U.S. District Judge denies prisoner's bid to move forward with civil rights suit 'in forma pauperis'

By Jon Campisi | May 17, 2013

A state prison inmate who is incarcerated for murdering a member of the Pennsylvania

chapter of the Bloods street gang cannot proceed with his lawsuit in forma pauperis, or without paying the civil filing fee, because past judges have determined other litigation initiated by the plaintiff to be frivolous, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner, sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ruled against Marc Anthony James Arnold in his bid to move forward with a civil action against 45 defendants in forma pauperis because the plaintiff has three “strikes” against him, meaning Arnold has had three prior occasions in which the courts have dismissed lawsuits he filed while incarcerated as frivolous, malicious, or failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

Arnold, who is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, alleges various civil rights violations and constitutional claims in his lawsuit connected to his alleged treatment at several prisons throughout the commonwealth.

According to the court record, Arnold was sent to the Lehigh County Prison from June 30, 2010, through March 30, 2011, while awaiting trial on charges that he killed the local gang member.

While at the county jail, Arnold was repeatedly assaulted and harassed by other members of the Bloods gang who were behind bars at the time, the record shows.

Arnold was also kept in administrative segregation for about six months during this time period.

When he was transferred to the Berks County Prison on March 30, 2011, Arnold claims he faced retaliation from jail staff due to his religious beliefs, which included being made to sleep on a concrete slab and being fed limited food.

Arnold also claims he was harassed by corrections officers upon his return to the Lehigh County Prison in October 2011.

The plaintiff further claims that he was denied medical care in retaliation for other lawsuits he had previously filed against prison officials, the judge’s memorandum states.

Arnold was eventually convicted of the murder of the Bloods gang member and sentenced to two decades in state prison.

The prisoner now claims that during his time at the Graterford state prison in Montgomery County, and more recently at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, he has been forced to deal with similar issues as those that took place at the county lockups.

Arnold claims he is being denied access to the courts and he also asserts that there should be a separate housing unit or separate prison for inmates who are being held in protective custody such as himself.

In his memorandum, Joyner wrote that the only allegations in Arnold’s complaint sufficient to establish that the prisoner was under a threat of serious physical injury are those pertaining to Arnold stints in county jail, and that “those dangers have passed.”

Joyner wrote that the only allegations relevant to the state prison at Camp Hill are Arnold’s assertions that he is being housed in “punitive” conditions while in protective custody, and that he is being denied access to the court.

“Those allegations do not establish that plaintiff was in imminent danger of serious physical injury at the time he filed his complaint,” the judge wrote. “Nor is there any suggestion that plaintiff is expected to return to Lehigh County Prison or Berks County Prison in the near future.”

As for his decision to deny Arnold’s bid to move forward with his case without paying the requisite filing fee, Joyner wrote that as per the Rules of Civil Procedure, the plaintiff must be denied in forma pauperis status unless he was in imminent danger of serious physical injury at the time that the suit was filed, which doesn’t appear to be the case here.

Joyner denied Arnold’s motion without prejudice. The judge also denied as moot Arnold’s request for an extension of time to provide the missing portions of his prison account statement.

Joyner’s order was docketed with the court on May 14.

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