United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
SONNY M. DAVIS, Plaintiff,
MARK SEVIER, et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
M. Davis, a prisoner without a lawyer, proceeds on an
interference with access to the courts claim against Warden
Sevier, Zhenay Newhouse, Crystal Cleary, and Taylor Wall for
preventing him from conducting the legal research necessary
to prevail on his State court petition for a writ of
mandamus. The defendants filed the instant motion for summary
judgment, arguing that Davis had adequate access to legal
research materials and that any restrictions he may have
experienced did not cause him prejudice in the State court
Sevier is the warden at the Westville Correctional Center and
the Westville Control Unit, a restrictive housing unit. ECF
52-7 at 1. Zhenay Newhouse, Crystal Cleary, and Taylor Wall
worked at the law library at the Westville Control Unit. ECF
52-4 at 1; ECF 52-5 at 1; ECF 52-6 at 1. Inmates in
restrictive housing are permitted to conduct legal research
through LexisNexis on the computers in the law library. ECF
52-5 at 5-6; ECF 52-6 at 9. If LexisNexis is unavailable,
inmates may obtain physical copies of legal materials for ten
cents per page or by court order. Id. The Westville
Control Unit also provided access to legal research in
accordance with the following departmental policy:
The facility may develop a loan system in which offenders may
be provided a copy of one or more legal documents. Failure of
the offender to return loaned documents in accordance with
the facility's procedures may result in the offender
being charged the cost of reproducing the copies.
Id.; ECF 34-5 at 16.
asserts that he was denied adequate access to legal research
materials when he resided in the Westville Control Unit from
February 23, 2017, to November 30, 2017. His access to legal
research was limited because of inoperative computers and
difficulties navigating the law library's loan system. At
this time, Davis was litigating a petition for
post-conviction relief in State court. ECF 52-9. On April 2,
2017, he filed for a writ of mandamus with the Indiana
Supreme Court in an attempt to expedite a decision on his
petition and to obtain a new judge. ECF 56-13. On May 5,
2017, the appellate court denied the writ because Davis
requested an inappropriate remedy. ECF 52-11. On September
20, 2017, the Marion Superior Court denied the petition for
post-conviction relief, and, on July 12, 2018, the Court of
Appeals of Indiana affirmed the decision of the lower court.
ECF 52-9. Davis subsequently filed a federal habeas petition,
which remains pending in the United States District Court for
the Southern District of Indiana, Davis v. Brown,
2:19-cv-5 (S.D. Ind. filed Jan. 2, 2019).
judgment must be granted when “there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A
genuine dispute of material fact exists when “the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Not every
dispute between the parties makes summary judgment
inappropriate; “[o]nly disputes over facts that might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will
properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.”
Id. In determining whether summary judgment is
appropriate, the deciding court must construe all facts in
the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all
reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Ogden v.
Atterholt, 606 F.3d 355, 358 (7th Cir. 2010).
“However, our favor toward the nonmoving party does not
extend to drawing inferences that are supported by only
speculation or conjecture.” Fitzgerald v.
Santoro, 707 F.3d 725, 730 (7th Cir. 2013).
asserts that Warden Sevier, Zhenay Newhouse, Crystal Cleary,
and Taylor Wall interfered with his access to the courts by
providing inadequate access to legal research materials. The
defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment
because Davis suffered no prejudice to a legal claim.
Prisoners are entitled to meaningful access to the courts.
Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 824 (1977). The right
of access to the courts is the right of an individual,
whether free or incarcerated, to obtain access to the courts
without undue interference. Snyder v. Nolen, 380
F.3d 279, 291 (7th Cir. 2004). The right of individuals to
pursue legal redress for claims that have a reasonable basis
in law or fact is protected by the First Amendment right to
petition and the Fourteenth Amendment right to substantive
due process. Id.
establish a violation of the right to access the courts, an
inmate must show that unjustified acts or conditions hindered
efforts to pursue a non-frivolous legal claim, and that
actual injury resulted. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S.
343, 351 (1996); Nance v. Vieregge, 147 F.3d 591,
590 (7th Cir. 1998). In other words, “the 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 legal claim has the right been infringed.
Marshall v. Knight, 445 F.3d 965, 968 (7th Cir.
2006). Moreover, an inmate's right of access extends only
to claims involving direct and collateral attacks on his
sentence or regarding the conditions of his confinement.
Lewis, 518 U.S. at 355. Thus, the relevant inquiry
is whether Davis suffered prejudice to his federal habeas
petition and his State court petition for post-conviction
argues that the denial of access prejudiced his federal
habeas petition because he was unable to conduct legal
research for his post-conviction appeal, and, in the federal
habeas case, the State has contended that some of his claims
are procedurally defaulted because he did not raise them in
State court. ECF 56-7 at 15-20. However, the habeas petition
remains pending, and the possibility remains that the
presiding court will excuse the procedural default, consider
the claims on the merits despite their procedural
deficiencies, or even grant habeas relief on a claim that is
properly exhausted. See Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S.
478, 488 (1986); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2). Davis cannot
demonstrate prejudice merely by positing that a court might
decline to consider his claims or that his habeas petition
might be unsuccessful.
further argues that inadequate access to legal research
prejudiced his State court petition for post-conviction
relief because it prevented him from obtaining a writ of
mandamus. He maintains that the judge presiding over the
post-conviction petition was clearly biased and that the writ
of mandamus would have allowed him to obtain a different
judge who may have found the testimony presented by Davis
more credible and may have granted post-conviction relief. To
support the allegation of judicial bias, Davis represents
that the judge prevented him from questioning and presenting
witnesses during evidentiary hearings. However, unfavorable
judicial rulings alone are rarely sufficient to demonstrate
improper bias. Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S.
540, 555 (1994). This case presents no exception as the
transcript excerpts submitted by Davis show no more than a
judge sustaining two routine objections on the basis of
relevancy, and the appellate court found no abuse his
discretion with respect to these evidentiary rulings. ECF
52-12 at 20; ECF 56-8. Davis also notes that the judge
mentioned that a colleague had become a federal judge ...