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Dawn Ball v. Lt. Beckley

July 11, 2012

DAWN BALL,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
LT. BECKLEY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Magistrate Judge Carlson)

(Chief Judge Kane)

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction

In the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Congress established a series of procedures relating to prisoner civil litigation in federal court, procedures "designed to filter out the bad claims and facilitate consideration of the good." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 204 ( 2007). One critical component of these reforms calls upon federal courts to perform a gatekeeping function with respect to pro se inmates who repeatedly seek leave to proceed in forma pauperis while filing frivolous or meritless claims. As part of this statutorily mandated process, we are obliged to screen civil complaints lodged by pro se litigants who wish to proceed in forma pauperis, deny such leave to prisoners who have on three or more prior occasions filed frivolous or meritless claims in federal court, and dismiss these inmate complaints, unless the inmate alleges facts showing that she is in imminent damage of serious bodily harm. 28 U.S.C. §1915(g).

In the instant case, we are now called upon to perform this function, a function which is an integral part of these Congressional "reforms designed to filter out the bad claims and facilitate consideration of the good"in this field. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 204 ( 2007) The defendants have filed two motions to revoke the plaintiff's in forma pauperis status, (Docs. 51 and 58.), citing the dismissal of a series of lawsuits and appeals brought by Ball over the years. This combination of dismissal orders compels us to address a specific question: When a pro se litigant insists on pursuing wholly frivolous claims against judicial officers, who are absolutely immune from liability, does the dismissal of the plaintiff's claim as frivolous by both the district court and later by the court of appeals court as two separate strikes under §1915(g)'s three strike rule?

Following the majority rule adopted by the courts we find that each of these frivolous forays constitutes a separate strike under §1915(g). We conclude, therefore, that, as of December 21, 2011, Ball has now incurred three strikes, a finding which requires that all future requests by Ball for in forma pauperis status be denied, unless Ball can show that the narrow, imminent danger exception to §1915(g) applies to her specific claims.

While we reach this legal conclusion, we are constrained, however, to deny this particular request to revoke Ball's in forma pauperis status since it appears that Ball filed the instant action prior to December 21, 2011, the date upon which her third strike became final.

II. Statement of Facts and of the Case

A. Dawn Ball's Litigation History

Dawn Ball is an inmate housed in the Restricted Housing Unit at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Muncy, who by her own account suffers from a cascading array of severe mental illnesses, and who has candidly acknowledged that she is profoundly disturbed. Ball v. Beard, No. 1:09-CV-845 (Doc. 42, pp.6-7.) Furthermore, Ball is also an inmate who has reported to the court that she engages in multiple episodes of destructive, self-defeating and senseless behavior.

Much of this institutional misconduct is marked by disturbing, excretory behavior. Indeed, a constant refrain throughout many of Ball's lawsuits is her fascination with her own bodily wastes. For example, recurring themes in Ball's lawsuits include Ball's penchant for smearing feces on herself, her clothes, her property, and her cell, as well as her destruction of her own clothing, and her use of her clothing to plug her toilet and flood her cell with water and human waste. Ball v. Eiswerth, No. 1:08-CV-701(M.D.Pa.) Ball is also, by her own admission, an inmate with a propensity for sudden, explosive rages, as illustrated by the civil complaint which she has filed Ball v. Barr, No.1:11-CV-2240 (M.D.Pa.). In this complaint, Ball describes an episode in which a discussion regarding the aesthetic qualities of a piece of cornbread escalated in a matter of moments into a profanity-laced wrestling match over a food tray.

Ball is a prodigious federal court litigant, bringing numerous lawsuits based upon her perception of the events that take place around her in prison. Indeed, at present Ball currently has more than 25 lawsuits pending before this court.*fn1

Furthermore, Ball is a prodigiously unsuccessful litigant, who has had numerous prior lawsuits and appeals dismissed either as frivolous or on the grounds that the lawsuit failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

The history of repeated, frivolous and meritless litigation in federal court by this plaintiff began in March of 2008, when Ball filed a complaint in the case of Ball v. SCI Muncy, No. 1:08-CV-391 (M.D. Pa.) On December 10, 2008, the District Court dismissed this civil action, citing Ball's failure to exhaust her administrative remedies, and stating that Ball: does not dispute that she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies with regard to the issues raised in the complaint. Plaintiff's failure to oppose the remaining Defendants' motion, which also seeks dismissal for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, renders the motion unopposed. See L.R. 7.6. It is clear that Plaintiff's claims are not properly before this Court and must be dismissed. (Doc. 36, p.5.)

While, fairly construed, the district court's dismissal decision rested on exhaustion grounds, and did not entail an analysis of the merits of Ball's claims, the dismissal order itself went on to state that any appeal of this dismissal would be "deemed frivolous and not in good faith." Ball v. SCI Muncy, No. 1:08-CV-391 (M.D. Pa.) (Doc. 36, p.6.)

Nonetheless, Ball appealed this ruling. (Doc. 37.) On July 22, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of this action, noting that:

The District Court granted the Defendants' motions to dismiss, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), on the grounds of failure to exhaust administrative remedies. We agree with the District Court's decision and accordingly affirm the dismissal of Ball's claims.

Ball v. SCI Muncy, No. 1:08-CV-391 (M.D. Pa.)(Doc. 44, p. 2-3.) Thus, the court of appeals' ruling, like the district court's decision, was expressly based upon Ball's failure to exhaust her administrative remedies.

On May 5, 2009, Ball filed another civil action in the case of Ball v. Hartman, No. 1:09-CV-844 (M.D. Pa.). This action was also dismissed by the district court, which on this occasion considered the merits of Ball's claims and explicitly concluded that Ball had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Ball v. Hartman, No. 1:09-CV-844 (M.D. Pa.) (Docs 32, 33, and 36). Therefore, this second dismissal involved a merits analysis of Ball's claims, and a determination that Ball's complaint "fail[ed] to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915(g). Ball appealed this dismissal order,Ball v. Hartman, No. 1:09-CV-844 ...


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