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Blakely v. Wards, No. 11-6945

Decided: October 21, 2013

The Fourth Circuit held that, because prisoner James G. Blakely (Blakely) previously brought more than three federal lawsuits that were expressly dismissed at summary judgment as frivolous, malicious, or for failure to state a claim, Blakely could not proceed in forma pauperis in his present lawsuit.  The Fourth Circuit therefore denied Blakely’s motion for reconsideration.

Blakely, an inmate at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina, brought numerous lawsuits in federal and state court while incarcerated—including four federal lawsuits that were dismissed at summary judgment (the summary judgment dismissals).  In 2010, Blakely filed a § 1983 action against certain South Carolina officials (the defendants).  The defendants removed the case to federal court.  A magistrate judge deemed Blakely’s claims meritless, and the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina subsequently granted summary judgment in the defendants’ favor and dismissed the lawsuit.  On appeal to the Fourth Circuit, Blakely applied to proceed in forma pauperis.  The Fourth Circuit initially denied Blakely’s request; Blakely then moved for reconsideration.

The Fourth Circuit noted that, under the “three-strikes” statute of the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g), a prisoner who had previously brought more than three lawsuits that were dismissed as frivolous, as malicious, or for failure to state a claim generally cannot proceed in forma pauperis.  While Blakely argued that dismissals at summary judgment did not count as “strikes” under § 1915(g), the Fourth Circuit found the procedural posture of the case indeterminate: rather, the Fourth Circuit concluded that a summary judgment dismissal that states, on its face, that the dismissed case was a frivolous one, a malicious one, or one that failed to state a claim constitutes a strike.  The Fourth Circuit noted that all four of the summary judgment dismissals explicitly dismissed a case for one of these reasons.  Thus, the Fourth Circuit counted Blakely’s previously dismissed cases against him for purposes of the three-strikes statute.

Full Opinion

– Stephen Sutherland