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Lomax v. Ortiz-Marquez

Supreme Court of the United States

February 26, 2020, Argued; June 8, 2020, Decided

No. 18-8369.

Opinion

Justice Kagan delivered the opinion of the Court.1

] To help staunch a “flood of nonmeritorious” prisoner litigation, the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA) established what has become known as the three-strikes rule. Jones v. Bock, 549 U. S. 199, 203, 127 S. Ct. 910, 166 L. Ed. 2d 798 (2007). That rule generally prevents a prisoner from bringing suit in forma pauperis (IFP)—that is, without first paying the filing fee—if he has had three or more prior suits “dismissed on the grounds that [they were] frivolous, malicious, or fail[ed] to state a claim [*4]  upon which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. §1915(g). Today we address whether a suit dismissed for failure to state a claim counts as a strike when the dismissal was without prejudice. ] We conclude that it does: The text of Section 1915(g)’s three-strikes provision refers to any dismissal for failure to state a claim, whether with prejudice or without.

Petitioner Arthur Lomax is an inmate in a Colorado prison. He filed this suit against respondent prison officials to challenge his expulsion from the facility’s sex-offender treatment program. As is common in prison litigation, he also moved for IFP status to allow his suit to go forward before he pays the $400 filing fee. For that motion to succeed, Lomax must avoid Section 1915(g). ] That provision bars further IFP litigation once a prisoner has had at least three prior suits dismissed on specified grounds. 2 And Lomax is no rookie litigant. During his time in prison, he has already brought three unsuccessful legal actions (against various corrections officers, prosecutors, and judges). If the dispositions of those cases qualify as strikes under Section 1915(g), Lomax may not now proceed IFP.

The courts below ruled that Lomax had struck out. The District Court denied his motion for [*5]  IFP status, finding that all three of his prior suits had been dismissed for failure to state a claim—one of the grounds specified in Section 1915(g). See App. 65-66. 3 On appeal, Lomax argued that two of those dismissals should not count as strikes because they were without prejudice, thus allowing him to file a later suit on the same claim. The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit rejected that argument. Relying on Circuit precedent, the Court held it “immaterial to the strikes analysis” whether a dismissal was with or without prejudice. 754 Fed. Appx. 756, 759 (2018) (quoting Childs v. Miller, 713 F. 3d 1262, 1266 (CA10 2013)).

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2020 U.S. LEXIS 3145 *

ARTHUR J. LOMAX, PETITIONER v. CHRISTINA ORTIZ-MARQUEZ, ET AL.

Notice: This preliminary Lexis version is unedited and subject to revision. The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Prior History:  [*1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

Lomax v. Ortiz-Marquez, 754 Fed. Appx. 756, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 31655 (10th Cir., Nov. 8, 2018)

Disposition: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS

frivolous, malicious

Civil Procedure, In Forma Pauperis, Prisoners, Three Strikes Provision, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Dismiss, Failure to State Claim, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Dismissal, Involuntary Dismissals, Failure to State Claims