Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Summary 2011 WY 83

Summary of Decision May 24, 2011

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Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court

Case Name: Belden v. Lampert

Citation: 2011 WY 83

Docket Number: S-10-0237

URL: http://wyomcases.courts.state.wy.us/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=462291

Appeal from the District Court of Goshen County, Honorable Keith G. Kautz, Judge

Representing Appellant (Plaintiff): Gary Lee Belden, pro se

Representing Appellee (Defendant): Bruce A. Salzburg, Attorney General; John W. Renneisen, Deputy Attorney General; Misha Westby, Senior Assistant Attorney General.

Date of Decision: May 24, 2011

Facts: Appellant filed an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 contending he was denied his constitutional right of access to the courts because he did not have adequate access to Wyoming legal research materials in a Nevada state correctional facility. Appellant challenges the district court’s dismissal of his suit based on a failure to state a claim.

Issues: Whether Appellant’s Complaint set forth facts sufficient to support the allegation that inadequate access to legal research materials at a Nevada prison law library caused an actual injury. Whether Appellant’s transfer to a different corrections facility five days prior to the hearing on Appellee’s Motion to Dismiss prejudiced Appellant’s ability to represent himself at the hearing.

Holdings: The fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law. An inmate alleging a denial of the right of access to the courts must demonstrate an actual injury. In the present action, Appellant’s Complaint states that the alleged inadequacies of the Nevada prison library impeded his ability to assert a claim within “time barriers in state court.” Construing the Complaint liberally, Appellant asserts that the alleged inadequacies of the Nevada prison library prevented him from filing a petition for post-conviction relief within the applicable statute of limitations. Although it is clear that the statute of limitations for post-conviction relief has long since expired, Appellant’s Complaint gives absolutely no indication that Appellant had a claim for post-conviction relief at any time. Appellant did not allege any basis upon which a petition for post-conviction relief could have been filed, and he did not allege any facts to indicate the existence of a viable claim for post-conviction relief. Wyo. Stat. 7-14-103(a) bars claims that could have been raised in a direct appeal, as well as claims that were decided on the merits or on procedural grounds “in any previous proceeding which has become final.” Without any facts to indicate that Appellant could have filed a viable petition for post-conviction relief, it cannot be determined that Appellant has been injured by the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations. Accordingly, the facts set forth in Appellant’s Complaint, when viewed in the light most favorable to him, do not allege an actual injury. Furthermore, Appellant was able to file at least five petitions seeking relief from his conviction while he was an inmate at the Nevada state prison, and he was represented by court-appointed counsel in at least one of those actions. Those petitions were reviewed at length and were denied on the merits. Appellant’s ability to conduct this volume of legal activity provides further indication that he retained meaningful access to the courts.

Appellant’s second issue concerns his transfer to a different corrections facility shortly before the hearing on the Motion to Dismiss. Because this issue was raised for the first time on appeal, it was not addressed.


J. Burke delivered the opinion for the court.

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