Light #211234 v. Novak
OPINION; signed by Judge Gordon J. Quist (Judge Gordon J. Quist, jmt)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
REGINALD DALE LIGHT,
Case No. 1:14-cv-551
Honorable Gordon J. Quist
This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
The Court has granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Under the Prison Litigation
Reform Act, PUB. L. NO . 104-134, 110 STAT . 1321 (1996), the Court is required to dismiss any
prisoner action brought under federal law if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from
such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Court must read Plaintiff’s
pro se complaint indulgently, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and accept Plaintiff’s
allegations as true, unless they are clearly irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504
U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Applying these standards, Plaintiff’s action will be dismissed for failure to state
Plaintiff is incarcerated in the Ionia Correctional Facility. In his pro se complaint,
he sues J. Novak, the law librarian at the Ionia Correctional Facility. Plaintiff alleges that on August
22, 2013, he submitted a request for the assistance of a legal writer to prepare a motion for relief
from judgment in his criminal case.1 Plaintiff’s request was denied by Defendant Novak on August
26, 2013. A few days later, Plaintiff asked Prisoner Griffin, who resided in a different housing unit,
to assist him with his motion. Plaintiff and Griffin arranged to meet in the law library on September
21, 2013. After they arrived in the library, Defendant Novak allegedly told them in a threatening
tone that a prisoner cannot receive legal assistance from another prisoner. Plaintiff explained that
he could not prepare his motion without assistance, but Defendant maintained that Griffin could not
help Plaintiff and told them to leave the library. After the incident, Griffin withdrew his assistance
out of fear of getting written-up by Defendant Novak. Plaintiff contends that there is no Michigan
Department of Corrections policy, rule or operating procedure prohibiting a prisoner from helping
another prisoner with legal work outside the legal writer program. Plaintiff alleges, “But for the
actions of Defendant, Law Librarian J. Novak, Plaintiff would have been able to adequately access
the courts, and submit newly discovered evidence which would have exonerated Plaintiff of the
crime which he has been falsely convicted of committing.” (Compl., docket #1, Page ID#5.)
Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.
Only prisoners who are unable to effectively help themselves by using the prison law library or other available
legal resources are eligible to receive assistance under the Legal W riter Program. See Michigan Department of
Corrections Policy Directive, 05.03.116(P) (eff. 7/21/08). A prisoner is eligible if: (1) he does not have a GED or high
school diploma, (2) does not speak, read or write English, (3) has a documented physical or mental impairment or a
learning disability, (4) is undergoing reception center processing, (5) is housed in segregation, or (6) is housed in an
inpatient medical unit. Id. at (Q).
Failure to state a claim
A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails “‘to give the
defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Bell Atl. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While
a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s allegations must include more
than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements,
do not suffice.”). The court must determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although
the plausibility standard is not equivalent to a “‘probability requirement,’ . . . it asks for more than
a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the
mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged – but it has not ‘show[n]’ – that the
pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting FED . R. CIV . P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill
v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility
standard applies to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1)
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a
right secured by the federal Constitution or laws and must show that the deprivation was committed
by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Dominguez v.
Corr. Med. Servs., 555 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009). Because § 1983 is a method for vindicating
federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action under § 1983 is to
identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271
It is well established that prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts.
Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977). The principal issue in Bounds was whether the states
must protect the right of access to the courts by providing law libraries or alternative sources of legal
information for prisoners. Id. at 817. The Court further noted that in addition to law libraries or
alternative sources of legal knowledge, the states must provide indigent inmates with “paper and pen
to draft legal documents, notarial services to authenticate them, and with stamps to mail them.” Id.
at 824-25. The right of access to the courts also prohibits prison officials from erecting barriers that
may impede the inmate’s accessibility to the courts. See Knop v. Johnson, 977 F.2d 996, 1009 (6th
An indigent prisoner’s constitutional right to legal resources and materials is not,
however, without limit. In order to state a viable claim for interference with his access to the courts,
a plaintiff must show “actual injury.” Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 349 (1996); see also Talley-Bey
v. Knebl, 168 F.3d 884, 886 (6th Cir. 1999); Knop, 977 F.2d at 1000. In other words, a plaintiff
must plead and demonstrate that the shortcomings in the prison legal assistance program or lack of
legal materials have hindered, or are presently hindering, his efforts to pursue a nonfrivolous legal
claim. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351-53; see also Pilgrim v. Littlefield, 92 F.3d 413, 416 (6th Cir. 1996).
Plaintiff claims that Defendant Novak denied his right of access to the courts by
denying his request for a legal writer and then preventing him from receiving assistance from
another prisoner with legal experience. Prisoners are not necessarily entitled to “legal writers,” but
instead must only be given “meaningful access to the courts,” which could be provided through such
means as adequate assistance from persons trained in the law or access to adequate libraries. Taylor
v. McKee, 649 F.3d 446, 452 (6th Cir. 2011) (citing Bounds, 430 U.S. at 828). Plaintiff does not
explain his need for legal assistance, except that “[he] has no knowledge of laws or preparation of
motion, filing of briefs, etc.” (Compl., docket #1, Page ID#3.) However, Plaintiff’s lack of legal
experience, standing alone, does not deprive him of meaningful access to the courts. Plaintiff does
not allege why he would be eligible for the assistance of a legal writer, nor does he allege a specific
barrier or infirmity that would render him unable to prepare his own legal pleadings.2 For example,
Plaintiff does not claim that he is unable to read or write, or that he suffers from some physical or
mental impairment that would prevent him from preparing his own motion for relief from judgment.
Nor does Plaintiff allege that the law library was inadequate or otherwise lacked the necessary
resources for him to prepare a motion for relief from judgment presenting his newly discovered
evidence. Plaintiff, therefore, fails to allege or show that Defendant Novak denied him meaningful
access to the courts. See Taylor, 649 F.3d at 453 (Prisoner was not denied meaningful access to the
courts despite the alleged lack of a “legal writer”; he made no other claim as to the adequacy of his
prison’s law library.).
Having conducted the review required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Court
determines that Plaintiff’s action will be dismissed for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b), and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c).
Plaintiff does not allege that he had the assistance of a legal writer or other prisoner with legal expertise in the
preparation of the complaint in the instant action. W hile the complaint ultimately fails to state a claim, it is well written
and clearly articulates Plaintiff’s claim.
The Court must next decide whether an appeal of this action would be in good faith
within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3). See McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 611
(6th Cir. 1997). For the same reasons that the Court dismisses the action, the Court discerns no
good-faith basis for an appeal. Should Plaintiff appeal this decision, the Court will assess the
$505.00 appellate filing fee pursuant to § 1915(b)(1), see McGore, 114 F.3d at 610-11, unless
Plaintiff is barred from proceeding in forma pauperis, e.g., by the “three-strikes” rule of § 1915(g).
If he is barred, he will be required to pay the $505.00 appellate filing fee in one lump sum.
This is a dismissal as described by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).
A Judgment consistent with this Opinion will be entered.
Dated: July 10, 2014
/s/ Gordon J. Quist
GORDON J. QUIST
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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