Abdul-Matiyn v. Coughlin
This case involved a challenge to the constitutionality of a provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996. The provision, commonly referred to as the “three strikes rule,” bars a prison inmate from filing suit in federal court with the benefit of in forma pauperis status (waiver of court fees) once he or she has filed at least three federal lawsuits or appeals that have been dismissed as frivolous. The provision effectively denies indigent prisoners access to federal court because of past litigation behavior, however distant, no matter what merit their current claims may have. The Center’s amicus brief argued that principles of equal protection demand that prisoners presenting colorable claims regarding violations of their fundamental rights cannot be denied in forma pauperis status on the basis of past litigation they have undertaken. The appeal was dismissed in December 1998.