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Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Texas Prisoner’s Complaint Over Consequences of Prisoner Unrest as Frivolous

On February 20, 2020, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s pro se, in forma pauperis federal civil rights complaint primarily over the consequences flowing from a physical confrontation between prisoners and staff at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Ferguson Unit mess hall.

Texas state prisoner Artrai Turone Alexander was present on December 7, 2016, when approximately 200 prisoners were involved in a physical altercation with staff in the mess hall. A chemical agent was deployed and order was restored. Alexander was moved to close custody into a cell allegedly contaminated with live and dead roaches and rat droppings. He complained of this to guards, who noted it on a maintenance roster.

Alexander was convicted of a disciplinary infraction for his part in the unrest. His punishment included cell, contact visitation, and commissary restrictions, loss of 350 days of good time credits, and close-custody lockdown for a year. He was also reclassified from minimum custody to close custody.

Alexander filed a federal civil rights complaint against prison officials alleging: denial of access to courts; lack of due process in the disciplinary, disciplinary appeal, and reclassification procedures; retaliation, and cruel and unusual punishment. The district court dismissed all the claims as frivolous. Alexander appealed.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed. It found that Alexander failed to show: an actual injury to support the access to courts claim; a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest in the three due-process claims; that the conditions of his cell or one-year close custody sentence were an "atypical or significant hardship"; or that the prison officials who allegedly retaliated against him even knew of the complaints or grievance that allegedly sparked the retaliation.

Because Alexander, a frequent filer of frivolous pleadings, had at least three previous federal court findings that his filings were frivolous, he was warned that he could no longer file federal actions in forma pauperis unless he was under immediate danger of serious physical injury. See: Alexander v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 5th Cir., No. 18-20278

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Related legal case

Alexander v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice