United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MARK A. CLARK, Plaintiff,
DONALD BUNT, ROBERT HERTZ, and MADISON COUNTY JAIL, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, District Judge.
Plaintiff is currently a pretrial detainee at the Madison County Jail ("the Jail"). He brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Defendant Bunt (a captain at the Jail), Defendant Hertz (Madison County Sheriff), and the Jail itself. Plaintiff claims that Defendants have denied him adequate access to the Jail's law library and have failed to provide sufficient materials there to assist him in defending himself in court.
More specifically, Plaintiff claims that he has been held in the Jail since December 21, 2013, and he is representing himself in three felony cases (Doc. 1, p. 5). He is indigent, but he does not explain why he does not have a court-appointed attorney. Prior to filing the instant civil rights action, Plaintiff was found guilty after a jury trial in one of his cases (No. 13-CF-2809), and he blames this outcome on his inability to access the law library. During his entire time in the Jail, Plaintiff has only been allowed to visit the library on three occasions. Each time, he was allowed to stay only a short while and was not permitted to make any copies. Jail regulations provide that inmates may request a library visit from any jail deputy and that male inmates may use the library on Mondays.
Plaintiff sent three written complaints about the lack of library access to Defendant Bunt, the most recent one on May 5, 2014 (Doc. 1, pp. 8-10). Plaintiff had a motion hearing in court on May 6, 2014, and wrote a complaint to Defendant Hertz on May 7, 2014 (Doc. 1, p. 7). In addition, he made verbal complaints to fourteen other Jail deputies (listed at Doc. 1, p. 4) whom he did not name as Defendants herein. He has yet to receive any response to his complaints.
In addition to the limited access to the library, when Plaintiff was able to get there, he found it was inadequate for his needs. The books were outdated and pages were ripped out, there was no case law, no typewriters, no copy machine, and no clerk or any staff member to give guidance or assistance to inmates. Further, there were no supplies or forms for inmates to use.
Plaintiff requests injunctive relief, in the form of a new law library, more time to access it, and a clerk to assist Jail inmates. He also requests compensatory and punitive damages.
Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A
Under § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint, and to dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from an immune defendant.
Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that Plaintiff has articulated a colorable federal cause of action against Defendants Bunt, Hertz, and the Madison County Jail for denial of access to the courts, in that they failed to provide Plaintiff with access to adequate law library materials and supplies to assist him in presenting a defense in his pending criminal cases.
In order to obtain relief against a municipality in a civil rights case, a plaintiff must allege that the constitutional deprivations were the result of an official policy, custom, or practice of the municipality. Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978); see also Pourghoraishi v. Flying J, Inc., 449 F.3d 751, 765 (7th Cir. 2006). All of Plaintiff's allegations are based upon the conditions, policies, and customs of the Madison County Jail. Accordingly, Plaintiff may proceed against both the individual Defendants and the Madison County Jail as a municipal entity.
Prisoners have a fundamental right of meaningful access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977). This right of access extends to pretrial detainees as well as convicted prisoners. See Casteel v. Pieschek, 3 F.3d 1050, 1053 (7th Cir. 1993).
Prison [and jail] officials have an affirmative duty to provide inmates with reasonable access to courts, which includes providing access to adequate libraries (or counsel). DeMallory v. Cullen, 855 F.2d 442, 446 (7th Cir. 1988). The right of access "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." Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828 (1977). Nonetheless, reasonable access does not mean unlimited access. Hossman v. Sprandlin, 812 F.2d 1019, 1021 (7th Cir. 1987).
Martin v. Davies, 917 F.2d 336, 338 (7th Cir. 1990). An allegation of actual or threatened detriment is an essential element of a § 1983 action for denial of access to the courts. Martin, 917 F.2d at 340; Howland v. Kilquist, 833 F.2d 639, 642-43 (7th Cir. 1987); Hossman, 812 F.2d at 1021-22. "[T]he mere denial of access to a prison law library or to other legal materials is not itself a violation of a prisoner's rights; his right is to access the courts, and only if the defendants' conduct prejudices a potentially meritorious challenge to the prisoner's conviction, sentence, or conditions of confinement has this right been infringed." Marshall v. Knight, 445 F.3d 965, 968 (7th Cir. 2006).
In this case, Plaintiff is not merely challenging a conviction (although he notes that he is appealing his first criminal case); he is attempting to defend himself against pending charges in the hopes of avoiding another conviction. Plaintiff asserts that he has already suffered the detriment of being convicted of a felony because the Defendants caused him to be unable to adequately prepare to represent himself in court. He faces the same ...