Friday, May 19, 2017

Olivas v. State of Nevada (9th Cir. - May 19, 2017)

There shouldn't be any surprise that today's opinion by the Ninth Circuit is so short.  Or that it did not require oral argument.  Or that it was published a mere nine days after the matter was submitted.  Or that the panel unanimously reversed.

The only surprise is how the district court could have possibly gotten the matter so wrong.

Of course the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which imposes heightened pleading requirements on prisoners, only applies to actual prisoners -- i.e., people incarcerated at the time.  Sure, there's no definition of the term "prisoner".  But when the statute says the court “shall review . . . a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity," that means you review it if the prisoner's actually been a prisoner.  If the person has been released from prison -- ten years ago or ten days ago -- they're not subject to this rule.

So if they file a lawsuit after they're released from prison, they're like the rest of us.  With an unencumbered right to access to the judiciary.

The appeal is easy not only because the panel's so obviously right on the merits, but also because the district court was clearly being super harsh here.  Plaintiff got shot by a guard with a shotgun to the face, and among other things, lost an eye.  Shockingly, he thought that might constitute excessive force.  But the district court dismissed the complaint at the pleading stage.

Now, maybe, as a factual matter, Mr. Olivas was shot for a good reason.  Maybe he was participating in the fight.  Maybe the guard's an incredibly bad shot.  Those are things we'll eventually have to find out.

But that's neither plaintiff's version of the story, nor what's in his pro se pleading.  So the case pretty clearly gets to go forward.  Or, as the panel says in the footnote at the end of the opinion, albeit in totally extraneous dicta:  "We note that it appears the rigorous screening here did not take all factual allegations as true and weighed imagined countervailing evidence. And, even if it had been proper to conclude that the Complaint failed to state a claim, leave to amend should be freely given. See Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1051–52 (9th Cir. 2003)."

Which gives a hint at the attitude of both the panel towards the district court's ruling as well as the district court's attitude towards the plaintiff.