This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A04-2293

 

Ronaldo S. Ligons,
Appellant,

vs.

David Crist, et al.,
Respondents.

 

Filed August 30, 2005

Affirmed

Minge, Judge

 

Washington County District Court

File No. C6-03-2804

 

 

Ronaldo S. Ligons, 970 Pickett Street North, Bayport, MN 55003 (pro se appellant)

 

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Kari Jo Ferguson, Assistant Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2131 (for respondent)

 

            Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge; Shumaker, Judge; and Minge, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N

 

MINGE, Judge

 

            Appellant challenges the district court’s dismissal of his claim for a declaratory judgment that the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ requirement that he limit his personal possessions to two footlockers violated his constitutional rights.  Because we find that appellant failed to demonstrate an injury allowing him to bring a claim that his constitutional right to access to the courts was violated and because we find that the correctional facility staff did not illegally retaliate against appellant by enforcing an existing rule limiting personal belongings to two footlockers, we affirm.

D E C I S I O N

The district court ordered summary judgment, dismissing appellant Ronaldo Ligons’s claims that the policy of limiting his personal property to two footlockers violates his constitutional rights.  When reviewing an order for summary judgment, an appellate court asks: (1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact; and (2) whether the district court erred in its application of the law.  State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990).  Summary judgment is proper when the evidence in the record shows there is no genuine issue of material fact and either party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.  Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.03; DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 69 (Minn. 1997).  “On appeal, the reviewing court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was granted.”  Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993).

I.

            The first issue is whether the district court erred by determining that appellant had failed to establish a prima facie case of injury based on the requirement that he limit his personal possessions to two footlockers.  Prisoners have a constitutional right to adequate, effective, and meaningful access to the courts.  Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 822, 97 S. Ct. 1491, 1495 (1977).  The right created is not to one specific thing, such as a law library or legal counsel, but rather the general right of access to the courts, however that is accomplished.  Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 351, 116 S. Ct. 2174, 2179 (1996).  A prisoner cannot maintain a claim of denial of access to the courts without showing some actual injury.  Id.at 351, 116 S. Ct. at 2180.  A prisoner must show more than he was unable to litigate effectively, but rather that the institutional limitations hindered him from bringing a legal claim for reasons such as an inability to file a complaint on an actionable claim or inability to discover a technical requirement that caused the complaint to be dismissed.  Id. at 351, 354,116 S. Ct. at 2180-81. 

            In September 2002, appellant, a prisoner at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater, was required to comply with the Department of Corrections’ policy regarding allowable personal property and to pack his belongings into two footlockers.  Appellant kept almost a footlocker of legal documents and shipped out a box of other legal documents to a person of his choosing, Professor C. Peter Erlinder at William Mitchell College of Law.  Appellant claims that the files he sent out were all those related to a case, Ligons v. McComb, which appellant appealed in October 2002 following its August 2002 dismissal by the district court.

            On several occasions, including when he filed his appeal, appellant made motions to this court to stay the appeal or to grant an extension of the time to file his brief because he did not have access to his files related to the case and because he had a case pending in the federal courts addressing the denial of his access to the courts.  This court extended the time for briefing twice, but refused to stay the proceedings, stating that appellant had not requested that Professor Erlinder return his files and appellant could pursue administrative remedies for the return of his files.  Finally, in April 2003, after appellant failed to file a brief by the second extended deadline and had made a motion to dismiss the appeal or stay the proceedings pending the outcome of his federal case, this court granted the motion to dismiss the appeal.  This court noted that appellant had not complied with its deadline for filing his brief and appeared unwilling to pursue his appeal.  Appellant has not claimed that he made any actual attempt to have his files sent back to him. 

            In Kristian v. State, a prisoner claimed that the two-footlocker policy violated his constitutional right of access to the courts.  541 N.W.2d 623, 627 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Mar. 19, 1996).  In that case, the prisoner had accumulated substantial documents related to a possible postconviction claim.  Id.  The court held that the prisoner had failed to demonstrate any actual injury because there was no actual claim filed by appellant and there was no evidence that the policy prevented his filing documents or otherwise accessing the courts.  Id.at 628.  The court also noted that appellant was not prejudiced in his access to the court because appellant had a court appointed attorney and therefore had a form of access to the courts.  Id. 

            In Goff v. Nix, the court considered the case of two jailhouse lawyers who claimed that prison policies regarding the transfer of prisoners had impaired their own and their clients’ access to the courts.  113 F.3d 887, 890-91 (8th Cir. 1997).  The court first held that the other prisoners were not prejudiced by the transfer of appellants because there was no showing that the prisoners were unable to find other jailhouse lawyers or find other avenues of access to the court.  Id. The court then held that the jailhouse lawyers were prejudiced in their attempt to bring a joint claim regarding overcrowding because a prison policy barred them from corresponding about their case, therefore creating obstacles to bringing their claim, such as an inability to coordinate the recruitment of witnesses for an upcoming trial.  Id. 

            Appellant argues that he was injured by not being able to file a brief in the appellate proceedings in Ligons v. McComb because he did not have access to his files regarding that case after they had been shipped out.  The permanent confiscation of a prisoner’s legal files that impairs his ability to defend himself at trial constitutes a sufficient injury to present a valid claim for the infringement of the constitutional right of access to the courts.  Tyler v. Woodson, 597 F.2d 643, 644-45 (8th Cir. 1979).    The likelihood of actual injury in this case is more than in Kristian because appellant needed the files for a case that was before this court.   However, although appellant was forced to pack some legal files and ship them out of the prison, he could have had those files sent back and therefore was not permanently deprived of the files.  See Tyler v. “Ron” Deputy Sheriff, 574 F.2d 427, 429 (8th Cir. 1978) (holding that seizing a prisoner’s files for a few hours does not interfere with his right to access to the courts).  Because appellant did not try to work within the policy by attempting to have the required files returned from Professor Erlinder, there was no showing of an actual injury caused by the policy limiting his personal possessions. 

This court extended appellant’s briefing deadlines and gave him time to request the materials that he needed for his appeal.  If appellant had attempted to regain possession of the necessary files and had not been able to gain access to them in time to effectively litigate his case, an injury would have occurred.  In addition, because appellant has not indicated any specific files that he needed for his appeal, he has not shown any injury that resulted from his lack of access to the files.  The difficulties that appellant faced in getting access to his files were a surmountable obstacle to litigating effectively rather than a hindrance in bringing a claim.  See Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351, 116 S. Ct. at 2180. 

II.

            The next issue is whether the enforcement of the requirement that appellant place his personal property in two footlockers was illegal retaliation for appellant’s efforts to bring legal claims. 

            Prison officials may not punish an inmate for exerting his legal right to file a lawsuit.  Goff v. Dailey, 991 F.2d 1437, 1440 (8th Cir. 1993).  However, when the discipline that a prisoner claims was retaliatory was imposed for an actual violation of a prison rule or regulation, the prisoner’s claim of retaliation fails.  Goff v. Burton, 7 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 1993); Orebaugh v. Caspari, 910 F.2d 526, 528 (8th Cir. 1990). 

            Based on a Minnesota Department of Corrections’ directive, prisoners are only allowed to have permissible personal property that fits into two state-issued footlockers.  Inmates are required to be in compliance with this policy at all times.  In both September 2002 and March 2003, appellant was required to limit his personal property to two footlockers.  On both of these occasions, appellant’s property that did not fit into the two footlockers was shipped to an address that appellant provided.  Appellant does not claim that prison rules allowed him to possess more than two footlockers of personal property or that this rule was not uniformly enforced.  Because appellant was only required to comply with an already existing rule, his claim that the enforcement of this rule was an illegal retaliatory action fails.  See Orebaugh, 910 F.2d at 528.

            Affirmed.