Deaton v. Arkansas Department of Correction et al
ORDER denying 84 Motion for Reconsideration. Signed by Judge J. Leon Holmes on 3/11/2014. (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 a unit
grooming policy and an updated law library index, and, as a result, he spent a significant time in
punitive isolation that could have been avoided had he had a copy of the unit grooming policy 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 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
a unit level grooming policy and an updated law library index. 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. Deaton also relies on Coffman v.
Trickey, 884 F.2d 1057, 1060 (8th Cir. 1989), for the proposition that due process requires that
before a person can be sanctioned, he must receive fair notice that the allegedly prohibited conduct
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 a unit level grooming policy and
an updated law library index. 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 wellestablished “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). In Coffman, the
court ruled that an inmate’s due process rights were violated when he “was deprived of liberty
without due process of law when [the prison superintendent] punished him for conduct that was not
proscribed.” Coffman, 884 F.2d at 1060. Coffman does not address the issue of what items must
be contained in a law library, nor did Gray participate in the decision to punish Deaton for violating
the grooming policy.
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. Deaton’s
motion for reconsideration is DENIED. Document #84.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 11th day of March, 2014.
J. LEON HOLMES
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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