The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has been rather persnickety lately about frivolous lawsuits. We recently told you that the Tenth Circuit suspended an attorney for making "frivolous claims" like, "the IRS doesn't legally exist." Now the Tenth Circuit has imposed filing restrictions on an Indiana prisoner who challenged his drug conviction and sentence based upon principles of contract and/or civil commercial law.
Christopher Harris was sentenced to 300 months' incarceration and 5 years' supervised release after pleading guilty to drug charges. Harris has used commercial-law theories in an effort to gain his release from prison in at least six previous actions.
This case was not his lucky number seven.
The highlights of Harris' latest lawsuit?
- Harris' conviction made him a "slave and personal property of the U.S."
- Harris was fined the "sum certain" of $4 million, which Harris paid, discharging the debt.
- Harris and the defendant, U.S. Marshal John Kammerzell, entered into a contract for full satisfaction of $4 million claim with the intent of extinguishing any alleged debt, duty, obligation, liability, and the like intended as obligating Harris for a valuable consideration.
- Kammerzell breached the contract by failing or refusing to "prevent this account from damaging Mr. Harris in any way."
If you found that confusing, you're not alone; the district court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agree.
The district court, noting Harris' tendency to file legally frivolous claims, enjoined Harris from filing pro se any civil action in the District of Colorado in which he seeks release from prison based on contract law, the law of commercial transactions, or any other theory of law that is legally frivolous.
The district court also set forth a procedure under which Harris' future pro se pleadings must be reviewed by a magistrate judge and a district court judge before any determination is made that a particular pleading should not be filed because it is an enjoined pleading.
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the restrictions, finding that they were narrowly tailored and appropriate.
While we're generally fans of outside-of-the-box defenses, attorneys should consider this a teachable moment from the Tenth Circuit, and suppress the urge to challenge clients' drug convictions using and contract and commercial law principles. Although, if Harris had had such wise counsel, he most likely have found better grounds for his challenge to begin with.
- Harris v. Kammerzell (Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Tenth Circuit: Bible Verse Polygamy Case is Frivolous Lawsuit (FindLaw's Tenth Circuit blog)
- Courts Must Correct Pro Se Defendant's Misunderstandings (FindLaw's Eleventh Circuit blog)