United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
CHRISTOPHER G. LEWIS, Plaintiff,
WILLIAM HIATT, et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
G. Lewis, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a motion for
leave to amend the complaint. At this stage of the
proceedings, “a party may amend the party's
pleading only by leave of court or by written consent of the
adverse party; and leave shall be freely given when justice
so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). “Reasons for
finding that leave should not be granted include “undue
delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the
movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments
previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by
virtue of allowance of the amendment, [and] futility of
amendment.” Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v.
AT & T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 666 (7th Cir.
initial complaint, filed September 16, 2019, Lewis alleged
that, on August 19, 2019, he was reassigned to a cellhouse
with a higher security level because he had been issued a
disciplinary conduct report. According to Lewis, inmates in
this cellhouse have only a limited ability to conduct legal
research. Specifically, inmates are allowed to request
materials from the law library only once per week. This
practice prevents inmates from obtaining substantive
responses unless they know in advance which legal materials
they need. On August 22, Lewis told Counselor Sterling that
he needed access to the law library to meet a deadline for a
lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the
Southern District of Indiana, but Counselor Sterling refused
to allow him to go to the law library. As a result, Lewis
missed his deadline to file a response, and a decision was
entered on September 3 in Lewis v. Talbot,
1:18-cv-705 (S.D. Ind. filed March 7, 2018), that will make
it more difficult for him to obtain a favorable outcome in
that case. Based on these allegations, the court allowed
Lewis to proceed on claims that he was denied access to the
courts in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendment.
September 16, 2019, Lewis also filed a motion for preliminary
injunction, alleging that his inability to access the law
library would prevent him from satisfying three other
deadlines in two cases: Talbot and Lewis v.
Zatecky, 1:18-cv-593 (S.D. Ind. filed Feb. 28, 2018).
ECF 4. However, review of the electronic dockets in these
cases revealed that, for each of these deadlines, Lewis was
either able to meet the deadline or sought (and was granted)
an extension of time for reasons that were unrelated to his
ability to access the law library. As a result, this court
found no indication of prejudice and denied the motion for
preliminary injunction. ECF 14.
instant motion, Lewis seeks to amend his complaint to add
other defendants, alleging that they too refused him access
to the law library and caused him to miss the September 3
deadline to file reply briefs. In the proposed amended
complaint, he continues to maintain that limited access to
the law library resulted in the court entering an order
against him on September 3, which will be prejudicial to the
outcome of the underlying case. To 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).
considering the instant motion, the court has reviewed the
electronic docket for Talbot, which demonstrates
that the failure to meet the September 3 deadline had no
significant effect on the case. Specifically, on September
24, the Southern District of Indiana considered the untimely
filings but reaffirmed its September 3
decision. Consequently, it is unclear how Lewis is
able to maintain in good faith that limited access to the law
library affected the outcome of the September 3 order or
otherwise prejudiced his case. Under the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure, the court may, after giving notice and a
reasonable time to respond, “consider summary judgment
on its own after identifying for the parties material facts
that may not be genuinely in dispute.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(f)(3). Because the untimely nature of his September 2019
filings did not affect the Southern District's decision
on the September 3 order and thus did not prejudice
Lewis' case, the court finds that summary judgment in
favor of the defendants may be appropriate.
these reasons, the court ORDERS Christopher G. Lewis to show
cause by February 10, 2020, as to why the court
should not enter summary judgment in favor of the defendants
under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f).
 Though Lewis continues to maintain
that he had a September 3 deadline, the Southern District
noted in this order that the reply briefs were due by August