OCGA § 42-12-7.2 of the Georgia PLRA.

Wright appealed the dismissal of his suit, challenging the superior court’s interpretation of the three strikes provision of the Georgia PLRA. Specifically, he argued the court had erred in construing the phrase “any action in any court of this state” to include the lawsuits he had filed in federal district court.

The Court of Appeals agreed. It found that as far back as approximately 90 years ago, the Georgia Supreme Court had held the definition of “courts of this state” did not apply to federal courts but rather to “courts created by the constitution and laws of Georgia.” Federal courts, obviously, are not created by Georgia’s constitution or statutes.

The appellate court’s majority ruling provided an examination of statutory interpretation, and a concurring opinion cautioned courts that interpret the meaning of a statute.

“[I]n recognizing [] imperfections of expression, judges must take care not to confuse their own policy preference for the policy choices of the legislature,” Judge Christopher J. McFadden wrote. “And a judge’s recognition of the policy a statute was intended to advance does not authorize the judge to advance that policy further than did the legislature – particularly where, as here, the advance of one policy is at the expense of others.”

The superior court’s order of dismissal was reversed and Wright’s case was allowed to proceed. See: Wright v. Brown, 336 Ga. App. 1, 783 S.E.2d 405 (Ga. App. 2016). 


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Related legal case

Wright v. Brown