Skip to main content

Dawn Murphy-Johnson Comments on Supreme Court Decision Regarding the Prison Litigation Reform Act in Law360

"New Hurdle Emerges For Pro Se Prisoners"


Dawn Murphy-Johnson commented on the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling in Lomax v. Ortiz-Marquez, which settled a years-long circuit split regarding the interpretation of the Prison Litigation Reform Act's (PLRA) "three-strikes rule." Under the rule, prisoners accrue "strikes" when their pro se federal lawsuits are dismissed for certain reasons. Upon receiving three "strikes," prisoners lose their fee waiver status. Circuit courts have disagreed on whether the term "dismissed" includes cases dismissed without prejudice. The Supreme Court ruled in Lomax that the broad language of the statute includes all dismissals. "Although the court's decision will certainly change the playing field for prisoners in the Third and Fourth circuits (where a without-prejudice dismissal will now count as a strike)," a footnote in the Supreme Court's opinion nonetheless "enables district courts to exercise their inherent equitable powers to leave the courthouse doors open to potentially meritorious, but poorly drafted, claims," said Murphy-Johnson, who filed an amicus brief on behalf of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers opposing the treatment of a dismissal without prejudice as a strike.  "The court's decision comes as the result of its strict interpretation of the statutory terms, an approach that we hope the courts will apply even when doing so favors the prisoner," Murphy-Johnson added.