CHICAGO (CN) - The 7th Circuit upbraided a federal judge who tossed an inmate's clear, 26-page complaint over hunger strike retaliation as lengthy and "unintelligible."
Jurijus Kadamovas, a federal inmate serving time in Terre Haute, Ind., is a Lithuanian national who is illiterate in English. A fellow inmate helped Kadamovas compose a pro se complaint
alleging violations of his First and Eighth Amendment rights.
Kadamovas claimed that prison officials housed him in a feces-infested cell, used excessive force to feed him and take blood samples, denied him recreational opportunities, denied him access to his Bible, did not allow him to file grievances, and attempted to block his access to the courts.
U.S. District Judge William Lawrence dismissed the complaint, however, before any of the named defendants made an appearance in the case.
He wrote that the "99-page complaint defies understanding, rendering it unintelligible and subject to dismissal on that basis."
This summary drew criticism Thursday from the 7th Circuit on appeal.
"The complaint isn't in fact 99 pages long, as the district judge thought," Judge Richard Posner wrote for a three-member panel. "It's 28 pages long, the last 71 pages being an appendix, which the judge could have stricken without bothering to read."
"Typically complaints are long and complicated," he added. "One-hundred page complaints that survive a motion to dismiss are not rarities."
Posner also found that the complaint "is not only entirely intelligible, it is clear."
"In short the complaint does not violate any principle of federal pleading," he wrote. "The judgment dismissing it for 'unintelligibility' must be reversed."
Though critical of Lawrence's decision, Posner showed some sympathy to his plight.
"Length and unintelligibility, as grounds for dismissal of a complaint, need to be distinguished," the ruling
states. "District judges are busy, and therefore have a right to dismiss a complaint that is so long that it imposes an undue burden on the judge."
The 7th Circuit did not appoint counsel to represent Kadamovas, and refused to transfer the case to another federal judge based on claims of prejudice.