Second Circuit holds Article 10 detainee is not prisoner for PLRA purposes

On June 22, 2021, in Jones v. Cuomo, et. al., No 20-2174, the Second Circuit held that an individual who is detained, due to a determination that he poses a danger to the public as opposed to the terms of a criminal sentence, is not a “prisoner” as defined by the PLRA.

Plaintiff, Daniel Jones had been incarcerated in a New York State prison from 1992 to 2012 for various sex offenses. In 2012, when he was scheduled to be released from prison, NYS petitioned for his civil confinement under Article 10 of New York’s Mental Hygiene Law (“MHL”). Jones has since been confined pursuant to that petition.

In 2016, Jones sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenging the constitutionality of his commitment proceedings and his current confinement. Jones lost in the district court and appealed to the Second Circuit. When he filed his appeal, he was instructed to “submit a Prisoner Authorization Form so that, pursuant to the PLRA, the filing fee and other court costs could be deducted from his institutional patient account at Central New York Psychiatric Center (‘CNYPC’).” While Jones objected to having to file the form, arguing that he was not a “prisoner” as defined under the PLRA, he still completed the form and paid the required fees. He then moved for  restoration of the fees that were deducted from his institutional patient account arguing, again, that he was not a “prisoner” under the PLRA.

In response, the Second Circuit ordered the restoration of fees paid by Mr. Jones, finding that “[a]s a civil detainee who completed his criminal sentence, Jones was no longer a ‘prisoner’ within the meaning of the PLRA when he filed his lawsuit and therefore [was] not subject to the PLRA’s fee provisions.”