MARCUS D. WOODSON, Plaintiff - Appellant,
TRACY McCOLLUM; BRUCE BORNHIEM, in their individual capacities; JOE ALLBAUGH, in his official and individual capacities; GREG WILLIAMS; BRENDA GOODSON; KERRY KENDALL; SHEILA PHILLIPS; AMBER SWIFT; SAM PRESTON; CARL BEAR; JASON BRYANT; KRISTIN TIMS; DR. TROUT; CASEY HAMILTON; HELEN BELL; MIKE ROGERS; LINDA MONK; FNU CALLINS; DENNIS HENDRIX; CHIEF TATE; SHERRY DECAMP; WARDEN DAVID PARKER; JENETTA ORR; DARREN GIPSON; LAWRENCE BELL; BRUCE KIETEL; WILLIAM WELDON; BARBIE ROUNDSVILLE, in their individual capacities, Defendants - Appellees.
on the briefs:[*]
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Oklahoma (D.C. No. 5:17-CV-00094-D)
H. Ali, Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center,
Washington, D.C., for Plaintiff-Appellant.
Stefanie E. Lawson, Assistant Attorney General, Oklahoma
Attorney General's Office, Litigation Division, Oklahoma
City, Oklahoma, for Defendants-Appellees.
HARTZ, McKAY, and MATHESON, Circuit Judges.
Marcus Woodson is a prisoner of the State of Oklahoma. He
sued several prison officials in Oklahoma state court,
proceeding in forma pauperis (IFP) under state law.
The defendants removed the case to the United States District
Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. As required by
federal statute, they paid the filing fee. See 28
U.S.C. § 1914(a) ("The parties instituting any
civil action . . . whether by original process,
removal or otherwise" are required to pay the
filing fee. (emphasis added)). The federal court, however,
determined that Woodson, who had previously abused the
federal courts by filing frivolous lawsuits, was not eligible
to proceed IFP and dismissed his case because he failed to
pay the filing fee. Woodson appeals. Exercising jurisdiction
under 28 U.S.C. §1291, we reverse. State-court
plaintiffs whose cases are removed to federal court have no
obligation to pay a filing fee; nothing in the federal IFP
statute is to the contrary.
The Federal IFP Statute
enacted the federal IFP statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, to
ensure that the poor could take legal action despite their
inability to pay court fees. See Coleman v.
Tollefson, 135 S.Ct. 1759, 1761 (2015). The statute
allows courts to "authorize the commencement . . . of
any suit . . . without prepayment of fees" if a person
files an affidavit stating, among other things, that he
"is unable to pay such fees." § 1915(a)(1).
litigants who do not prepay fees have less economic incentive
to refrain from filing frivolous lawsuits. See
Coleman, 135 S.Ct. at 1762. "Congress came to see
that prisoner suits in particular represented a
disproportionate share of federal filings." Id.
It therefore passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995,
which included several measures "designed to prevent
sportive filings in federal court." Skinner v.
Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 535 (2011). One such provision is
the three-strikes rule in § 1915(g), which excludes
prisoners who file frequent frivolous lawsuits from the
benefits of IFP status. See id.; Childs v.
Miller, 713 F.3d 1262, 1265 (10th Cir. 2013). It states:
In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a
judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section
[§ 1915] if the prisoner has, on 3 or more 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
§ 1915(g). A state court is not a "court of the
United States" as defined for Title 28 of the United
States Code. See 28 U.S.C. § 451 ("The
term 'court of the United States' includes the
Supreme Court of the United States, courts of appeal,
district courts constituted by chapter 5 of this title, . . .
and any court created by Act of Congress the judges of which
are entitled to hold office during good behavior."). The
three-strikes rule does not totally bar prisoners with three
strikes from filing lawsuits; it just makes them pay the
filing fee as any other plaintiff. See White v.
Colorado, 157 F.3d 1226, 1233 (10th Cir. 1988).
case the defendants paid the federal filing fee, so Woodson
did not seek to proceed IFP. Nevertheless, the district court
ruled that § 1915(g) required him to pay a filing fee
because he has had three prior lawsuits dismissed on the
grounds that they were frivolous, malicious, or failed to
state a claim, and he did not qualify for the exception for
prisoners who are in "imminent danger of serious
physical injury." 28 U.S.C. §
1915(g). It therefore dismissed his case.