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After Eleventh Circuit Says ICE Detainee Is Not “Prisoner” Subject to PLRA, He Goes Missing from Georgia

by David M. Reutter

On September 29, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that a civil detainee in custody of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is not a “prisoner” subject to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. Since that law severely limits the conditions under which civil rights suits can be filed by most detainees, the news is extremely important for migrants detained by ICE.

Before the Court was the appeal of Lyncoln Danglar. A native of Grenada, he became a lawful, permanent U.S. citizen in 2004. In 2015, he was sentenced to a term with the Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC), which granted Danglar parole on July 31, 2017. But just before that, on July 11, 2017, he was interviewed by an ICE agent. The agent issued a Warrant for Arrest of Alien, stating he believed Dangler “either lacks immigration status or notwithstanding such status is removable under U.S. immigration law.” An immigration detainer was then placed on Dangler.

When his parole release arrived, Danglar was kept by DOC pending a pickup by ICE within 48 hours. He was placed in a cell at Smith Transitional Center. But when ICE did not come to pick him up after 48 hours, he was moved to segregation at Smith State Prison. Finally, on October 24, 2017, the federal Department of Homeland Security formally initiated removal proceedings against Dangler, and ICE took custody of him.

Dangler, acting pro se, sued DOC officials, alleging they unconstitutionally detained him for 86 days beyond his parole date. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia screened the complaint and found it deficient for several reasons, ordering Danglar to meet several requirements with an amendment. He made a request to proceed in forma pauperis, but the Court said he would have to pay the full filing fee, over time, from his prisoner account. It then dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit found error by the district court in subjecting Danglar to PLRA. That law amended the statute governing proceedings in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, to require screening a prisoner’s complaint to determine whether it states a claim for which relief can be granted. But as the Court noted, Dangler was not a prisoner at the time he filed his complaint. Rather, he was a detainee in ICE custody. At the time he filed his complaint, Dangler had completed his state-law criminal detention and was subject to an immigration detainer. Thus, he was not a “prisoner” under the PLRA.

Therefore the district court’s order was reversed and the case remanded, with instructions to refund any filing fee monies Dangler had paid. The Court also ordered a refund of the appellate filing fee. On remand, the district court was ordered to evaluate Dangler’s claims outside the context of the PLRA. The Eleventh Circuit further found that the district court did not discuss Dangler’s constitutional claims, other than his Fourth Amendment claim, nor his state-law claims. So the district court was also ordered to consider the timeline of his parole in conjunction with the 48-hour detention rule in C.F.R. § 287.7. See: Danglar v. State of Ga., Dep’t of Corr., 50 F.4th 54 (11th Cir. 2022).

The case then returned to the district court, where Danglar could have been represented by counsel recruited by the Eleventh Circuit, Jonathan H. Silberman. But by then Danglar could not be found; the clerk of the court mailed him the order reopening the case, and it was returned as undeliverable. A magistrate judge then recommended dismissal of the action, which the district court obliged on January 6, 2023. See: Danglar v. State of Ga., USDC, (N.D. Ga.), Case No. 1:19-cv-03537. 

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