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Hale v. Stoffel

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

May 28, 2019

TERRY STOFFEL, in his official capacity, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 58], filed by Terry Stoffel on January 28, 2019. Plaintiffs Thomas Hale and Justin Walls sued the Defendant in his official capacity as the Sheriff of Huntington County, Indiana. The Plaintiffs allege that, during their incarceration at the Huntington County Jail, they were denied access to a law library, legal research materials, and legal assistance in violation of their Fourteenth Amendment rights. They are seeking damages.

         The Defendant argues that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because no facts exist that would entitle either Plaintiff to monetary relief. The Plaintiffs were represented by counsel throughout their criminal cases, and they made only generic requests to research constitutional rights. Additionally, they suffered no injury.

         For the reasons stated in this Opinion and Order, entry of summary judgment in favor of the Defendant is warranted.


         For purposes of summary judgment “[a] party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). These include “depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, [and] interrogatory answers.” Id. The Defendant, in support of his Motion, provides a Statement of Material Facts [ECF No. 60], wherein he cites to the Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint, the Defendant's Answer, the Plaintiffs' responses to requests for production of documents, Plaintiffs' deposition testimony, declarations, and interrogatory answers.

         The Plaintiffs do not dispute the Defendant's properly supported facts. Accordingly, the Court will include them in its statement of facts to the extent they are relevant to resolution of the summary judgment motion.

         The Plaintiffs' Brief in Opposition to Defendant Sheriff's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 62] contains a section labeled “Statement of Genuine Issues.” This section contains five basic categories of facts. First, the Plaintiffs start by reciting forty paragraphs from the Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint. (Pls.' Brief 2-5.) The Plaintiffs assert that it is appropriate to cite these paragraphs from their First Amended Complaint “both because it is designated as evidence by Defendant Sheriff in his Motion . . . and, although Defendant disclaims liability and argues Plaintiffs did not have underlying civil legal claims to pursue, because Defendant Sheriff in his Motion does not appear to dispute the accuracy of Plaintiff's factual allegations concerning their lack of access to civil legal assistance in the Huntington County Jail.” (Id. at 2.)

         The Court will not include the complaint allegations in its statement of facts. Doing so would not be helpful or appropriate. Although the Defendant cited to the First Amended Complaint, he only did so as one of the sources that supports the dates the Plaintiffs were incarcerated in the Huntington County Jail. For other undisputed allegations that are contained in both the pleadings and other materials in the record the Court need only rely on the other materials.

         The second and third categories of facts do not differ from the Defendant's version of facts. They are taken directly from two sources: the Defendant's Statement of Material Facts, and; the Defendant's Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment, which summarizes and condenses the facts set forth in the Defendant's Statement of Material Facts. As stated above, those facts are included to the extent they are relevant to resolving the summary judgment motion For the fourth category, the Plaintiffs submit additional evidence in the form of the Declarations (titled as Affidavits) of Justin Walls and Thomas Hale. The Court will include this testimony in the statement of facts to the extent the Declarations are “made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4), and do not contradict prior deposition testimony, see, e.g., Koppline v. Wis. Cent. Ltd., 914 F.3d 1099, 1103 (7th Cir. 2019) (discounting affidavit testimony that contradicted unambiguous deposition testimony).

         Finally, the Plaintiffs designate and cite to the Defendant's responses to Plaintiff's discovery requests. These facts are appropriate to consider on summary judgment.

         A. The Huntington County Jail

         The Huntington County Jail is a criminal facility. Jeff Kyle, as the Jail Commander, is responsible for the maintenance of all aspects of the Huntington County Jail. The Huntington County Jail maintains a law library for use by inmates who are representing themselves in their criminal cases. The law library is maintained on a DVD/CD-Rom, which was prepared and compiled by the Indiana Public Defender's Office. Additionally, the Huntington County Jail maintains forms for use by inmates seeking post-conviction relief in State Court.

         The Jail does not permit general access to the computer or DVD/CDRom for purposes of adequately controlling and monitoring the inmate population. An inmate must submit a request in writing to use the computer and DVD/CD-Rom. If an inmate is represented by an attorney, the inmate is not permitted access to the DVD/CDRom but is directed to communicate with counsel. When an inmate asks for information to file a petition for post-conviction relief, the Huntington County Jail provides the form for the inmate to complete by hand.

         B. Justin Walls

         1. Commissary and Grievances

         Walls was held in the Huntington County Jail between July 2016 and November 2017. Upon his admission to the Huntington County Jail, Walls received a copy of the Huntington County Jail Rules and Procedures for Inmates. Walls familiarized himself with the Huntington County Jail Rules which included instructions concerning the use of the court system and law library. The Huntington County Jail Rules also discussed the grievance procedure and commissary ordering procedures. Commissary allowed inmates to purchase hygiene products, writing materials, candy, food, snacks and clothing.

         As a new inmate, Walls was also provided a hygiene pack consisting of a comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap. He received this same package of hygiene products every week that he did not otherwise purchase items from commissary. (Walls Dep. 40- 41, ECF No. 58-4.) However, during a seventy-day period of discipline, Walls was not permitted access to non-standard indigent commissary products. According to Walls, this meant he had to “use state hygiene products that don't work when [he] could use Suave Body Wash.” (Walls Dep. 41.) Walls also objected to the disciplinary restriction on commissary because it meant he could not use normal commissary ordering procedures to get toilet paper for $.50. Instead, he was charged $1.00 for making the request through his only other available option-completing a request slip and giving it to a jail officer.

         Walls submitted grievances related to the commissary restriction. Commander Kyle advised that commissary was a privilege. Walls later filed a grievance complaining that lockdown punishment imposed on the group, which resulted in loss of privileges, was not appropriate when only certain inmates committed an infraction. Walls also filed grievances complaining that he was not being permitted access to the law library to research his rights related to his divorce proceedings, child support, and paternity. The Jail advised that its law library contained criminal law to assist offenders who were acting pro se in their criminal cases. In a separate grievance, Walls referenced his access to the law library to research the proper motion to complain to the courts about his criminal sentence. The Jail responded that Walls was represented by counsel in his underlying criminal case (see Cause No. 111 below), for which he was already sentenced, and that this attorney still represented him in a second criminal matter (see Cause No. 163 below).

         2. Criminal Matters

         Walls was sentenced in his underlying criminal case (Cause No. 111) on September 6, 2016. On September 9, 2016, a felony case (Cause No. 163) was opened in Huntington County Superior Court against Walls for battery against a public safety official. The incident that led to these charges is the same incident for which Walls was suspended from purchasing non-standard indigent materials from the commissary. Although Walls had been represented by counsel throughout Cause No. 111, he requested a public defender's appointment for Cause No. 163. The same public defender represented Walls through the sentencing in Cause No. 163, and withdrew his appearance on February 15, 2017.

         On December 22, 2016, Walls filed a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief (Cause No.19) related to Cause No. 111. The Petition was completed on a form that Commander Kyle provided to Walls. On December 29, 2016, the court appointed Walls a public defender for Cause No. 19; however, Walls declined representation by public defender and notified the court of the same via written correspondence on March 16, 2017. Throughout his post-conviction proceedings, Walls filed various letters and pro-se motions with the court. On September 13, 2017, the court entered an administrative event, which provided:

Correspondence received from the Defendant on 7/3/2017 regarding not having access to materials or an adequately trained person in the law. The Court had appointed the Petitioner a Public Defender in this cause on 12/29/16. On 3/16/17, the Petitioner informed the Court, by filing a Notice to the Court, that he wished to proceed pro se in this matter and waived his right to an attorney.

         The court denied Walls' Petition for Post-Conviction Relief the same day. (Walls Dep., Ex. F.)

         3. Civil Litigation

         Walls participated in civil cases during his incarceration. Walls independently filed a Motion to Modify Support on September 19, 2016, in a paternity and child support action filed prior to his incarceration that was pending in the DeKalb Circuit Court. On September 28, 2016, Wall's wife, Lawanda, filed a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Child(ren) in the Allen Circuit Court. Although Walls was incarcerated throughout the divorce proceedings, he filed various pleadings including his appearance on October 5, 2016, and multiple letters between October 13, 2016, and November 15, 2017. On October 13, 2016, Walls filed his own Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Child(ren) in the Allen Circuit Court. The court consolidated the two matters. The court, upon a request from Walls, ultimately ordered that the parties submit to a paternity test that would take place after Walls was released from the Huntington County Jail.

         4. Requests for Access to Law Library

         Throughout his incarceration, Walls submitted numerous inmate request slips for access to the law library. On July 20, 2016, when Walls was represented by counsel in Cause No. 111, he submitted a request stating, “I need to go to the law library.” (Walls Dep. 34, Ex. D.) Commander Kyle reviewed the request and responded the same day by informing Walls to contact his lawyer for any information he needed about his case. Walls followed-up with another request the same day, stating, “I need to go to the law library to get info that don't pertain to this case.” (Walls Dep. 35-36, Ex. D.) Commander Kyle responded, “The law library is for the case you are incarcerated for. It's a criminal law library and has nothing to do with civil matters such [as] a divorce.” (Walls Dep. Ex. D.) Five days later, Walls requested access to the law library to “know my rights under the new law.” (Walls Dep. 36, Ex. D.) The request did not indicate what type of law, or case, Walls was referencing. Commander Kyle again noted that Walls was represented by a lawyer and could not use the library for a different case.

         On September 19, 2016, Walls submitted a request for a printed copy of “all of the constitutional rights.” (Walls Dep. 38, Ex. D.) The request did not indicate what constitutional rights were involved. Walls also submitted a separate request for a print out of Indiana's guidelines for inmate rights. Walls requested to go to the law library but did not indicate the basis for his request. Commander Kyle responded that he was not obligated to get this information for Walls, and he advised Walls that somebody could send him the materials. Walls's third request that day simply stated, “I would like to go to the law library.” (Ex. D.) Commander Kyle's response was that Walls's case had been decided, so there was no need for a law library.

         The next day, September 20, 2016, Walls requested access to the law library concerning the “new law” and requested the address for the ACLU. Commander Kyle instructed Walls to contact his public defender. On September 26, 2016, Walls submitted a request for access to the law library “to make sure [his] attorney is properly representing [him] according to new law.” (Walls Dep. 48-49, Ex. D.) Walls was advised to write the court if Walls was having issues with his attorney.

         On October 2, 2016, Walls submitted a request stating, “So do I not have the right to the law library to understand what is being said in my case?” (Walls Dep. 49, Ex. D.) Commander Kyle responded, “If you have a lawyer, it's the lawyer's ...

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