Legal Memorandum: Effect of PLRA Enactment

Issue: How have federal Illinois appellate courts dealt with the changes to federal law caused by 18 U.S.C. 3626 and 42 U.S.C.  1997e and Martin v. Hadix, 527 U.S. 343 (1999)?

Area of Law: Constitutional Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Enactment of the PLRA; Changes to federal law
Jurisdiction: Federal, Illinois
Cited Cases: 527 U.S. 343; 147 F.3d 218
Cited Statutes: 42 U.S.C. § 1988; 18 U.S.C. 3626; 42 U.S.C. 1997e
Date: 08/01/2000

Research has not uncovered any cases in either the Seventh Circuit or Illinois that have addressed the changes wrought in the law by the enactment of the PLRA.  Cases in other circuits have dealt with issues similar to those in Martin; typically, they involve monitoring and other post-judgment activities.

In Blissett v. Casey, 147 F.3d 218 (2d Cir. 1998), the court addressed whether fees in a case commenced prior to the enactment of the PLRA, but completed after, were subject to the fee cap.  It determined that the fees were not necessarily capped.  In explaining its reasoning, the Second Circuit gave an example of an unjust result:

We reject the rigid rule advocated by the defendants.  By retroactive application, this interpretation would produce serious injustice in numerous cases.  We believe that, had Congress intended so unfair a result, upsetting legitimate expectations based on the pre‑existing law, it would have explicitly so provided.  Consider, for example, a case in which an attorney undertook to represent a plaintiff long before the passage of the PLRA in reliance on the expectation, if prevailing in the suit, of having a reasonable fee covered under § 1988.  Assume that the injury to plaintiff involved a matter of significant constitutional importance but relatively small injury measured in dollars, such as an abridgement by prison authorities of a right of free speech or free exercise of religion.  The attorney worked diligently on the case for years, winning a money judgment […]


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