HOSKINS v. DART (January 20, 2011)

Joshua Hoskins had a number of complaints about the way he was treated in an Illinois prison. They included the use of excessive force, the denial of medication, and the inadequate processing of grievances. He brought five separate complaints under § 1983 against the Cook County Sheriff and prison officials. He used a court-issued form for each of his complaints. The form contained a section which required him to list any prior lawsuits that he had filed. Hoskins listed none although he had filed three earlier civil rights lawsuits and, indeed, was still litigating them. The form contained several notices that severe sanctions, including dismissal, could result from a failure to fill out the forms correctly. During screening, the district court discovered the omission. Judge Manning (N.D. Ill.) concluded that the omissions were fraudulent and dismissed the complaints with prejudice. Hoskins appeals. 

In their opinion, Judges Bauer, Tinder, and Hamilton affirmed. First, the Court found no clear error in the district court's finding of fraud. Although Hoskins claimed that the error was innocent in that it was based on another inmate's instructions, the court was well within its rights to reject that explanation. Second, the Court found no abuse of discretion in the district court's choice of sanction. Courts generally have significant discretion in imposing sanctions on those who violate its rules. Here, the district court considered lesser sanctions but chose dismissal because of the inadequacy of monetary sanctions in a pauper proceeding, the importance of the information requested in administering the three strike rule, and the multiple warnings on the form itself of the consequences of dishonesty.