More than three-quarters of the civil cases filed in Tucson’s federal court last year originated with one person: a state prisoner upset about his health care behind bars.
Dale Maisano, who started serving a 15-year prison term for aggravated assault in 2006, has flooded U.S. District Court in Tucson with lawsuits, to the tune of nearly 3,000 last year. Most, if not all of them, are handwritten. He alone is responsible for a nearly fourfold increase in civil cases since 2012.
None of his lawsuits — which allege civil-rights violations at the hands of health-care providers, prison wardens, state officials and judges — has reached a jury. But they have sparked the ire of two federal judges and spurred the court to add workers.
The spike in workload caused by Maisano has overwhelmed law clerks who review civil filings to determine the appropriate response, said Brian Karth, clerk of U.S. District Court in Arizona. Maisano’s cases accounted for 78 percent of the Tucson division’s 3,772 civil cases in 2014. To deal with it, the court hired a temporary law clerk last fall at a cost of $70,000 annually, Karth said. The contract was for a year, but could be extended if the court does not catch up with all of Maisano’s cases by fall.
Faced with what they call a “vexatious litigant,” two federal judges placed limits on how many cases Maisano, 63, can file. However, he said he has no plans to slow his pace.
“They’re gag orders. They mean basically nothing,” Maisano said by telephone from state prison in Florence.
“It’s a way to get the court’s attention,” he said of his lawsuits, many of which are aimed at Corizon Health Inc., a company that serves 345,000 inmates in 27 states and took over health care for Arizona inmates in 2013.
Maisano said he suffers from a variety of maladies, among them valley fever, a leaky bladder, sun sensitivity, neck pain, neuropathy in both feet and gallstones. He alleges a wide array of mistreatment at the hands of the prison health staff. So far, his cries of injustice “are falling on deaf ears,” he complained.
Karth said he had never seen so many civil filings. However, “it’s part of the legal system that we respond to, and I think our court handled it very well.”
After a contentious back-and-forth with Maisano in February 2014, Judge Raner C. Collins issued an injunction barring him from filing more than one case per month, with added requirements that the claims be new and “not frivolous or taken in bad faith.”
Collins cited a 1992 restraining order against Maisano’s prolific court filings, calling the inmate’s efforts a “more than two-decade-long assault on the federal courts.”
Collins noted in his order that Maisano had called Collins a “crackhead” and accused him of “criminal conduct” in a court filing. Combined with the 600 cases Maisano filed in February 2014, Collins deemed Maisano’s conduct abusive and said it should be restrained.
In an April 14 order, Judge Stephen M. McNamee said Maisano has “abused the legal process egregiously and often.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit declined Maisano’s subsequent petition on May 15, saying, “the appeals are so insubstantial as to not warrant further review.”
Tucson’s federal court is not the only venue Maisano floods. He also files in Pinal and Maricopa counties, as well as in district courts in Chicago, St. Louis, and Tennessee, which is home to Corizon’s headquarters.