760 F.2d 1107 (11th Cir. 1985), 83-3430, Procup v. Strickland

Docket Nº:83-3430.
Citation:760 F.2d 1107
Party Name:Robert PROCUP, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. C. STRICKLAND, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:May 20, 1985
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1107

760 F.2d 1107 (11th Cir. 1985)

Robert PROCUP, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

C. STRICKLAND, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 83-3430.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

May 20, 1985

Page 1108

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Opinion on Granting of Rehearing En Banc July 10, 1985.

Page 1109

Lamar Winegeart, III, Arnold, Stratford & Booth, Jacksonville, Fla., for plaintiff-appellant.

Dean C. Kowalchyk, Asst. Atty. Gen., Tallahassee, Fla., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before KRAVITCH and JOHNSON, Circuit Judges, and TUTTLE, Senior Circuit Judge.

JOHNSON, Circuit Judge:

Appellant, state prisoner Robert Procup, brought this action pro se in the Middle District of Florida against prison officials who had allegedly stolen his mail. After reviewing Procup's complaint and his affidavit seeking permission to prosecute the claim in forma pauperis, the district court sua sponte entered an order which (1) noted the volume and nature of Procup's previous lawsuits, (2) expressed concern that Procup was engaging in abuse of the judicial process, and (3) gave Procup thirty days to show cause why he should not be enjoined from filing any further pleadings in the Middle District of Florida. The order also allowed the State of Florida thirty days in which to present its position as to the propriety of such an injunction. After considering responses from Procup and the State of Florida, the district court invoked its powers under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C.A. Sec. 1651(a), 1 and permanently enjoined Procup from filing in the Middle District of Florida "any additional cases or pleadings therein ... unless ... submitted on behalf of Procup by an attorney admitted to practice before this Court." Procup v. Strickland, 567 F.Supp. 146, 162 (M.D.Fla.1983). Because the injunction unduly burdens Procup's constitutional right of access to the courts and seeks to absolve the district court of its responsibility to examine prisoner complaints for frivolity or maliciousness on a case-by-case basis, we reverse.

INTRODUCTION

Since 1979, Procup has been increasingly active as a pro se litigant, bringing the majority of his lawsuits under 42 U.S.C.A. Sec. 1983 as challenges to various conditions of his confinement in Florida prisons. Based on Procup's lack of success in any action prosecuted thus far, the patently frivolous nature of several of his claims, the repetitive assertion of various claims, a persistent refusal to abide by local rules, and an apparently malicious motive for initiating certain actions, the district court below found that Procup "has engaged and continues to engage in a gross abuse of the judicial process." Id. at 156.

We do not question this finding, 2 as the district court provides ample documentation

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for the conclusion that Procup is excessively litigious. Id. at 148-56. Our concern, instead, is with the overbroad remedy employed by the district court. No analogous precedent from this or any other circuit has affirmed such a restrictive injunction. Its unlimited scope denies Procup adequate, effective, and meaningful access to the courts. Moreover, inherent in a judicial ruling which completely 3 forecloses an individual's pro se access to federal court is an ominous abandonment of judicial responsibility, the import of which far exceeds the actual abuse attributable even to the exceptional prisoner litigant. The efficient operation of our judicial system does not require the issuance of an unlimited restriction on this pro se litigant's access to the courts. Existing federal rules governing pro se and in forma pauperis appearances and local rules when properly designed to streamline pleadings and ferret out abuse should suffice. The magnitude of Procup's abuse does not justify creating a rule that permits the judicial officer charged with the responsibility of reviewing prisoner complaints on a case-by-case basis to refuse to consider these claims altogether. To the contrary, the magnitude of Procup's abuse serves to emphasize the degree to which the pro se litigant's right of access to our courts retains its constitutional significance.

DISCUSSION

A. The Injunction Is Overbroad.

Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 1494, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977). 4 Though this right is not absolute or unconditional, restrictions which deprive inmates of "adequate, effective, and meaningful" access will be declared invalid. Id. at 822, 97 S.Ct. at 1495; See also Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 579-80, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 2986-87, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974). In our Circuit, for example, a trial court's summary dismissal of an inmate's complaint in order to control court dockets and discourage prisoner litigation has been expressly prohibited. Mitchum v. Purvis, 650 F.2d 647, 648 (5th Cir.1981) (Unit B).

The district court below correctly acknowledged that litigiousness alone would not support an injunction depriving Procup of his right of access to the courts. Procup, supra, 567 F.Supp. at 151. However, the court went on to justify imposing the injunction by finding that Procup had abused the judicial process. Id. at 156. Apart from whether an injunction of any kind is warranted under these circumstances, which is a question we shall address in the latter part of this opinion, we hold that the injunction issued by the district court is

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overbroad. The unlimited scope of the injunction is without precedent, and it denies Procup adequate, effective, and meaningful access to our judicial system.

1. The Injunction Is Without Precedent.

Appellate decisions in this and other circuit courts have affirmed the issuance of injunctions against abusive litigants, but none of the injunctions challenged in these cases have swept so broadly as to deny pro se appearances entirely. Where principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel have proven inadequate to deter abuse, litigants have been enjoined from relitigating specific claims or filing repetitive appeals from a particular adverse ruling. E.g., Harrelson v. United States, 613 F.2d 114, 116 (5th Cir.1980); In re Green, 598 F.2d 1126, 1128 (8th Cir.1979); Hill v. Estelle, 543 F.2d 754 (5th Cir.1976), aff'g Hill v. Estelle, 423 F.Supp. 690 (S.D.Tex.1976). Similarly motivated injunctions have required litigants who have abused the judicial process to accompany all future pleadings with affidavits certifying that the claims being raised are novel. E.g., Green v. Warden, 699 F.2d 364, 370 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 960, 103 S.Ct. 2436, 77 L.Ed.2d 1321 (1983); In re Green, 669 F.2d 779, 787 (D.C.Cir.1981). Litigants have also been directed to attach to future complaints a list of all cases previously filed involving the same, similar, or related cause of action 5 and to send an extra copy of every pleading filed to the law clerk for the chief judge of the district. E.g., Green v. White, 616 F.2d 1054, 1056 (8th Cir.1980).

Injunctions of a different sort have prohibited the clerk of the court from filing an abusive litigant's pleadings without leave of court. E.g., Green v. Warden, supra, 699 F.2d at 370; In re Oliver, 682 F.2d 443, 446 (3d Cir.1982); In re Green, supra, 669 F.2d at 787; Pavilonis v. King, 626 F.2d 1075, 1079 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 829, 101 S.Ct. 96, 66 L.Ed.2d 34 (1980); Gordon v. United States Department of Justice, 558 F.2d 618 (1st Cir.1977). The clerk has also been instructed not to file pleadings that do not comply strictly with the applicable rules of civil and appellate procedure. E.g., Carter v. Pettigrew, No. 84-8411, slip op. at 5 (11th Cir. Aug. 24, 1984) (unpublished) (order authorizing clerk of appellate court to inspect documents received from certain litigants for compliance with Fed.R.App.P. 3 and to refuse to file the documents if the judgment or order appealed from is not specified).

All of these injunctions, by exposing the litigants to the possibility of being held in contempt for non-compliance, have created an added incentive for not abusing the judicial process. Yet, none of these decisions have completely curtailed a prisoner's pro se access to the courts. At most, the injunctions have created rebuttable presumptions of repetition, frivolity, or maliciousness. In none of the decisions have future non-frivolous and non-malicious claims been preemptively and conclusively foreclosed, as they...

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