United States District Court, Central District of Illinois, Springfield Division
February 17, 1994
LARRY EASON, PLAINTIFF,
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.
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
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).
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
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
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 libraries
or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law." Id. at
828, 97 S.Ct. at 1498.
Nevertheless, prison officials may "reasonably" regulate the
time, place, and manner in which library facilities are
utilized. Isaac v. Jones, 529 F. Supp. 175, 178 (N.D.Ill. 1981);
see also, Lindquist v. Idaho State Bd. of Corrections,
776 F.2d 851, 858 (9th Cir. 1985). "The constitutionally relevant
benchmark is meaningful, not total or unlimited access."
Caldwell v. Miller, 790 F.2d 589, 606 (7th Cir. 1986), citing
Bounds, 430 U.S. at 823, 97 S.Ct. at 1495. Even "highly
restrictive" procedures do not violate constitutional mandates
if inmates still have "meaningful access" to the courts.
Hossman v. Spradlin, 812 F.2d 1019, 1021 (7th Cir. 1987).
Here, the plaintiff does not appear to dispute that he had
adequate access to the law library, and the record certainly
would support such a finding. The plaintiff used the library at
W.I.C.C. on a nearly daily basis.
The plaintiff nevertheless contends that the defendants
intentionally deprived him of needed legal supplies. However,
no reasonable person could agree. The right of access to the
courts necessarily entitles the prisoner to envelopes and
stamps in order to correspond with the courts and legislature.
Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 824-25, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 1496, 52
L.Ed.2d 72 (1977). But inmates do not have a right to unlimited
free supplies. See, e.g., Gaines v. Lane, 790 F.2d 1299, 1308
(7th Cir. 1986), citing Bach v. Coughlin, 508 F.2d 303, 307
(7th Cir. 1974). Rather, prison authorities are permitted to
make a "reasonable attempt to balance the right of [access to
the courts] with prison budgetary concerns." Bach, 508 F.2d at
307-08; Gaines, 790 F.2d at 1308.
The defendants' unrefuted affidavits and the prison's
accounting records show that the plaintiff was provided
unlimited scratch paper, small amounts of typing paper every
library session upon request,*fn3 and pencils; furthermore,
six manual and electric typewriters were available in the
library.*fn4 Even if the defendants did, on occasion, deny the
plaintiff typing paper, their actions did not deprive him of
meaningful access to the courts. Though not sufficient to
satisfy him, the plaintiff was afforded ample (and
constitutionally adequate) legal resources.
The prison's processing of the plaintiff's legal mail
likewise passes constitutional muster. Departmental regulations
Committed persons shall be permitted to mail at
State expense the equivalent of three one-ounce,
first-class letters to the continental United
States each week. This allowance may not be
transferred from one committed person to another,
nor may it accumulate from one week to another.
Committed persons shall be permitted to send
additional letters if they have sufficient funds
in their trust fund accounts and attach signed
money vouchers to cover the postage. Committed
persons with insufficient money in their trust
fund accounts shall be permitted to send
reasonable amounts of legal mail [in addition to
the three first class, one-ounce, state-paid
letters each week] . . . at State expense if they
attach signed money vouchers authorizing
deductions of future funds to cover the cost of
Ill.Admin. Code, tit. 20, § 525.130(a), (b) (1992). Pursuant to
this rule, prison officials require indigent*fn5
submit a money voucher when they post legal mail deemed to
exceed "reasonable" limits; the costs are later deducted if and
when the inmate receives money into his account. The Seventh
Circuit has upheld such regulations; likewise, other courts
have sanctioned more stringent provisions.
See for example, Hoppins v. Wallace, 751 F.2d 1161
There is no suggestion that the defendants ever refused to
post the plaintiff's outgoing legal mail. Rather, they simply
required the plaintiff to complete forms authorizing later
reimbursement to the State for the legal costs incurred. The
alternative — refusal to mail "unreasonable" amounts of legal
mail — would obstruct indigent inmates from using the courts.
The prisons simply advance the money for indigent inmates and
later has funds available. The deferred deduction of legal
costs advanced by the State did not violate the Construction.
Even assuming (without finding) that the defendants did
attempt to interfere with the plaintiff's access to the courts,
the plaintiff has shown no prejudice. See Shango v. Jurich,
965 F.2d 336, 340 (7th Cir. 1992). An allegation of actual or
threatened detriment is an essential element of a § 1983 action
for denial of access to the courts. Martin v. Davies,
917 F.2d 336, 340 (7th Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 501 U.S. 1208, 111
S.Ct. 2805, 115 L.Ed.2d 978 (1991). A complaint is inadequate
if it "offers no specific facts to support these allegations —
no court dates missed; no inability to make timely filings; no
denial of legal assistance to which could have been won." Id.
The plaintiff vaguely states that because he was denied
typing paper, he was prevented from filing a timely petition
for a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court and a timely
jurisdictional statement in a case pending before the Seventh
Circuit Court of Appeals. Brushing aside the lack of
credibility of the plaintiff's assertion, his contention still
is without merit.
Supreme Court Rule 13.1 allows a party to file a petition for
a writ of certiorari within ninety days after the Court of
Appeals enters judgment. A Justice may extend the time an
additional sixty days for good cause shown. See Supreme Court
Rule 13.2 In light of the voluminous documentation showing
court access, as well as the plaintiff's prolific litigation
during the time period in question, the plaintiff cannot fairly
maintain that the purportedly "severe restrictions" at W.I.C.C.
impeded his ability to file a timely petition for five entire
months. The court further questions why the plaintiff did not
simply use scratch paper, which he does not dispute was
available in abundant supply, to draft his petition, or at
least a motion for an extension of time to file the petition.
The brief delay in filing a jurisdictional statement in
support of his appeal likewise did not amount to "prejudice."
The Court of Appeals simply issued an order directing the
plaintiff to file the jurisdictional statement, and the
plaintiff admits that he was able to do so, although belatedly.
The plaintiff's appeal was not "hampered," as he maintains.
Regardless as to whether the defendants' actions policies
somewhat impeded access to the courts, the plaintiff's
conclusory allegations of prejudice are insufficient to defeat
Finally, the court finds the plaintiff's implicit Eighth
Amendment argument unpersuasive. The plaintiff maintains that
he was forced to choose between forgoing lawsuits or doing
without articles of hygiene. However, a prison inmate is not
destitute. His basic necessities of food, shelter, clothing,
and medical care are furnished by the state. A prisoner, like
any other person contemplating a civil suit, must consider the
cost of litigation versus the probability of success. If a
plaintiff's lawsuit has merit, then presumably he will recover
any expenses incurred in prosecuting his case.
This case is easily distinguishable from Gluth v. Kangas,
951 F.2d 1504 (9th Cir. 1991), where the plaintiff allegedly had to
choose between daily necessities and essential legal supplies.
Here, the defendants provided for both the plaintiff's basic
needs and his legal needs. The defendants were under no
obligation to fund, without restraint, the plaintiff's
recreational litigation and jailhouse lawyering.
Additionally, prisons are not required to provide the
amenities found in hotels, see Harris v. Fleming,
839 F.2d 1232, 1235 (7th Cir. 1988); a lack of toiletries does not
amount to "cruel and unusual" conditions
of confinement. Id. at 1235-36. Furthermore, this court is
aware that prisons provide "indigent bags" containing
toothbrushes, deodorant and other basic hygienic supplies to
In sum, the court finds that no outcome-determinative facts
are in dispute, and concludes that the defendants are entitled
to judgment as a matter of law. The plaintiff, a prolific
litigator, was provided ample legal materials and extensive
library time while confined at the Western Illinois
Correctional Center. No reasonable person could find that the
defendants denied the plaintiff meaningful access to the
courts. This lawsuit is entirely groundless, and sanctionably
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the plaintiff's motion for
summary judgment (docket # 31) is denied.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the defendants' motions for
summary judgment (docket numbers 23 and 24) are allowed. The
Clerk of the court is directed to enter judgment in favor of
the defendants and against the plaintiff pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The case is terminated. The parties are to
bear their own costs.