Recent Legal Developments

Date01 June 2014
Published date01 June 2014
Subject MatterRecent Legal Developments
Recent Legal Developments
Recent Legal Developments:
Correctional Case Law: 2013
James E. Robertson
When Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), P.L. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321
(2006), it faulted prisoner lawsuits for clogging the federal court system with a flood of largely mer-
itless cases (Robertson, 2000). While the number of inmate lawsuits has dropped dramatically—
down some 60%since 1995 (James, 2011), there remains what one commentator describes as the
‘‘caseload volume problem’’ (Cleveland, 2013, p. 49). Although the current ‘‘problem’’ is not attrib-
uted to inmate writ writers, inmates seeking federal judicial relief labor under internal procedural
reforms that Richman and Reynolds characterize as ‘‘appellate triage,’’ that is, a two-tiered system
of appeals before the U.S. Courts of Appeals (p. xii). The first and newest tier, which handles per-
haps 85%of all appealed cases, consists of several shortcuts in case processing, where ‘‘[t]here is no
oral argument, and conferences may occur in en masse (as many as fifty in a day), and thus the
judges often devote only a few minutes to each case,’’ leaving most of work to the ‘‘central staff’’
(p. xii). The other tier, one that embraces the common law tradition and creates precedent, could not
be more different: Judges ‘‘hear oral argument, confer at length, prepare multiple drafts, exchange
draft opinions with their colleagues, and eventually issue one long scholarly, heavily footnoted opin-
ion drafted personally by the judges with the help a few personal law clerks’’ (p. xii). For Richman
and Reynolds, the birth of an appellate triage system is a crisis in itself, one that primarily disadvan-
tages the poor, which includes most inmates, and the middle class.
In keeping with previous installments, this annual survey examines select prisoners’ rights cases
decided by the U.S. Courts of Appeals during 2013 and recommended for full-text publication in the
Federal Reporter, Third Series. As such, this survey addresses litigation in the second, preferred
tier—as described previously—of Federal appellate litigation.
The author chose the cases examined subsequently because they addressed persistent, important,
or emerging constitutional issues about confinement in jails and prisons. Because a summary judg-
ment for the defendants in these cases typically led to their appeal, the factual summaries of cases
discussed herein reflect the practice of the U.S. Courts of Appeals in such instances to view all facts
and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. As in the past, this installment
examines only constitutional issues raised before the U.S. Courts of Appeals and thus does not
address statutory interpretation.
Minnesota State University, Mankato, MN, USA
Corresponding Author:
James E. Robertson, Minnesota State University, 113 Armstrong Hall, Mankato, MN 56001, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
2014, Vol. 39(2) 233-246
ª2014 Georgia State University
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016814530757

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT