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Nebraska Supreme Court Upholds One-Hour Law Library Access

Nebraska Supreme Court Upholds One-Hour Law Library Access

by Mark Wilson

On June 13, 2014, the Nebraska Supreme Court held that a prisoner did not state a cognizable access to court claim because he failed to show actual injury resulting from a one-hour daily law library limitation.

Prisoners at Nebraska’s Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (TSCI) are generally permitted access to the law library for just one hour a day. Upon proof of a court date and exigent need, a prisoner may request an extra hour of library time. Such a request must be submitted 30 days in advance.

Library capacity is limited to 28 people, including staff, clerks and prisoners. Without the one-hour time limit, “TSCI would be unable to provide availability to all inmates,” the librarian claimed. The law library is intended only for legal research, taking notes and making copies; prisoners are expected to prepare their legal documents in their housing unit.

Prisoner Christopher M. Payne filed a state court declaratory judgment action in 2011, alleging that the one-hour law library limitation violated his constitutional right of access to the courts. He claimed that he needed additional library time because he had seven pending legal actions. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, concluding that Payne had not shown actual injury to a nonfrivolous claim as a result of the restrictions on his law library access at TSCI.

Adhering to the ruling in Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996) [PLN, Aug. 1996, p.1], the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed. The Court found, “as did the district court, that there is no evidence that the law library restrictions hindered a nonfrivolous and arguably meritorious legal claim challenging [Payne’s] sentence or the condition of his confinement.” See: Payne v. Nebraska DOC, 288 Neb. 330, 848 N.W.2d 597 (Neb. 2014).


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Related legal case

Payne v. Nebraska DOC