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Matthews v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 5, 2017

ALEXANDER OTIS MATTHEWS, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          RANDOLPH D. MOSS, United States District Judge

         The Court previously determined that pro se prisoner plaintiff Alexander Otis Matthews accumulated three or more “strikes” under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) before he filed this action. See Matthews v. FBI, 211 F.Supp.3d 148, 150 (D.D.C. 2016) (“Matthews I”). The Court then dismissed the action without prejudice. Id. Matthews now moves for reconsideration of the three-strikes determination under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). See Dkt. 32. In Matthews's view, only one of the four prior actions which the Court identified constitutes a strike. Id. The Court disagrees and will accordingly DENY the motion.

         That said, the Court's dismissal of the action was too hasty. Matthews's “strikes” do not bar him from prosecuting his case altogether; they merely bar him from doing so without first paying the filing fee. To afford Matthews the chance to pay the fee, the Court, on its own motion, will VACATE its order dismissing the case, will REVOKE Matthews's in forma pauperis status, and will ORDER that Matthews pay the balance of the filing fee on or before thirty days from the date of this opinion, or the Court will dismiss his case without prejudice.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion to alter or amend a judgment under Rule 59(e) “is discretionary and need not be granted unless the district court finds that there is an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice.” Ciralsky v. CIA, 355 F.3d 661, 671 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (internal quotation mark omitted). Such motions are “generally disfavored” absent “extraordinary circumstances.” Dage v. Johnson, 537 F.Supp.2d 43, 48 (D.D.C. 2008). A Rule 59(e) motion “is not a vehicle to present a new legal theory that was available prior to judgment, ” Patton Boggs LLP v. Chevron Corp., 683 F.3d 397, 403 (D.C. Cir. 2012), nor is it an opportunity “to reargue facts and theories upon which a court has already ruled, ” New York v. United States, 880 F.Supp. 37, 38 (D.D.C. 1995).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiffs must ordinarily pay a filing fee before instituting a civil action. 28 U.S.C. § 1914. Individuals unable to do so may seek in forma pauperis (“IFP”) status. Prisoners granted IFP status must still pay the full filing fee over time, but they need not pay in advance in order to commence the action. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b); see Thompson v. DEA, 492 F.3d 428, 431 (D.C. Cir. 2007); Credico v. DHS, 170 F.Supp.3d 1, 2 (D.D.C. 2016).

         The so-called “three strikes” rule in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g), however, “limits courts' discretion to grant IFP status to prisoners with a track record of frivolous litigation.” Thompson, 492 F.3d at 431. That rule bars prisoners from proceeding IFP “if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action . . . dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” § 1915(g). The statute excepts prisoners “under imminent danger of serious physical injury, ” id., but Matthews does not invoke that provision here.

         A. Three-Strikes Determination

         In its prior opinion, the Court held that, “before Matthews filed the instant action on April 16, 2015, he had filed at least four different actions that were dismissed as frivolous or for failure to state a claim, and which therefore constitute ‘strikes' for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).” Matthews I, 211 F.Supp.3d at 150. In particular, the Court identified the following cases:

(1) Matthews v. Sobh, No. 12-cv-294 (E.D. Va. Apr. 11, 2012), ECF No. 2;
(2) Matthews v. Hull, No. 13-cv-450, 2014 WL 12527224 (E.D. Va. Feb. 12, 2014), ECF No. 35;
(3) Matthews v. Sullivan, No. 14-cv-500, 2014 WL 2206853 (D. Md. May 23, 2014), ECF No. 9; and
(4) Matthews v. HSBC Bank, USA, Nat'l Ass'n, No. 14-cv-810, 2014 WL 12538173 (E.D. Va. July 26, 2014), ECF No. 15.

Id. Matthews now disputes that three of these actions constitute “strikes.” See Dkt. 32 at 1-2. The Court considers each action in turn.

         1. Dismissal of Matthews v. Sobh (Strike 1)

         As to the first putative strike, Matthews contends that the dismissal of his action for failure to state a claim in Matthews v. Sobh, No. 12-cv-294 (E.D. Va. Apr. 11, 2012), ECF No. 2, should not count because Matthews “has a [pending] motion ...


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