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Gentry v. Duckworth

August 29, 1995




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 92 C 615 -- S. Hugh Dillin, Judge.

Before BAUER, MANION, and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

KANNE, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED MAY 12, 1995


Kenneth Gentry, an inmate at the Indiana State Reformatory, claims he was denied materials necessary to complete an adequate court filing. Gentry argues that the denial violated his constitutional right of access to the courts. The district court granted summary judgment against Gentry; we vacate and remand.

I. Background

Kenneth Gentry is a prisoner of the State of Indiana, convicted of burglary, theft, and of being a habitual offender. Those convictions were affirmed on direct appeal. On May 22, 1990, Gentry filed a petition for state post-conviction relief. The trial court denied the petition; Gentry appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals. The brief that Gentry filed in support of his appeal did not meet procedural requirements. It was handwritten (rather than typed), it was not properly bound along the left margin, its cover was white paper (rather than blue), and it did not contain a verbatim statement of the judgment. For those four reasons, on January 21, 1992, the Indiana Court of Appeals dismissed Gentry's petition for substantial nonconformance with procedural rules, without ever reaching the merits. Gentry v. State, 586 N.E.2d 860 (Ind. App. 1992). The Indiana Supreme Court denied transfer.

On May 4, 1992, Gentry filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in United States district court. On August 25, 1992, the district court denied Gentry's habeas petition. Meanwhile, on May 14, 1992, Gentry filed a complaint in United States district court under 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983, alleging that prison officials had violated his right of access to the courts by denying him materials necessary to allow him to conform his (earlier, dismissed) brief to procedural rules. Jack Duckworth was superintendent of the Indiana State Reformatory when Gentry was denied scribe materials. Instead of naming the prison employees who actually refused him materials, Gentry proceeded solely against Duckworth. *fn1 The district court granted summary judgment for Duckworth; Gentry appeals.

II. Analysis

We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Hedberg v. Indiana Bell, 47 F.3d 928, 931 (7th Cir. 1995). We view all the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and we draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Id. A district court must grant summary judgment where the record before it shows "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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986).

Prisoners have a constitutional right to "meaningful" access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 1498 (1977); Shango v. Jurich, 965 F.2d 289, 291 (7th Cir. 1992); Gometz v. Henman, 807 F.2d 113, 116 (7th Cir. 1986). Prisoners must receive "that quantum of access to prison libraries -- not total or unlimited access -- which will enable them to research the law and determine what facts may be necessary to state a cause of action." Hossman v. Spradlin, 812 F.2d 1019, 1021 (7th Cir. 1987); see also Campbell v. Miller, 787 F.2d 217, 226 (7th Cir. 1986). While access to law libraries is the most frequently discussed element of access to the courts, part of meaningful access is furnishing basic scribe materials for the preparation of legal papers. Bounds, 430 U.S. at 824, 97 S.Ct. at 1496; Gluth v. Kangas, 951 F.2d 1504, 1510 (9th Cir. 1991). Being able to formulate abstract legal theories is insufficient to give access to the courts without the physical means of filing a complaint based on those theories. Necessary scribe materials include paper, some means of writing, staplers, access to notary services where required by procedural rules, and mailing materials. *fn2 Of course, prisoners are not entitled to limitless supplies of such materials, merely to that amount minimally necessary to give them meaningful access to the courts.

We use a two-part test to decide if prison administrators violated the right of access to the courts. Smith v. Shawnee Library Sys., No. 94-2036, 1995 WL 414870 (7th Cir. July 14, 1995); Jenkins v. Lane, 977 F.2d 266, 268 (7th Cir. 1992). First, the prisoner must show that prison officials failed " 'to assist 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., quoting Bounds, 430 U.S. at 828, 97 S.Ct. at 1498. Providing adequate scribe materials is included within the actions required of prison officials. Second, he must show "some quantum of detriment caused by the challenged conduct of state officials resulting in the interruption and/or delay of plaintiff's pending or contemplated litigation." Jenkins, 977 F.2d at 268.

The district court found that Gentry had satisfied the first part of the test. A genuine issue of fact existed as to whether prison officials had denied Gentry the blue paper, typewriter, and binding materials necessary to conform his brief to Indiana's procedural rules. Nonetheless, the district court granted summary judgment for Duckworth, finding that Gentry could not prove that he suffered any detriment and thus could never meet the second part of the test.

To understand the district court's rationale, we must examine Gentry's various appeal and post-conviction proceedings. On direct appeal, Gentry alleged three areas of error; the Indiana court hearing his direct appeal affirmed his convictions. Gentry then filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the trial court, but he based his petition on grounds of alleged error different from those on which he had based his direct appeal. Therefore, the Indiana trial court concluded that Gentry had forfeited his new arguments by his failure to include them in his ...

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