This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).





Michael P. Henderson,


Joan Fabian, Commissioner of Corrections,

Filed November 27, 2007


Stoneburner, Judge

Minge, Judge, concurring specially


Rice County District Court

File No. 66-CV-06-945


Michael P. Henderson, OID No. 118137, MCF-Stillwater, 970 Pickett Street North, Bayport, MN 55003 (pro se appellant)

Lori Swanson, Minnesota Attorney General, Kelly S. Kemp, Assistant Attorney General, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1100, St. Paul, MN 5510 (respondent)


            Considered and decided by Halbrooks Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Minge, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N



On appeal from an order denying his petition for writ of habeas corpus, appellant argues that his right of access to the courts has been infringed by a prison policy limiting storage space for inmates’ personal property.  Appellant also argues that the district court erred in failing to rule on all the issues raised in his petition, and in dismissing a “motion  to join” filed by another inmate.  Because the district court did not err or abuse its discretion, we affirm.



Appellant Michael P. Henderson was an inmate at MCF-Faribault when prison staff discovered contraband during a search of his room.  Officers found and seized approximately 17 pages of pornography, a computer disk, and legal mail belonging to several other inmates.  Henderson was charged with unauthorized possession of other offenders’ property and possession of contraband in violation of prison rules.[1] Henderson did not contest the charges and waived his right to a hearing.  He was disciplined with 45 days of segregation.

Henderson subsequently petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus alleging that
(1) Department of Corrections (DOC) officers improperly ordered him to remove the excess personal property from his cell, (2) the search of his cell and seizure of property violated his Fourth Amendment rights, (3) the prison’s policy prohibiting possession of pornography violates his First Amendment rights, and (4) he was subjected to unfair treatment by DOC staff.  Henderson moved for an order to compel the DOC to disclose the actual size of the permitted footlockers, contending that the permitted footlockers are smaller than the footlockers at issue in Kristian v. State, 541 N.W.2d 623, 630 (Minn. App. 1996) (finding constitutional a DOC policy limiting the amount of personal property an inmate can possess to an amount that fits in cell footlockers), review denied (Minn. Mar. 19, 1996). 

Another inmate, Michael J. Bailey, filed a “motion to join” a separate civil action filed by Henderson.  Without explanation in the record, this motion was filed in Henderson’s habeas corpus action.

After a telephone hearing, the district court denied Henderson’s motion to compel the DOC to disclose the measurements of permitted footlockers and denied his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, finding that Henderson failed to establish that the size of the footlockers affected his access to the courts.  The district court also found that issues Henderson raised about the seized computer disk were moot due to a prior order in Henderson’s separate civil proceeding.  The district court also dismissed Bailey’s “motion to join.”  This appeal followed.



A writ of habeas corpus is a statutory civil remedy available “to obtain relief from [unlawful] imprisonment or restraint.”  Minn. Stat. § 589.01 (2006).  A writ of habeas corpus may also be used to raise claims involving fundamental constitutional rights and significant restraints on a defendant’s liberty, or to challenge conditions of confinement that violate interests protected by law.  See, e.g., Kelsey v. State, 283 N.W.2d 892, 895 (Minn. 1979) (noting that habeas corpus is available to test claims that conditions of confinement constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and in some states, to challenge conditions of confinement that abridge interests protected by statute).

The district court’s findings of fact in a habeas corpus proceeding are entitled to great weight on appeal.  State ex rel. Holecek v. Ross, 472 N.W.2d 185, 186 (Minn. App. 1991).  Once the facts have been determined, whether the district court erred in denying a petition for habeas corpus is subject to de novo review.  State ex rel. Hussman v. Hursh, 253 Minn. 578, 578 n.1, 92 N.W.2d 673, 673 n.1 (1958).  The petitioner has the burden of proving that he is being confined in violation of a fundamental constitutional right.  Edstrom v. State, 378 N.W.2d 90, 93 (Minn. App. 1985), aff’d, 386 N.W.2d 708 (Minn. 1986).

Henderson, arguing that the footlockers at MCF-Faribault are even smaller than the footlockers at issue in Kristian, asks this court to revisit our decision in that case.  In Kristian we heldthat the DOC has a legitimate penological interest in limiting an inmate’s personal property based on prison security and fire safety concerns and that the limitation did not result in actual prejudice to an inmate.  541 N.W.2d at 629, 630.  We decline to revisit the holding in Kristian and conclude that, in this case, the district court correctly found that Henderson, like Kristian, failed to establish that a limitation on storage space has affected his right to access the courts or otherwise restricted his constitutional rights.

Henderson does not allege that he is unable to keep documents relating to his own legal issues.  Rather, he asserts his right to possess legal documents belonging to other inmates, which is not permitted by DOC rules.  Prison inmates have a constitutional right of access to the courts that derives from the right to due process of law.  Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821-22, 97 S. Ct. 1491, 1494-45 (1977), overruled on other grounds, Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 116 S. Ct. 2174 (1996).    But “[p]erforming lawyering functions on behalf of fellow inmates is a privilege, not a right.”  Williams v. Nix, 1 F.3d 712, 716 (8th Cir. 1993).  Moreover, an inmate claiming a violation of his right of access “must make some showing of prejudice or actual injury” before relief may be granted.  McMaster v. Pung, 984 F.2d 948, 953 (8th Cir. 1993).  If the plaintiff does not demonstrate a “detrimental impact to his ability to present his legal papers to the court,” the claim must fail.  Sammons v. Allenbrand, 817 F. Supp. 94, 96 (D. Kan. 1993).  Therefore, the district court correctly found that even if the storage containers allotted to Henderson are smaller than those at issue in Kristian, Henderson has failed to demonstrate how this limitation has prejudiced his access to the court system.    

Henderson also argues that the district court failed to rule on all of the issues presented in his petition.  But the state correctly notes that the issues were narrowed at the time of the hearing, and that none of the additional issues is appropriately raised in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the purpose of which is to raise claims involving fundamental rights.  See Edstrom, 378 N.W2d at 93 (stating that “in reviewing denial of a writ of habeas corpus, the court’s primary concern is whether the petitioner has been denied fundamental constitutional rights”).  Acting as a jailhouse lawyer, and possessing pornography in prison are not fundamental rights. 

The Commissioner of Corrections has broad discretion to enact policies to administer prisons, and in doing so has determined that pornography and legal documents belonging to other inmates are contraband items.  Minn. Dep’t of Corrections, Policy 301.030 (2007).  Maintaining internal security within correctional facilities is an essential goal of corrections that may require some limitation to prisoner’s rights.  Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 546-47, 99 S. Ct. 1861, 1878 (1979).  We conclude that Henderson has failed to establish that the issues not addressed by the district court are the proper subject matter of a habeas corpus proceeding, and therefore the district court did not err by failing to consider them.

Finally, Henderson appears to challenge the district court’s dismissal of Michael J. Bailey’s motion to join.  Henderson asserts that this motion should be determined in his separate civil action.  But Bailey has not appealed the dismissal of his motion in this action and we conclude that the issue is not properly before us in this appeal.  Additionally, the record is devoid of any information about this motion that would permit adequate review.



MINGE, Judge (concurring specially)

            I agree that the remedy of habeas corpus is not appropriate in this proceeding and join in the decision of the court.  However, because that disposition does not require that we comment on matters related to one inmate’s offering legal assistance to another inmate, I do not join in the opinion.


[1] Henderson was also charged with disregarding an officer’s directive, but that charge is not relevant to this appeal.