Sue the Warden, Sue the Chef, Sue the Gardener . . .

Wall Street Journal, April 24, 1995.


The Senate’s debate this week on tort reform will focus the public spotlight on frivolous lawsuits. Nowhere is this problem more pressing than in our prison system. As one federal appeals court judge said recently, filing civil rights suits has become a “recreational activity” for long-term inmates. Among his examples of “excessive filings”: more than 100 by Harry Franklin (who, in one of them, sued a prison official for “overwatering the lawn”), 184 in three years by John Robert Demos, and — so far the winning score – more than 700 by the “Reverend” Clovis Carl Green Jr.

Dissenting in a case that reached the Supreme Court in 1985, Chief Justice William Rehnquist noted that prisoners are not subject to many of the constraints that deter litigiousness among the population at large. Most prisoners qualify for in forma pauperis status, which entitles them to commence an action “without prepayment of fees and costs or security therefor,” and all of them are entitled to free access to law books or some other legal assistance. As the chief justice said, with time on their hands, and with much to gain and virtually nothing to lose, prisoners “litigate at the drop of a hat.”

American Enterprise Institute