Spat Over Inmate Filing Fees Taken Up by Justices

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Supreme Court agreed Monday to resolve a circuit split involving filing fees owed by prisoners allowed to proceed in forma pauperis.
     Antoine Bruce brought the challenge at hand amid the attempt to join a lawsuit originally filed by Jeremy Pinson, fellow inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution in Talladega, Ala.
     Pinson challenged his designation in Talladega’s special management unit for disruptive or gang-affiliated inmates, but the D.C. federal judge assigned the case transferred the matter to Alabama.
     The joinder motion by Bruce and other fellow SMU inmates followed after the D.C. Circuit construed Pinson’s notice of appeal as a petition for a writ of mandamus.
     Because of Pinson had previously run afoul of the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s three strikes provision, the D.C. Circuit refused to let him proceed in forma pauperis.
     The court eventually allowed only Bruce and three other prisoners behind the joinder effort to proceed in forma pauperis under Section 1915 of Title 28.
     Last year, the D.C. Circuit found that none of this quartet had standing to challenge the transfer of the case to Alabama, or the supposed refusal of the lower court to docket their motion for joinder.
     A separate section of that decision applied only to the collection of fees from Bruce.
     Though Bruce has in forma pauperis status, the Prison Litigation Reform Act, or PLRA, calls for collection of installment payments from prisoners who simultaneously owe filing fees in multiple cases.
     In forma pauperis, or IFP, prisoners must pay 20 percent of their monthly income as an initial filing fee, and then monthly payments of 20 percent until the filing fees are paid.
     Though the Second and Fourth Circuits have required inmates to satisfy their obligations sequentially, four other circuits have required such prisoner to make simultaneous installment payments for each filing fee incurred, as long as no individual payment exceeds 20 percent of their monthly incomes.
     The D.C. Circuit adopted the latter approach as concerns Bruce.
     In Bruce’s petition for certiorari, Anthony Shelley with Miller & Chevalier urged the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the conflict so that IFP prisoners face the same treatment.
     Per its custom, the court made no comment in taking up the case Monday.
     Pinson, the inmate who brought the underlying action but was denied IFP status, filed more than 100 civil actions and appeals across the nation, the D.C. Circuit noted. Pinson is serving 20 years for threatening the president of the United States, among other things, and was later relocated to an administrative maximum facility in Florence, Colo.
     Last year, the Eighth Circuit revived deliberate-indifference claims by a man whose cellmate at Talladega stabbed him in 2009. That cellmate was also named Jeremy Pinson.

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