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Civilly Dead Prisoner Unable to Sue in Rhode Island

by Ed Lyon

Rhode Island’s “civil death” statute (GL 1956 § 13-6-1) provides that a person serving a life sentence in that state is “civilly dead” and therefore legally unable to avail him or herself of relief in a state civil court after their sentence is affirmed.

On November 14, 2019, Rhode Island’s supreme court refused to entertain plaintiff-appellant Dana Gallop’s challenge to GL 1956 § 13-6-l’s legitimacy under the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause by ruling the trial court justice properly denied Gallop’s motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, mooting further review.

Gallop’s tort claims arose prior to his current convictions while he was in pretrial detention. He was assaulted by another detainee, suffering lacerations and permanent facial scarring. His main cause of action was a failure to protect claim with assorted state and common law torts. The trial justice initially dismissed the complaint on the first amended complaint and denied a second one.

The supreme court reversed, and the trial justice set discovery and pretrial matters, then sua sponte raised the civil death statute and ordered briefing.

The parties complied. Defendants moved for dismissal, while Gallop attempted another amendment to include a civil rights cause (under 42 § 1983) in an effort to circumvent GL 1956 § 13-6-1. Ruling the discovery deadlines and trial strategies set, it was improper to include the federal statute as Gallop was found to be already civilly dead prior to filing the suit. The supreme court agreed and affirmed the second dismissal. See: Dana Gallop v. Adult Correctional Institutions, et al., Case No. 2018-246-Appeal (R.I. 2019)

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Related legal case

Gallop v. Adult Correctional Institutions, et al.