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Civilly Detained Sex Offender Plaintiff Proceeding In Forma Pauperis Not a Prisoner Under PLRA

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that “an individual detained pursuant to civil sex offender confinement statute is not a ‘prisoner’ under the PLRA.” The court directed the clerk to reimburse the appellant all funds it has withdrawn from his account to pay the filing fee.

The court’s June 22, 2021, opinion was issued in response to the Motion for Restoration of Fees filed by Daniel Jones. He originally sued in a New York federal district court, alleging aspects of his civil commitment proceeding was unconstitutional. The district court granted Jones in forma pauperis (IFP) status, but it dismissed the petition because it was beyond the three-year statute of limitations. Jones appealed.

The Second Circuit also granted Jones IFP status, but it ordered the filing fee be deducted as payments from Jones’s institutional account at the Central New York Psychiatric Center. Jones made payments as required by the court. He then moved for restoration of those fees.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) allows indigent prisoners to proceed without prepayment of filing fees, but it also requires they pay 20% of their monthly income towards payment of those fees. By contrast, non-prisoners granted IFP status do not have to make payments or ever pay the filing fee.

At issue was whether civilly detained persons are prisoners. Under the PLRA, a prisoner is someone who is “currently detained as a result of an accusation, conviction, or sentence for a criminal offense.” Jones does not fit that definition.

The Second Circuit noted that Jones’s sex offenses and previous imprisonment serve as the prerequisite for a determination that he poses a danger to society and must be confined, it was the determination that he “suffers from a mental abnormality” that rendered him dangerous and in need of “care, treatment and control.”

The court granted Jones’s motion and ordered the clerk to reimburse him for all payments he has made towards the filing fee and to cease further collections. Courts have consistently held that immigration detainees and civilly committed sex offenders are not prisoners for purposes of the PLRA. See: Jones v. Cuomo, 2 F.4th 22 (2d Cir. 2021). 


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Related legal case

Jones v. Cuomo