United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
David L. Bunning United States District Judge
Plaintiff Donald Edward Evans is an inmate confined by the Kentucky Department of Corrections in the Kenton County Detention Center (“KCDC”) located in Covington, Kentucky. Evans has filed a pro se civil rights complaint alleging violations of his federal constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Evans alleges that the named defendants have violated his right of access to the courts guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and his right to assist in his own criminal defense, a right which he contends is guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. By separate Order, Evans has been granted in forma pauperis status.
The Court has conducted a preliminary review of Evans’s complaint because he asserts claims against government officials and because he has been granted pauper status. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A. Because Evans is proceeding without an attorney, the Court liberally construes his claims and accepts his factual allegations as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). But as explained below, the Court determines that Evans has not alleged a claim upon which relief can be granted as to his allegations that the defendants have denied him access to the courts and/or prevented him from assisting in his criminal defense.
ALLEGATIONS OF THE COMPLAINT
Evans alleges that between January 21, 2015, and February 21, 2015, he submitted several requests to unidentified KCDC officials asking to use the KCDC law library, but that in response, he was told “…to look in the one law book in the dorm.” [R. 2, p. 2]. Evans alleges that he told KCDC Deputy Jennings that he wanted to research some federal laws, statutes, and regulations, but that Jennings informed him that the KCDC does not have a law library and that he (Evans) should contact an attorney. [Id.] Evans alleges that in order “…to defend himself against the Court, ” he needed, and still needs, legal aid “…or at the very least a law library.” [Id.] Evans states that the one law book to which he has access does not show him how to prepare motions.
Evans readily admits that he did not file a grievance asserting his claims, stating “A civil rights violation does not require a grievance.” [Id., p. 5]. Evans seeks an order directing the KCDC to “have a functioning law library with legal aid, inmate or civilian.” [Id., p. 8].
Federal law requires all inmates, whether state or federal, to exhaust their administrative remedies prior to filing suit. 28 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). When the failure to comply with this requirement is apparent from the face of the complaint, dismissal of the complaint without prejudice is appropriate upon initial review. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 214-15 (2007) (stating that a district court can dismiss a complaint sua sponte when it is apparent from the face of the complaint that the claim is barred by affirmative defense); Carbe v. Lappin, 492 F.3d 325, 328 (5th Cir. 2007) (where the complaint was clear that the prisoner failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, sua sponte dismissal was proper); Fletcher v. Myers, No. 5:11-CV-141-KKC (E.D. Ky. May 17, 2012), aff’d, No. 12-5630 (6th Cir. Jan. 4, 2013) (“Because Fletcher’s failure to exhaust, or to attempt to exhaust, administrative remedies is apparent from the face of his complaint, the district court properly dismissed Fletcher's complaint on that basis.”); Smith v. Lief, No. 10-08-JMH, 2010 WL 411134, at *4 (E.D. Ky. Jan. 27, 2010); Gunn v. Ky. Dept. of Corrections, No. 5:07CV-P103-R, 2008 WL 2002259, at *4 (W.D. Ky. May 7, 2008); Deruyscher v. Michigan Dept. of Corrections Health, No. 06-15260-BC, 2007 WL 1452929, at *3 (E.D. Mich. May 17, 2007).
Under Jones v. Bock, Evans’s admitted failure to pursue the grievance process at the KCDC justifies dismissal of his complaint without prejudice. Other grounds, however, warrant the dismissal of his § 1983 complaint with prejudice.
Evans asserts that the KCDC has not provided him with sufficient access to a law library, legal materials, and legal assistance, in violation of his First Amendment right of access to the courts. Prisoners, including indigent prisoners, have a constitutional right of access to the courts which the states have a duty to protect. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821-25 (1977). The State adequately provides defendants access to the courts when it provides them either an attorney or access to a law library. Holt v. Pitts, 702 F.2d 639, 640 (6th Cir. 1983). Prisoners may not dictate the method by which access to the courts will be assured. Penland v. Warren County Jail, 759 F.2d 524, 531 n. 7 (6th Cir.1985) (en banc). See also Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351-354 (1996).
However, a prisoner’s right of access to the courts is limited to direct criminal appeals, habeas corpus applications, and civil rights claims challenging the conditions of confinement. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 355; Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 391 (6th Cir. 1999). Here, Evans does not allege that he needed a law library or legal assistance to file or participate in a direct criminal appeal, a habeas corpus petition, or a civil rights claim challenging the conditions of confinement; he alleges only in broad terms that he wanted to research some “federal statutes and regulations.”
According to the KDOC’s website, Evans, KDOC Register No. 131872, was recently convicted in the Kenton County Circuit Court of several felony offenses. On March 24, 2015, Evans was convicted of two counts of Possession of Controlled Substances (Opiates), a Class “D” Felony, in Case No. 14-CR-478. On March 27, 2015, Evans was convicted of Possession of a Handgun by a Convicted Felon, a Class “C” Felony, in Case No. 14-CR-308. On March 18, 2015, Evans was convicted of First Degree Bail Jumping, a Class “D” Felony, in Case No. 14-CR-725. See http://kool.corrections.ky.gov/KOOL/Details/8519 (last visited on May 28, 2015). Evans’s parole eligibility date is November 9, 2016, and his Minimum Expiration of Sentence Date (Good Time Release Date) is March 29, 2022. Id.
This Court has reviewed the docket sheet of the three Kenton Circuit Court criminal proceedings identified above, and in all three of these cases, Evans was represented by Public Advocate Ashley Graham. Further, the docket sheets of these three criminal proceedings reveal that Evans pleaded guilty to all of the aforementioned offenses, and that he was sentenced on the dates of March 18, 2015 and March 24, 2105, respectively. Thus, to the extent that Evans complains about the lack of a law library at the KCDC while his criminal cases were pending in the Kenton Circuit Court, he states no First Amendment claim because he was represented in all of his criminal cases by Public Advocate Ashley Graham. Further, to the extent that Evans alleges in his § 1983 complaint that he currently requires either legal ...