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Bill Passes Senate Committee Limiting Prisoner Lawsuits

By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY–On Wednesday, the Senate Judicial Committee passed a bill limiting lawsuit that can be filed by Alabama prisoners. Senate Bill 209 is sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur).

The Alabama Prisoner Litigation Reform Act establishes guidelines and procedures for all civil actions brought by prisoners incarcerated in any state or local correctional facility in Alabama. It also provides for review by the courts any civil action brought by a state prisoner to determine if meets certain criteria constituting a valid lawsuit. It is limited to pro se action suits only.

According to Wikipedia, “Pro se legal representation means advocating on one’s own behalf before a court, rather than being represented by a lawyer. This may occur in any court proceeding, whether one is the defendant or plaintiff in civil cases, and when one is a defendant in criminal cases.”

It also “establish guidelines for the court to follow with respect to prisoner’s suit,

attorney fees, monetary judgment awards, and oral argument request.”

Sen. Orr said that the bill is “patterned after the federal law that was passed in 1996 to cut down on frivolous lawsuits coming out of the prison system.”

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“In Alabama there are over 500 pending. One person has over 200 himself that he has filed against the DOC,” said Orr. “In order to save considerable funds in the DOC we brought this bill forward.”

Nine plus states have adopted this type of law including Pennsylvania, Oregon, West Virginia and Texas.

Before any action can be considered the prisoner must exhausts all administrative remedies available.

The bill states:

“The court, on its own motion or on the motion of a party, may dismiss any prisoner civil action if the court is satisfied that the action is:

a. Frivolous.

b. Malicious.

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c. Fails to state a cause of action.

d. Seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

e. Fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

Some senators raised concerns about the constitutionality of the law. Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery) asked, “I am concerned about limiting people’s access to the courts. Can we do this?”

Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) said, “That was my question for the sponsor, too. The only question that I had was that the 7th Amendment, I believe, guarantees the right to trial, that’s federal, but under certain circumstances it also applies at the state level. Are we in anyway violating constitution?”

Orr replied, “That is certainly not my understanding. And this is a third strike bill.”

“It applies to the 14th Amendment which applies to the state for due process. This is a violation terribly. I teach constitutional law. This violates due process.” He went on to say that the state is certain to get sued over this bill,” added Sen. Rodger Smitherman (R-Birmingham).

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Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) said, “What he is proposing is being done in many other states and none of them have been overturned in federal court as being unconstitutional.”

The bill passed with 6 yeas. It will now go to Rules Committee to determine when it will appear on the Senate Floor.

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