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Smith v. Shawnee Library System

July 14, 1995

THOMAS W. SMITH, JR., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE CLASS OF INMATES IN THE PROTECTIVE CUSTODY UNIT AT MENARD CORRECTIONAL CENTER,

PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

SHAWNEE LIBRARY SYSTEM, ET AL.,

DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

No. 85 C 3238--Clifford J. Proud, Magistrate Judge.

Before CUMMINGS and KANNE, Circuit Judges, and WALTER, District Judge. *fn*

KANNE, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED MARCH 29, 1995

DECIDED JULY 14, 1995

Thomas Smith, an Illinois state prison inmate, claims he and other inmates in protective custody were denied meaningful access to the courts. We hold that the prison did not deny Smith meaningful access, but we also hold that the class action status of the litigation is void.

I. Background

From 1980 to 1992, Smith was a prisoner at Menard Correctional Center (MCC), a maximum security state prison in Menard, Illinois. Prison officials placed Smith in the protective custody unit (PCU), where prisoners were segregated from the general population for their own protection. The prison established the PCU pursuant to a federal court consent decree (unrelated to this litigation), into which it entered in 1981.

MCC maintained a fully stocked law library for prisoners to use. The law library was available to general population inmates five days a week for six hours a day. Up to twenty-five inmates at a time could browse freely. However, because inmates in the PCU could not safely mix with general population inmates, MCC constructed five wire mesh cells inside a room attached to the library. PCU inmates using the library were locked in those cells, and legal materials were delivered to them through a slot in the wire mesh.

PCU inmates could therefore not browse in the library; instead, non-inmate law librarians, as well as trained inmate law clerks, provided research and document preparation assistance to them. This assistance included bringing them books they wanted, both case reporters and finding aids such as law digests. PCU inmates could have as many books as they wanted in their library cells at one time. The library also maintained a "missing case file," updated twice a week, containing photocopies of cases inmates had torn out of case reporters.

A PCU inmate who wanted to use the library could either notify prison staff, notify inmate law clerks, or place a note in a special box by the PCU cellhouse door. PCU inmates had access to the library five days a week for approximately three hours a day, although the exact hours varied slightly. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were reserved for PCU inmates with court deadlines, while Tuesdays and Thursdays were reserved for PCU inmates without immediately pressing legal business. In addition to using the library cells, PCU inmates could get photocopies and notaries brought to their own cells in the PCU cellhouse.

Smith is an accomplished "jailhouse lawyer," although professional counsel has represented him for almost all of this litigation. From the time he entered the prison system until 1991, Smith had filed 97 lawsuits, and he routinely assisted other inmates in research and case preparation.

On June 5, 1985, Smith filed a suit under 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983 against various defendants connected with the prison, alleging that they had infringed his right of access to the courts. The case crawled along; Smith added more defendants and more factual allegations, and asked that the case be certified as a class action, with himself as class representative. On September 11, 1989, a magistrate judge certified the case as a class action and granted a preliminary injunction. The preliminary injunction required that PCU inmates get ten hours per week of unlimited access to the library. *fn1

On March 30, 1994, a magistrate judge granted summary judgment for all the private defendants, and, on September 26, 1994, he dismissed the case against the state defendants--MCC and the Illinois Department of Corrections. Smith appeals ...


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