Maurice L. Wallace, Plaintiff-Appellant,
John Baldwin, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
April 25, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Illinois. No. 17-CV-0576 - David R. Herndon,
Manion, Hamilton, and Barrett, Circuit Judges.
Hamilton, Circuit Judge.
Maurice Wallace was convicted of murder and sentenced to life
without parole in 2006. A few months after he entered prison,
he assaulted a guard. He has been in solitary confinement
(euphemistically called "disciplinary segregation")
ever since-for at least eleven years. He is seriously
mentally ill. He also poses challenges to both prison
officials and federal courts.
Wallace lodged with the district court a proposed complaint
against prison officials and the Illinois Department of
Corrections. He alleges that his prolonged isolation
exacerbates his mental illness, increases his risk of
suicide, and violates his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment
rights. He is unable to pay the civil filing fee in advance,
so he also filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma
pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. The district court
ruled that Wallace cannot proceed in forma pauperis because
he has received three "strikes" under the Prison
Litigation Reform Act for frivolous cases and did not qualify
for the statutory exception for a prisoner who is "under
imminent danger of serious physical injury." See 28
U.S.C. § 1915(g).
appeals that denial. He was not allowed to proceed in the
district court, and the named defendants have not appeared in
either the district court or on appeal. We recruited counsel
for Wallace, and they have represented him ably. With
better-developed arguments and with the benefit of
Sanders v. Melvin, 873 F.3d 957 (7th Cir. 2017),
decided after the district court's decision in this case,
we conclude that the district court's reasons for denying
in forma pauperis status were erroneous. Wallace has alleged
sufficiently that he faces imminent danger of serious
physical injury. He also has not yet received three
"strikes" under the Prison Litigation Reform Act.
We vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings.
Prison Litigation Reform Act's "three strikes"
provision limiting prisoners' civil lawsuits in federal
courts is at the center of this appeal:
In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a
judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section
if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior 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 physical injury.
28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).
review de novo a district court's interpretation
of the three-strikes provision in § 1915(g).
Ciarpaglini v. Saini, 352 F.3d 328, 330 (7th Cir.
2003), citing Evans v. Illinois Dep't of
Corrections, 150 F.3d 810, 811 (7th Cir. 1998). On the
imminentdanger exception, factual issues are possible. If a
district court digs into them and makes findings, our
appellate review adapts accordingly. Our account treats as
true all wellpleaded allegations in the complaint and views
them in the light most favorable to plaintiff. See Arnett
v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011).
core of Wallace's complaint is that solitary confinement
has intensified his mental illness, including post-traumatic
stress disorder, causing nightmares, severe anxiety, and most
relevant here, suicidal thoughts. He describes his
segregation as "akin to being sealed inside a
coffin." He spends 23 to 24 hours a day alone in a cell
that is "significantly smaller" than 50 square
feet. The cell is dark, noisy, infested with insects,
freezing in the winter, and hot in the summer. Because of his
segregation, he cannot attend educational or religious
classes, visit the law library used by the general
population, or earn income from a prison job.
extreme isolation for more than a decade has taken a toll on
Wallace's mental health. He takes antidepressants for
post-traumatic stress disorder. But despite this medication
he still experiences depression, anxiety, panic attacks,
difficulty sleeping, and auditory hallucinations.
to this appeal, Wallace alleges that prolonged segregation
has increased his risk of suicide. He has attempted suicide
at least five times, including three times during his eleven
years in segregation. His last attempt was in late 2016. The
details of that attempt are unclear. During a prior attempt
Wallace tied a sheet around his neck and "threatened to
jump." Taking Wallace's threats ...