518 U.S. 343 (1996), 94-1511, Lewis v. Casey

Docket Nº:Case No. 94-1511
Citation:518 U.S. 343, 116 S.Ct. 2174, 135 L.Ed.2d 606, 64 U.S.L.W. 4587
Case Date:June 24, 1996
Court:United States Supreme Court

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518 U.S. 343 (1996)

116 S.Ct. 2174, 135 L.Ed.2d 606, 64 U.S.L.W. 4587



CASEY et al.

Case No. 94-1511

United States Supreme Court

June 24, 1996

Argued November 29, 1996

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit


Respondents, who are inmates of various prisons operated by the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC), brought a class action against petitioners, ADOC officials, alleging that petitioners were furnishing them with inadequate legal research facilities and thereby depriving them of their right of access to the courts, in violation of Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817. The District Court found petitioners to be in violation of Bounds and issued an injunction mandating detailed, systemwide changes in ADOC's prison law libraries and in its legal assistance programs. The Ninth Circuit affirmed both the finding of a Bounds violation and the injunction's major terms.


The success of respondents' systemic challenge was dependent on their ability to show widespread actual injury, and the District Court's failure to identify anything more than isolated instances of actual injury renders its finding of a systemic Bounds violation invalid. Pp. 348-364.

(a) Bounds did not create an abstract, freestanding right to a law library or legal assistance; rather, the right that Bounds acknowledged was the right of access to the courts. E. g., 430 U.S., at 817, 821, 828. Thus, to establish a Bounds violation, the "actual injury" that an inmate must demonstrate is that the alleged shortcomings in the prison library or legal assistance program have hindered, or are presently hindering, his efforts to pursue a nonfrivolous legal claim. This requirement derives ultimately from the doctrine of standing. Although Bounds made no mention of an actual injury requirement, it can hardly be thought to have eliminated that constitutional prerequisite. Pp. 349-353.

(b) Statements in Bounds suggesting that prison authorities must also enable the prisoner to discover grievances, and to litigate effectively once in court, 430 U.S., at 825-826, and n. 14, have no antecedent in this Court's pre-Bounds cases, and are now disclaimed. Moreover, Bounds does not guarantee inmates the wherewithal to file any and every type of legal claim, but requires only that they be provided with the tools to attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and to challenge the conditions of their confinement. Pp. 354-355.

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(c) The District Court identified only two instances of actual injury: It found that ADOC's failures with respect to illiterate prisoners had resulted in the dismissal with prejudice of inmate Bartholic's lawsuit and the inability of inmate Harris to file a legal action. Pp. 356-357.

(d) These findings as to injury do not support the systemwide injunction ordered by the District Court. The remedy must be limited to the inadequacy that produced the injury in fact that the plaintiff has established; that this is a class action changes nothing, for even named plaintiffs in a class action must show that they personally have been injured, see, e. g., Simon v. Eastern Ky. Welfare Rights Organization, 426 U.S. 26, 40, n. 20. Only one named plaintiff, Bartholic, was found to have suffered actual injury—as a result of ADOC's failure to provide the special services he would have needed, in light of his particular disability (illiteracy), to avoid dismissal of his case. Eliminated from the proper scope of the injunction, therefore, are provisions directed at special services or facilities required by non-English speakers, by prisoners in lockdown, and by the inmate population at large. Furthermore, the inadequacy that caused actual injury to illiterate inmates Bartholic and Harris was not sufficiently widespread to justify systemwide relief. There is no finding, and no evidence discernible from the record, that in ADOC prisons other than those occupied by Bartholic and Harris illiterate inmates cannot obtain the minimal help necessary to file legal claims. Pp. 357-360.

(e) There are further reasons why the order here cannot stand. In concluding that ADOC's restrictions on lockdown inmates were unjustified, the District Court failed to accord the judgment of prison authorities the substantial deference required by cases such as Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89. The court also failed to leave with prison officials the primary responsibility for devising a remedy. Compare Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 492. The result of this improper procedure was an inordinately intrusive order. Pp. 361-363.

43 F.3d 1261, reversed and remanded.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O'Connor, Kennedy, and Thomas, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and III of which Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 364. Souter, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, dissenting in part, and concurring in the judgment, in which Ginsburg and Breyer, JJ., joined, post, p. 393. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 404.

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Grant Woods, Attorney General of Arizona, argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Daniel P. Struck, David C. Lewis, Eileen J. Dennis, Rex E. Lee, Carter G. Phillips, Mark D. Hopson, C. Tim Delaney, Rebecca White Berch, and Thomas J. Dennis.

Elizabeth Alexander argued the cause for respondents. With her on the brief were Ayesha Khan, Margaret Winter, Alvin J. Bronstein, Alice L. Bendheim, and Steven R. Shapiro.[*]

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Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977), we held that "the fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law." Id., at 828. Petitioners, who are officials of the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC), contend that the United States District Court for the District of Arizona erred in finding them in violation of Bounds, and that the court's remedial order exceeded lawful authority.


Respondents are 22 inmates of various prisons operated by ADOC. In January 1990, they filed this class action "on behalf of all adult prisoners who are or will be incarcerated by the State of Arizona Department of Corrections," App. 22, alleging that petitioners were "depriving [respondents] of their rights of access to the courts and counsel protected by the First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments," id., at 34. Following a 3-month bench trial, the District Court ruled in favor of respondents, finding that "[p]risoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts that is adequate, effective and meaningful," 834 F.Supp. 1553, 1566 (1992), citing Bounds, supra, at 822, and that "[ADOC's] system fails to comply with constitutional standards," 834 F. Supp., at 1569. The court identified a variety of shortcomings of the ADOC system, in matters ranging from the training of library staff, to the updating of legal materials, to the availability of photocopying services. In addition to these general

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findings, the court found that two groups of inmates were particularly affected by the system's inadequacies: "[l]ockdown prisoners" (inmates segregated from the general prison population for disciplinary or security reasons), who "are routinely denied physical access to the law library" and "experience severe interference with their access to the courts," id., at 1556; and illiterate or non-English-speaking inmates, who do not receive adequate legal assistance, id., at 1558.

Having thus found liability, the court appointed a Special Master "to investigate and report about" the appropriate relief—that is (in the court's view), "how best to accomplish the goal of constitutionally adequate inmate access to the courts." App. to Pet. for Cert. 87a. Following eight months of investigation, and some degree of consultation with both parties, the Special Master lodged with the court a proposed permanent injunction, which the court proceeded to adopt, substantially unchanged. The 25-page injunctive order, see id., at 61a-85a, mandated sweeping changes designed to ensure that ADOC would "provide meaningful access to the Courts for all present and future prisoners," id., at 61a. It specified in minute detail the times that libraries were to be kept open, the number of hours of library use to which each inmate was entitled (10 per week), the minimal educational requirements for prison librarians (a library science degree, law degree, or paralegal degree), the content of a videotaped legal research course for inmates (to be prepared by persons appointed by the Special Master but funded by ADOC), and similar matters. Id., at 61a, 67a, 71a. The injunction addressed the court's concern for lockdown prisoners by ordering that "ADOC prisoners in all housing areas and custody levels shall be provided regular and comparable visits to the law library," except that such visits "may be postponed on an individual basis because of the prisoner's documented inability to use the law library without creating

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a threat to safety or security, or a physical condition if determined by medical personnel to prevent library use." Id., at 61a. With respect to illiterate and non-English-speaking inmates, the injunction declared that they were entitled to "direct assistance" from lawyers, paralegals, or "a sufficient number of at least minimally trained prisoner Legal Assistants"; it enjoined ADOC that "[p]articular steps must be taken to locate and train bilingual prisoners to be Legal Assistants." Id., at 69a-70a.

Petitioners sought review in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth...

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