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EASON v. NICHOLAS

February 17, 1994

LARRY EASON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JANET NICHOLAS, BILLIE L. JOHNSON, JON HECKEL, WILLIAM D. O'SULLIVAN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Evans, United States Magistrate Judge.

OPINION

The plaintiff, a state prisoner, has brought this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff claims that the defendants, various Western Illinois Correctional Center officials, violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights by depriving him of access to the courts. The parties have consented to have this case heard to judgment before a U.S. Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). This matter is before the court for consideration of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated in this order, judgment will be granted in favor of the defendants.

Summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Herman v. National Broadcasting Co., Inc., 744 F.2d 604, 607 (7th Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1028, 105 S.Ct. 1393, 84 L.Ed.2d 782 (1985). In determining whether factual issues exist, the court must view all the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Beraha v. Baxter Health Corp., 956 F.2d 1436, 1440 (7th Cir. 1992).

However, Rule 56(c) "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. at 2552. "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party there is no `genuine' issue for trial." Mechnig v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 864 F.2d 1359 (7th Cir. 1988). A "metaphysical doubt" will not suffice. Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1355, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Disputed facts are material only if they might affect the outcome of the suit. First Ind. Bank v. Baker, 957 F.2d 506, 507-08 (7th Cir. 1992).

FACTS

The plaintiff is a state prisoner, currently confined at the Stateville Correctional Center. At the time of the events giving rise to this lawsuit (from February or March, 1992, through April 28, 1993), the plaintiff was incarcerated at the Western Illinois Correctional Center [hereinafter, "W.I.C.C."]. The defendants Janet Nicholas and Billie Johnson are W.I.C.C. law librarians. The defendants William O'Sullivan and Jon Heckel are, respectively, the prison's warden and assistant warden.

The following facts are uncontested: Between February 5, 1993, through April 19, 1993, the plaintiff attended W.I.C.C.'s law library at least 103 times. In addition, the plaintiff was given special call passes to use the library on off-hours, including weekends and holidays. [Institution policy bars use of the library during certain hours unless inmates have imminent filing or court dates and consent from their supervisor.] In addition to using the library nearly every morning, the plaintiff was granted special permission to go to the library after he completed his daily work.

During his stay at W.I.C.C., the plaintiff was provided some 4,119 copies at state expense. In addition, the plaintiff was furnished with free notary services, writing materials, business-size envelopes and large manila envelopes. The plaintiff was allowed to use the envelopes only for legal mail; to ensure compliance, the plaintiff was required to address his mail at the circulation desk.

The State advanced postage for the plaintiff's legal mail; as of the date of filing of the lawsuit, the plaintiff owed W.I.C.C. $69.18 for mail costs.

Prior to the plaintiff's transfer to W.I.C.C., the institution had no set policy regarding the dispensing of writing materials. Shortly after his arrival, the plaintiff expressed dissatisfaction with the library services provided and amount of paper received. Because the plaintiff protested the lack of a formal rule, W.I.C.C. officials developed a policy [three sheets of typing paper per session (more on a case-by-case basis) and one pencil per session], in line with other institutions. When the plaintiff continued to complain that he was not being given enough paper, the policy was changed to five sheets per session.*fn1

While in the law library, the plaintiff frequently was observed working on the cases of other inmates (whom he referred to as his "clients,") or simply talking. The plaintiff currently is litigating no less than fifteen of his own cases.*fn2 According to the affidavit of librarian Jon Heckel, W.I.C.C. "is in compliance with the mandates of the Illinois Department of Corrections regarding Law Library procedures and services."

DISCUSSION

No material facts are in dispute, and the court concludes that the defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. No reasonable person could find that the defendants impermissibly infringed on the plaintiff's right of access to the courts. To the contrary, the record shows that the defendants went to great lengths to accommodate the plaintiff's legal needs. The plaintiff's lawsuit is completely groundless.

There is no dispute that the Constitution guarantees prison inmates a right to meaningful access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 1494, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977). That fundamental right requires prison authorities "to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law ...


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