Case: Walters v. Edgar

1:82-cv-01920 | U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

Filed Date: April 19, 1982

Closed Date: June 3, 1999

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Case Summary

This is a long-running class action brought by people incarcerated in Illinois high-security prisons alleging they were unconstitutionally denied access to the courts in violation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The named plaintiff filed the complaint on April 19, 1982 in the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois pro se. The plaintiff later obtained counsel. The case was assigned to Judge James Moran, but was later transferred to Judge Elaine Bucklo. The plaintiff …

This is a long-running class action brought by people incarcerated in Illinois high-security prisons alleging they were unconstitutionally denied access to the courts in violation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The named plaintiff filed the complaint on April 19, 1982 in the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois pro se. The plaintiff later obtained counsel. The case was assigned to Judge James Moran, but was later transferred to Judge Elaine Bucklo. The plaintiff alleged he was denied access to the law library while in the segregation unit at the Joliet Correctional Center. As explained in a later court opinion, the plaintiff brought five claims, but three were dismissed in early 1984, leaving two claims pertaining to access to courts. A second named plaintiff then joined, alleging that he too was denied access to the library while in segregation at Joliet. The plaintiffs sought to represent the class of people incarcerated in maximum-security at Joliet. After the first named plaintiff was transferred to Menard Correctional Center, the plaintiffs expanded their case to include the segregation units in all five high-security facilities, which included the Dixon, Stateville, and Pontiac Correctional Centers. The full details of the complaint are unavailable.

The plaintiffs filed suit against the Governor, the Secretary of State, and various officials of the Department of Corrections (DOC) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Governor and Secretary of State were dismissed on August 8, 1985, leaving the DOC officials. The plaintiffs alleged that while in segregation units, they did not have access to the law library and that the clerks who provided them assistance in lieu of accessing the library themselves did not have sufficient training. They alleged this violated their due process right of access to courts established in Bounds v. Smith. The plaintiffs sought class certification, damages, and a preliminary injunction to 1) stop them from being transferred, 2) ensure they had access to their counsel, 3) prevent the removal of the sole trained library clerk, and 4) to establish a training program for clerks.

The plaintiffs were successful in getting their class certified. On August 8, 1985, the District Court granted class certification for the group: “inmates who were or would be in segregation units of maximum security facilities.” 615 F.Supp. 330. These facilities included the Joliet, Menard, Dixon, Stateville, and Pontiac Correctional Centers located across Illinois. The judge found the group met the requirements for numerosity, commonality, and typicality under Rule 23. On February 12, 1993, the defendants moved to modify the certified class to exclude people held in segregation units for only minimal periods of time. However, the court denied that motion in its August 28, 1995 opinion, finding it would be impracticable to modify the class in that way. 

However, the court denied the motion for a preliminary injunction in the August 8, 1985 opinion. The judge reasoned that although the plaintiffs established they were reasonably likely to win on the merits and that they faced a substantial likelihood of irreparable harm, the balance of hardships favored the defendants as it would require them to make premature major changes throughout the state prison system. Pertaining to the merits and potential harm, the judge found that using clerks to bring materials to people in segregation was insufficient, that the photocopy limit per person was inadequate, and that access to phones to speak with counsel was too limited.

Both parties then filed motions for summary judgment. The parties’ cross-motions were denied on April 12, 1991 because there were genuine issues of material fact. Defendants’ second motion for summary judgment was denied as untimely on November 12, 1991. 

Accordingly, the parties moved forward with trial preparations. The defendant moved for a jury trial for all issues triable to a jury, which was granted on November 4, 1991. The judge found the defendants did not waive their right to a jury trial. The jury trial was then postponed by joint stipulation, while the injunction portion of the trial, set as a bench trial, was scheduled.

The bench trial was held with various continuances from December 2,1991 through July 29, 1992, and again from April 8, 1994 to August 12, 1994. Throughout the course of the trial, witnesses from all five maximum security facilities testified and the parties introduced hundreds of exhibits. On March 5, 1992, the Court ordered that the named plaintiffs, who had been attending trial, be returned to where they were incarcerated because the cost of their transportation/presence outweighed the benefit of their presence at trial. 1992 WL 50987. After the bench trial concluded, there were then many supplemental briefs and hearings concerning evidentiary issues.  

The judge then issued her ruling on August 28, 1995, holding that the defendants did violate the plaintiffs’ right to meaningful access to courts. The judge went through the findings of fact for each maximum security facility and found that three (Joliet, Menard, and Pontiac) failed to provide access to courts as required by Bounds. Specifically, the judge found that people in segregation were only able to access the law library through clerks and that those clerks were insufficient in number and training and that there was a lack of necessary resources and legal forms. The judge found that one facility, Dixon, did have adequate access to courts. The court deferred making its decision on the final facility, Stateville, until there was more evidence. The defendants moved to amend or vacate the judgment on September 12, 1995, which was denied the same day. 

Before the trial, the parties agreed that if the plaintiffs won, they would address the issue of remedies separately. After the court ruled for the plaintiffs, the judge ordered the parties to meet and pick a special master to oversee the plan to bring the institutions into compliance with Bounds. After negotiations, the defendants submitted their remedial relief plan on October 25, 1995.

After the parties addressed remedies, the court still needed to complete its determination regarding the Stateville facility. The court held a supplemental hearing concerning Stateville from November 7 to November 9, 1995. However, while the judge considered the evidence about Statesville, the Supreme Court granted cert for Lewis v. Casey, which involved many similar issues to the instant case. Accordingly, the court waited to make its final determination until the Supreme Court issued the Lewis opinion. Lewis was released on June 24, 1996 and held that plaintiffs in a class action must show they suffered actual injury as a result of the alleged access to courts and that a court could only issue system-wide relief for widespread violations of the actual injury plaintiffs suffered. The injury requirement is considered a standing requirement and only one named plaintiff must show injury to establish standing. 

Given the new injury requirement established by Lewis, the judge set a status hearing to discuss the impact of Lewis on the entire case, not just the open Stateville issue. The court granted the plaintiffs’ motion to reopen testimony to allow them to establish actual injury as required by Lewis. At a bench trial from February 24 to February 26, 1997, the plaintiffs presented more testimony to establish injury. The court denied the defendants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law based on Lewis. 

On June 27, 1997, the court issued its opinion as to the impact of Lewis on the entire case. 973 F.Supp. 793. The judge found that neither named-plaintiff established injury to meet the Lewis actual injury standing requirement. The judge went through each of the named-plaintiff’s claims as to how the lack of access to courts impacted them and found that none caused them to forfeit a non-frivolous claim, which was required to establish actual injury. So, the judge dismissed the case, pertaining to all class members and all five facilities. All pending motions were ordered terminated as moot. 

The plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal on July 7, 1997, arguing that they should have been allowed to replace the named-plaintiffs with other plaintiffs who could establish actual injury. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued its opinion on December 15, 1998. The panel included Richard Posner, Joel Flaum, and Michael Kinn, with Judge Posner writing the opinion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision of the lower court. Judge Posner explained that the named plaintiffs did not demonstrate actual injury to establish standing and that all previous rulings in the litigation had to be vacated. He reasoned that the class lacked standing when the suit was filed, so they could not replace the named-plaintiffs. However, the court clarified that different plaintiffs could file a new case, which would not be precluded. The plaintiffs sought a rehearing en banc, which was denied on January 20, 1999. The plaintiffs then filed a petition for writ of certiorari which was denied on June 3, 1999. The case was closed as of then.

Summary Authors

Sarah Marble (2/16/2022)

People


Judge(s)

Bucklo, Elaine E. (Illinois)

Flaum, Joel Martin (Illinois)

Holderman, James F. (Illinois)

Kanne, Michael Stephen (Indiana)

Moran, James Byron (Illinois)

Posner, Richard Allen (Illinois)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Byrne, Margaret (Illinois)

Chapman, James (Illinois)

Mills, Alan S. (Illinois)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Ahlstrand, Deborah L. (Illinois)

Judge(s)

Bucklo, Elaine E. (Illinois)

Flaum, Joel Martin (Illinois)

Holderman, James F. (Illinois)

Kanne, Michael Stephen (Indiana)

Moran, James Byron (Illinois)

Posner, Richard Allen (Illinois)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Byrne, Margaret (Illinois)

Chapman, James (Illinois)

Mills, Alan S. (Illinois)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Ahlstrand, Deborah L. (Illinois)

Anderson, Debra J (Illinois)

Griffin, Gary Michael (Illinois)

O'Brien, Carol L (Illinois)

Smith, Cara LeFevour (Illinois)

Solberg, Wallace Cyril (Illinois)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Docket [PACER]

Aug. 8, 2003 Docket

Appellate Docket

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Oct. 28, 2004 Docket

Memorandum and Order [Granting Class Certification]

615 F.Supp. 330

Aug. 8, 1985 Order/Opinion
568

Memorandum Opinion

1992 WL 50987

March 5, 1992 Order/Opinion
763

Memorandum Opinion Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

900 F.Supp. 197

Aug. 28, 1995 Order/Opinion
848

Opinion [Dismissing Case]

973 F.Supp. 793

June 27, 1997 Order/Opinion

Opinion [Affirming District Court Ruling]

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

163 F.3d 430

Dec. 15, 1998 Order/Opinion

Opinion [Denying Writ of Certiorari]

Supreme Court of the United States

526 U.S. 1146

June 1, 1999 Order/Opinion

Docket

Last updated May 12, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.