Abdul-Akbar v. Watson – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

In Abdul-Akbar v. Watson, 901 F.2d 329, 331 (3d Cir.1990), the Third Circuit addressed the problem caused by a prisoner who filed numerous § 1983 actions over a number of years.

The court distinguished between frivolous complaints and litigants that abuse the system, stating that "a frivolous complaint is one thing; a continuing abuse of process is another," and concluded that "when a district court is confronted with a pattern of conduct from which it can only conclude that a litigant is intentionally abusing the judicial process and will continue to do so unless restrained, . . . it is entitled to resort to its power of injunction and contempt to protect its process." Id. at 333.

It created the following test for instituting an injunction:

When a district court concludes that a litigant has abused the judicial process by filing a multitude of frivolous § 1983 cases in a relatively brief period of time and will continue to file such cases unless restrained, we hold that the court may enter an injunction directing that the litigant not file any section 1983 claims without leave of court and that in seeking leave of court, the litigant certify:

(1) that the claims he wishes to present are new claims never before raised and disposed of on the merits by any federal courts;

(2) that he believes the facts alleged in his complaint to be true;

(3) that he knows of no reason to believe his claims are foreclosed by controlling law. Such an injunction should state that upon a failure to certify or upon a false certification, the litigant may be found in contempt of court and punished accordingly. Ibid.

The court emphasized that an injunction should only be directed to one "whose history of repetitious and frivolous filings indicates a clear intent to abuse the courts" and that the injunction can require "only that a litigant refrain from filing a repetitious claim or a claim that the indigent knows to be frivolous." Id. at 334. Moreover, in the case before it, the court found that the suit was not frivolous and that "the district court did not expressly find that an injunction was necessary in order to avoid future abuse of the court's process. . . ." Id. at 335.