Are the Provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act Unconstitutional ?
In Payne v. Department of Corrections, 582 Pa. 375, 871 A.2d 795 (2005), upholding the constitutionality of the provisions in the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) for dismissal of repetitive actions lacking merit, the court noted:
[O]ur General Assembly enacted the [PLRA] in 1998, modeling it after the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act enacted in 1995 . . . . the federal statute is intended to promote administrative redress, to filter out groundless claims, and to foster better prepared litigation of prisoner claims. Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 121 S. Ct. 1819, 149 L. Ed. 2d 958 (2001).
To achieve such purpose, both the federal and Pennsylvania PLRA set forth guidelines to be followed in prison conditions litigation. 582 Pa. at 383, 871 A.2d at 800.
Section 6602 of Pennsylvania's PLRA establishes prisoner filing requirements, including specified documentation to support a petition requesting in forma pauperis (IFP) status and, pertinent to the present case, in subsections (e) and (f) authorizes dismissal of a prisoner claim under specified circumstances.
Section 6602(e) provides:
(e) Dismissal of litigation.--Notwithstanding any filing fee which has been paid, the court shall dismiss prison conditions litigation at any time, including prior to service on the defendant, if the court determines any of the following:
(1) the allegation of indigency is untrue.
(2) the prison conditions litigation is frivolous or malicious or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or the defendant is entitled to assert a valid affirmative defense, including immunity, which, if asserted, would preclude relief.
The court may reinstate the prison conditions litigation where the dismissal is based upon an untrue allegation of indigency and the prisoner establishes to the satisfaction of the court that the untrue information was not known to the prisoner. 42 Pa. C.S. 6602(e)(2).
Section 6602(f), commonly referred to as the "three strikes rule," provides:
(f) Abusive litigation. -- If the prisoner has previously filed prison conditions litigation and:
(1) three or more of these prior civil actions have been dismissed pursuant to subsection (e)(2); or
(2) the prisoner has previously filed prison conditions litigation against a person named as a defendant in the instant action or a person serving in the same official capacity as a named defendant and a court made a finding that the prior action was filed in bad faith or that the prisoner knowingly presented false evidence or testimony at a hearing or trial; the court may dismiss the action.
The court shall not, however, dismiss a request for preliminary injunctive relief or a temporary restraining order which makes a credible allegation that the prisoner is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury. 42 Pa. C.S. 6602(f).