YASUND Q. HANCOCK, Plaintiff-Appellant,
BRENT CAPE, Defendant-Appellee.
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Georgia D.C. Docket No. 2:14-cv-00202-WCO
TJOFLAT, JULIE CARNES, and MELLOY, [*] Circuit Judges.
case involves questions of state-law interpretation and the
interplay between Georgia's renewal statute,
Georgia's general in forma pauperis statute, and
the federal rules governing in forma pauperis
status. We conclude that the District Court resolved those
questions correctly and affirm its decision.
March 23, 2011, Yasund Hancock, an inmate at the Hall County
Detention Center in Gainesville, Georgia, proceeding pro
se, sued Brent Cape, a Peace Officer with the Hall
County Sheriff's Department, and another corrections
official under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States
District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
Hancock's claim alleged that in October 2010, Cape
repeatedly struck him with a metal flashlight and sprayed him
with pepper spray while yelling racial slurs at him. As an
indigent inmate, Hancock applied to proceed in forma
pauperis ("IFP") under the federal Prison
Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 28 U.S.C. §
1915. A Magistrate Judge granted his application, and,
pursuant to the PLRA, the filing fee required to initiate the
suit began to be withdrawn from his inmate account in
installments. On June 3, 2011, Hancock was released from
custody. Shortly thereafter, he reapplied to proceed IFP. The
Magistrate Judge granted his application and informed Hancock
that he did not have to pay an additional filing fee after
his release to proceed.
2013, as the case advanced, Hancock hired an attorney. The
day after Hancock retained counsel, Cape moved to dismiss
Hancock's case on two grounds: first, that Hancock failed
to exhaust his administrative remedies; and second, that his
claim was barred by the Supreme Court's holding in
Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364
(1994). On March 5, 2014, the District Court granted
Cape's motion over Hancock's objection and dismissed
the complaint without prejudice on the ground that Hancock
failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Hancock never
paid the remainder of the filing fee he owed to the District
Hancock filed notice of appeal and applied to the District
Court for leave to proceed IFP. The District Court denied his
application on the basis that his appeal was not taken in
good faith. Hancock then sought IFP status in this Court, and
we denied his motion, finding that his appeal was frivolous.
Thereafter, Hancock failed to pay this Court's filing
fee, so his appeal was dismissed for failure to prosecute.
September 5, 2014, Hancock returned to the District Court and
filed his complaint anew. By that time, Georgia's
two-year statute of limitations on personal injury actions,
which governed Hancock's claim, had run. However,
Georgia's "renewal statute, " O.C.G.A. §
9-2-61, allows a plaintiff, under certain circumstances, to
renew an action that was previously dismissed, even if the
statute of limitations would bar an initial claim, as long as
the dismissal was not on the merits and the second suit is
brought within six months of the termination of the previous
lawsuit. See infra Part II.A.
time he filed his renewed § 1983 suit, Hancock paid in
full the $400 filing fee required to initiate that suit. He
made no mention of the outstanding fees he owed to the
District Court for filing his initial suit and to this Court
for filing his appeal. After process was served, Cape moved
to dismiss Hancock's renewed complaint, repeating his
argument that Hancock's claim was barred by Heck
and asserting that the renewal statute did not apply to
Hancock's claim. While considering Cape's motion, the
District Court discovered on its own initiative a potentially
dispositive issue: Georgia's renewal statute conditions a
plaintiff's renewal of a previously dismissed suit on
"payment of costs in the original action." O.C.G.A.
§ 9-2-61. Upon discovery of this issue and the
observation that Hancock still owed the costs incurred during
his initial suit and appeal, the District Court ordered the
parties to show cause why Hancock's complaint should not
be dismissed for failure to pay the costs of his original
action. Three days later, and two days before the District
Court ruled on the matter, Hancock responded that the
District Court's grant of IFP status in his initial suit,
along with documents he received from the Eleventh Circuit
pertaining to the denial of his pauper's application, led
him to believe that he did not owe any costs stemming from
that suit. That same day, Hancock applied to proceed with his
renewed suit IFP.
considering the parties' responses to the show-cause
order, the District Court concluded that its initial
intuition was correct, denied Hancock's IFP application,
and dismissed Hancock's complaint for failure to pay the
costs of his first suit. Hancock moved the District Court to
reconsider its decision, the District Court refused to do so,
and Hancock timely appealed.
recommenced his suit more than two years after the alleged
incident giving rise to his claim occurred. But he filed his
renewed suit within six months of filing his initial suit.
Thus, if Georgia's renewal statute is inapplicable to
Hancock's renewed suit, the case is barred by the statute
of limitations. If the renewal statute applies, it isn't.
the renewal statute does not apply unless a plaintiff first
pays the costs he incurred in his initial suit, and it is
undisputed that Hancock did not pay the costs he owed from
his first suit. But Hancock argues that his failure to pay
those costs falls under an exception to the general rule, and
that he should nevertheless be allowed to revive his claim
pursuant to the renewal statute. He advances two arguments in
support of this proposition. First, he argues that the
good-faith exception to the renewal statute's
cost-payment requirement, which the Georgia Court of Appeals
has recognized, should apply to him. Second, he argues that
Georgia law's generous treatment of paupers, as compared
to federal law's treatment of them, counsels us ...