SCOTUS Opinion: Court Strengthens Prison Litigation Reform Act’s “Three-Strikes Rule”

The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 prevents a prisoner from bringing suit in forma pauperis (“IFP”) after having three or more prior suits dismissed for being frivolous, malicious, or failing to state a claim while he or she was imprisoned—called the “three-strikes rule.” Inmate Arthur Lomax sought IFP status in a fourth suit he brought as an inmate, which was dismissed by the district court because three prior suits he filed were dismissed for failure to state a claim. Lomax argued that two of those dismissals should not count because they were without prejudice.

In Lomax v. Ortiz-Marquez, the Court stepped in to resolve a decade-old split among the circuits on this issue, and unanimously held that the three-strikes rule applied whether the prior dismissals were with prejudice or not. Justice Kagan’s majority opinion noted that the plain language of the statute did not make any such distinction, and thus the Court, “[i]n line with our duty to call balls and strikes,” ruled that Lomax had “struck out.” The Court did note that if the district court granted an inmate leave to amend his or her complaint, that would not count as a strike, although Justice Thomas did not agree with that particular holding.

A link to the opinion is here: