The Prison Litigation Reform Act responded to two major assertions—that prison and jail inmates were swamping the courts with frivolous lawsuits and that federal-court injunctions were imposing unwarranted requirements on prison and jail systems. The first assertion led to the PLRA provisions restricting prisoner lawsuits. The second assertion gave rise to the PLRA’s limits on injunctions “in any civil action with respect to prison conditions.” These limits (1) set requirements for the entry of any injunction, (2) provide for the termination of existing permanent injunctions, and (3) constrain the entry of preliminary injunctions. As to the first of these limits, 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(1) sets what’s often called a ‘need/narrowness/intrusiveness’ limit on “prospective relief”: “The court shall not grant or approve any prospective relief unless the court finds that such relief is narrowly drawn, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right.” 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(2) contains the third of these limits. In addition to imposing a need/narrowness/intrusiveness test for preliminary injunctive relief, Section 3626(a)(2) sets the durational limit that is the focus of this essay: “Preliminary injunctive relief shall automatically expire on the date that is 90 days after its entry, unless the court makes the findings required under subsection (a)(1) for the entry of prospective relief and makes the order final before the expiration of the 90-day period.” In its 2021 decision in Georgia Advocacy Office v. Jackson, the Eleventh Circuit seemed to suggest that Section 3626(a)(2)’s 90-day limit is insurmountable, and that if a plaintiff needs preliminary relief to last all the way to final judgment, the plaintiff must litigate the case all the way to conclusion by Day 90. I argue that the Eleventh Circuit’s analysis overlooked the possibility that the court can grant more than one 90-day preliminary injunction, consistent with the letter and spirit of Section 3626(a)(2). After supporting my argument by reference to the text, structure, and history of Section 3626, I describe the widespread recognition, among courts applying Section 3626(a)(2), that sequential preliminary injunctions are available where appropriate. I also consider the litigation-strategy implications of sequential preliminary injunctions.
Prison Litigation Reform Act, PLRA, prisoner litigation, inmate litigation, prison conditions, injunction, preliminary relief, systemic relief, prospective relief, 3626
University of St. Thomas Law Journal
Struve, Catherine T., "Allowing the Courts to Step in Where Needed: Applying the PLRA's 90-Day Limit on Preliminary Relief" (2023). All Faculty Scholarship. 3216.