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Kristopher Kras, and Timmy Lurz v. Larry Phillips

September 19, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harold A. Baker United States District Judge

E-FILED Monday, 19 September, 2011 04:45:30 PM

Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD



The plaintiffs, detained at the Rushville Treatment and Detention Center ("Rushville") pursuant to the Illinois Sexually Violent Persons Act, pursue claims regarding their access to the courts and their ability to associate and communicate with each other. On March 10, 2010, the court granted summary judgment to the defendants on the access claim by the plaintiffs Lane and Kras. Summary judgment was also granted to the defendants on the plaintiffs' challenge to the restriction on interaction between residents held in different units. After that ruling, the court recruited Jerold S. Solovy, Esq.*fn1 and the law firm, Jenner & Block, to represent the plaintiffs on the remaining claims. The court thanks Jenner & Block for its outstanding pro bono representation and service to the court.

Now before the court are the defendants' motions for summary judgment on the remaining claims, and the plaintiffs' motion to reconsider the court's order granting summary judgment on the unit-interaction claim.

The court will grant the defendants' summary judgment motions. In sum, while Rushville does not appear to provide the resources necessary to help illiterate residents access the courts, the plaintiff Lurz, who is functionally illiterate, cannot demonstrate that he suffered actual prejudice from that failure. On the written communications claims, the record now shows that the residents are able to communicate with each other through the U.S. mail. Their inability to use the interoffice mail to communicate with each other does not infringe upon their First Amendment rights. The record now also shows that the residents are not prohibited from helping each other with legal matters, mandating summary judgment on that claim as well.

As to the plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration, it is proper for the court to revisit its prior ruling in light of the plaintiffs' new arguments and evidence. However, even considering those new arguments and evidence, the court still concludes that the separation of the units is rationally related to legitimate security and logistical concerns. The plaintiffs' evidence does show that a resident's ability to interact with others has a positive effect on his rehabilitation, but the evidence does not show that the separation of the units is a decision requiring clinical input. The residents already have the opportunity for substantial interaction, even without inter-unit interaction. Alternatively, even if the decision is one that requires the exercise of clinical professional judgment, the plaintiffs' evidence does not show that separating the units is a "substantial departure from accepted professional judgment." Thus, the purported failure of Dr. Jumper to exercise his professional judgment is not independently actionable.

Summary Judgment Standard

"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(1). Genuine factual disputes are resolved in the non-movant's favor, and reasonable factual inferences are drawn in favor of the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)); Beraha v. Baxter Health Care Corp., 956 F.2d 1436, 1440 (7th Cir. 1992). If the movant shows that "there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case[,]" the non-movant must come forth with competent, admissible evidence to demonstrate a material factual dispute for trial, not simply rest on pleadings and allegations. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B).

Lurz's Access to Court Claim

For purposes of this order, Plaintiff Lurz is functionally illiterate. There is some dispute as to the extent of that disability, but inferences are drawn in Lurz's favor at this stage. The court also concludes, for purposes of this order, that Rushville does not provide any assistance to illiterate inmates to help them present grievances to the court, either by staff or by providing another resident's assistance. See Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 413 (2002)(access to court claim might arise from denying illiterate inmate reading assistance). An illiterate resident might be shown how to log on to the computer system to conduct research on a CD-ROM, but that would be of little comfort to someone who cannot read.

Nevertheless, Lurz must still show that he suffered actual prejudice in the pursuit of a non-frivolous claim. Shango v. Jurich, 965 F.2d 289 (7th Cir. 1992)("In light of the inmates' demonstrated access to the courts, the district court's finding they were not prejudiced, and Shango's citing no evidence of prejudice in the record, we must conclude that no Stateville inmate, whether literate or illiterate, presented evidence of having been prejudiced in any legal action."). The record is against him on that score.

Lurz's dismissed habeas corpus petition was the focus of the court's prior order on summary judgment. The claim was kept in because the court could not tell if Lurz had suffered actual prejudice-the reasons for the dismissal of that habeas petition were not in the record. The Court did not address whether the access claim might be barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) as essentially a collateral attack on his confinement, a point pressed by Defendant Jumper. See Hoard v. Reddy, 175 F.3d 531 (7th Cir. 1999)(§1983 access claim for damages regarding defendants' alleged efforts to thwart post-conviction proceedings was barred by Heck, but not claim for injunctive relief to remove block to access the courts); Nance v. Vieregge, 147 F.3d 589 (7th Cir. 1998)(if the injury is losing the motion to withdraw guilty plea, a damages remedy would imply the invalidity of the sentence, and thus be barred by Heck). This thicket may be avoided since Lurz suffered no concrete injury. Lurz contends that his petition was dismissed because he filed it in the wrong court, a mistake he could have avoided with appropriate help. Yet he does not contend that the habeas petition had any merit; there is no evidence that the petition would have met a happier fate had it been filed in the correct court.*fn2

Additionally, Lurz already has the opportunity to challenge his commitment in the state circuit court every twelve months, proceedings in which he is entitled to an attorney. 725 ILCS 5/207(55)(a). In those proceedings, Lurz's oral motion to fire his lawyer and proceed pro se was denied, but he suffered no prejudice to his ability to access the courts from that decision.

The court reaches the same conclusion with regard to Lurz's habeas petition filed in 2008. That petition challenged the plaintiff's commitment on the grounds of due process, double jeopardy, ineffective assistance of counsel, and a violation of the plaintiff's purported right to a trial under the Sexually Violent Persons Act. The petition was dismissed on the grounds that the claims were not cognizable under habeas corpus, though the state judge remarked that the claims might be cognizable through some other legal process. The plaintiff contends that, had he had appropriate help, he could have pursued those claims through the appropriate legal process. Yet those claims belonged in the plaintiff's commitment proceedings, or appeals therefrom, in which the plaintiff was already represented. In any event, he does not explain how any of those claims were "potentially meritorious challenge[s]." ...

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