Deaton v. Arkansas Department of Correction et al
ORDER granting 68 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge J. Leon Holmes on 2/21/2014. (ks)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
No. 2:12CV00186 JLH-JTK
JANICE GRAY, Law Library Supervisor,
East Arkansas Regional Unit,
Arkansas Department of Correction
Christopher Deaton contends that Janice Gray, the law librarian for the East Arkansas
Regional Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction, violated his constitutional rights by failing
to maintain an adequate law library. Specifically, Deaton contends that Gray failed to maintain an
updated list of the unit level policies in the law library, and, as a result, he spent a significant time in
punitive isolation that could have been avoided had he had an updated index of the unit level policies
with which to defend himself during disciplinary proceedings.
Gray moved for summary judgment, contending that Deaton’s claims against her in her official
capacity are barred by sovereign immunity, that Deaton cannot obtain injunctive relief against her,
and that she is entitled to qualified immunity on Deaton’s claims against her in her individual capacity.
Deaton concedes that Gray is entitled to sovereign immunity on his claims for monetary damages
against her in her official capacity and that he has no claims against her for injunctive relief. He
disputes Gray’s contention that she is entitled to qualified immunity.
After both parties had submitted briefs, United States Magistrate Judge Jerome T. Kearney
issued proposed findings and recommendations in which he recommended that Gray’s motion for
summary judgment be granted and that Deaton’s complaint be dismissed with prejudice.
Judge Kearney recommended that Deaton’s claims against Gray in her individual capacity be
dismissed based on the doctrine of sovereign immunity because there was no clearly established
constitutional requirement that a prison law library maintain a current list of the unit level policies.
Deaton has objected to the proposed findings and recommendations, arguing that the
proposed findings and recommended disposition are erroneous in several of the factual statements
and contending that he did have a clearly established constitutional right to a law library that
maintained an updated list of the unit level policies. In support of that argument, he cites Lewis v.
Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 355, 116 S. Ct. 2174, 2182, 135 L. Ed. 2d 606 (1996), where the Court stated,
in dicta, that the tools that the constitution requires a prison law library to maintain “are those that
the inmates need in order to attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and in order to challenge
the conditions of their confinement.” That dicta in Lewis is based on Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817,
828, 97 S. Ct. 1491, 1498, 52 L. Ed. 2d 72 (1977), where the Court held that the constitutional right
of access to courts requires that prisons provide prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate
assistance from persons trained in the law.
Overcoming a government official’s qualified immunity requires more than that a
constitutional right be clearly established at a high level of generality. Anderson v. Creighton, 483
U.S. 635, 639-40, 107 S. Ct. 3034, 3038-39, 97 L. Ed. 2d 523 (1987).
It should not be surprising, therefore, that our cases establish that the right the official
is alleged to have violated must have been “clearly established” in a more
particularized, and hence more relevant, sense: The contours of the right must be
sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing
violates that right. This is not to say that an official action is protected by qualified
immunity unless the very action in question has previously been held unlawful; but it
is to say that in light of pre-existing law the unlawfulness must be apparent.
Id. at 640, 107 S. Ct. at 3039 (internal citation omitted).
Deaton has not shown that during the relevant time there was a clearly established
constitutional right for prisoners to have a law library that included an updated index of the unit level
policies. Indeed, in Lewis, the Supreme Court said that Bounds did not establish a “right to a law
library or to legal assistance” but rather, that Bounds acknowledged the already well-established
“right of access to the courts.” Lewis, 518 U.S. at 350, 116 S. Ct. at 2179 (emphasis in the original);
see also Tokar v. Armontrout, 97 F.3d 1078, 1083-84 (8th Cir. 1996).
Therefore, assuming as correct all of Deaton’s factual statements, including his objections to
the factual statements in the Magistrate Judge’s prosed findings and recommendations, Gray is still
entitled to summary judgment based on the doctrine of qualified immunity. Document #68.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 21st day of February, 2014.
J. LEON HOLMES
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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