In search of meritorious claims: A study of the processing of prisoner civil rights cases in a federal district court

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In recent years, the media has dramatized the frivolous nature of prisoner civil rights litigation. To examine the validity of such assertions, a random sample of 200 lawsuits filed in a federal court by inmates under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 was drawn, and the 290 claims raised in them were analyzed. Thirty percent of the claims were dismissed as "frivolous." Of the 70 percent of claims found to be nonfrivolous as a matter of law, 66.6 percent were dismissed by the court for some reason other than a disposition on the merits; 3.9 percent resulted in a disposition favorable to the prisoner-plaintiff; and the remaining 29.4 percent resulted in a judgment in favor of the defendants, yielding an overall inmate win-rate of only 2.8 percent. How these claims were processed through the system and the various types of dispositions they met are reported, and the sociolegal and public policy implications of the findings are discussed, especially in light of the apparent falsity of the media dramatization of the "frivolous" nature of Section 1983 litigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-53
Number of pages5
JournalJustice System Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 1999
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law

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