People For the American Way

Trump Judges Dismiss Prisoner’s Appeal of Retaliation as Frivolous: Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears

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Trump Judges Dismiss Prisoner’s Appeal of Retaliation as Frivolous: Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears

“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties.

Trump 11th Circuit judges Elizabeth Branch and Britt Grant dismissed a prisoner’s retaliation claim as frivolous despite the dissent’s conclusion that the prisoner’s appeal had a basis in fact and law and should not have been summarily dismissed.

In Sears v. Meddlebrooks, Terry Sears was confined at a correctional facility in Florida. While there, he noticed an outbreak of gang activity. Sears was confronted, beaten and threatened. He filed a grievance with the warden. Proof of gang activity was gathered after an internal investigation, but Sears alleged nothing was done to address the problem. A few members of the gangs were placed in confinement, but they were released and housed with general members of the facility. One of the members was assigned as Sears’ roommate and Sears was again physically attacked and threatened. Sears informed several of the guards of the attack, but it was he who was charged with fighting his roommate and placed in disciplinary confinement. The prisoners who attacked him were never punished. Sears later requested and received a transfer to another facility. After he was transferred he noticed that much of his property was missing.

After a grievance that he filed was denied, Sears sued the warden and other prison officials in district court. He contended that prison officials retaliated against him for asserting his First Amendment rights, took no measures to guarantee his safety, and denied him due process. Sears lost and appealed.

Trump judges Branch and Grant agreed with the district court and concluded that Sears’ case was frivolous and summarily dismissed it. Judge Adalberto Jordan disagreed, arguing that the appropriate inquiry at this stage was not the merits of the case, but whether Sears’ claims have an arguable basis in fact and law. In Jordan’s view, Sears clearly satisfied that standard and the appeal was not frivolous and should have been allowed to proceed.


Britt Grant, Confirmed Judges Confirmed Fears, due process, Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Elizabeth Branch, prisons