Fifth Circuit Sucks the Life Out of Vampire Lawsuit

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 12, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We dropped the ball.

On Friday, we were distracted by casket-building monks being bullied in court by the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. We completely overlooked the fact that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had issued a Prison Litigation Reform Act opinion in a vampire lawsuit.

(Brief thanks to Staci Zaretsky at Above the Law for bringing this matter to our attention.)

Courtney Royal, Vampsh Black Sheep League of Doom Gardamun Family Circle Master Vampire High Priest, (that's actually how he is listed in the court filing), sued a lot of people in the Texas prison system for violating his civil rights by not providing him with the resources he needed to practice his religion, Vampirism. He also complained about the prison's unwillingness to help him find a spiritual adviser. The district court granted summary judgment to the prison parties.

Royal asked the Fifth Circuit for leave to appeal in forma pauperis (IFP), arguing, "religious items, food diets, and service; spirit adviser; black Bible; and "rugs, rode, [and] beads." You might notice the lack of verbs in that list. That's because he didn't appeal an issue, he appealed a wishlist.

We're not going to get into the particulars of appellate briefs here. Most of you know that you have to appeal on the basis of a verb, ("the district court erred") not a noun, ("beads"). What we are going to talk about is the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).

By moving for IFP status, Royal challenged the district court's certification that his appeal was not taken in good faith. He then abandoned his challenge to the district court's certification decision because he failed to address either the district court's certification or any of the district court's reasons for its certification decision. The Fifth Circuit dismissed Royal's appeal.

Once a court dismisses three or more of a prisoner's lawsuits on the grounds that the claims were frivolous, malicious, or failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the PLRA provides that the prisoner is barred from bringing additional IFP claims unless the prisoner is under "imminent danger of serious physical injury." Here, the Fifth Circuit warned Royal that this appeal counted as one of his strikes.

While this is one of the more outlandish civil rights claims we've covered, it highlights the importance of pleading and appealing carefully and with specificity. Frankly, we're disappointed that Royal didn't put a little more effort into making his case, because now the only thing that bites in this vampire lawsuit is the dismissal order.

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