United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
AUSTIN McHUGH JUDGE.
Tyree Lawson, a prisoner currently incarcerated at SCI
Phoenix, filed a civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 based on allegations involving the denial of his prison
work assignment, and his ability to communicate with outside
parties and his incarcerated son. (See ECF No. 2.)
Lawson also seeks to proceed in forma pauperis. For
the following reasons, the Court will deny Lawson leave to
proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(g) and require that he pay the filing fees if he
wishes to continue with his cases.
Lawson has a long history of litigating meritless claims in
the United States District Courts. See Lawson v.
Crowther, W.D. Pa. Civ. A. No. 17-39 (October 30, 2018
Report and Recommendation that Second Amended Complaint be
dismissed with prejudice and without leave to amend for
failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted;
December 12, 2018 Order adopting Report and Recommendation
and dismissing case with prejudice); Lawson v.
Barger, W.D. Pa. Civ. A. No. 17-97 (December 12, 2018
Order dismissing case with prejudice for failure to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted); Lawson v.
Hollis, W.D. Pa. Civ. A. No. 17-96 (March 14, 2018 Order
adopting as opinion of the Court a recommendation to dismiss
the amended complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)); Lawson v.
Crowther, W.D. Pa. Civ. A. No. 17-39 (December 12, 2018
Order dismissing second amended complaint with prejudice for
failure to state a claim as set forth in report and
recommendation); Lawson v. Hoisington, E.D. Pa. Civ.
A. No. 11-171 (July 22, 2014 Order dismissing complaint with
prejudice as “legally frivolous and for failure to
state a claim”); Lawson v. SCI-Graterford Facility
Manager, Civ. A. No. 19-1739 (April 26, 2019 Order
denying in forma pauperis pursuant to §
1915(g)). In denying Lawson's Motion to Proceed In
Forma Pauperis in Civil Action 19-1739, the Court fully
set out the history of Lawson's accumulation of
“three strikes” for purposes of § 1915(g)
and determined that, because the section applied, Lawson must
demonstrate in future cases that imminent danger of serious
physical injury existed in order to be granted in forma
this fact, Mr. Lawson has appended an Affidavit in Support of
Imminent Danger to his current Motions. (See ECF No.
6.) In the Affidavit he repeats allegations from his
Complaints and adds allegations concerning cell searches, his
being handcuffed, strip searched, and placed in restricted
housing due to possession of contraband; interference with
access to his legal materials; and interference with his
personal property. He also asserts that after he filed a
grievance, he “was informed that SCI Phoenix's Unit
Managers and Shift Lieutenant held a little meeting in
pursuit of arranging better management of the institution 
when both plaintiff's name and the ‘pain in the ass
grievances plaintiff continues to file became relevant on
several separate occasions.' In result person directed
plaintiff to ‘watch you ass.'” (Id.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915,
allows indigent litigants to bring an action in federal court
without prepayment of filing fees, ensuring that such persons
are not prevented “from pursuing meaningful
litigation” because of their indigence. Abdul-Akbar
v. McKelvie, 239 F.3d 307, 312 (3d Cir.2001) (en banc)
(internal quotation marks omitted). But, as Congress has
recognized, people who obtain IFP status are “not
subject to the same economic disincentives to filing
meritless cases that face other civil litigants, ” and
thus the provision is susceptible to abuse. Id.
(citing 141 Cong. Rec. S7498-01, S7526 (daily ed. May 25,
1995) (statement of Sen. Kyl)). In particular, the number of
meritless claims brought IFP by prisoners grew
“astronomically” from the 1970s to the 1990s,
id. (quoting 141 Cong. Rec. S14408-01, S14413 (daily
ed. Sept. 27, 1995) (statement of Sen. Dole)), and
“[p]risoner litigation continues to account for an
outsized share of filings in federal district courts, ”
Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 203 (2007) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
response to the tide of substantively meritless prisoner
claims that have swamped the federal courts, ” Congress
enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”)
in 1996. Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d
Cir. 2013) abrogated in part on other grounds by
Coleman v. Tollefson, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 1759,
1763, 191 L.Ed.2d 803 (2015). (quoting Shane v.
Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 117 (3d Cir. 2000)) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Among other things, the PLRA
implemented the so-called “three strikes rule, ”
In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a
judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section
if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while
incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action
or appeal in a 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, unless the
prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.
28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) (emphasis added). Put more simply,
under the PLRA, a prisoner with three prior strikes can
obtain IFP status only if he is in imminent danger of serious
physical injury. Courts must consider a pro se
prisoner's allegations of imminent danger “under
our liberal pleading rules, construing all allegations in
favor of the complainant.” Gibbs v. Cross, 160
F.3d 962, 966 (3d Cir. 1998).
is no question that Mr. Lawson has already run afoul of
section 1915(g)'s “three-strikes-and-you're-out
policy.” See Civ. A. No. 19-1739 (April 26,
2019 Order denying in forma pauperis pursuant to
§ 1915(g)). The PLRA is quite clear that, in general, a
prisoner who has already brought three meritless actions
loses the privilege of IFP status. See Abdul-Akbar,
239 F.3d at 314 (noting that “[i]n stark terms, ”
the PLRA “declared that the IFP privilege will not be
available to prisoners who have, on three occasions, abused
the system by filing frivolous or malicious lawsuits or
appeals, no matter how meritorious subsequent claims may
be”). The Act provides a limited exception to that rule
when a prisoner is in “imminent danger of serious
physical injury, ” which serves as a “safety
valve” to ensure that a prisoner is not subject to
serious injury due to his inability to pay a filing fee.
Ball, 726 F.3d at 467. The imminent danger exception
thus creates a narrow opening for a particular type of claim;
it is not a legal incantation to be invoked simply to avoid
the three-strikes rule. Pettus v. Morgenthau, 554
F.3d 293, 297 (2d Cir. 2009) (concluding that the
exception's “unmistakable purpose is to permit an
indigent three-strikes prisoner to proceed IFP in order to
obtain a judicial remedy for an imminent danger, ” not
to allow such a litigant to “file an unlimited number
of lawsuits, paying no filing fee, for anything from breach
of a consumer warranty to antitrust conspiracy”).
Courts have required such allegations to be precise and to
identify genuine harm likely to occur in the near future.
“Imminent dangers are those dangers which are about to
occur at any moment or are impending.”
Abdul-Akbar, 239 F.3d at 315 (internal quotation
marks omitted). A prisoner's allegation that he faced
imminent danger in the past is “an insufficient basis
to allow him to proceed in forma pauperis.”
Ball, 726 F.3d at 467 (quoting Medberry v.
Butler, 185 F.3d 1189, 1193 (11th Cir.1999)) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Practices that “may prove
detrimental . . . over time, ” such as poor care for
arthritis, also “do not represent imminent dangers,
” as the harm is not “about to occur at any
moment.” Id. at 468 (quoting
Abdul-Akbar, 239 F.3d at 315) (internal quotation
marks omitted). Finally, even if an alleged harm may in fact
be “impending, ” it does not satisfy the
exception if it does not threaten to cause “serious
physical injury.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g); see
also Ball, 726 F.3d at 468 (suggesting that certain
complaints, such as being forced to work in inclement
weather, “may not be ‘danger' at all”)
(citing Martin v. Shelton, 319 F.3d 1048, 1050 (8th
Cir. 2003)). When considering whether imminent danger of
serious physical injury has been alleged, courts may reject
“vague” or “conclusory” allegations
as insufficient to provide a basis for IFP status.
Lawson's allegations that he was subject to cell
searches, handcuffing, strip searches, and placement in
restricted housing do not meet the imminent danger standard.
These do not assert any physical injury, let alone a serious
or imminent one. Neither do Lawson's allegations
concerning his legal materials and personal property meet the
standard. Finally Lawson's allegation that one of his
grievances led to an unnamed person on May 3, 2019 advising
him to “watch you ass” is too vague to satisfy
the standard and, more importantly, is not the basis for any
claim contained in Lawson's Complaints, all of which
involve conduct allegedly occurring in 2017 and 2018.