Criminal Law

Parker v. Montgomery County Correctional Facility

In Parker v. Montgomery County Correctional Facility, the Supreme Court was asked to hear a case that raises the question whether the “three strikes” provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act prevents an indigent prisoner from appealing in forma pauperis the dismissal that constitutes the prisoner’s “third strike.”

Case Summary

The in forma pauperis (IFP) “three strikes” provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (PLRA) denies IFP status (that is, the status that permits indigent individuals to proceed in court without paying legal fees) to those prisoners who have “on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated . . . , brought an action or appeal in a [federal] court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Jason Parker, a prisoner in Montgomery County, PA, had filed two such actions before having a civil-rights action dismissed by the district court. Parker appealed the district court’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, but the Third Circuit would not allow him to proceed IFP, claiming that he had used his “three strikes.” Parker asked the Supreme Court to review the Third Circuit’s interpretation of the IFP “three strikes” provision.

CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to hear this case. In our brief, we argued that the Court should grant review, in part, because of the serious constitutional concerns raised by the Third Circuit’s decision. As we explained, the Framers conferred broad power on the federal courts to ensure that they would be able to protect individual liberty and ensure compliance with the Constitution and the nation’s laws. Reflecting the Framers’ vision, the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that all people, including prisoners and the indigent, must have meaningful access to the courts to present fundamental constitutional claims. We argued that interpreting the PLRA to prevent an indigent prisoner from bringing an IFP appeal from a third qualifying dismissal so significantly limits prisoners’ ability to access the courts that that there is a serious question whether the PLRA, as interpreted by the lower court in this case, is constitutional under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

Case Timeline