Part 2: case summaries by major topic.

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  1. ACCESS TO COURTS U.S. Appeals Court Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541 (7th Cir. RETALIATION FOR LEGAL 2009). A prisoner brought a [section] 1983 ACTION action against prison officials alleging that they retaliated against him for providing an affidavit in a deceased inmate's mother's wrongful death action, in violation of his First Amendment rights. The district court dismissed the complaint and the prisoner appealed. The appeals court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court found that the prisoner stated a claim for First Amendment retaliation, but failed to state a claim for denial of access to the courts. According to the court, the prisoner stated a [section] 1983 claim for First Amendment retaliation by alleging that he engaged in protected speech by filing an affidavit in the wrongful death action, that he suffered retaliation through: delays in his incoming and outgoing mail; harassment by an officer kicking his cell door, turning his cell light off an on, and opening his cell trap and slamming it shut in order to startle him; unjustified disciplinary charges; and improper dismissal of his grievances. The prisoner alleged that he would not have been harassed if he had not participated in the wrongful death action. The court found that the prisoner's participation in filing the affidavit was not sufficiently connected to the deceased inmate's rights to allow the prisoner to assert a denial of access retaliation claim based on his assistance to the deceased inmate. (Wisconsin Secure Program Facility) U.S. District Court Cox v. Ashcroft, 603 F.Supp.2d 1261 (E.D.Cal. JAIL HOUSE LAWYERS 2009). A prisoner brought a [section] 1983 LEGAL ASSISTANCE LEGAL action against the United States Attorney MATERIAL SEARCHES General, several federal prosecutors, and the owner and employees of a privately-owned federal facility in which the prisoner was incarcerated, alleging constitutional violations arising from his arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. The district court dismissed the action. The court held that the prisoner did not have any Fourth Amendment rights to privacy in his cell, and thus did not suffer any constitutional injury as a result of the search of his cell and the confiscation of another inmate's legal materials. According to the court, the prison facility's imposition of a 30-day suspension of the prisoner's telephone privileges related to a disciplinary action arising from the search of his cell and the confiscation of another inmates' legal papers, did not constitute an unreasonable limitation on the prisoner's First Amendment rights. The court noted that prisoners have a First Amendment right to telephone access, subject to reasonable limitations. The court found that regulations at a privately-owned federal prison facility prohibiting the prisoner from having the legal papers of another inmates in his cell did not chill the prisoner's exercise of his First Amendment right to provide legal assistance to fellow inmates, thus precluding liability on the part of the prison and its employees in the prisoner's [section] 1983 action alleging First Amendment retaliation. The court noted that the regulations reflected a legitimate penological objective in regulating when and where such assistance was provided. (Taft Correctional Institution, Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, California) U.S. District Court Cusamano v. Sobek, 604 F.Supp.2d 416 (N.D.N.Y. LEGAL MATERIAL 2009). A former state prisoner brought a pro RETALIATION se action against department of corrections employees, alleging violation of his First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as the New York Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants in part, and denied in part. The court held that summary judgment was precluded by a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether a corrections officer was present during, and participated in, the alleged assault of the prisoner. The court noted that an officer's failure to intervene during another officer's use of excessive force can itself constitute excessive force. The court also held that summary judgment was precluded by a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether excessive force was used against the prisoner. The court found that a corrections officer's failure to include the prisoner's legal documents in the prisoner's personal items when the prisoner was transferred to a special housing unit was unintentional and did not cause the prisoner to be prejudiced during legal proceedings, as required for the prisoner's First Amendment denial of access to courts claim against the officer. (Gouverneur Correctional Facility, Clinton Correctional Facility, New York) U.S. Appeals Court Espinal v. Goord, 558 F.3d 119 (2nd Cir. EXHAUSTION PLRA-Prison 2009). A district court granted partial Litigation Reform Act summary judgment in favor of the state RETALIATION defendants on the prisoner's civil rights claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), and the prisoner appealed. The appeals court affirmed in part, and reversed and remanded in part. The court held that state grievance procedures did not require an inmate to specifically name the responsible parties, and therefore the inmate did not fail to exhaust his administrative remedies under PLRA by omitting the names of the responsible parties from his prison grievance. The court found that the passage of only six months between the dismissal of the prisoner's lawsuit and an allegedly retaliatory beating by officers, one of whom was a defendant in the prior lawsuit, was sufficient to support an inference of a causal connection, and therefore a genuine issue of material fact existed as to the causal connection element of the prisoner's First Amendment retaliation claim. (New York State Department of Correctional Services, Green Haven Correctional Facility) U.S. Appeals Court Fontroy v. Beard, 559 F.3d 173 (3rd Cir. PRIVILEGED 2009). Inmates sued state prison officials, CORRESPONDENCE claiming that a policy of opening legal and court mail outside their presence violated the First Amendment. The district court declared the policy unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment. The prison officials appealed. The appeals court reversed, finding that the policy did not violate the First Amendment right of inmates to have mail opened in their presence. According to the court, the policy of requiring a control number on legal and court mail sent to inmates, opening mail without control numbers outside of inmates' presence, and inspecting for contraband before delivering mail to inmates, did not violate the First Amendment right of inmates to have mail opened in their presence. The court noted that the new legal mail policy was implemented to avoid abuse of the legal mail privilege, that the new policy was less burdensome on prison employees than the prior policy, that the inmates' proposed alternative could not be achieved at de minimis cost, and while inmates could not control whether courts or attorneys actually obtained control numbers, that alternatives were provided by new policy. (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections) U.S. Appeals Court Griffin v. Arpaio, 557 F.3d 1117 (9th Cir. EXHAUSTION PLRA-Prison 2009). A state inmate brought a [section] 1983 Litigation Reform Act action against a county sheriff and others, alleging cruel and unusual punishment and unsafe living conditions based on their failure to assign him a lower bunk for medical reasons. The defendants moved to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The district court granted the motion and the inmate appealed. The appeals court affirmed. Although the court found that a prison grievance need only alert the prison to the nature of the wrong for which redress is sought and the inmate's failure to grieve deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs did not invalidate his exhaustion attempt, the inmate did not properly exhaust administrative remedies under PLRA. The court held that the inmate's grievance regarding his need for a lower bunk assignment did not provide sufficient notice of the staff's alleged disregard of his lower bunk assignments to allow officials to take appropriate responsive measures, as required to properly exhaust administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) before he brought a [section] 1983 action. The officials responding to the inmate's grievance reasonably concluded that a nurse's order for a lower bunk assignment solved the inmate's problem. (Maricopa County Sheriff, Arizona) U.S. District Court Kim v. Veglas, 607 F.Supp.2d 286 (D.Mass. LEGAL MATERIAL 2009). A prisoner, who was initially convicted TRANSFER and incarcerated in Maine, brought an action against various prison officials in Massachusetts and Maine alleging that his transfer to a Massachusetts corrections facility violated a variety of his constitutional and statutory rights. The district court dismissed the case in part. The court held that a Maine prison law librarian was subject to Massachusetts' long-arm statute, for the purposes of a claim of denial of access to the courts brought by the prisoner. The court noted that, in a letter to the prisoner in response to his request for legal materials, the librarian stated that he was the individual to contact for Maine legal materials, and that he required the prisoner to provide "exact citations" for requested legal materials. The prisoner contended that this requirement essentially prohibited him from acquiring Maine legal materials, and thus caused his constitutional injury. The court held that the prisoner's allegations were sufficient to satisfy the relatedness requirement for exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over the librarian, consistent with due process. According to the court, the librarian's alleged conduct was...

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