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Deen-Mitchell v. Lappin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 8, 2019

HARLEY LAPPIN, et al., Defendants.




         I. Factual Background

         For nearly ten years this pro se prisoner lawsuit brought by Wallace Deen-Mitchell, a federal inmate, has been pending against more than 70 individual defendants. (Doc. 1.) For more than five years, Deen-Mitchell's in forma pauperis privileges have been revoked, the district court having found in 2014 that the plaintiff incurred “three strikes” prohibiting him from enjoying these privileges due to his past history of feckless, meritless litigation. (Docs. 145, 174.) The effect of this 2014 ruling was to place Deen-Mitchell on notice that he was now responsible for paying the filing fee required by law if he wished to further pursue this litigation.

         Despite this 2014 ruling, Deen-Mitchell has yet to pay the filing fee which is now a prerequisite to pursuing this lawsuit. Deen-Mitchell has relied upon a number of different means to defer and delay the submission of this filing fee. Thus, on October 6, 2014, Deen-Mitchell informed the Court that he had been transferred to the District of Columbia under a writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum for further criminal proceedings. According to Mitchell, due to this transfer he was unable to prosecute the instant lawsuit because he did not have access to his inmate account with the BOP and his legal materials were maintained in storage at the United States Penitentiary Florence. (Doc. 177.) In recognition of these circumstances, the district court statistically closed this case without prejudice to Deen-Mitchell reopening it upon his return to Bureau of Prisons' custody. (Doc. 182.)

         Deen-Mitchell has apparently remained in D.C. custody over the past five years. During this time, it appears that the plaintiff came into possession of a substantial sum of money, since at his request on September 12, 2016 the BOP sent a check to Deen-Mitchell in the amount of $242.35 at the D.C. Department of Corrections, which was endorsed by the D.C. Department of Corrections for deposit. (Doc. 185, Exh. 1, Attach. A.) It also appears that Deen-Mitchell has actively pursued other pro se litigation while in D.C. custody. (Doc. 185 at 2-3.) Furthermore, at no time during the past five years has Deem-Mitchell sought to the transfer of the legal materials held by the BOP at USP Florence. (Id., Exh. 2.)

         On April 10, 2019, the Government reported these facts to the court. (Id.) After receiving a response to the Government's notice from Deen-Mitchell, (Doc. 187), the district court entered an order on May 22, 2019 which provided as follows:

AND NOW, this 22nd day of May, 2019, upon consideration of the court's order (Doc. 178) of October 6, 2014, wherein we acknowledged the representations of pro se plaintiff Wallace Deen-Mitchell (“Deen-Mitchell”) that he was temporarily incarcerated at the Central Detention Facility (DC Jail) in Washington, D.C., while pursuing certain challenges to his criminal convictions, and as such was without access to funds in his inmate account at Federal Correctional Institution, Florence, Colorado (“FCI Florence”), (see id.; see also Doc. 177 at 2), and wherein we held this matter in abeyance, at Deen-Mitchell's request, pending his return to FCI Florence, (see Doc. 178 ¶ 1), and further upon consideration of the court's order (Doc. 186) of April 11, 2019, entered upon receipt of notice by defendants that all funds in Deen-Mitchell's inmate account had been returned to him by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”), wherein the court directed Deen-Mitchell to show cause why this matter should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute as a result of Deen-Mitchell's failure to pay the filing fee, and the court having received a response to the show cause order, wherein Deen-Mitchell challenges the reopening of this matter not on grounds of inability to pay, but with speculation that “defendants are attempting to distract the plaintiff from his trial proceedings, and/or find a way to dispose of this matter while plaintiff has his back turned, ” (Doc. 187 at 3), but the court concluding that defendants' notice was provided to the court in good faith, and in recognition of the fact that the court extended deference to Deen-Mitchell based on his alleged lack of access to his inmate trust fund account and not on the basis of the inconvenience of litigating two matters simultaneously, and the court further concluding that this deference cannot be unlimited and that, after more than four years, this action must either proceed or be dismissed, it is hereby ORDERED that:
1. The Clerk of Court is directed to REOPEN the above-captioned action.
2. Deen-Mitchell shall pay the applicable filing fee in full within 30 days of the date of this order or this action will be dismissed.

(Doc. 188.)

         In response to this clear direction from the court, Deen-Mitchell has now filed two motions: (1) a motion to reconsider or afford the plaintiff relief from this May 22, 2019 order, and (2) a motion to sanction the government. (Docs. 189, 191.)[1] The thrust of these motions is that Deen-Mitchell claims that he has not personally received the funds that the Government has shown were issued to him and placed on deposit by the D.C. Department of Corrections in 2016. Accordingly, Deen-Mitchell cites his lack of resources as a reason to deny enforcement of the court's longstanding orders directing him to pay the filing fee in this litigation. Deen-Mitchell also insists that his inability to trace the funds which were evidently deposited by the D.C. Department of Corrections somehow constitutes sanctionable misconduct by the Government.

         These motions have been briefed by the parties, (Docs. 190, 192, 193, 194), and have been referred to the undersigned as part of our ...

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