New opinion — divided panel rules for prisoner in filing-fee dispute, deepening circuit split

Siluk v. Merwin — prisoner litigation — reversal — McKee

A divided Third Circuit panel today ruled in a prisoner’s favor in a case involving how indigent inmates who file multiple suits must pay the filing fees. The PLRA requires even poor inmates to pay filings fees in full. That’s $350 in district court, $505 on appeal (UPDATE: the court later amended the opinion to say that the appeal fee when the inmate appealed was $455). To pay off these fees over time, poor inmates must make monthly payments of 20% of their prior month’s income.

So what happens when a poor inmate has 2 filing fees to pay? Is the deduction sequential (20% every month until each fee is paid in turn), or concurrent (40% each month)? The majority today held that the deductions apply sequentially, not concurrently. The majority thus deepened a circuit split on the issue, joining CA2 and CA4 against CA5, CA7, CA8, CA10, and CADC.

McKee was joined by Garth; Chagares dissented. Arguing counsel were Reed Smith associate Paige Forster (a former Fisher clerk) for the inmate and Jeffrey Sandberg (click that link!) for the government. Both the majority and the dissent praised prisoner’s counsel for the quality of their pro bono representation.

Next stop, the Scotusblog petitions we’re watching page.