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Access and Indigency Expanded

Access And Indigency Expanded

A law library rule merely saying prisoners "shall be provided physical access to law library during assigned law library hours," when considered against the backdrop of uncontested allegations of inadequate access, was held not "to provide detailed guidelines to thwart arbitrariness." The court also struck down a prison policy on indigency that forced prisoners to chose between purchasing essential hygienic supplies and essential legal supplies. "This 'choice' is unacceptable," the court said. Summary judgement was granted to the prisoner petitioners on both the access and the indigency issues.

The district court went on to address other aspects of the right of prisoners' access to the courts, granting considerable relief to the plaintiff prisoners. One surprising aspect of this ruling is a requirement that law clerks receive training to be legal assistants. See, Gluth v. Kangas, 773 F.Supp. 1309 (D.AR 1991)

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Related legal case

Gluth v. Kangas

ALAN L. GLUTH, Plaintiff, v. WILLIAM KANGAS, et al., Defendants

No. CIV 84-1626 PHX CAM


773 F. Supp. 1309; 1988 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17618

August 19, 1988, Decided

August 22, 1988, Filed

COUNSEL: [**1]

Robert Dauber, Law School Clinic, Arizona State University School of Law, Tempe, Arizona, for Plaintiff Class.

Grant Woods, Attorney General, Lynne W. Abney, Assistant Attorney General, for Defendants.


C.A. Muecke, United States District Judge.




[*1310] ORDER


Having considered the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed April 22, 1988, and the Response and Reply thereto, this Court hereby finds and concludes as follows:

Gluth's motion for summary judgment argues that he is entitled to summary judgment on all three counts of his second amended complaint. In response, the Defendants do not argue that a material factual dispute precludes summary judgment. Instead, the Defendants contend that because the Prison's new library access policy is constitutionally adequate and Gluth has only sought injunctive relief, Gluth's second amended complaint is therefore moot and should be dismissed.

The question of mootness will be addressed first. Lindquist v. Idaho State Board of Corrections, 776 F.2d 851, 853-854 (CA9 1988) is instructive in this regard. In Lindquist, the court stated that:

[a] case, or an issue in a case, is considered moot "if it has 'lost [**2] its character as a present, live controversy of the kind that must exist if we are to avoid advisory opinions on abstract propositions of law.'" As a general rule, however, voluntary cessation of allegedly illegal conduct does not make a case moot. But a case may become moot if "(1) it can be said with reasonable assurance that [*1311] 'there is no reasonable expectation . . .' that the alleged violation will recur, and (2) interim relief or events have completely eradicated the effects of the alleged violation." There is a heavy burden of proof to demonstrate mootness.

Id. (Citations omitted.) Because Gluth has alleged that violations continue to occur in the face of the Prison's new library access policy and that the policy itself fails to provide prisoners adequate access to the courts, this Court cannot conclude "with reasonable assurance" that the alleged violations will not continue to occur. This case is consequently far from moot.

The merits of Gluth's motion will now be considered. Count One of Gluth's complaint alleges that inmates denied physical access to the Prison's law library are denied meaningful access to the courts because such inmates are not afforded the assistance [**3] of trained legal assistants. In Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828, 52 L. Ed. 2d 72, 97 S. Ct. 1491 (1977), the Supreme Court stated that:

the fundamental right to access to the courts 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.

(Emphasis added.) Despite Bounds' clear mandate requiring training for legal assistants, the Defendants continue to provide absolutely no training to those inmates denominated "legal assistants." Instead, inmates "who appear minimally capable of assisting other inmates with legal research and writing" are approved as legal assistants. See DMO 88-05, But the mere appearance of "minimal capability" cannot be equated with "training in the law." As the unhappy life of the average pro se prisoner complaint all too aptly illustrates, the blind can only lead the blind to oblivion. Prisoners denied physical access to the Prison's law library must receive assistance from someone trained in the law. Gluth's motion for summary judgment is therefore granted as to Count One of his second amended [**4] complaint.

In Count Two of his complaint, Gluth argues that inmates who enjoy some physical access to the law library are nonetheless deprived of constitutionally adequate access to the library. In response, the Defendants contend that their new library access policy comports with constitutional requirements. Perusal of the new policy is thus in order. DMO 88-05 provides that inmates shall be granted "reasonable physical access to an adequate law library." Similarly, DMO 88-05 provides that inmates "shall be provided physical access to the law library during assigned law library hours."

These new provisions must be considered against the background of Gluth's unrebuted allegations, affidavits, and exhibits. Gluth contends that: "(1) unreasonable restrictions keep inmates from gaining access to the law library; (2) inmates are permitted insufficient time in the library; (3) inmates are given inadequate notice of library turnouts; and (4) inmates are arbitrarily removed from the library." Plaintiff's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Summary Judgment, pp. 15-16. These contentions are meticulously supported by affidavits and other exhibits. Because [**5] the Defendants adduce no evidence to the contrary, Gluth's allegations must be taken as true. This Court consequently finds that the Defendants have a history of arbitrarily denying prisoners library access. In light of this history, the vagueness of the Defendants' new policy fails to provide detailed guidelines thwart arbitraryness and insure that inmates will enjoy adequate law library access. Gluth's motion is therefore also granted as to Count Two of his complaint.

Lastly, Count Three of Gluth's complaint alleges that he was unfairly denied indigent status which rendered him unable to obtain materials necessary (e.g. stamps, paper, etc.) to prosecute his claims. The Defendants respond with a single conclusionary sentence: "Indigents are guaranteed adequate funds for necessary legal, postage, and stationary supplies. See, generally, Access Policy at 2.2." DMO 88-05 provides that inmates "who are [*1312] indigent are to be provided with necessary supplies free of charge to the extent that the cost of these supplies exceeds the amount in the inmate's account." But as Gluth's memorandum, affidavits, and exhibits make clear, the Defendants' indigency policy forces inmates to [**6] choose between purchasing essential hygienic supplies and essential legal supplies. This "choice" is unacceptable. See Temple v. Ellerthorpe, 586 F. Supp. 848, 851 (D.R.I. 1984). Gluth's motion is therefore granted on Count Three of his complaint.

Accordingly, based on the foregoing, the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

The Plaintiff shall file a proposed permanent injunction by October 3, 1988. The Defendants shall file any objections to the proposal by October 17, 1988. The Plaintiff shall reply by October 24, 1988.

Dated this 19th day of August.