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Fifth Circuit Dismisses Appeal by Mississippi Prisoner It Calls “Vexatious Litigant”

On August 9, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a Mississippi prisoner who had filed at least a dozen federal lawsuits pro se since 2004 and admitted using them “against his custodians as a means of intimidating them to comply with his demands for things like antacid and high-protein food” should be barred from filing additional abusive lawsuits.

The judges upheld the district court’s dismissal of the prisoner’s most recent lawsuit and a “third strike” assessed against him under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. §1915(g).

Almost eight years ago, on February 1, 2014, the prisoner, John Hale, filed a lengthy federal civil rights action in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi against prison officials, county officials and medical supervisors who oversee the Harrison County Adult Detention Center in Gulfport, Mississippi, where he was incarcerated as a pretrial detainee. Raising his claims under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and §1985, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state tort law, Hale alleged that officials:

• impeded his access to courts;
• violated his right to an affordable bond;
• denied him adequate pain medication;
• crushed his pain medication;
• denied him a high-protein diet;
• failed to provide adequate antacids;
• denied him preferred dental treatment;
• failed to repair a roof leak that ultimately caused him to slip and fall; and
• failed to administer the prison efficiently.

Over the next 37 months, Hale filed numerous pretrial motions and a frivolous appeal of the denial of appointed counsel before the District Court finally granted defendants’ motions for summary judgment on March 21, 2017, classifying Hale as an “abusive litigant” and imposing a third strike against him under PLRA. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Hale appealed to the Fifth Circuit.

Due to some confusion over whether all of Hale’s claims had been dismissed as frivolous, malicious, or for failure to state a claim, a Fifth Circuit judge granted Hale’s motion to proceed with his appeal in forma pauperis.

A panel of the Court then carefully reviewed the record, after which the judges determined that the District Court had correctly dismissed Hale’s entire action as frivolous, malicious, or for failing to state a claim. Therefore, the appellate court could revoke Hale’s in forma pauperis status and dismiss the appeal as one that was barred by the three-strikes provision.

Instead, it reviewed Hale’s appellate brief, which abandoned all claims save for one under the ADA, determined it too was frivolous, and dismissed the appeal. The court then barred Hale from proceeding in forma pauperis in any future federal civil action or on appeal, while a prisoner, unless he is under imminent danger of serious physical injury. See: Hale v. Harrison County Board of Supervisors, 8 F.4th 399 (5th Cir. 2021).

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Related legal case

Hale v. Harrison County Board of Supervisors