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VAN DOREN v. MAZURKIEWICZ

August 28, 1996

ROY D. VAN DOREN, JR., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JOSEPH F. MAZURKIEWICZ, Ph.D., SUPERINTENDENT OF SCI-ROCKVIEW, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBRENO

 EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

 August 28, 1996

 This case involves a request for habeas corpus relief by state inmates proceeding pro se. Congress has decided that the filing fee for habeas corpus actions by state inmates shall be $ 5.00. *fn1" See 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a); Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts, Rule 3 & Rule 3 advisory committee notes. The inmates are requesting leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP"). Preliminarily, the case raises two issues: (1) Do the financial disclosure requirements of the recently enacted Prison Litigation Reform Act apply to habeas corpus petitions filed by state inmates? and (2) Is the date of filing of a habeas corpus petition the date the inmate delivers the petition to the prison authorities or the date the petition is filed with the Clerk of the Court?

 I.

 Petitioners' habeas corpus petition and request for IFP status were filed with the Clerk on April 26, 1996. (See doc. no. 1) On that same date, the Clerk caused an Order to be entered granting the inmates IFP status. (See doc. no. 2) Also on that date, the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321, Title VIII (section 804 thereof amending 28 U.S.C. § 1915) (April 26, 1996) (the "Act"), requiring inmates seeking IFP status to submit a certified copy of their inmate trust fund account statement for the six (6) month period immediately preceding the filing of a civil action, went into effect. See Smith v. Urban, 928 F. Supp. 532 (E.D. Pa. 1996) (Robreno J.). Petitioners did not include such certification with their IFP request.

 Section 804 of the Prison Litigation Reform Act applies to "a prisoner seeking to bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding without prepayment of fees or security therefor." Pub. L. No. 104-134, Sec. 804(a)(1)(F). A habeas corpus action is a civil action. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 1, 2 & 81(a)(2); 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1914(a), 2241-2255. Therefore, it is clear from the text of the Act that its financial certification provisions apply to state prisoners seeking IFP status in connection with a petition for habeas corpus relief. Cf. Green v. Nottingham, 90 F.3d 415, 417-18 (10th Cir. 1996) (finding that a mandamus proceeding is a "civil action" under IFP provisions of Prison Litigation Reform Act, reasoning that the "clear import" of the Act "is to curtail meritless prisoner litigation").

 Although the Reyes construction of the Act is certainly plausible, there is no support for it in the Act's text. "'Where . . . the statute's language is plain, 'the sole function of the court is to enforce it according to its terms."" Appalachian States Low-Level Radioactive Waste Comm'n v. O'Leary, 93 F.3d 103, 1996 U.S. App. LEXIS 21001, 1996 WL 469699 at *4 (3d Cir. Aug. 20, 1996) (quoting United States v. Ron Pair Enter., 489 U.S. 235, 241, 109 S. Ct. 1026, 103 L. Ed. 2d 290 (1989) (quoting Caminetti v. United States, 242 U.S. 470, 485, 37 S. Ct. 192, 61 L. Ed. 442 (1917))). Given the absence of ambiguity in the Act's text, the Court finds that the "statute's plain meaning must be enforced" and, therefore, that the Act applies to habeas corpus petitions, such as the one here at issue. United States Nat'l Bank of Or. v. Independent Ins. Agents of Am. Inc., 508 U.S. 439, 454-55, 113 S. Ct. 2173, 2182, 124 L. Ed. 2d 402 (1993); see, e.g., Good Samaritan Hosp. v. Shalala, 508 U.S. 402, 409, 113 S. Ct. 2151, 2157, 124 L. Ed. 2d 368 (1993) ("the starting point in interpreting a statute is its language, for 'if the intent of Congress is clear, that is the end of the matter'") (quoting Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 842, 104 S. Ct. 2778, 2781, 81 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1984)); United States v. Alvarez-Sanchez, 511 U.S. 350, , 114 S. Ct. 1599, 1603, 128 L. Ed. 2d 319, (1994) ("when interpreting a statute, we look first and foremost to its text"). If Congress had intended to limit Section 804 of the Act to prisoner cases other than habeas corpus petitions, it could have said so. See, e.g., Section 802 of the Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, Sec. 802(a), amending 18 U.S.C. Sec. 3626, specifically excluding "habeas corpus proceedings challenging the fact or duration of confinement in prison" from the definition of "civil action with respect to prison conditions."

 II.

 On July 30, 1996, the Court vacated the Order of April 26, 1996, entered by the Clerk granting IFP status to petitioners and dismissed the petition for habeas corpus relief without prejudice on the basis that the inmates had failed to comply with the provisions of the Act. (See doc. no. 7) Petitioners have now moved for reconsideration arguing that, while the petition and the request for IFP status were filed with the Clerk on April 26, 1996, they had delivered the petition and the request for IFP status, albeit without the requisite certification, to the prison authorities on April 22, 1996, four days prior to the effective date of the Act. *fn3" (See doc. no. 9) In support of their position, petitioners point to the cover letter addressed to the Clerk which is dated April 22, 1996.

 The Court agrees that reconsideration is appropriate in this case. The date the habeas corpus petition and the request for IFP status were delivered to the prison authorities, and not the date of the actual filing of the papers with the Clerk, is the date on which the petition and the request for IFP status should be deemed filed.

 In Houston v. Lack, 487 U.S. 266, 108 S. Ct. 2379, 101 L. Ed. 2d 245 (1988), the Supreme Court, interpreting federal rule of appellate procedure 4(a), held that a pro se prisoner's notice of appeal in a habeas corpus case was filed at the moment it was delivered to the prison authorities for forwarding to the district court, and not on the date it was filed in the Clerk's office. Id. at 273-76, 108 S. Ct. at 2384-85. The Supreme Court pointed to the special circumstances attendant to a prisoner proceeding pro se who must rely on the mail to file documents and who cannot travel to the Clerk's office to do the filing in person as a basis for its decision. Id., 108 S. Ct. at 2384.

 In In re Flanagan, 999 F.2d 753 (3d Cir. 1993), the Third Circuit applied the Houston rationale to the late filing of a notice of appeal from an order entered in a bankruptcy proceeding, by an inmate who had delivered the notice to the prison authorities within the time provided by the rule. The Court held that under Bankruptcy Rule 8002(a), just as under Appellate Rule 4(a), "when a pro se prisoner deposits his notice of appeal with prison authorities, addressed to the clerk of court with postage ...


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