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Marvinpollack v. Howard Holanchock

May 10, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert P. Patterson, Jr., U.S.D.J.,


By Opinion and Order dated October 13, 2011, in connection with Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings in this action for lack of standing, the Court held that in view of the temporary injunctive relief granted, Plaintiff had failed to show that his alleged lack of access to the courts (i.e. no law library) has resulted in any "actual injury" to his constitutional rights, as articulated by Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 355 (1996). See Pollack v. Holanchock et al., No. 10 CV 2402 (RPP), 2011 WL 4867558 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 13, 2011). Nevertheless, before rendering a final decision, because the Court had become aware in the course of this proceeding that Plaintiff had initiated other litigation in both New York State courts and in this district, the Court ordered Plaintiff to advise the Court of the title of any pending legal proceeding involving Plaintiff, the nature of the proceeding, and the date and court in which it was commenced, so that the Court could determine whether Plaintiff had in fact suffered "actual injury" due to the actions of the Defendants. Id. at *5. By letter dated November 8, 2011, Plaintiff advised the Court of ten legal proceedings in which he was currently a party. (See Plaintiff's letter dated Nov. 8, 2011 ("Pl.'s letter"), ECF No. 124.)

In addition, Plaintiff has submitted numerous letters to the Court during the course of this litigation complaining about various issues relating to the conditions of his confinement at the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center ("MHFPC"), including, inter alia, frequency of mail delivery, access to legal supplies, and the confiscation of some of Plaintiff's personal effects. These allegations, which were not raised in the Complaint, will nonetheless be addressed by the Court, as Plaintiff is proceeding pro se.

For the following reasons, Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied.

I. Plaintiff's Legal Proceedings

The litigation that is currently the subject of this motion is identified as action "1" in Plaintiff's letter. (Pl.'s letter at 3.) Plaintiff identifies action "2" as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus that was filed, pro se, on August 23, 2010 and assigned to Judge Koeltl.*fn1 (Pollack v. Paterson et. al, No. 10 Civ. 6297, ECF No. 2.) The petition involves three applications by the Clinical Director of MHFPC ("Director") authorizing continued retention of Plaintiff at MHFPC pursuant to N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law ("CPL") § 330.20(8) which Plaintiff is contesting.*fn2 On December 23, 2011, Judge Koeltl accepted the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Cott and denied Plaintiff's petition on the grounds that Plaintiff had not fully exhausted his state court remedies. See Pollack v. Paterson et. al, No. 10 Civ. 6297 (JGK), 2011 WL 6747409 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 23, 2011). Plaintiff's remaining actions*fn3 have all been filed pro se, but they are not "original actions seeking new trials, release from confinement, or vindication of fundamental civil rights," as required by Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 827 (1977).

In the instant Complaint filed on March 17, 2010, Plaintiff alleges that he would like to proceed pro se at "Mental Hygiene hearings," "a New York Criminal case," and a "Federal Civil Rights case."*fn4 (Compl. at II.B ¶¶ 9-12.) Plaintiff states that MHFPC requires him to use the Mental Hygiene Legal Service ("MHLS") for all his "legal pursuits." (Compl. at II.B ¶ 5.)

Plaintiff, however, alleges that "MHLS decrees they only do Mental Hygiene work" and will not provide him with "civil rights, habeas, or criminal help." (Id.) Therefore, Plaintiff states that he possesses "no case history or knowledge to prepare" for his legal proceedings without the assistance of a law library. (Id. ¶¶ 9-12.)

II. Applicable Law

Plaintiff argues that a law library is constitutionally required under all circumstances for those held in mental health care facilities just as it is required for prisoners in correctional facilities. Plaintiff's interpretation of the case law is overbroad. Bounds did not create a freestanding right to a law library. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 354-55 (1996). Rather, the law requires only that those committed be provided the resources needed to attack their sentence or the conditions of their confinement. See Bounds, 430 U.S. at 827. "Impairment of any other litigating capacity is simply one of the incidental (and perfectly constitutional) consequences of conviction and incarceration." Lewis, 518 U.S. at 354-55 (emphasis in original). Thus, to establish a claim of inadequate access to the courts under Bounds and Lewis, a plaintiff must show "'that the alleged shortcomings in the library or legal assistance program hindered his efforts to pursue a legal claim' -- for example, by demonstrating that he has been unable to file a complaint or has had a complaint dismissed for failure to observe a technicality." Benjamin v. Fraser, 264 F.3d 175, 184 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351).

The Supreme Court has held that law libraries are not the only way to provide for meaningful access to the courts. See Bounds, 430 U.S. at 830. While making law library facilities available to those incarcerated or committed is "one constitutionally acceptable method to assure meaningful access to the courts," id. at 830, providing some degree of professional or quasi-professional legal assistance to individuals is a proper alternative method to providing a law library. Id. at 831.

In this case, the Court on September 9, 2010, issued temporary injunctive relief granting Plaintiff "internet access to free legal research websites such as Findlaw and Wikipedia Legal research, as well as access to both incoming and outgoing fax and legal correspondence."

III. Standing

Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings argues that Plaintiff lacks standing to bring this Complaint because (1) he has not suffered actual injury and (2) MHLS is an adequate substitute of a law library. Challenges to standing are to be determined as of the time the action is commenced. See Friends of Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Env'tl Servs. (TOC) Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 189 (2000); see also Jones v. ...

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