Part two: case summaries by major topic.

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U.S. District Court

LEGAL MAIL

  1. ACCESS TO COURT

    Blalock v. Eaker, 845 F.Supp.2d 678 (W.D.N.C. 2012). A pretrial detainee brought a [section] 1983 action against prison officials, alleging they lost his legal mail. The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The court held that when prison staff ignored the detainee's subpoenas it did not violate his right of access to the courts. The court noted that the detainee was represented by counsel, the subpoenas were invalid as the detainee was a criminal defendant who had no right under North Carolina common law to pretrial discovery, North Carolina statutes did not authorize the use of subpoenas "duces tecum" as a criminal discovery tool, and North Carolina law did not allow criminal defendants to depose witnesses. (Lincoln County Detention Center, North Carolina)

    U.S. District Court

    DUE PROCESS

    LEGAL MATERIAL

    Catanzaro v. Harry, 848 F.Supp.2d 780 (W.D.Mich. 2012). A state prisoner, proceeding pro se, brought a [section] 1983 action against a state department of corrections, department officials, a warden, parole board members, and numerous prison and department employees, alleging violation of his due process rights, violation of the Fourth Amendment, denial of adequate medical care, his right to free exercise of religion, equal protection, access to courts, and retaliation. The district court held that: (1) the prisoner had no protected interest in early release on parole; (2) the requirement that the prisoner complete a sex-offender treatment program as condition for parole did not violate the Due Process Clause as the condition for parole did not exceed the sentence imposed on the prisoner; (3) the prisoner's conditions at sex-offender treatment facility did not implicate the prisoner's right to procedural due process, notwithstanding the fact that the prisoner did not have access to recreational facilities or a law library, the prisoner could not work, the prisoner had to arrange for his own health care, and the prisoner did not have the opportunity to attend religious services; (4) the transfer of the prisoner to facility for sex-offender treatment program did not violate his right to substantive due process; and (5) the prisoner stated a claim for violation of Free Exercise Clause. According to the court, the prisoner's complaint, alleging that a parole agent prevented him from bringing his own legal papers with him during his transfer from a sex-offender treatment facility to a prison, and that as a result, the prisoner was unable to notify the court of his address change and a lost opportunity to object to dismissal of two retaliation claims, failed to state a claim for violation of prisoner's right of access to the courts. (Cooper Street Correctional Facility, Residential Sex Offender Program (RSOP) at the Kalamazoo, and Probation Enhancement Program in Muskegon, Michigan)

    U.S. District Court

    LEGAL MAIL

    Galeas v. Inpold, 845 F.Supp.2d 685 (W.D.N.C. 2012). An inmate, proceeding pro se, brought a [section] 1983 action against a mailroom officer, alleging mishandling of his legal mail. The district court granted the officer's motion to dismiss. The court held that the inmate's allegations that his mother sent him two packages by certified mail containing his legal papers, that the mailroom officer signed the receipt, and that the inmate never received the packages were insufficient to plead intentional interference by the officer, as required to state a [section] 1983 claim for denial of access to the courts in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court also held that the allegations were insufficient to plead an actual injury, as required to state a [section] 1983 claim against the mailroom officer for denial of access to the courts, absent allegations as to the contents of those papers or of the legal to issue to which they were vital. (Lanesboro Correctional Institution, North Carolina)

    U.S. Appeals Court

    COURT COSTS

    RETALIATION

    Gay v. Chandra, 682 F.3d 590 (7th Cir. 2012). A prisoner sued three mental health professionals at the prison alleging constitutionally inadequate treatment and retaliation for a prior lawsuit. The district court required the cost bond without evaluating the merit or lack of merit of the prisoner's claims, and then dismissed the case with prejudice when prisoner did not post the bond he could not afford, and the prisoner appealed. The appeals court reversed and remanded. The court held that the district court abused its discretion in failing to consider the prisoner's current ability to afford a bond before requiring one as a condition of prosecuting a civil rights lawsuit. The court noted that a court's authority to award costs to a prevailing party implies a power to require the posting of a bond reasonably calculated to cover those costs, even though no statute or rule expressly authorizes such an order. The court may require a bond where there is reason to believe that the prevailing party will find it difficult to collect its costs when the litigation ends. The appeals court described the plaintiff as a "deeply disturbed Illinois inmate with a long history of self-mutilation." (Tamms Correctional Center, Illinois)

    U.S. District Court

    LEGAL MAIL

    Hill v. Terrell, 846 F.Supp.2d 488 (W.D.N.C. 2012). A state prisoner, proceeding pro se, brought an action against a department of correction (DOC) and prison officials, alleging denial of access to the courts. The district court granted the defendants motion for judgment on the pleadings. The court held that the prison's censorship of the prisoner's outgoing mail did not violate his First Amendment rights, where two individuals contacted the prison with notice that they did not wish to be contacted by the prisoner, the prison policy permitted withdrawal of the prisoner's privilege to write to a particular person upon request by that person, and the prisoner was informed that letters would be censored to those people. According to the court, the prisoner's allegations that prison staff censored his legal mail, preventing him from communicating adequately or confidentially with his attorneys, were insufficient to state a [section] 1983 claim for denial of access to the courts in violation of the First Amendment, absent allegations of any specific instances where his legal mail was censored or of an actual injury from the censorship. (Marion Correctional Institution, North Carolina)

    U.S. Appeals Court

    APPOINTED ArroRNEY

    Powell v. Symons, 680 F.3d 301 (3'd Cir. 2012). A state prisoner filed a [section] 1983 action asserting Eighth Amendment claim that a physician was deliberately indifferent to his medical needs. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant and the prisoner appealed. Another prisoner filed a similar claim and the district court granted summary judgment for defendants and that prisoner appealed. The appeals were consolidated. The appeals court reversed and remanded, finding that the district court abused its discretion as to one prisoner in not entering an order appointing an appropriate representative under the guardian ad litem rule, and that a letter from a physician as to the other prisoner sufficed to put the district court on notice that the prisoner possibly was incompetent. The court noted that the letter from the physician stated that the prisoner "is under my care for Major Depression and Attention Deficit Disorder. I do not feel he is competent at this time to represent himself in court. I would recommend that he be given a public defender, if at all possible." (SCI--Rockview, Pennsylvania)

    U.S. Appeals Court

    SELF INCRIMINATION

    Roman v. DiGuglielmo, 675 F.3d 204 (3rd Cir. 2012). A state prisoner petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, after a state court denied habeas relief, alleging that state's decision to deny him parole, unless he admitted his guilt and participated in sex offender treatment program, violated his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination. The district court denied the petition and the prisoner appealed. The court held that the parole condition did not violate the prisoner's right against self incrimination. The court noted that the state had a legitimate interest in rehabilitating prisoners, the prisoner did not have any right or entitlement to parole under state law, his sentence was not lengthened, and the actual conditions of his imprisonment had not been altered. (Pennsylvania)

    U.S. District Court

    APPOINTED ATTORNEY

    TRANSFER

    Shah v. Danberg,855 F.Supp.2d 215 (D.Del. 2012). A state inmate who pled guilty but mentally ill to a charge of first degree murder filed a [section] 1983 action against a state judge and prison officials alleging that his placement in a correctional center, rather than in a psychiatric center, violated his constitutional rights. The court held that the state judge was entitled to absolute judicial immunity from liability in inmate's [section] 1983 action despite the inmate's contention that the judge's incorrect application of a state statute resulted in violation of his constitutional rights, where there were no allegations that the judge acted outside the scope of her judicial capacity, or in the absence of jurisdiction. The could ruled that the state inmate failed to establish the likelihood of success on the merits of his claim and thus was not entitled to a preliminary injunction ordering his transfer, despite the inmate's contention that he was mentally unstable and had repeatedly caused himself physical injury during his suicide attempts, where medical records the inmate submitted were ten years old, and a state supreme court recognized that prison officials had discretion to house inmates at facilities they chose. The court ordered the appointment of counsel, noting that the inmate was unable to afford legal representation, he had a history of mental health problems, and the matter presented complex legal issues. (James T. Vaughn...

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