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Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook 5th Ed, CCR & NLG, 2010

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How to Bring a Federal Lawsuit to Challenge
Violations of Your Rights in Prison
Published by the
Center for Constitutional Rights and the
National Lawyers Guild
5th Edition, 2010

This Handbook is a resource for prisoners who wish to file a federal lawsuit addressing poor conditions in prison
or abuse by prison staff. It also contains limited general information about the American legal system. This
Handbook is available for free to anyone: prisoners, families, friends, activists, lawyers and others.
We hope that you find this Handbook helpful, and that it provides some aid in protecting your rights behind
bars. Know that those of us who do this work from outside prison are humbled by the amazing work so many of
you do to protect your rights and dignity while inside. As you work your way through a legal system that is
often frustrating and unfair, know that you are not alone in your struggle for justice.
Good luck!

Rachel Meeropol

Ian Head

The Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook, 5th Edition. Revised in 2010. Published by:
The Center for Constitutional Rights
666 Broadway, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10012

The National Lawyers Guild, National Office
132 Nassau Street, Room 922
New York, NY 10038

Available on the internet at:
We would like to thank:
All of the Jailhouse Lawyers who wrote in with comments, recommendations and corrections for the
Handbook, all those who have requested and used the Handbook, and who have passed their copy on to others
inside prison walls. Special thanks to NLG Jailhouse Lawyer Vice President Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The Sylvia Rivera Law Project for co-writing “Issues of Importance to Transgender Prisoners” in Chapter
Two, and The ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project for helpful insights regarding “Issues of Importance for
Women Prisoners.”
The original writers and editors of the Handbook (formerly the NLG Jailhouse Lawyers Manual), Brian
Glick, the Prison Law Collective, the Jailhouse Manual Collective and Angus Love. And special thanks to
Alissa Hull and John Boston for significant work on the 2010 edition.
The dozens of volunteers who have come to the NLG offices every week since 2006 to mail Handbooks to
prisoners, and to Claire Dailey, Merry Neisner and all the CCR staff, interns and volunteers who put in hours
and hours of research, proofreading, cite-checking, and mailing.
Jeff Fogel and Steven Rosenfeld for their work defending the Handbook in Virginia.
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: This Handbook was written by CCR staff. The information included in the Handbook is
not intended as legal advice or representation, and you should not rely upon it as such. We cannot guarantee
the accuracy of this information nor can we guarantee that all the law and rules inside are current, as the law
changes frequently.

Table of Contents
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION ..................................................................1
A. WHAT IS THIS HANDBOOK? ........................................................................... 1
B. HOW TO USE THIS HANDBOOK ..................................................................... 1
C. WHO CAN USE THIS HANDBOOK .................................................................. 2
Prisoners in Every State Can Use this Handbook.............................. 2
Prisoners in Federal Prison Can Use this Handbook........................ 2
Prisoners in City or County Jails Can Use this Handbook................ 3
Prisoners in Private Prisons Can Use this Handbook ....................... 3
D. WHY TO TRY AND GET A LAWYER .............................................................. 4
STRUGGLE FOR PRISONERS’ RIGHTS........................................................... 5
F. THE USES AND LIMITS OF LEGAL ACTION................................................. 6

CHAPTER TWO: YOUR LEGAL OPTIONS ...................................................7
A. SECTION 1983 LAWSUITS ................................................................................ 7
Violations of Your Federal Rights...................................................... 7
“Under Color of State Law” .............................................................. 8
B. STATE COURT CASES ....................................................................................... 9
C. FEDERAL TORTS CLAIMS ACT (FTCA) ......................................................... 9
Who You Can Sue............................................................................. 10
Types of Torts ................................................................................... 11
a. NEGLIGENCE ........................................................................................ 11
b. INTENTIONAL TORTS ............................................................................ 11
c. FALSE IMPRISONMENT .......................................................................... 11
Administrative Exhaustion ............................................................... 12
Damages in FTCA Suits ................................................................... 12
The Discretionary Function Exception ............................................ 12
D. BIVENS ACTIONS AND FEDERAL INJUNCTIONS ..................................... 13
Who is Acting Under Color of Federal Law? .................................. 13
Unconstitutional Acts by Federal Officials ...................................... 14
Federal Injunctions .......................................................................... 14
LITIGATION REFORM ACT (PLRA) .............................................................. 15
Injunctive Relief................................................................................ 15
Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies ........................................... 15
Mental Emotional Injury .................................................................. 16
Attorneys’ Fees................................................................................. 16
Screening, Dismissal and Waiver of Reply....................................... 16
Filing Fees and the Three Strikes Provision .................................... 16

CHAPTER THREE: YOUR RIGHTS IN PRISON.........................................17
SPEECH AND ASSOCIATION, AND THE TURNER TEST........................... 17
Access to Reading Materials ............................................................ 18
Free Expressions of Political Beliefs ............................................... 20
Limits on Censorship of Mail ........................................................... 21
a. OUTGOING MAIL .................................................................................. 21
b. INCOMING MAIL ................................................................................... 21
c. LEGAL MAIL......................................................................................... 22
Access to the Telephone ................................................................... 22


Your Right to Receive Visits from Family and Friends
and to Maintain Relationships in Prison ................................... 23
a. ACCESS TO VISITS ................................................................................ 23
TRANSGENDER PRISONERS ................................................................... 24
c. RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER PRISONERS ............................................. 25
d. CARING FOR YOUR CHILD IN PRISON ................................................... 25

B. YOUR RIGHT TO PRACTICE YOUR RELIGION .......................................... 26
Free Exercise Clause........................................................................ 26
Establishment Clause ....................................................................... 27
Fourteenth Amendment Protection of Religion................................ 27
Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and Religious Land
Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)...................... 28
Cases and Issues............................................................................... 28
C. YOUR RIGHT TO BE FREE FROM DISCRIMINATION ............................... 29
Freedom from Racial Discrimination .............................................. 30
Freedom from Gender Discrimination............................................. 31
a. THE “SIMILARLY SITUATED” ARGUMENT .............................................. 32
Freedom from Other Forms of Discrimination ................................ 33
REGARDING PUNISHMENT .......................................................................... 33
Two Important Supreme Court Cases
Govern Due Process Rights for Prisoners................................. 33
Transfers and Segregation ............................................................... 34
SEARCHES AND SEIZURES............................................................................ 35
UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT................................................................................ 36
Protection from Physical Brutality................................................... 36
Rape, Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment ................................. 37
b. PSYCHOLOGICAL HARM ....................................................................... 38
Your Right to Decent Conditions in Prison...................................... 39
Your Right to Medical Care ............................................................. 41
a. SERIOUS MEDICAL NEED...................................................................... 42
b. DELIBERATE INDIFFERENCE ................................................................. 42
c. CAUSATION .......................................................................................... 43
G. YOUR RIGHT TO USE THE COURTS............................................................. 43
The Right to File Papers and Meet with
Lawyers and Legal Workers ...................................................... 44
Access to a Law Library................................................................... 45
Getting Help from a Jailhouse Lawyer and
Providing Help to Other Prisoners............................................ 45
Dealing with Retaliation .................................................................. 46
H. ISSUES OF IMPORTANCE TO WOMEN PRISONERS.................................. 47
Medical Care.................................................................................... 47
a. PROPER CARE FOR WOMEN PRISONERS ................................................ 48
b. MEDICAL NEEDS OF PREGNANT WOMEN ............................................. 48
Your Right to an Abortion in Prison ................................................ 49
a. FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT CLAIM ...................................................... 49
b. EIGHT AMENDMENT CLAIM.................................................................. 50
Observations and Searches by Male Guards ................................... 51


Classification.................................................................................... 52
a. PLACEMENT IN MALE OR FEMALE FACILITIES ...................................... 52
b. INVOLUNTARY SEGREGATION .............................................................. 53
c. ACCESS TO PROTECTIVE CUSTODY....................................................... 54
Health ............................................................................................... 55
a. ACCESS TO GENDER-AFFIRMING HEALTH CARE .................................. 55
b. CONFIDENTIALITY ................................................................................ 57
Free Gender Expression................................................................... 57
a. CLOTHING AND GROOMING .................................................................. 57
b. NAME AND ID GENDER CHANGES ........................................................ 59
c. ACCESS TO READING MATERIAL .......................................................... 60
d. JOB/PROGRAM DISCRIMINATION .......................................................... 60
Dealing with Violence and Abuse .................................................... 61
a. VERBAL HARASSMENT ......................................................................... 61
b. RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT ............................................................... 61
c. STRIP SEARCHES................................................................................... 62
J. ISSUES OF IMPORTANCE TO PRETRIAL DETAINEES.............................. 62
AND IMMIGRATION DETAINEES ................................................................. 64

CHAPTER FOUR: STRUCTURING YOUR LAWSUIT ...............................67
A. WHAT TO ASK FOR IN YOUR LAWSUIT ..................................................... 67
B. INJUNCTIONS ................................................................................................... 68
Preliminary Injunctions and Permanent Injunctions ....................... 68
Exhaustion and Injunctions .............................................................. 69
Temporary Restraining Orders ........................................................ 69
C. MONEY DAMAGES .......................................................................................... 69
The Three Types of Money Damages ............................................... 69
Damages Under the PLRA ............................................................... 70
Deciding How Much Money to Ask For ........................................... 71
D. WHO YOU CAN SUE ........................................................................................ 71
Who to Sue for an Injunction............................................................ 72
Who to Sue for Money Damages:
the Problem of “Qualified Immunity” ....................................... 73
What Happens to Your Money Damages.......................................... 74
E. SETTLEMENTS ................................................................................................. 74
F. CLASS ACTIONS............................................................................................... 74

CHAPTER FIVE: HOW TO START YOUR LAWSUIT ...............................76
A. WHEN TO FILE YOUR LAWSUIT .................................................................. 76
Statute of Limitations........................................................................ 77
Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies ........................................... 77
B. WHERE TO FILE YOUR LAWSUIT ................................................................ 78
C. HOW TO START YOUR LAWSUIT................................................................. 78
Summons and Complaint.................................................................. 79
a. COMPLAINT .......................................................................................... 79
b. SUMMONS............................................................................................. 84
In Forma Pauperis Papers ............................................................... 84
Request for Appointment of Counsel ................................................ 87
Declarations ..................................................................................... 88
D. HOW TO SERVE YOUR LEGAL PAPERS ...................................................... 89
E. GETTING IMMEDIATE HELP FROM THE COURT...................................... 90
F. SIGNING YOUR PAPERS ................................................................................. 91

CHAPTER 6: WHAT HAPPENS AFTER YOU FILE SUIT .........................92
A. SHORT SUMMARY OF A LAWSUIT.............................................................. 92
B. DISMISSAL BY THE COURT AND WAIVER OF REPLY ............................ 93
DISMISS YOUR COMPLAINT ......................................................................... 94
D. THE PROBLEM OF MOOTNESS ..................................................................... 95
E. DISCOVERY....................................................................................................... 96
1. Discovery Tools ...................................................................................... 97
2. What You Can See and Ask About .......................................................... 99
3. Privilege.................................................................................................. 99
4. Some Basic Steps ................................................................................... 99
5. Some Practical Considerations............................................................. 100
6. Procedure.............................................................................................. 100
7. Their Discovery of Your Information and Material.............................. 101
F. SUMMARY JUDGMENT ................................................................................ 101
1. The Legal Standard............................................................................... 101
2. Summary Judgment Procedure ............................................................. 103
3. Summary Judgment in Your Favor ....................................................... 103
SUMMARY JUDGMENT ................................................................................ 103
1. Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment............................................... 104
2. How to Appeal the Decision of the District Court ................................ 104

A. THE IMPORTANCE OF PRECEDENT........................................................... 105
1. The Federal Court System .................................................................... 105
2. How Judges Interpret Laws on the Basis of Precedent ........................ 105
3. Statutes.................................................................................................. 107
4. Other Grounds for Court Decisions ..................................................... 107
DECISIONS AND OTHER LEGAL MATERIAL ........................................... 107
1. Court Decisions .................................................................................... 107
2. Legislation and Court Rules ................................................................. 110
3. Books and Articles ................................................................................ 110
4. Research Aids ....................................................................................... 111
C. LEGAL WRITING ............................................................................................ 111

Appendix A: Glossary of Terms ........................................................................ 113
Appendix B: Sample Complaint ........................................................................ 119
Appendix C: FTCA Form .................................................................................. 123
Appendix D: More Legal Forms and Information............................................. 125
Appendix E: Constitutional Amendments .......................................................... 126
Appendix F: Excerpts from the PLRA ............................................................... 128
Appendix G: Universal Declaration of Human Rights...................................... 131
Appendix H: Sources of Legal Support ............................................................. 134
Appendix I: Sources of Publicity ....................................................................... 135
Appendix J: Prisoners’ Rights Books and Newsletters...................................... 136
Appendix K: Free Book Programs .................................................................... 137
Appendix L: District Court Addresses ............................................................. 138

What Is This Handbook?
This Handbook explains how a prisoner can start a
lawsuit in federal court, to fight against mistreatment
and bad conditions in prison. Because most prisoners
are in state prisons, we focus on those. However,
people in federal prisons and city or county jails will be
able to use the Handbook too.
We, the authors of the Handbook, do not assume that a
lawsuit is the only way to challenge abuse in prison or
that it is always the best way. We believe that a lawsuit
can sometimes be one useful weapon in the struggle to
change prisons and the society that makes prisons the
way they are.
The Handbook discusses only some of the legal
problems which prisoners face – conditions inside
prison and the way you are treated by prison staff.
The Handbook does not deal with how you got to
prison or how you can get out of prison. It does not
explain how to conduct a legal defense against criminal
charges or a defense against disciplinary measures for
something you supposedly did in prison.

Chapter One: Table of Contents

Handbook is mostly about only one kind of legal
action: a lawsuit in federal court based on federal law.
For prisoners in State prison, this type of lawsuit is
known as a “Section 1983” suit. It takes its name from
Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code. The
U.S. Congress passed Section 1983 to allow people to
sue in federal court when a state or local official
violates their federal rights. If you are in state prison,
you can bring a Section 1983 suit to challenge certain
types of poor treatment. Chapter Three of this
Handbook explains in detail which kinds of problems
you can sue for using Section 1983.

How To Use This Handbook
The Handbook is organized into six chapters and
several appendices.

This is Chapter One, which gives you an
introduction to the Handbook. Sections C through
E of this chapter indicate the limits of this
Handbook and explain how to try to get a lawyer.
Sections F and G give a short history of Section
1983 and discuss its use and limits in political
struggles in and outside prison


Chapter Two discusses the different types of
lawsuits available to prisoners and summarizes an
important federal law that limits prisoners’ access
to the courts, called the “Prison Litigation Reform


Chapter Three summarizes many of your
Constitutional rights in prison.


Chapter Four explains how to structure your
lawsuit, including what kind of relief you can sue
for, and who to sue.


Chapter Five gives the basic instructions for
starting a federal lawsuit and getting immediate
help from the court – what legal papers to file,
when, where and how. It also provides templates
and examples of important legal documents.


Chapter Six discusses the first things that will
happen after you start your suit. It helps you
respond to a “motion to dismiss” your suit or a

Section A:
What is this Handbook?
Section B:
How to Use this Handbook
Section C:
Who Can Use this Handbook
Section D:
Why to Try and Get a Lawyer
Section E:
A Short History of Section 1983 and the Struggle for
Prisoner's Rights
Section F:
The Uses and Limits of Legal Action

The Importance of “Section 1983”
A prisoner can file several different kinds of cases
about conditions and treatment in prison. This




“motion for summary judgment” against you. It
also tells you what to do if prison officials win
these motions. It explains how to use “pre-trial
discovery” to get information and materials from
prison officials.

example, a federal court in New York may come to one
conclusion about an issue, while a federal court in
Tennessee may reach a totally different conclusion
about the same issue.

Chapter Seven gives some basic information about
the U.S. legal system. It also explains how to find
laws and court decisions in a law library and how
to refer to them in legal papers.

First Steps:

The Appendices are additional parts of the
Handbook that provide extra information. The
appendices to the Handbook provide materials for
you to use when you prepare your suit and after
you file it. Appendix A contains a glossary of legal
terms. Appendix B a sample complaint in a prison
case. Appendices C and D contain forms for basic
legal papers. You will also find helpful forms and
sample papers within Chapters Four and Five.
Appendix E gives the text of the first Fifteen
Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Appendix F
has a few of the important sections of the Prison
Litigation Reform Act, and Appendix G includes
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Appendices H and I list possible sources of
support and publicity – legal groups, political and
civic groups that help prisoners, progressive
magazines and newspapers that cover prison issues,
and other outlets you can write to. Appendix J lists
other legal materials you can read to keep up to
date and learn details which are not included in this
manual. Appendix K lists free book programs for
prisoners, and Appendix L includes a list of
addresses of Federal District Courts for your

We strongly recommend that you read the whole
handbook before you start trying to file your case.

1. Know Your Rights! Ask yourself: have my federal
rights been violated? If you have experienced one of
the following, the answer may be yes:

Guard or prisoner brutality or harassment
Unsafe cell or prison conditions
Censorship, or extremely limited mail, phone, or
visit privileges
Inadequate medical care
Interference with practicing your religion
Inadequate food
Racial, sexual or ethnic discrimination
Placement in the hole without a hearing

2. Exhaust the Prison Grievance System! Use all the
steps in the prison complaint or grievance system and
write up your concerns in detail. Appeal it all the way
and save your paperwork. You MUST do this before
filing a suit.
3. Try to Get Help! Consider trying to hire a lawyer or
talking to a jailhouse lawyer, and be sure to request a
pro se Section 1983 packet from your prison law library
or the district court.

States also have their own laws, and their own
constitutions. State courts, rather than federal courts,
have the last word on what the state constitution means.
This means that in some cases, you might have more
success in state court than in federal court. You can
read more about this possibility in the next chapter.

Most of the prisoners in the Country are in State prison,
but prisoners in other sorts of prisons or detention
centers can use this book too.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the time or the space to
tell you about the differences in the law from state to
state. So while using this Handbook, you should also
try to check state law using the resources listed in
Appendix J. You can also check the books available in
your prison and contact the nearest office of the
National Lawyers Guild or any other lawyers, law
students or political groups you know of that support
prisoners’ struggles.

1. Prisoners in Every State Can Use This

2. Prisoners in Federal Prison Can Use
This Handbook

Section 1983 provides a way for State Prisoners to
assert their rights under the United States Constitution.
Every State Prisoner in the country, no matter what
state he or she is in, has the same rights. However,
different courts interpret these rights differently. For

If you are in federal prison, this Handbook will also be
helpful. Federal prisoners have basically the same
federal rights as state prisoners. Where things are
different for people in federal prison, we have tried to
make a note of it for you.

Who Can Use This Handbook


The major difference is that federal prisoners cannot
use Section 1983 to sue about bad conditions and
mistreatment in federal prison. Instead, you have a
couple options. You can use a case called Bivens v. Six
Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403
U.S. 388 (1971). In Bivens, the Supreme Court said that
you can sue in federal court whenever a federal official
violates your rights under the U.S. Constitution. This is
called a “Bivens action.”
Federal prisoners can also use a federal law called the
“Federal Tort Claims Act” (FTCA) to sue the United
States directly for your mistreatment. Both Bivens and
FTCA suits are explained in more detail in Chapter
Two. The bottom line is that federal and state prisoners
have mostly the same rights, but they will need to use
slightly different procedures when filing a case.

3. Prisoners in City or County Jails can
use this Handbook
People serving sentences in jail have the same rights
under Section 1983 and the U.S. Constitution as people
in prison. Usually, these are city jails but can be any
kind of jail run by a municipality. A “municipality” is a
city, town, county or other kind of local government.
People in jail waiting for trial are called “pretrial
detainees,” and sometimes have more protection under
the Constitution than convicted prisoners. Chapter
Three, Section J discusses some of the ways in which
pretrial detainees are treated differently than convicted
prisoners. However, you can still use most of the cases
and procedures in this Handbook to bring your Section
1983 claim. Where things are different for people in
jails, we have tried to make note of it for you.

4. Prisoners in Private Prisons Can Use
This Handbook
As you know, most prisons are run by the state or the
federal government, which means that the guards who
work there are state or federal employees. A private
prison, on the other hand, is operated by a for-profit
corporation, which employs private individuals as
If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of prisoners
currently incarcerated in a private prison, most of the
information in this Handbook also applies to you. The
ability of state prisoners in private prisons to sue under
Section 1983 is discussed in Chapter Two, Section A.
In some cases it is actually easier to sue private prison
guards, because they cannot claim “qualified
immunity.” You will learn about “qualified immunity”
in Chapter 4, Section D.

How Do I Use This Handbook?
This is the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook. Sometimes it
will be referred to as the “JLH” or the “Handbook.” It is
divided into seven Chapters, which are also divided into
different Sections. Each Section has a letter, like “A” or
“B.” Some Sections are divided into Parts, which each
have a number, like “1” or “2.”
Sometimes we will tell you to look at a Chapter and a
Section to find more information. This might sound
confusing at first but when you are looking for specific
things, it will make using this Handbook much easier.
We have tried to make this Handbook as easy to read
as possible. But there may be words that you find
confusing. At the end of the Handbook, in Appendix A,
we have listed many of these words and their meanings
in the Glossary. If you are having trouble understanding
any parts of this Handbook, you may want to seek out
the Jailhouse Lawyers in your prison. Jailhouse
Lawyers are prisoners who have educated themselves
on the legal system, and one of them may be able to
help you with your suit.
In many places in this Handbook, we refer to a past
legal suit to prove a specific point. It will appear in
italics, and with numbers after it, like this:
Smith v. City of New York, 311 U.S. 288 (1994)
This is called a “citation.” It means that a court decided
the case of Smith v. City of New York in a way that is
helpful or relevant to a point we are trying to make.
Look at the places where we use citations as examples
to help with your own legal research and writing.
Chapter Seven explains how to find and use cases.

Federal prisoners serving sentences in private prisons
can use the Bivens action described in Chapter Two,
Section D, with some limitations. In Correctional
Services Corporation v. Malesko, 534 U.S. 61 (2001), a
federal prisoner who had a heart attack at a halfway
house sued after a private guard made him climb up
five flights of stairs. The Supreme Court held that he
could not sue the halfway house itself using the Bivens
doctrine. However, someone in this situation may be
able to sue the private prison employees directly.
Another choice for a prisoner in this situation is to file a
claim in state court.




If you have a good chance of winning a substantial
amount of money (explained in Chapter Four,
Section C), a lawyer might take your case on a
“contingency fee” basis. This means you agree to
pay the lawyer a portion of your money damages if
you win (usually one-third), but the lawyer gets
nothing if you lose. This kind of arrangement is
used in many suits involving car accidents and
other personal injury cases outside of prison. In
prison, it may be appropriate if you have been
severely injured by guard brutality or an unsafe
prison condition.


If you don’t expect to win money from your suit, a
lawyer who represents you in some types of cases
can get paid by the government if you win your
case. These fees are authorized by the United States
Code, Title 42, Section 1988. However, the recent
Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (called the
“PLRA” and discussed in Chapter Two, Section F)
added new rules that restrict the court’s ability to
award fees to your lawyer. These new provisions
may make it harder to find a lawyer who is willing
to represent you.


If you can’t find a lawyer to represent you from the
start, you can file the suit yourself and ask the court
to “appoint” or get a lawyer for you. Unlike in a
criminal case, you have no absolute right to a free
attorney in a civil case about prison abuse. This
means that a judge is not required by law to appoint
counsel for you in a Section 1983 case, but he or
she can appoint counsel if he or she chooses. You
will learn how to ask the judge to get you a lawyer
in Chapter Five, Section C, Part 3 of this


A judge can appoint a lawyer as soon as you file
your suit. But it is much more likely that he or she
will only appoint a lawyer for you if you
successfully get your case moving forward, and
convince the judge that you have a chance of
winning. This means that the judge may wait until
after he or she rules on the prison officials’ motions
to dismiss your complaint or motion for summary
judgment. Chapters Five and Six of this Handbook
will help you prepare your basic legal papers and
respond to a motion to dismiss or motion for
summary judgment.

Why To Try And Get A Lawyer
Unfortunately, not that many lawyers represent
prisoners, so you may have trouble finding one. You
have a right to sue without a lawyer. This is called
suing “pro se,” which means “for himself or herself.”
Filing a lawsuit pro se is very difficult. Thousands of
lawsuits are filed by prisoners every year, and most of
these suits are lost before they even go to trial. We do
not want to discourage you from turning to the court
system, but encourage you to do everything you can to
try to get a lawyer to help you, before you decide to file
pro se.
Why So Much Latin?
"Pro Se" is one of several Latin phrases you will see in
this Handbook. The use of Latin in the law is
unfortunate, because it makes it hard for people who
aren't trained as lawyers to understand a lot of
important legal procedure. We have avoided Latin
phrases whenever possible. When we have included
them, it is because you will see these phrases in the
papers filed by lawyers for the other side, and you may
want to use them yourself. Whenever we use Latin
phrases we have put them in italics, like pro se. Check
the glossary at Appendix A for any words, Latin or
otherwise, that you don't understand.

A lawyer is also very helpful after your suit has been
filed. He or she can interview witnesses and discuss the
case with the judge in court, while you are confined in
prison. A lawyer also has access to a better library and
more familiarity with legal forms and procedures. And
despite all the legal research and time you spend on
your case, many judges are more likely to take a lawyer
seriously than someone filing pro se.
If you feel, after reading Chapter Three, that you have a
basis for a lawsuit, try to find a good lawyer to
represent you. You can look in the phone book to find a
lawyer, or to get the address for the “bar association” in
your state. A bar association is a group that many
lawyers belong to. You can ask the bar association to
give you the names of some lawyers who take prison
You probably will not be able to pay the several
thousand dollars or more which you would need to hire
a lawyer. But there are other ways you might be able to
get a lawyer to take your case.

Even if you have a lawyer from the start, this
Handbook is still useful to help you understand what he
or she is doing.


Be sure your lawyer explains the choices you have at
each stage of the case. Remember that he or she is
working for you. This means that he or she should
answer your letters and return your phone calls within a
reasonable amount of time. Don’t be afraid to ask your
lawyer questions. If you don’t understand what is
happening in your case, ask your lawyer to explain it to
you. Don’t ever let your lawyer force decisions on you
or do things you don’t want.

A Short History Of Section 1983 and
the Struggle For Prisoners’ Rights
As you read in Sections A and C, most prisoners who
decide to challenge abuse or mistreatment in prison will
do so through a federal law known as “Section 1983.”
Section 1983 is a way for any individual (not just a
prisoner) to challenge something done by a state
employee. The part of the law you need to understand
reads as follows:
Every person who, under color of any
statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or
usage, of any State or Territory or the
District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to
be subjected, any citizen of the United States
or other person within the jurisdiction
thereof to the deprivation of any rights,
privileges, or immunities secured by the
Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the
party injured in an action at law, suit in
equity, or other proper proceeding for
redress …
Section A of Chapter Two will explain what this means
in detail, but we will give you some background
information here, because the history of prisoners’
struggles in the courts starts with the history of Section
1983. Section 1983 is a law that was passed by the
United States Congress over 100 years ago, but it had
very little effect until the 1960s. Section 1983 was
originally known as Section 1 of the Ku Klux Klan Act
of 1871. Section 1983 does not mention race, and it is
available for use by people of any color, but it was
originally passed specifically to help AfricanAmericans enforce the new constitutional rights they
won after the Civil War -- specifically, the 13th, 14th
and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Those
amendments made slavery illegal, established the right
to “due process of law” and equal protection of the
laws, and guaranteed every male citizen the right to
vote. Although these Amendments became law, white
racist judges in the state courts refused to enforce these

laws, especially when people had their rights violated
by other state or local government officials. The U.S.
Congress passed Section 1983 to allow people to sue in
federal court when a state or local official violated their
federal rights.
Soon after Section 1983 became law, however,
Northern big businessmen joined forces with Southern
plantation owners to take back the limited freedom that
African-Americans had won. Federal judges found
excuses to undermine Section 1983 along with most of
the other civil rights bills passed by Congress.
Although the purpose of Section 1983 was to bypass
the racist state courts, federal judges ruled that most
lawsuits had to go back to those same state courts.
Their rulings remained law until African-Americans
began to regain their political strength through the civil
rights movement of the 1960s.
In the 1960s, a series of very good Supreme Court
cases reversed this trend and transformed Section 1983
into an extremely valuable tool for state prisoners.
Prisoners soon began to file more and more federal
suits challenging prison abuses. A few favorable
decisions were won, dealing mainly with freedom of
religion, guard brutality, and a prisoner’s right to take
legal action without interference from prison staff. But
many judges still continued to believe that the courts
should let prison officials make the rules, no matter
what those officials did. This way of thinking is called
the “hands-off doctrine” because judges keep their
“hands off” prison administration.
The next big breakthrough for prisoners did not come
until the early 1970s. African-Americans only began to
win legal rights when they organized together
politically, and labor unions only achieved legal
recognition after they won important strikes. In the
same way, prisoners did not begin to win many
important court decisions until the prison movement
grew strong.
Powerful, racially united strikes and rebellions shook
Folsom Prison, San Quentin, Attica and other prisons
throughout the country during the early 1970s. These
rebellions brought the terrible conditions of prisons into
the public eye and had some positive effects on the way
federal courts dealt with prisoners. Prisoners won
important federal court rulings on living conditions,
access to the media, and procedures and methods of
Unfortunately, the federal courts did not stay receptive
to prisoners’ struggles for long. In 1996, Congress
passed and President Clinton signed into law the Prison


Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The PLRA is very antiprisoner, and works to limit prisoners’ access to the
federal courts. Why would Congress pass such a bad
law? Many people say Congress believed a story that
was told to them by states tired of spending money to
defend themselves against prisoner lawsuits. In this
story, prisoners file mountains of unimportant lawsuits
because they have time on their hands, and enjoy
harassing the government. The obvious truth - that
prisoners file a lot of lawsuits because they are
subjected to a lot of unjust treatment - was ignored.
The PLRA makes filing a complaint much more costly,
time-consuming, and risky to prisoners. Many
prisoners’ rights organizations have tried to get parts of
the PLRA struck down as unconstitutional, but so far
this effort has been unsuccessful. You will find specific
information about the individual parts of the PLRA in
later chapters of this Handbook. Some of the most
important sections of the PLRA are included in
Appendix F at the end of this book.
History has taught us that convincing the courts to issue
new rulings to improve day-to-day life in prisons, and
changing oppressive laws like the PLRA, requires not
only litigation, but also the creation and maintenance of
a prisoners' rights movement both inside and outside of
the prison walls.

The Uses and Limits of
Legal Action
Only a strong prison movement can win and enforce
significant legal victories. But the prison movement can
also use court action to help build its political strength.
A well-publicized lawsuit can educate people outside
about the conditions in prison. The struggle to enforce a
court order can play an important part in political
organizing inside and outside prison. Good court
rulings backed up by a strong movement can convince
prison staff to hold back, so that conditions inside are a
little less brutal and prisoners have a little more
freedom to read, write, and talk.
Still, the value of any lawsuit is limited. It may take
several years from starting the suit to win a final
decision that you can enforce. There may be complex
trial procedures, appeals, and delays in complying with
a court order. Prison officials may be allowed to follow
only the technical words of a court decision, while
continuing their illegal behavior another way. Judges
may ignore law which obviously is in your favor,
because they are afraid of appearing “soft on criminals”

or because they think prisoners threaten their own
position in society. Even the most liberal, well-meaning
judges will only try to change the way prison officials
exercise their power. No judge will seriously address
the staff’s basic control over your life while in prison.
To make fundamental change in prison, you can’t rely
on lawsuits alone. It is important to connect your suit to
the larger struggle. Write press releases that explain
your suit and what it shows about prison and about the
reality of America. Send the releases to newspapers,
radio and TV stations, and legislators. Keep in touch
throughout the suit with outside groups that support
prisoners’ struggles. Look at Appendix I for media and
groups that may be able to help you. We have also
provided some pointers on writing to these groups.
You may also want to discuss your suit with other
prisoners and involve them in it even if they can’t
participate officially. Remember that a lawsuit is most
valuable as one weapon in the ongoing struggle to
change prisons and the society which makes prisons the
way they are.
Of course, all this is easy for us to say, because we are
not inside. All too often jailhouse lawyers and activists
face retaliation from guards due to their organizing and
law suits. Chapter Three, Section G, Part 4 explains
some legal options if you face retaliation. However,
while the law may be able to stop abuse from
happening in the future, and it can compensate you for
your injuries, the law cannot guarantee that you will not
be harmed. Only you know the risks that you are
willing to take.
Finally, you should know that those of us who fight this
struggle from the outside are filled with awe and
respect at the courage of those of you who fight it, in so
many different ways, on the inside.

“Jailhouse lawyers aren’t simply,
or even mainly, jailhouse lawyers.
They are sons, daughters, uncles,
nieces, parents, sometimes
teachers, grandparents, and
occasionally writers. In short, they
are part of a wider, broader,
deeper social fabric.”
- Mumia Abu-Jamal, award-winning
journalist, author, and jailhouse lawyer, from
his 2009 book “Jailhouse Lawyers.”


This chapter describes the different types of lawsuits
you can bring to challenge conditions or treatment in
prison or detention, including Section 1983, state
actions, the Federal Tort Claims Act and Bivens
actions. We also discuss international law and explain
the impact of the Prison Litigation Reform Act

Chapter Two: Table of Contents
Section A:
Section 1983 Lawsuits
Section B:
State Court Cases
Section C:
Federal Tort Claims Act
Section D:
Bivens Actions
Section E:
Protection of Prisoners under International Law
Section F:
Brief Summary of the Prison Litigation Reform Act

Section 1983 Lawsuits
The main way to understand what kind of suit you can
bring under Section 1983 is to look at the words of that
“Every person who, under color of any statute,
ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any
State or Territory, or the District of Columbia,
subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of
the United States or other person within the
jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the
Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the
party injured in an action at law, suit in equity,
or other proper proceeding for redress…”
Some of the words are perfectly clear. Others have

meanings that you might not expect, based on years of
interpretation by judges. In this section we will explore
what the words themselves and judges’ opinions from
past lawsuits tell us about what kind of suit is allowed
under Section 1983.
Although Section 1983 was designed especially to help
African-Americans, anyone can use it, regardless of
race. The law refers to “any citizen of the United States
or any other person within the jurisdiction thereof.”
This means that you can file a Section 1983 action even
if you are not a United States citizen. Martinez v. City
of Los Angeles, 141 F.3d 1373 (9th Cir. 1998). All you
need is to have been “within the jurisdiction” when
your rights were violated. “Within the jurisdiction” just
means you were physically present in the United States.
Not every harm you suffer or every violation of your
rights is covered by Section 1983. There are two
requirements. First, Section 1983 applies to the
“deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws.” This means that
the actions you are suing about must violate your
federal rights. Federal rights are those given by the
U.S. Constitution, Amendments to the Constitution,
and laws passed by the U.S. Congress. They are
explained in part 1, below. Second, Section 1983 also
says “under color of any statue, ordinance, regulation,
custom or usage, of any State or Territory.” Courts
have developed a short-hand for this phrase. They call
it “under color of state law.” This means that the
violation of your rights must have been done by a state
or local official. This requirement is explained in part 2

1. Violations of Your Federal Rights
Section 1983 won’t help you with all the ways in which
prison officials mistreat prisoners. You need to show
that the way a prison official treated you violates the
U.S. Constitution or a law passed by the U.S. Congress.
Prisoners most commonly use Section 1983 to enforce
rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. These are
called “constitutional rights.” Your constitutional rights
are explained in Chapter Three.
You can also use Section 1983 to enforce rights in
federal laws, or “statutes.” Only a few federal laws
grant rights which apply to prisoners. One such law, for
example, is the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the


“ADA.” The ADA can be found at 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101
– 12213. The ADA prevents discrimination against
people with disabilities, including prisoners. If you
have any sort of physical or mental disability you may
be able to file a Section 1983 lawsuit using the ADA.
That said, you can also file an ADA lawsuit without
making reference to Section 1983, and that may be a
better approach.
Another federal statute that may be useful to prisoners
is the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons
Act, or “RLUIPA,” which was passed by Congress in
2000. 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). RLUIPA protects
prisoners’ rights to exercise their religion and may be
used by any prisoner, whether in federal or state prison
or in jail. A second federal statute protecting the
religious rights of prisoners is the Religious Freedom
Reformation Act, or “RFRA.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb1(c). RFRA can only be used by prisoners in federal
prison. It is not available to prisoners in state prison.
Religious freedom is a constitutional right protected by
the First Amendment, but RLUIPA and RFRA provide
even more protection than the First Amendment.
Chapter Three, Section B explains the protection
provided by each of these laws. Like ADA claims,
these claims can be brought in a Section 1983 suit, or
on their own.
Prisoners can use Section 1983 to sue about conditions
or treatment in prison. You cannot use Section 1983 to
challenge the reason you are in prison, how long you
are in prison, or to obtain immediate or speedier release
from prison. If you want to challenge your trial, your
conviction, or your sentence, you need to use a
completely different type of action, called a writ of
habeas corpus. This handbook will not help you with
that kind of case, but some of the resources listed in
Appendix J explain how to do it.

2. “Under Color of State Law”
Section 1983 only allows you to sue for actions taken
“under color of state law.” This means that your rights
must have been violated by a state or local official. This
includes people who work for the state, city, county or
other local governments. If you are in a state prison,
anything done to you by a prison guard, prison doctor,
or prison administrator (like the warden) is an action
“under color of state law.”
The “under color of state law” requirement does not
mean that the action has to have been legal under state
law. This is very important, and was decided in a case
called Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961). All you
need to show is that the person you sue was working

for the prison system or some other part of state or city
government at the time of the acts you’re suing about.
The decision in Monroe v. Pape that state government
officials can be sued under Section 1983 was expanded
in a case called Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social
Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). In that case, the
Supreme Court allowed for 1983 claims against
municipal and city governments.
In a Section 1983 suit, you can sue over a one-time
action that violated your rights. For example, you can
sue if a guard beats you. You can also sue over a
pattern or practice of certain acts, like if guards
routinely look away and fail to act when prisoners fight
with each other. Finally, you can also sue over an
official prison policy. For example, you could sue if
the prison has a policy that allows Catholic prisoners to
pray together, but doesn’t allow the same thing for
Muslim prisoners.
You can’t use Section 1983 to sue federal employees
over their actions because they act under color of
federal law, not state law. This is OK, because you can
use a Bivens action to sue in federal court when a
federal official violates your constitutional rights.
Bivens actions are explained in Section D of this
You can’t use Section 1983 to sue a private citizen who
acted without any connection to the government or any
governmental power. For example, if another prisoner
assaults you, you cannot use Section 1983 to sue that
prisoner, because he or she does not work for the
government. You could, however, use Section 1983 to
sue a guard for failing to protect you from the assault.
A person can exercise power from the government even
if he or she doesn’t actually work for the state directly.
You can use Section 1983 to sue a private citizen, such
as a doctor, who mistreats you while he is working with
or for prison officials. In a case called West v. Atkins,
487 U.S. 42 (1988), the Supreme Court held that a
private doctor with whom the state contracts to provide
treatment to a prisoner can be sued using Section 1983.
Using Section 1983 is complicated if you are
incarcerated in a private prison. The Supreme Court has
not yet decided whether you can sue private prison
guards the way you can sue state prison guards. Most
courts will look at whether the guard is performing a
traditional state function so that it looks just like the
guard is acting “under color of state law. One case that
discusses this in detail is Skelton v. PriCor, Inc., 963


F.2d 100 (6th Cir. 1991). In Skelton, a private prison
employee wouldn’t let an inmate go to the law library
or have a bible. The Sixth Circuit ruled that the private
prison guard’s action was “under color of state law”
and allowed the prisoner to sue using Section 1983.
Another helpful case is Giron v. Corrections
Corporation of America, 14 F. Supp. 2d 1245 (D.N.M.
1998). In that case a woman was raped by a guard at a
private prison. The court held that the guard was
“performing a traditional state function” by working at
the prison, so his actions were “under color of state
The Parties in a Lawsuit
“Plaintiff” is the person who starts a lawsuit. If you
sue a guard over prison abuse, you are a plaintiff.
“Defendant” is the person who you sue. If you sue a
prison doctor, guard, and a supervisor, they are all

State Court Cases
Section 1983 allows you to bring federal claims in
federal court. But you can also bring federal claims in
state court.
One reason you might want to sue in state court, rather
than federal court, is the Prison Litigation Reform Act,
or “PLRA.” The PLRA is a federal law that makes it
difficult for a prisoner to file a federal lawsuit by
imposing all sorts of procedural hurdles and
requirements. We explain the PLRA in Section F of
this Chapter. Many states have laws similar to the
PLRA, but others don’t. If you live in a state that
doesn’t have a PLRA-like statute, suing in state court
may make things much easier for you.
Another good thing about state court is that you may
also be able to enforce rights that you don’t have in
federal court. For example, a state “tort” claim is an
entirely different way to address poor prison
conditions. A tort means an injury or wrong of some
sort. The advantage of suing in state court is that some
conduct by prison guards may be considered a “tort”
but may not be so bad as to be a constitutional
For example, you will learn in Chapter Three that the
Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual

punishment” and entitles prisoners to medical care that is
not so poor as to amount to such punishment. For a
constitutional medical care claim (described in detail in
the next chapter) a prisoner needs to prove that he or she
had a serious medical need and that the guard or doctor in
question acted recklessly in failing to provide medical
care. On the other hand, you can sue a prison doctor for
medical negligence if they mess up in your treatment,
whether that mistake was reckless or not. Common torts
are listed in the next section of this Chapter, under the
heading “Types of Torts.”
Another type of state claim is a claim based on your
state’s constitution. Some state constitutions provide more
rights than the federal constitution.
Sometimes a prisoner's suit handled by a lawyer will
include claims based on state law as well as federal law.
You can do this in a Section 1983 suit if the action you are
suing about violates both state and federal law. But it is
tricky to try this without an experienced lawyer, and
usually it won’t make a very big difference. You can’t
use Section 1983 to sue about an action that only violates
state law.
Historically, federal judges were more sympathetic to
prisoners than state judges. However, the PLRA has made
federal court a much less friendly place for prisoners.
Sadly, that does not mean that you will necessarily get fair
treatment in state court. Many state court judges are
elected, rather than appointed, so they may avoid ruling
for prisoners because it might hurt their chances of getting
Appendix H lists some organizations that may have
information about your state.

Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA)
As we explained in Chapter One, if you are a prisoner
in a state prison or jail you can use Section 1983 to sue
over violations of your rights. If you are a federal
prisoner, or a pretrial or immigration detainee in a
federal facility you cannot use Section 1983, but you
have other options: a Bivens action, or a claim under
the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). You can also
bring these two types of claims together in one lawsuit.
(This section is about FTCA claims. We discuss
Bivens claims in the following section.)
Usually, you cannot sue the United States itself. The
FTCA is an exception to this general rule. The FTCA
allows federal prisoners, and immigration or pre-trial
detainees in federal jails or facilities to file lawsuits


against the United States when a federal employee has
injured them.
The most important FTCA provisions are in Title 28 of
the United States Code, sections 1346(b), 1402(b),
2401(b) and 2671-2680. When we reference Title 28 in
this chapter, it will look like this: “28 U.S.C. §
2679(d)(2)” where “28 U.S.C.” means “Title 28 of the
United States Code,” and the numbers and letters after
it refer to a specific section in the code.
FTCA Claims and Qualified Immunity
One of the good things about an FTCA claim is that the
United States does not have qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity is described in Chapter Four. For
both Bivens and Section 1983 claims, the qualified
immunity defense makes it hard to win money
damages from government officials.

The FTCA only allows you to sue over “torts.” You’ll
find examples of torts in the following section. The
FTCA provides a way to sue the U.S. in federal court
for torts committed by a federal employee. 28 U.S.C. §
You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to obtain relief
under the FTCA. There are, however, many more
FTCA cases that have been brought by citizen prisoners
than noncitizen detainees.
FTCA actions must be brought in federal court, not
state court. However, the federal court will use state
tort law. Since torts are different from state to state,
make sure that the tort you’re using exists under the
law of the state where you are in prison or jail.

1. Who You Can Sue
When you write your complaint, 28 U.S.C. §
2679(d)(2) requires that you name the “United States”
as the defendant. You cannot name the specific federal
employee who hurt you, or an agency such as the
“Bureau of Prisons.” Although you will name the
United States as the defendant in your FTCA suit, you
will discuss the actions of a specific federal employee.
The FTCA only allows you to sue over actions by
federal officials or employees. This means you can’t
sue over the actions of a state or local law enforcement
agent. You also can’t sue about an independent
contractor under the FTCA unless federal employees
directly supervised the day-to-day activities of the
contractors. Figuring out whether someone is a

contractor or federal employee can be tricky, but you
should look to the standard set out in the Supreme
Court case, United States v. Orleans, 425 U.S. 807
(1976). Most courts decide the question by looking at
facts like who owned the tools used by the contractor
and who paid the salary, worker’s compensation, and
insurance of the employee.
The FTCA is most useful for people held in federal
immigration detention centers, or federal jails or
prisons. But if you are a federal detainee injured in a
state, county, or local jail you may also be able to bring
a claim against the United States under the FTCA for
negligently housing you in an unsafe non-federal
facility. You should argue that the United States has a
duty to use reasonable care in ensuring the safety of
federal detainees no matter where they are housed. The
law is not settled in this area, but you should carefully
read a Supreme Court decision, Logue v. U.S., 412 U.S.
521 (1973) which held that the federal government was
not responsible for the suicide of a federal prisoner who
was negligently confined in a municipal jail because
the municipal employees were federal contractors, not
federal employees. Probably, you will only be able to
succeed on this theory if a federal employee knew or
should have known you were being put into an unsafe
situation. One example is Cline v. United States
Department of Justice, 525 F. Supp. 825 (D.S.D. 1981),
a good case in which the court allowed a claim by a
federal prisoner held in a county jail after U.S.
Marshals placed him into a situation they knew was
The FTCA requires that the government employee
whose acts you are complaining of was acting within
the “course and scope of employment.” The meaning
of this requirement is also a matter of state law, so you
will have to figure out what it is in your state. Under
the law in some states, this requirement will be very
easy to meet. For example, in New York the court asks
“whether the act was done while the [employee] was
doing his [employer’s] work, no matter how irregularly
or with what disregard of instructions.” Jones v.
Weigland, 134 App. Div. 644, 645 (2d Dep’t 1909).
But in other states the standard can be difficult to meet.
In Shirley v. United States, 232 Fed. Appx. 419 (5th Cir.
2007), for example, a federal prisoner filed an FTCA
claim after she was sexually assaulted by a correctional
officer. The Court dismissed her case because under
Texas law, an employee only acts under the scope of
employment when he or she acts to further the
employer’s business.


At least one court has gotten around this requirement
altogether. In Bolton v. United States, 347 F. Supp. 2d
1218 (N. D. Fla. 2004), the court held that it doesn’t
matter if a guard is acting in the scope of their
employment, as long as they are acting “under color of
federal law.” Under this theory, all that matters is that
the person who hurt you or acted wrongfully is a
federal employee.

2. Types of Torts
Under the FTCA, you can sue for negligence or for
intentional torts like assault, battery, false arrest, abuse
of process and intentional infliction of emotional
distress. These common torts are explained below.
You can sue on almost any tort that exists under state
law. There are a few exceptions. You can’t bring a
libel or slander case under the FTCA and you can’t sue
if the government mishandles, detains or loses your
belongings. (You can file an administrative claim for
damage or loss to personal property under 31 U.S.C. §
a. Negligence
A government employee is negligent when he or she
“fails to use reasonable care.” Since people have
different ideas about what is reasonable, courts ask
what a “reasonably prudent person” would do in a
similar situation.
There are four things you need to show in a negligence
claim: duty, breach, causation and damages. Damages
are usually the easy part—you just have to show you
have been hurt in some way. But Duty is harder.
Correctional officials do not have a duty to provide a
“risk-free” environment. They do, however, have a
duty to keep prisoners safe and protect them from
unreasonable risks. To prove negligence, the employee
must have breached (failed in) this duty to keep you
safe. Lastly, the harm that you suffered must have been
caused by the actions of the federal employee, not some
other person or event.
You can use the FTCA to challenge any kind of
negligence by a detention center or federal prison
employee, including the negligent denial of medical
care or an officer’s failure to protect a detainee from
another detainee. Prisoners often bring negligence
claims against prison doctors and nurses for medical
malpractice. For example, in Jones v. United States, 91
F.3d 623 (3d Cir. 1996), the court found the prison
breached a duty to a prisoner who had a stroke after
prison officials withheld his medication. And in
Plummer v. United States, 580 F.2d 72 (3d Cir. 1978)

Prisoners successfully made a negligence claim based
on exposure to tuberculosis
Sometimes, a court will find that the federal employee
did not breach their duty of care. For example, the
Seventh Circuit denied William Dunne’s FTCA claim
for injuries he suffered when he slipped and fell three
times on ice during recreational time at a prison. The
court held that the accumulation of snow or ice where
Dunne fell was so small that an official using ordinary
care could not reasonably be expected to know about it.
Dunne v. U.S., 989 F.2d 502 (7th Cir. 1993).
What if you were injured by another prisoner? An
important Supreme Court case on this topic is United
States v. Muniz, 374 U.S. 150 (1963). Muniz, one of
the plaintiffs in the case, was beaten unconscious by
other inmates after a guard locked him into a
dormitory. The prisoner argued that the prison officials
were negligent in failing to provide enough guards to
prevent the assault. The court said that this type of
claim is appropriate under the FTCA, but found against
the prisoner because the officials followed prison
regulations and could not have reasonably prevented
the assault.
If a prison official has violated a federal or state statute,
you can use it to strengthen your FTCA claim. You
can argue that the statute defines or creates a duty,
which was breached by the official. For example, one
court found that the BOP breached a duty to let a
prisoner make phone calls to his attorney based on the
language from the Code of Federal Regulations. Yosuf
v. United States, 642 F.Supp. 415 (M.D.Pa. 1986).
b. Intentional Torts - Assault and Battery
Assault and battery often go together, but they are two
separate torts. An assault is when someone does
something that makes you fear they are about to harm
you. It is a threat. If that threat becomes a touch, like if
a guard hits, kicks or beats you, that is a battery. A
battery is any “offensive touch or contact” where some
kind of force is applied.
You can use the FTCA to sue a government employee
who assaults or batters you. The standard for battery is
generally the same as the constitutional claim for
excessive force, described in Chapter Three, Section F,
Part 1.
c. False Imprisonment
You may have a claim for false imprisonment if you
are imprisoned longer than your sentence, or held in
SHU longer than the time of your punishment for a


disciplinary offense. For example, under New York
law there are four elements to a false imprisonment
claim (1) the defendant intended to confine you, (2)
you were aware of the confinement, (3) you did not
consent to the confinement, and (4) the confinement
was not otherwise privileged. For example, in Gittens
v. New York, 504 N.Y.S.2d 969 (Ct. Cl. 1986) a New
York court held the plaintiff had a claim for false
imprisonment where he was held in SHU for nine days
beyond the last day of the penalty imposed, with no
reason being given other than for investigation. It is
important to note that the prisoner in that case got no
process whatsoever. You will most likely not be able
to succeed with a claim like this if you got any process
related to your extra time in the SHU.

accepting your claim, and giving you money without
you having to sue.

d. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Another tort is Intentional Infliction of Emotional
Distress or IIED. This tort arises when someone
purposefully does something outrageous that makes
you feel very upset. Under the law of most States, an
IIED claim requires a showing that: 1) the defendant
acted in a way that is extreme or outrageous for the
purpose of causing emotional distress; (2) the plaintiff
actually suffered severe or extreme emotional distress;
and (3) the defendant’s conduct caused the emotional

4. Damages in FTCA Suits

The conduct really must be outrageous and extreme.
One successful example of an IIED claim is Schmidt v.
Odell, 64 F. Supp. 2d 1014 (D. Kan. 1999), where a
prisoner who had both legs amputated was not given a
wheelchair or other accommodation by the jail, and
thus had to crawl around on the floor.

5. The Discretionary Function Exception

3. Administrative Exhaustion
Before you can raise an FTCA claim, you must first
present the claim to the appropriate federal agency, and
you have to do that within two years of the action that
leads to the injury. 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a). If you are in a
federal prison, your claim needs to be submitted to the
Bureau of Prisons, at 320 First Street, NW, Washington
DC 20534.
Use Government Standard Form 95 to make the
administrative claim. A copy of this form is included in
Appendix C If this form is unavailable, you can write a
letter specifying that you are making an administrative
claim. Your administrative request must include a
specific dollar request for damages and the facts
supporting your claim. Make sure you sign the form,
and include all the detail you can. You must include
enough information to allow the agency to investigate
your claim. Rarely, the agency will respond by

If your administrative claim is denied, you have six
months from the date the agency denies your claim to
file a FTCA lawsuit in federal court under 28 U.S.C. §
2401(b) and 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a).
If the agency doesn’t respond to your administrative
claim within six months you may “deem” the claim
denied under 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a) and file your suit. If
you file a suit under the “deeming provision” of the
FTCA, state that you meet the exhaustion requirement
because the government did not respond to your
administrative complaint within six months.

Damages are explained in Chapter Four. For now, just
note that under the FTCA, you can sue the United
States for actual (money) damages to compensate you
for your injury. You cannot get punitive damages from
the United States under the FTCA. Usually, you can’t
get more money than the amount of damages you asked
for in your administrative claim. One exception is if
your injuries have gotten a lot worse since the time you
filed your administrative claim. State tort law
ultimately determines how high your damages can be.

The United States often defends against FTCA claims
based on the “discretionary function exception.” When
an employee has the freedom to act on their own they
are said to have performed a “discretionary function or
duty” and cannot be sued under the FTCA. This is true
even if they abused their discretion. 28 U.S.C. §
2680[a]. This is in contrast to when an employee is just
implementing a policy or prison regulation.
Unfortunately, courts have interpreted the discretionary
function exception very broadly.
In Berkovitz v. United States, 486 U.S. 531 (1988), the
Supreme Court laid out a test to help figure out whether
an action is discretionary or not. First, you should ask
if the employee exercised “judgment” or “choice” in
doing what they did. If they just implemented a policy
or regulation of the prison, they didn’t exercise their
own judgment and the act is not discretionary. The
Tenth Circuit, for example, said that a doctor’s
decisions about how to medically treat a patient at an
Air Force base are not discretionary. Jackson v. Kelly,
557 F.2d 735 (10th Cir. 1977).
On the other hand, if the employee did make their own
choice, the act probably was “discretionary” and


subject to the exception. For example, an inmate who
sued a Tennessee prison for losing his property when
they transferred him lost his case on the discretionary
function exception. The court said the warden
exercised his discretion in making the arrangements for
the inmate’s transfer. Ashley v. United States, 37
F.Supp.2d 1027 (W.D. Tenn. 1997). The widow of a
murdered federal prison inmate ran into the same
problem when she tried to argue the prison negligently
understaffed the area of the prison where her husband
was killed. The court said that the decision about how
many officers to station in a given compound was
discretionary. Garza v. United States, 413 F.Supp. 23
(W.D. Okla. 1975).


action against individuals only, and not against federal
agencies or private corporations. This means you must
name actual people as the defendants in your lawsuit,
not the prison or the BOP.
When it comes to immigration detention, it can
sometimes be tricky to determine whether or not
someone is acting under federal law, because some
immigrants are detained in federal detention centers,
some are detained in state or local detention centers,
and some are detained in facilities run by private
corporations. However, no matter what kind of facility
you are detained in, you are in the custody of ICE, a
federal agency.

If you are in a Bureau of Prisons prison, all of
the prison personnel you have contact with are
acting under federal law.


If you are in a federal detention center, all of
the prison personnel you have contact with are
acting under federal law for the purpose of


If you are in a private facility or a state,
county, or other local facility that has a
contract with ICE to hold immigration
detainees, courts have sometimes found the law
enforcement personnel to be federal actors
under Bivens. In deciding this, the court looks
closely at the relationship between the federal
government and the individuals who work at
the facility. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court
has decided that prisoners cannot sue
corporations themselves in a Bivens lawsuit.
Correctional Services Corp. v. Malesko, 534
U.S. 16 (2001). In the context of a Bivens
action, the Courts of Appeals have reached
different decisions on whether prisoners or
detainees can sue private prison guards. The
Fourth, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits have held
that prisoners cannot use Bivens to sue private
prison guards. Peoples v. CCA, 422 F.3d 1090
(10th Cir. 2005); Holly v. Scott, 434 F.3d 287
(4th Cir. 2006); Alba v. Montford, 517 F.3d
1249, 1254-55 (11th Cir. 2008). But the Ninth
Circuit has disagreed with the other courts and
decided that employees of private prison
corporations can be held liable for violating a
prisoners’ constitutional rights. Pollard v.
GEO, 607 F.3d 583 (9th Cir. 2010).

Bivens Actions & Federal Injunctions
FTCA claims can only be brought for torts, not
constitutional violations. If a federal prisoner wants to
make a constitutional claim for money damages, they
must do so through a “Bivens action.” The name
comes from a lawsuit, Bivens v. Six Unknown Named
Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388
(1971), in which the Supreme Court established the
right to bring a lawsuit for money damages against
individual law enforcement officials, acting under color
of federal law, for violations of constitutional rights.
You might notice that this sounds very similar to the
language in Section 1983. The key difference is that
Section 1983 applies to state actors, while Bivens
applies to federal actors. If you are an immigration
detainee in the custody of ICE, a federal agency, or a
federal prisoner in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons,
in most situations, you will be relying on Bivens and
not on Section 1983.
There are two main elements to a Bivens action: (1) a
federal actor and (2) unconstitutional acts by that
person. This section discusses each of those elements
in turn.
If a federal prisoner is not seeking damages, but instead
wants to change a prison policy, or stop some other ongoing illegal action, the prisoner can file a case in
federal court 28 USC 1331. These federal injunctions
are also described below.

1. Who is acting under color of
federal law?
Who should you name as the defendant in your
lawsuit? In other words, who should you sue? First, it
is important to know that Bivens provides a right of

If you can’t figure out whether the person you want to
sue is a state actor or a federal actor, you can bring your


lawsuit under both Bivens and Section 1983, and the
Judge will decided which approach is appropriate.

violated their rights under the Eighth Amendment.
Sterling v. Cupp, 625 P.2d 123, 131 n.21 (Or. 1981).

2. Unconstitutional Acts by Federal

In Atkins v. Virgnia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), the Court
struck down the death penalty for the intellectually
disabled, noting that the practice was “overwhelmingly
disapproved” in the world community. Later, in Roper
v. Simmons, 125 S. Ct. 1183 (2005), the court relied
even more heavily on international law and practice
when it struck down the death penalty for juvenile
offenders. In fact, even in her dissent from the Court’s
ruling in Roper, Justice O’Connor acknowledged that
international law and practice was relevant to the
Court’s analysis when she observed: “Over the course
of nearly half a century, the Court has consistently
referred to foreign and international law as relevant to
its assessment of evolving standards of decency. . . . At
least, the existence of an international consensus of this
nature can serve to confirm the reasonableness of a
consonant and genuine American consensus.”

In general, the same constitutional standards that apply
in section 1983 actions apply in Bivens actions. We
explain those constitutional standards Chapter Three.
Where there are differences, we have tried to highlight
them throughout.

3. Federal Injunctions
You may not always be interested in suing for
damages. In some cases, you may just want to try to
change a prison policy you believe is unconstitutional.
Section 1983 allows these types of claims, called
“injunctions” for prisoners in state or local custody.
Injunctions are explained in Chapter Four, Section B.
Federal law also allows federal prisoners to bring these
types of claims in federal court. 28 USC 1331 states
that the federal district courts have the power to hear
“all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or
treaties of the United States.” The courts have taken
this language to mean that federal courts can order
federal prisons to stop acting in an unconstitutional

Protection of Prisoners Under
International Law
Along with the United States Constitution, your state
constitution, and federal and state laws, another
potential source of protection for prisoners is
international law.
Using international law in United States courts can be
complicated and controversial so you may not want to
attempt it without a lawyer. This section will outline
some basic facts about international law, and provide
you with resources in case you want to explore the area
It is extremely difficult to bring a successful
international claim in a United States court. However,
some prisoners have found it useful to discuss
international standards in suits based on more
established domestic law. For example, one state court
referred to standards set out in the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights when deciding
that searches of prisoners by guards of the opposite sex

There are two main sources of international law:
“customary international law” and treaties. Customary
international law is unwritten law based on certain
principles that are generally accepted worldwide.
Treaties are written agreements between countries that
set international legal standards. Under Article VI,
section 2 of the United States Constitution treaties are
part of the “supreme law” of the land. Customary and
treaty-based international law are both supposed to be
enforceable in the United States, but this is often
Customary international law prohibits several practices,
such as slavery, state-sponsored murders and
kidnappings, torture, arbitrary detention, systematic
racial discrimination, and violation of generally
accepted human rights standards. Restatement (Third)
of Foreign Relations Law, Section 702 (1987). United
States’ courts have recognized that some of these
practices violate customary international law. For
example, in Filartiga v. Pena-Irala 630 F.2d 876 (2d
Cir. 1980), the court recognized that torture violates
customary international law. Some American courts
have been reluctant to accept the argument that a
certain practice violates international law. For example,
you learned earlier that the United States Supreme
Court has ruled that in certain situations the death
penalty is unconstitutional based in part on its survey of
international law and practice. But the Court has failed
to get rid of the death penalty altogether, even though a
large majority of countries have abolished the death
penalty in law or practice.


The United States is a “party” to several treaties that
explain how prisoners should be treated. There are two
stages to becoming a “party” to a treaty: signing the
treaty and ratifying the treaty. By signing a treaty, a
country agrees to its general principles. But only by
ratifying a treaty does a nation incorporate the treaty’s
provisions and standards into domestic law and become
bound by them. The United States has ratified three
human rights treaties that address the rights of
prisoners: the Convention Against Torture and Other
Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment; the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights; and the International Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
However, the United States has limited the ability of
individuals to use the rights created by these treaties.
First, when ratifying these treaties, Congress
specifically stated that the United States government is
not bound by certain provisions and that the United
States government understands certain rights and
protections to be severely restricted. Second, Congress
has declared that many provisions of the treaties are not
“self-executing,” meaning that individuals cannot sue
in U.S. courts to enforce those provisions unless
Congress has also passed “implementing legislation.”
Foster v. Neilson, 27 U.S. 253 (1829).
While you will probably be unable to sue directly under
these treaties, each treaty has a treaty body that
monitors whether the United States is following the
rules set out in the treaties. You can contact a human
rights group, like Human Rights Watch, and ask for
help sending a letter to one of those bodies.
Human Rights Watch is an organization that monitors
the conditions in prisons and publishes reports on
prisons. They answer mail from prisoners, and they
also send free reports that you can use to support your
legal claims.
U.S. Program Associate
Human Rights Watch
350 5th Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, New York 10118
Another important source of international law is the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or UDHR.
The UDHR was adopted by the UN General Assembly
on December 10, 1948. It was the first time the
fundamental freedoms and rights of all persons were set
forth in detail by the international community. The
UDHR is reprinted in Appendix G. It embodies the
right to life, liberty and security of person, the right to

be free from torture, arbitrary arrest and detention and
the right to a fair and public hearing. It also enshrines
the right to an adequate standard of living for health
and well-being, the right to work, education, medical
care and other essential social services, as well as the
right to freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful
assembly and association, among others. These are
inherent rights belonging to all persons that cannot be
granted or withdrawn by anyone or any government.
Finally, the United States is a member of the
Organization of American States (OAS), and is bound
to the provisions of the American Declaration on the
Rights and Duties of Man. The Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights is an independent part
of the OAS that looks at possible human rights
violations in the Americas. Individuals can present
petitions to the Commission once available remedies
have been pursued and exhausted in domestic courts..

Brief Summary of the Prison Litigation
Reform Act (PLRA)
The PLRA, an anti-prisoner statute which became law
in 1996, has made it much harder for prisoners to gain
relief in the federal courts. While you will learn more
about the PLRA in the following chapters, we have
included a brief outline of its major parts, or
“provisions,” here so that you keep them in mind as
you start to plan your lawsuit. The full text of several
important sections of the PLRA are included in
Appendix F. One important thing to keep in mind is
that most of these provisions only apply to suits filed
while you are in prison. If you want to sue for damages
after you are released, you will not need to worry about
these rules.

1. Injunctive Relief
18 U.S.C. § 3626 limits the “injunctive relief” (also
called “prospective relief”) that is available in prison
cases. Injunctive relief is when you ask the court to
make the prison do something differently, or stop doing
something altogether. For example, if you file a suit
asking that the prison change their policy to let you
pray in a group, that is a case for injunctive relief.
Injunctive relief and the changes in its availability
under the PLRA are discussed in Chapter Four.


2. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
42 U.S.C. § 1997(e)(a) states that “[n]o action shall be
brought with respect to prison conditions … by a
prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other
correctional facility until such administrative remedies
as are available are exhausted.”
This is known as the “exhaustion” requirement. If you
try to sue a prison official about anything he or she has
done to you, the court will dismiss your case unless you
have first filed an administrative grievance or
complaint about the issue you want to sue over. You
also have to appeal that grievance as far as possible.
You will learn more about exhaustion in Chapter Five,
Section A, Part 2.

6. Filing Fees and the Three Strikes
Courts charge everyone fees when they file a lawsuit.
However, poor people are not required to pay all these
fees up front. Under the PLRA, if you have had three
prior lawsuits dismissed as “frivolous, malicious, or
failing to state a claim for relief,” you may not proceed
in forma pauperis and will have to pay your fees up
front. There is an exception for prisoners who are “in
imminent danger of serious physical injury.” Chapter
Five, Section C, Part 2 describes how to file “in forma
pauperis papers” and provides more information about
the three strikes provision.

3. Mental or Emotional Injury
The PLRA also states that “[n]o Federal civil action
may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison,
or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional
injury suffered while in custody without a prior
showing of physical injury.”42 U.S.C.A. § 1997e(e).
Courts disagree about whether this allows you to sue
for money damages for a constitutional violation that
results in mental or emotional injury but not physical
injury. The different interpretations of this provision
are explained in detail in Chapter Four, Section C, Part
2. If you are suing to change a prison policy, you do
not need to worry about this provision.

4. Attorneys’ Fees
Usually, if you win a Section 1983 case and you have
an attorney, the defendants will have to pay your
attorney for the work he or she did on your case.
However, the PLRA limits the court’s ability to make
the prison officials you sue pay for “attorneys’ fees” if
you win your case. While this will not affect you if you
are suing without the assistance of an attorney, it is part
of the reason why so few attorneys are willing to
represent prisoners.

5. Screening, Dismissal & Waiver of Reply
The PLRA allows for courts to dismiss a prisoner’s
cases very soon after filing if the judge decides the case
is “frivolous,” “malicious,” does not state a claim, or
seeks damages from a defendant with immunity. The
court can do this before requiring the defendant to reply
to your complaint. This is discussed further in Chapter
Six, Section B.


This chapter provides information about your rights in
prison. We mostly focus on constitutional rights, but
provide some information about federal and state
statutory rights as well. Sections A through G explain
what types of actions violate prisoners’ rights, and
Sections H through K provide information for specific
groups of prisoners, including women, transgender
prisoners, pretrial detainees and immigration detainees.

Chapter Three: Table of Contents
Section A:
Your First Amendment Right to Freedom of Speech
and Association
Section B:
Your Right to Practice Your Religion
Section C:
Your Right to be Free from Discrimination
Section D:
Your Procedural Due Process Rights Regarding
Punishment, Administrative Transfers, and Segregation
Section E:
Your Right to be Free from Unreasonable Searches
and Seizures
Section F:
Your Right to be Free from Cruel and Unusual
Section G:
Your Right to Use the Courts
Section H:
Issues of Importance to Women Prisoners
Section I:
Issues of Importance to Transgender Prisoners
Section J:
Issues of Importance to Pretrial Detainees
Section K:
Issues of Importance to Non-Citizens and Immigration

“The Rule” and “The Basics” Boxes
Throughout this chapter, you will see small text boxes
entitled “the rule” and “the basics.” The rule boxes set
forth the actual legal standard that a court will apply to

consider your case. We have included these only in
those places where there is a clear legal rule. The
basics boxes are summaries of the practical impact of
the law on common prison issues. They are not legal
Be very careful to check for changes in the law when
you use this chapter (and the rest of the JLH). This
Handbook was completely revised and updated in
2010. However, one of the exciting but frustrating
things about the law is that it is constantly changing.
New court decisions and laws will change the legal
landscape significantly in the future.
It is important to make sure a case is still “good law,”
which is known as “Shepardizing.” This is explained in
Chapter Seven. You can also write to prisoners’ rights
and legal organizations listed in Appendix H for help.
Groups which can’t represent you may still be able to
help with some research or advice.

Your First Amendment Right to
Freedom of Speech and Association
The Rule: A prison regulation that stops you from
speaking, expressing yourself, or interacting with other
people must be reasonably related to a legitimate
government interest. In deciding this, the court will
consider whether the regulation leaves open other ways
for you to express yourself, how the regulation impacts
other prisoners and prison resources, and whether there
are easy alternatives to the regulation that would not
restrict your rights as much.
The First Amendment protects everybody’s right to
freedom of speech and association. Freedom of speech
and association includes the right to read books and
magazines, the right to call or write to your family and
friends, the right to criticize government or state
officials, and much more. However, in prison those
rights are restricted by the prison’s need for security
and administrative ease. Because of this, it is often very
hard for a prisoner to win a First Amendment case.
Almost all of the rights protected by the First
Amendment are governed by the same legal standard,
developed in a case called Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78


(1987). In Turner, prisoners in Missouri brought a class
action lawsuit challenging a regulation that limited the
ability of prisoners to write letters to each other. The
Supreme Court used the case to establish a four-part
test for First Amendment claims. Under this test, the
court will decide whether the prison policy or practice
you are challenging is constitutional by asking four

QUESTION ONE: Is the regulation reasonably
related to a legitimate, neutral government interest?
“Reasonably related” means that the rule is a least
somewhat likely to do whatever it is intended to do. A
rule banning a book on bomb-making is reasonably
related to the prison’s goal of security. However, a rule
banning all novels is not.
“Neutral government interest” means that the prison’s
goal must not be related to its dislike of a particular
idea or group. Increasing prison security is a neutral
and legitimate goal. Encouraging prisoners to practice
a certain religion, to stop criticizing the prison
administration, or to vote Republican are not neutral or
legitimate goals. The prison can’t pick and chose
certain books or ideas or people unless it has a
“neutral” reason, like security, for doing so.
QUESTION TWO: Does the regulation leave open
another way for you to exercise your constitutional
rights? This means the prison can’t have a rule that
keeps you from expressing yourself altogether. For
example, prison officials can keep the media from
conducting face-to-face interviews with prisoners, as
long as prisoners have other ways (like by mail) to
communicate with the media. Pell v. Procunier 417
U.S. 817 (1974).
QUESTION THREE: How does the issue impact
other prisoners, prison guards or officials and
prison resources? This question allows the court to
consider how much it would cost in terms of money
and staff time to change the regulation or practice in
question. For example, one court held that it is
constitutional to prevent prisoners from calling anyone
whose number is not on their list of ten permitted
numbers, because it would take prison staff a long time
to do the necessary background checks on additional
numbers. Pope v. Hightower, 101 F.3d 1382 (11th Cir.
This question is not always just about money. It also
requires the court to take into consideration whether

changing the regulation would pose a risk to other
prisoners or staff or create a “ripple effect” in the
prison. Fraise v. Terhune, 283 F.3d 506, 520 (3d Cir.
QUESTION FOUR: Are there obvious, easy
alternatives to the regulation that would not restrict
your right to free expression? This part of the test
offers a chance for the prisoner to put forward a
suggestion of an easy way for a prison to achieve their
goal without restricting your rights. Not every
suggestion will work. For example, one court held that
it is constitutional to ban letters between a pair of
prisoners in two different facilities after one prisoner
sent a threatening letter to the other’s Superintendent.
The court ruled that monitoring this type of
correspondence is not an obvious or easy alternative to
banning it. U.S. v. Felipe, 148 F.3d 101 (2d Cir. 1998).
You will want to keep these four questions in mind as
you read the following sections on the First

1. Access to Reading Materials
THE BASICS: Prison Officials can keep you from getting
or reading books that they think are dangerous or
pornographic. They can also make you get all books
straight from the publisher.

The First Amendment protects your right to get reading
material like books and magazines. This doesn’t mean
that you can have any book you want. Your right is
limited by the prison’s interest in maintaining order and
security and promoting prisoner rehabilitation. Until
1989, the Supreme Court required prisons to prove that
banning material was necessary to meet government
interests in prison order, security, and rehabilitation.
This standard was from a case called Procunier v.
Martinez, 416 U.S. 396 (1974), and it gave prisoners
fairly strong protection of their right to get books.
However, over the last few decades, the Supreme Court
has become much more conservative, and has given
prisons greater power to restrict your First Amendment
rights. Now a prison can keep you from having
magazines and books as long as it fulfills the Turner
test, explained above. This was decided in an important
Supreme Court case called Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490
U.S. 401, 404 (1989). If you feel that your right to have
reading materials is being violated, you should
probably start your research by reading Thornburgh v.


Why Read Cases?
Sometimes in this Handbook we suggest that you read
Supreme Court and other court cases. While we have
tried to summarize the law for you, the cases we
suggest will give you much more detailed information,
and will help you figure out whether you have a good
legal claim. Chapter Seven explains how to find cases
in the law library based on their “citation.” You can also
ask the library clerk for help finding a case. Chapter
Seven also gives helpful tips on how to get the most
out of reading a case.
Finally, Chapter Seven contains an explanation of the
court systems and how cases are used as grounds for
court decisions. Be sure to read it if you are going to do
any legal research. Remember that federal courts in
one state do not always follow decisions by federal
courts in other parts of the country.

While the Turner standard is less favorable to
prisoners, it still guarantees you a number of important
rights. Prison officials need to justify their policies in
some convincing way. If they can’t, the regulation may
be struck down. For example, one court overturned a
ban on all subscription newspapers and magazines for
prisoners in administrative segregation because it
meant that prisoners were kept from reading all
magazines, a problem under Turner Question 2. The
Court also decided the rule wasn’t reasonably related to
the prison’s interest in punishment and cleanliness, a
problem under Turner Question 1. Spellman v. Hopper,
95 F. Supp. 2d 1267 (M.D. Al. 1999).
Prisons can’t just ban books and magazines randomly.
Courts require prisons to follow a certain procedure to
ban a publication. A prison cannot maintain a list of
excluded publications, or decide that no materials from
a particular organization will be allowed in. It must
decide about each book or magazine on a case-by-case
basis. This is true even if a prison official already
knows that the book or magazine comes from an
organization they don’t approve of. Williams v.
Brimeyer, 116 F.3d 351 (8th Cir. 1997). Some prisons
require the warden to tell you when he or she rejects a
book or magazine sent to you, and to give the publisher
or sender a copy of the rejection letter. Courts may
require that the prison have a procedure so that you, or
the publisher or sender, can appeal the decision.
Prison officials cannot censor material just because it
contains religious, philosophical, political, social,
sexual, or unpopular content. They can only censor
material if they believe it may cause disorder or
violence, or will hurt a prisoner’s rehabilitation.

Unfortunately, the Turner standard gives prison
wardens broad discretion in applying these rules. This
means most courts will believe a prison official who
says that the book or magazine in question creates a
threat to prison security. It is important to remember
that sometimes decisions are inconsistent among
different courts.
Courts have allowed censorship of materials that
advocate racial superiority and violence against people
of another race or religion. Stefanow v. McFadden, 103
F.3d 1466 (9th Cir. 1996); Chriceol v. Phillips, 169
F.3d 313 (5th Cir. 1999). One court allowed special
inspection of a prisoner’s mail after he received a book
with a suspicious title, even though the book was just
an economics textbook. Duamutef v. Holllins, 297 F.3d
108 (2d Cir. 2002). Prison officials are normally
allowed to ban an entire offending publication, as
opposed to just removing the sections in question.
Shabazz v. Parsons, 127 F. 3d 1246 (10th Cir. 1997).
However, prisons must abide by the Fourteenth
Amendment, which guarantees equal protection of the
laws to all citizens. This means that, for example, a
prison cannot ban access to materials targeted to an
African-American audience, if they do not ban similar
materials popular among white people. See Section C
of this Chapter for more information on equal
protection claims.
You do not always have a right to sexually explicit
materials. Some courts have said that prisoners have a
right to non-obscene, sexually explicit material that is
commercially produced (as opposed to, for example,
nude pictures of spouses or lovers). Other courts have
allowed total bans on any publication portraying sexual
activity, or featuring frontal nudity. Mauro v. Arpaio,
188 F.3d 1054 (9th Cir. 1999). Courts do not allow
prisoners access to child pornography because it is
against federal law, and usually will not allow access to
sexually explicit sadomasochistic materials on the
grounds that they may incite violence. Courts have also
upheld bans on explicit gay books and magazines based
on the idea that the material poses a potential danger to
prison security because it might lead to the prisoner
being identified as gay and attacked by others as a
result. Espinoza v. Wilson, 814 F.2d 1093 (6th Cir.
1987). Non-sexually explicit materials that encourage
or support a gay lifestyle have also been deemed to be
enough of a potential danger to the security of the
prison to be withheld from prisoners.
A prison can usually require that publications come
directly from a publisher or bookstore. Bell v. Wolfish,
441 U.S. 520, 550 (1979). Courts have justified this by
arguing that materials from sources other than the


publisher or bookstore may contain contraband, and
that it would cost too much to search all of these
Censorship of this Handbook
In 2010, the Virginia Department of Corrections banned
the JLH from all Virginia prisons as potentially harmful
to prison security. CCR and NLG took the Virginia DOC
to court and won a settlement requiring a number of
things, such as making sure the Handbook was in the
law library of every prison in Virginia.
If the JLH is banned from your prison, please write
CCR or the NLG! Please include any documentation
from prison officials notifying you or others at the prison
that it has been banned. And THANK YOU to the
Virginia prisoners who brought this to our attention!

under a byline or act as reporters. The prison said the
rule was important to keep a prisoner who published
material from becoming a “big shot” at the prison and
getting too much influence over other prisoners.
However, the prisoner had a former warden testify as
an expert for him. The expert convinced the court that
this “big shot” theory had no actual support, and had
been abandoned by prison administrators. It was
important under Turner that the rule was absolute –
prisoners had no other way to publish articles.
However, regulations limiting prisoners from
publishing their work may be constitutional in other
situations. In a case called Hendrix v. Evans, 715 F.
Supp. 897 (N.D. Ind. 1989), the court held that a prison
could stop a prisoner from publishing leaflets to be
distributed to the general public about a new law,
because prisoners still had other ways to inform the
public about the issue, such as by individual letters.

2. Free Expression of Political Beliefs
THE BASICS: You can believe whatever you want, but
the prison may be able to stop you from writing, talking
or organizing around your beliefs.

You have the right to your political beliefs. This means
that prison officials may not punish you simply because
they disagree with your political beliefs. Sostre v.
McGinnis, 442 F.2d 178 (2d Cir. 1971); Sczerbaty v.
Oswald, 341 F. Supp. 571 (S.D.N.Y. 1972). However,
the prison can limit your ability to express your beliefs.
To justify any restriction on your right to express your
beliefs, prison officials need to satisfy the Turner test.
Prison officials may be able to limit what you write and
publish in prison, but not all of these limitations will
pass the Turner standard. For example, the state of
Pennsylvania had a prison rule that kept prisoners from
carrying on businesses or professions in prison. The
court found that the rule was not reasonably related to
legitimate governmental interests when it kept Mumia
Abu-Jamal from continuing his journalism career. AbuJamal v Price, 154 F.3d 128 (3d Cir. 1998). The court
relied on evidence that (1) the rule was enforced against
Mumia, at least in part, because of the content of his
writing, and not because of security concerns; (2) his
writing did not create a greater burden within the prison
than any other prisoner’s writing; and (3) there were
obvious, easy alternatives to the rule that would address
security concerns. Another successful case is Jordan v.
Pugh, 504 F.Supp.2d 1109 (D. Co. 2007). In that case,
a prisoner at the highest security federal prison in the
country (ADX Florence) successfully challenged a
Bureau of Prisons rule that said prisoners can’t publish

Often the prison will rely on “security concerns” to
justify censorship. In Pittman v. Hutto, 594 F.2d 407
(4th Cir. 1979), the court held that prison officials did
not violate the constitution when they refused to allow
publication of an issue of a prisoners’ magazine
because they had a reasonable belief that the issue
might disrupt prison order and security.
Some courts will examine the “security” reason more
closely then others to see if it is real or just an excuse.
For example, in Castle v. Clymer, 15 F. Supp. 2d 640
(E.D. Pa. 1998), the court held that prison officials
violated the constitution when they transferred a
prisoner in response to letters he had written to a
journalist. The letters mentioned the prisoner’s view
that proposed prison regulations would lead to prison
riots. The court found that because there was no
security risk, the transfer was unreasonable.
Prison officials can ban petitions, like those asking for
improvements in prison conditions, as long as prisoners
have other ways to voice their complaints, like through
the prison grievance system. Duamutef v. O’Keefe, 98
F.3d 22 (2d Cir. 1996). Officials can stop a prisoner
from forming an association or union of inmates,
because the courts have decided that it is reasonable to
conclude that such organizing activity would threaten
prison security. Brooks v. Wainwright, 439 F. Supp.
1335 (M.D. Fl. 1977). In one very important case, the
Supreme Court upheld a prison’s ban on union
meetings, solicitation of other prisoners to join the
union, and bulk mailings from the union to prisoners, as
long as there were other ways for prisoners to complain
to prison officials and for the union to communicate


with prisoners. Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners’
Labor Union, Inc., 433 U.S. 119 (1977).

3. Limits on Censorship of Mail
THE BASICS: The prison usually can’t stop you from
writing whatever you want to people outside the prison.
The prison can keep other people from writing you
things it considers dangerous. Prison guards can read
your letters, and look in them to make sure there is no

The First Amendment protects your right to send and
receive letters. Until 1989, prison officials were
required to meet a strict test to justify their needs and
interests before courts would allow them to interfere
with mail. Today, the court still uses this test for mail
prisoners send out of the prison, but allows prison
officials more control over mail that goes into the
a. Outgoing Mail
THE RULE: The regulation must protect an important or
substantial interest of the prison and be necessary and
essential to achieving that interest.
In order to censor the letters you send to people outside
prison, prison officials must be able to prove that the
censorship is necessary to protect an “important or
substantial” interest of the prison. Examples of
important interests are: maintaining prison order,
preventing criminal activity, and preventing escapes.
The prison officials must be able to show that their
regulations are actually “necessary and essential” to
achieving this important goal, not just that the
regulation is intended to achieve that goal. The
regulations cannot restrict your rights any more than is
required to meet the goal. Procunier v. Martinez, 416
U.S. 396 (1974). This test is better for you than Turner,
but unfortunately, it only applies to outgoing mail.
Under the Martinez rule a prison official cannot censor
your mail just because it makes rude comments about
the prison or prison staff. Bressman v. Farrier, 825
F.Supp. 231 (N.D. Iowa 1993). In one case, Harrison
v. Institutional Gang of Investigations, No. C 07-3824,
2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14944 (N.D. Ca Feb. 22, 2010),
Marcus Harrison sued Pelican Bay prison officials after
they took his outgoing mail because it included
information about the Black August memorial, the New
Afrikan Collective Think Tank, and the George
Jackson University. The prison argued that the material

was related to a prison gang called the Black Guerilla
Family. The Court decided for Mr. Harrison, and held
that the prison had failed to make a substantial showing
that the material was likely to incite violence, or related
to a prison gang.
However, some restrictions on outgoing mail are
allowed. Courts have allowed bans on “letter kiting,”
which means including a letter from someone else with
your letter, or sending a letter to someone in an
envelope with another prisoner’s name. Malsh v.
Garcia, 971 F. Supp 133 (S.D.N.Y. 1997). Some courts
have allowed prisons to stop a prisoner from writing to
a person who is not on an approved mailing list. Other
courts reject this rule. Recently, some prisons and jails
have imposed rules limiting prisoners to writing only
postcards, as opposed to closed letters. In 2010 the
ACLU brought a First Amendment challenge to this
type of policy at the El Paso County Jail in Arizona and
the jail quickly agreed to change the rule.
If a prisoner has used the mail in the past to attempt to
commit a crime or harass someone, that may be an
important factor. So for example, in Hammer v. Saffle,
No. 91-70381991 U.S. App. LEXIS 28730 (10th Cir.
1991), the court upheld a prison rule limiting a prisoner
to sending mail to people on an approved list after he
was found to have used the mail to make death threats
and extort money.
Courts usually allow guards to read or look in your
outgoing mail, especially for contraband. Courts
explain that looking in a letter does not violate the First
Amendment because it is different from censorship.
Altizer v. Deeds, 191 F.3d 540 (4th Cir. 1999). Courts
have said that a visual inspection is closely related to
the legitimate penological interest of preventing
prisoners from disseminating offensive or harmful
materials. Witherow v. Paff, 52 F.3d 264 (9th Cir. 1995).
Courts have generally upheld limitations on the amount
of postage you can have at one time and the amount of
postage they will provide to prisoners who cannot
afford it for non-legal mail. Johnson v. Goord, 445 F.3d
532 (2d Cir. 2006).
b. Incoming Mail
THE RULE: The Turner test applies.
Censorship of incoming mail is governed by the Turner
test. As you learned earlier, the Turner test requires that
the regulation in question be “reasonably related” to a
“legitimate” government interest. This means that


while your rights are still protected to some extent,
prisons can put a lot of restrictions on incoming mail.
Courts have allowed restrictions on incoming packages
on the grounds that they can easily hide contraband and
looking through them would use up too many prison
resources. Weiler v. Purkett, 137 F.3d 1047 (8th Cir.
1998). Items that are not a threat to prison security can
also be taken by prison officials if they include
contraband. Steffey v. Orman, 461 F.3d 1218 (10th Cir.
2006). Courts have also allowed restrictions on mail
between prisoners. Farrell v. Peters, 951 F.2d 862 (7th
Cir. 1992).
A prison must follow special procedures to censor your
mail. You should be notified if a letter addressed to you
is returned to the sender or if your letter is not sent.
Your right to be notified is a “due process” right,
recognized by Procunier v. Martinez. Due process
rights are discussed later in this Chapter, in Sections D
and G. The author of the letter should have a chance to
challenge the censorship. The official who responds to
a challenge cannot be the person who originally
censored the mail in question. Martinez, 416 U.S. at
419-20. In most places, the same rule applies to
packages, not just letters. Bonner v. Outlaw, 552 F.3d
673 (8th Cir. 2009).
One delay or some other relatively short-term
disruption in mail delivery that is not related to the
content of your letters does not violate the First
Amendment. Sizemore v. Williford, 829 F.2d 608, 610
(7th Cir. 1987).
c. Legal Mail
Special rules apply to mail between you and your
attorney, and to mail you send to non-judicial
government bodies or officials. This mail is called
“privileged mail,” “legal mail” or “special mail” and is
protected by your constitutional right of access to the
courts, as well as by the “attorney-client privilege.” The
attorney-client privilege means that the things you write
or say to your attorney, or he or she writes or says to
you, are secret.
Prisons officials cannot read your legal mail. But they
can open it in your presence to inspect it for
contraband. Castillo v. Cook County Mail Room, 990
F.2d 304 (7th Cir. 1993); Bieregu v. Reno, 59 F.3d
1445 (3rd Cir. 1995). If you wish to protest reading or
censorship of your legal mail in court, however, you
may have to show that what happened hurt your case or
injured you in some other way. John v. N.Y.C. Dept. of
Corrections, 183 F. Supp. 2d 619 (S.D.N.Y. 2002).
This issue is discussed in Section G of this Chapter.

Even if a prison restricts most of your correspondence
with other prisoners, you may be allowed to send and
get mail from a prisoner who is a jailhouse lawyer. For
more information about this, read Section G about your
right to access the court.
Different prisons have different procedures for marking
incoming and outgoing legal and special mail. Often,
incoming mail from an attorney must bear the address
of a licensed attorney and be marked as “legal mail.” If
not, it will not be treated as privileged. Some prisons
place even more requirements on you, and require you
to request ahead of time that legal mail be opened only
in your presence, and your attorney must have
identified herself to the prison in advance. U.S. v.
Stotts, 925 F.2d 83 (4th Cir. 1991); Boswell v. Mayor,
169 F.3d 384 (6th Cir. 1999); Gardner v. Howard; 109
F.3d 427 (8th Cir. 1997).

4. Access to the Telephone
THE BASICS: Most of the time, you have a right to make
some phone calls, but the prison can limit the amount
of calls you can make and can monitor those calls.

Your right to talk with friends and family on the
telephone gets some protection under the First
Amendment. However, courts do not all agree on how
much telephone access prisoners must be allowed.
Prisons may limit the number of calls you make. The
prison can also limit how long you talk. Courts disagree
on how strict these limits can be. Most courts agree that
prison officials can restrict your telephone privileges in
“a reasonable manner.” McMaster v. Pung, 984 F.2d
948, 953 (8th Cir. 1993).
Courts also disagree on how much privacy you can
have when you make phone calls. Some courts have
held that prisoners have no right to make private phone
calls. This is because the court says prisoners do not
have a reasonable expectation of privacy under the
Fourth Amendment. U.S. v. Balon, 384 F.3d 38 (2d Cir.
2004). See Section E of this Chapter for more
information about your privacy rights under the Fourth
Other courts have held that prisoners who are told that
they are being monitored consent to giving up their
privacy. U.S. v. Morin, 437 F.3d 777 (8th Cir. 2006);
U.S. v. Footman, 215 F.3d 145, 155 (1st Cir. 2000). In
other words, if there is a sign under the phone saying
that “all calls are monitored” or it’s in the prison’s
manual or its policies, you can’t complain about it.


One exception is that prison officials cannot listen in on
calls with your attorney. If there is a process in your
prison for requesting an unmonitored legal call and the
prison still monitors them, courts may find that your
expectation of privacy has been violated. Robinson v.
Gunja, 92 Fed.Appx 624 (10th Cir. 2004). However, if
you don’t follow your prison’s procedure for making a
legal call, and simply use the regular phone, some
courts will conclude that you waived your attorneyclient privilege by having the conversation after you
were “told” of the monitoring by the sign or prison
Prisons are generally allowed to place more severe
restrictions on telephone access for prisoners who are
confined to Special Housing Units for disciplinary
reasons, as long as they can show that these restrictions
are reasonably related to legitimate security concerns
about these prisoners. You can also lose telephone
access as punishment for breaking prison rules.
In general, prisons are allowed to limit the number of
different people whom you can call, and to require you
to register the names of those people on a list to be
approved by the prison. Pope v. Hightower, 101 F.3d
1382 (11th Cir. 1996); Washington v. Reno, 35 F.3d
1093 (6th Cir. 1994).
The prison can make you pay for your telephone calls.
This can be a serious burden on prisoners and their
family members, especially when states enter into
private contracts with phone companies which force
prisoners or their families to pay much more for their
phone calls than what people pay outside of prison.
Challenges to these types of contracts or to excessive
telephone charges in general have not been successful.
See Arsberry v. Illinois, 244 F.3d 558, 566 (7th Cir.
2001); Walton v. New York State Dept. of Correctional
Services, 869 N.Y.S.2d 661, 57 A.D.3d 1180 (2008).
But at least one court has held that this type of
arrangement might violate prisoners’ (and their loves
ones’) First Amendment rights. Byrd v Goord, No. 00
Civ 2135, 2005 US Dist LEXIS 18544 (S.D.N.Y. Aug.
29, 2005).

5. Your Right to Receive Visits from Family
and Friends and to Maintain Relationships
in Prison.
THE BASICS: The prison can limit your visits in lots of
ways, but probably can’t permanently ban you from
getting visits.

If you are being denied visitation in prison, there are
several different claims you can make. You can argue
that denying you visits or restricting your visits violates
your right to freedom of association under the First
Amendment, your right to be free from cruel and
unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, and
your right to substantive due process under the Fifth
and Fourteenth Amendments. Under each of these
claims, the prison will probably respond by claiming
that the restriction you challenge is related to
maintaining order and security. If you bring your claim
under the First Amendment or the due process clause,
the court will look to the Turner test to see if the prison
rule is valid. If you bring your claim under the Eighth
Amendment, the court will look at the standard
described in Section F of this Chapter. You can make
all of these arguments in one case.
a. Access to Visits
Several decades ago, the courts were more receptive to
claims about denial or restrictions regarding visitation.
In Boudin v. Thomas, 533 F. Supp. 786 (S.D.N.Y.
1982), for example, a New York court ordered a prison
to allow a prisoner contact visits with her infant son,
finding there was no rational reason to ban such visits.
Another case, Valentine v. Englehardt, 474 F. Supp.
294, 300 (D.N.J. 1979) also found the prohibition of
contact visits by inmates’ children to be arbitrary and
unjustifiable by the prison officials’ simple assertion
that it promoted security.
In 2003, however, the Supreme Court considered how
much prisons can restrict visitation in a case called
Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126, 137 (2003). The
case involved a Michigan Department of Corrections’
rule that prohibited visits by kids other than a prisoner’s
sibling or child. The rule also said that former prisoners
couldn't visit current prisoners. Lastly, the rule said that
any prisoner who had two drug violations in prison
would have all of his or her visitation privileges
suspended for two years.
A group of prisoners and their friends and family
challenged the rule based on all the First, Eighth and
Fourteenth Amendment theories mentioned earlier.
The Court stated that the right to “intimate association”
is not completely terminated by imprisonment and
considered the regulations under the Turner standard.
The Court decided that all of these prison rules were
rationally related to valid penological interests, so they
passed the Turner test. The Court accepted the prison’s
explanation that allowing only children and siblings
under the age of 18 protects minors from misconduct,
reduces the number of visitors, and minimizes
disruption by children. The prison rationalized


preventing former prisoners from visiting as a way to
maintain prison security and prevent future crime. It
explained restricting visitation for prisoners with two
drug violations as a way to discourage drug use. Such
prisoners, the Court explained, are still able to write or
call people, so they were not completely cut off from
their friends and family. In considering the Eighth
Amendment claim, the Court said that the two year ban
was “not a dramatic departure from accepted standards
for conditions of confinement [and it did not] create
inhumane prison conditions, deprive inmates of basic
necessities, or fail to protect their health or safety. Nor
does it involve the infliction of pain or injury, or
deliberate indifference to the risk that it might occur.”
Under this precedent, it is hard to successfully
challenge restrictions on visitation. In general,
limitations on a prisoner's visitation rights are
acceptable if the prison has valid “penological
objectives such as rehabilitation and the maintenance of
security and order.” Bellamy v. Bradley, 729 F.2d 416,
420 (6th Cir. 1984). See also Lynott v. Henderson, 610
F.2d 340 (11th Cir. 1980); King v. Caruso, 542
F.Supp.2d 703, 711 (E.D.Mich. 2008). Overton didn’t
overrule the old cases about visit restrictions, because
most of the old cases also used the Turner standard, or
something like it. But most courts these days don’t
look very critically at restrictions on visitation.
There are a few exceptions. Prisoners who are subject
to complete bans on visits probably have the best
chance of a successful challenge. In Hallal v. Hopkins,
947 F. Supp. 978 (S.D. Miss. 1995) for example, a
prisoner and his wife filed a pro se lawsuit challenging
conditions and policies at the Madison County
Detention Center, including a complete ban on visits by
children under twelve. The court ordered an
evidentiary hearing to decide the factual basis for the
ban, and whether it was justified by security needs. And
in once recent case, Ryerse v. Caruso, No. 1:08-cv-516,
2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82839 (W.D. Mich. July 20,
2009), a prisoner, his mother and his children sued over
a prison policy that permanently denied him all visits
after he was convicted of smuggling contraband into
the prison. The Court allowed the case to move
forward, citing the Supreme Court’s statement in
Overton v. Bazetta that a permanent ban on all
visitation might be unconstitutional.
Courts probably will allow a ban on visitation by
minors if the prisoner's crime involved minors, Morton
v. Hall, 455 F.Supp.2d 1066 (C.D.Cal. 2006), and
courts also allow transferring a person to a prison far
from home or family, even though this makes visitation
very difficult. Berdine v. Sullivan, 161 F.Supp.2d 972

(E.D.Wis. 2001). Also, prisons can require visitors to
be pre-approved and can restrict the type of contact you
have during a contact visit, like how close you can sit
and when you can hug or kiss.
Many courts agree that a blanket policy of strip
searching inmates after contact visits is constitutional.
Wood v. Hancock County Sheriff's Dept., 354 F.3d 57
(1st Cir. 2003). See Section E of this Chapter for more
details about strip searches.
b. Visitation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and
Transgender Prisoners
The law that governs visitation in federal prisons, 28
C.F.R. § 540.44, does not recognize partners other than
“spouses” as “members of the immediate family” or
“other relatives.” Instead, these visitors must come in
under the “friends and associates” category which
makes it easier for the prison to deny them entry. The
prison can deny any “friends and associates” visitor it
thinks could “reasonably create a threat to security.”
Under The Defense of Marriage Act (28
U.S.C.§ 1738C and 1 U.S.C.§ 7), all federal agencies
are required to define “spouse” as “someone of the
opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” So, even if
you are legally married, it is possible that a federal
prison will not consider your spouse to be your spouse
if you are seen as the same gender. Your gender will
probably be seen as whatever gender the prison system
considers you to be. This means that if you are in a
women’s prison and you are married to a man, your
spouse should be able to visit you as a “member of your
immediate family” unless the prison has “strong
circumstances” to justify the denial. “Strong
circumstances” is a higher burden for the prison to meet
than the “reasonably create a threat to security”
standard for friends and associates. If you want to
challenge an application of the Defense of Marriage
Act, you might want to get in touch with one of the
organizations listed in Appendix H of this Handbook.
Often the prison will argue it has many reasons for
denying a visitor, but if the main reason is to
“rehabilitate your homosexuality,” you have strong
grounds to challenge the decision. You should cite to
Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), the Supreme
Court case that said that the state cannot outlaw
consensual gay sex in the privacy of the home.
Restrictions on visitors must have a “legitimate
penological purpose,” like keeping you and other
prisoners safe. After Lawrence, preventing you from
violating a state law that criminalizes homosexuality is
no longer a “legitimate penological purpose” because
those laws are now unconstitutional.


There has not been much litigation by transgender
prisoners about visitation rights, but there are some
useful cases brought by gay, lesbian, and bisexual
prisoners. A complete ban on certain types of visitors
can be easier to challenge than an isolated decision
denying entrance to one visitor. In 1990, one court said
that a prison could not have a flat-out ban on visits by
boyfriends or girlfriends of gay and lesbian people. In
this case, Doe v. Sparks, 733 F. Supp. 227 (W.D. Pa.
1990), the prison argued the ban was necessary to
maintain discipline and health in the prison. It also
argued that visits by partners of gay and lesbian
prisoners would spread knowledge of the prisoner’s
sexual orientation inside the prison and could pose a
security risk. The court disagreed, finding for the
prisoner on Equal Protection grounds because the ban
bore no rational relationship to any legitimate
government objective. Even though the prison said the
ban was to maintain security, prison visits were actually
conducted in private and there was no way other
prisoners could find out who had visited whom.
There was also a good decision in the Ninth Circuit
brought in a case by a gay couple who were not
allowed to hug or kiss during jail visits even though
straight couples could. In this case, Whitmire v.
Arizona, 298 F.3d 1134 (9th Cir. 2002), the court
reversed a lower court's decision to dismiss the
couple’s Equal Protection claim.
Conjugal visits are extended, often overnight visits,
with a prisoner’s spouse and/or other immediate family
members and are currently allowed in five states: CA,
MS, NM, NY and WA. Although there are no conjugal
visits in federal prison, some states where such visits
are allowed have extended visitation rights to partners
seen as same-sex. California has now interpreted its
domestic partner law to require it to permit conjugal
visits between domestic partners that were registered
with the state before the prisoner was incarcerated.
Since conjugal visits are the one kind of visitation that
is limited to spouses and immediate family members, it
might be useful to mention these positive trends in
conjugal visit policies in your challenge to a prison’s
visitation policy. You can argue there is a trend toward
recognizing that partners of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
transgender people have the same rights as partners of
heterosexual, non-transgender people.
c. Relationships with Other Prisoners
There are many challenges to maintaining relationships
with other prisoners. Prisons generally have the power
to transfer you away from your partner, friend or lover;
to keep you from writing to one another; and to keep

you from having sex or being affectionate with one
another. Virtually every prison system has rules saying
that sex between prisoners is not allowed, even when it
is consensual. Courts have said it is okay for prisons to
keep prisoners from having sex with one another.
Thomasson v. Perry, 80 F.3d 915, 929 (4th Cir.1996).
They have said that sex could lead to transmission of
disease and risks to prison security. Veney v. Wyche,
293 F.3d 726, 733 (4th Cir. 2002). Unfortunately, some
prison systems, such as Massachusetts, even have
policies stating that consensual sex between prisoners
should be treated as a form of sexual abuse. Some
prison systems even have rules against kissing, holding
hands, or hugging.
In Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), the U.S.
Supreme Court said that it is not okay for states to
make it illegal for two people of the same sex to have
consensual sex in the privacy of their home. Sex should
no longer be considered a crime just because the people
having sex are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
As of the publication of this handbook, we could not
find a court that has clearly decided whether Lawrence
would apply to sex between prisoners. Lawrence
would be an important case to cite in any challenge to a
rule against sex in prison. However, Lawrence was
decided on the basis of privacy rights, and privacy
rights are much more limited in prison. Some of the
courts that have said that it is okay for prisons to keep
prisoners from having sex with one another have said
that even if there was a fundamental right to engage in
“homosexual sex,” that right would not survive
d. Caring For Your Child in Prison
If you have children, being incarcerated almost always
means being separated from them, and this is likely to
impose a substantial burden on your relationship. There
have not been many court cases about your right to care
for your child while you are in prison. In general, states
do not allow incarcerated mothers or fathers to care for
their children, even infants. However, some states have
tried to make parenting in prison easier.
No matter what state you are in, you can take steps to
maintain your relationship with your child. If possible,
you should privately arrange to have someone you
know care for your children and plan visiting times. If
a family member is willing but cannot afford to care for
your child, they may be able to get assistance from the
state. If your child is in foster care, state statutes often
require the foster care agency to actively support your
parental relationship by updating you on your child’s
development, allowing you to participate in planning


for your child’s future and health, and bringing your
child to visit (unless the child lives in another state).
As a prisoner, however, you face the possibility that
your parental rights could be “terminated.” The federal
Adoption and Safe Families Act requires the state to
move to “terminate,” or end, your parental rights if
your child has been in foster care for 15 of the last 22
months. There are exceptions if the child is being cared
for by a relative or there is a good reason why
termination is not in the best interests of the child. 42
U.S.C. § 675(5)(E).
The Supreme Court held in Santosky v. Kramer, 455
U.S. 745 (1982), that in order to terminate your
parental rights, the state must show that you are an unfit
parent by “clear and convincing evidence.” What it
means to be an unfit parent varies from state to state, so
you should check your state’s statutes. Many states
have held that the fact that you are in prison does not
necessarily make you unfit. An example of some of
these cases are: In re B.W., 498 So. 2d 946 (Fla. 1986);
In re Staat, 178 N.W.2d 709 (Minn. 1970); In re J.D.,
512 So. 2d 684 (Miss. 1987); In re Sego, 513 P.2d 831
(Wash. 1973); In re Adoption of McCray, 331 A.2d
652, 655 (Pa. 1975). However, states don’t like long
term foster care, so if your sentence is long (more than
5 years) you may be in danger of having your parental
rights terminated unless you can find a private
placement for your child.
You may want to write to the judge to request to be
present at any court hearings regarding your child’s
care, including foster care status hearings and parental
termination proceedings. Although in Lassiter v.
Department of Social Services of Durham County
North Carolina, 453 U.S. 927 (1981), the Supreme
Court said there is no constitutional right to a lawyer at
parental termination proceedings, most states do
guarantee a lawyer, so you should request one. For
some examples, you can read Texas Family Code
Annotated § 107.013(a)(1); Arkansas Code Annotated
§ 9-27- 316(h)(1) (Supp. 2003); and In re B., 285
N.E.2d 288 (N.Y. 1972).
To protect your parental rights, you should participate
in planning for your child as much as possible, contact
your child’s caseworker frequently if your child is in
foster care, make efforts to arrange visiting times, and
keep a detailed record of all visits, phone calls, and
letters between you and your child or related to your
child’s care.
You should also participate in any parenting classes or
treatment programs at your facility that will help show

that you will be able to be a good parent when you get
out, especially if they are suggested by your child’s
caseworker. When you go to court, you can emphasize
this participation to try to get the court to look beyond
your crime.

Your Right to Practice Your Religion
THE BASICS: You have the right to practice your religion
if it doesn’t interfere with prison security.

Your freedom of religion is protected by the First and
Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and
several federal statutes. There are five ways you can
challenge a restriction on your religious freedom: the
Free Exercise Clause, the Establishment Clause, the
Fourteenth Amendment, the Religious Freedom
Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious Land Use
and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). They are
each discussed below.

1. Free Exercise Clause
THE RULE: Your Freedom to practice your religion
under the free exercise clause can be limited based on the
Turner Standard (described in Section A).
The first way to challenge violations of your right to
religious activity is through the Free Exercise Clause of
the First Amendment.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution
states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof…”
The second half of that sentence is known as the Free
Exercise Clause, and it protects your right to practice
your religion.
To make a free exercise claim you must be able to
show the court that your belief is both religious and
sincere. Different courts have different definitions of
“religion,” but they generally agree that your beliefs do
not have to be associated with a traditional or even an
established religion to be “religious.” Africa v.
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 662 F.2d 1025 (3d
Cir. 1981); Love v. Reed, 216 F.3d 682 (8th Cir. 2000).
It is important to understand how “religion” is defined
in your District or Circuit before bringing your case.


Courts judge your religious “sincerity” by looking at
how well you know the teachings of your religion and
how closely you follow your religion’s rules. However,
you don’t have to follow every single rule of your
religion. And your belief doesn’t have to be the same as
everyone else’s in your religion. LaFevers v. Saffle, 936
F.2d 1117 (10th Cir. 1991). Courts will usually listen to
what a prison chaplain or clergyperson says about your
religious sincerity. Montano v. Hedgepeth, 120 F.3d
844 (8th Cir. 1997).
If a court determines that your belief is both religious
and sincere, it will next apply the Turner test. This
means that the court will balance your constitutional
right to practice your religion against the prison’s
interests in order, security, and efficiency. Prison
officials cannot prohibit you from practicing your
religion without a reason. To win, you will have to
show that a restriction is not “reasonably related to a
penological interest,” under the Turner test described in
Section A. Courts often follow the decisions of prison
officials, but any restriction on the free exercise of
religion is still required to meet the four-part Turner
test before it will be upheld. In O’Lone v. Estate of
Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342 (1987), the Court applied the
Turner test, and allowed a prison to limit worship
services to specific days, because prisoners were still
offered other means of practicing their religion.

The first test was developed in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403
U.S. 602 (1971). This test says that, to be valid under
the Constitution, a regulation or action 1) must be
designed for a purpose that is not religious; 2) cannot
have a main effect of advancing or setting back any
religion; and 3) cannot encourage excessive
government entanglement with religion.
The second test, developed in Lee v. Weisman, 505
U.S. 577 (1992), can be stated more simply: it prohibits
the government from forcing you to support or
participate in any religion.
If you think you may have an establishment clause
claim, the first thing you should do is research in your
law library which test your Circuit follows, and read a
few cases applying that test.

Note: It is very rare to win an Establishment
Clause case in prison, so you should probably try
one or more of the other four options in this section
along with it.
Ways to Protect Your Religious Freedom

1) The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment
protects your right to follow the practices of your
religion, like eating kosher food, covering your hair, or
praying at a certain time;

2. Establishment Clause
The first half of the First Amendment sentence quoted
above is called the Establishment Clause, and it means
that the government can’t encourage people to be
religious, or choose one religion over another. Different
Circuit Courts currently rely on two different standards
in deciding whether a prison action or rule that
endorses or supports a particular religion violates the
RULE #1: The prison rule or practice is OK if it is
designed for a purpose that is not religious, does not
have the main effect of advancing or setting back
any religion and does not encourage excessive
government entanglement with religion.
RULE #2: The prison rule or practice is OK if it is
does not force you to support or participate in a
Under both standards, you must first show that the
prison or its officials acted in a way that endorsed,
supported, or affiliated themselves in some way with a

2) The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment
keeps the government from encouraging you to follow a
certain religion, or be religious;
3) The Fourteenth Amendment means that the
government can’t discriminate against you or treat you
poorly because of your religion;
4) The Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides
added protection for prisoners in federal custody; and
5) The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized
Persons Act provides additional protection for all
For each type of challenge, a court will balance your
constitutional rights against the prisons’ interest in
security and administration.

3. Fourteenth Amendment Protection
of Religion
Another source of protection for religious practice is
the Fourteenth Amendment. It provides all individuals,
including prisoners, with “equal protection under the
law.” This means that a prison cannot make special
rules or give special benefits to members of only one


religion or group of religions without a reason. We talk
about the legal standard to show discrimination in
detail in Section C. You should read that section
carefully if you think you might have a religious
discrimination claim.
The prison can treat members of one religion
differently if it has a reason that isn’t about the religion.
Benjamin v. Coughlin, 905 F.2d 571 (2d Cir. 1990). For
example, it is OK for a prison to provide better
facilities and services to a religion with more followers.
Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972).

4. Religious Freedom Restoration Act
(RFRA) and Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)
In addition to the protections provided by the
Constitution, there are two federal statutes that protect
the religious rights of prisoners: The Religious
Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious
Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
THE RULE: A prison or prison official can only
substantially burden a prisoner’s exercise of religion if the
regulation is in furtherance of a compelling government
interest and the restriction is the least restrictive means of
furthering that compelling interest.

In 2000, Congress passed the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), to deal with
the fact that State prisoners could no longer use the
RFRA. The standard is the same. If a prison cannot
show that their rule passes both parts of this test, a
court will find that they have violated the RLUIPA.
The RLUIPA is different than the RFRA only in that it
applies only to programs or activities that receive
money from the federal government. This financial
assistance gives Congress the right to pass laws that it
might not otherwise be able to pass. In 2005, the U.S.
Supreme Court found RLUIPA constitutional in Cutter
v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709 (2005). The Court held that
facilities that accept federal funds cannot deny
prisoners the necessary accommodations to engage in
activities for the practice of their own religious beliefs.
All state correctional systems accept federal funding, so
it is a good idea to bring a claim under RLUIPA if you
believe that your right to exercise your religion has
been unfairly restricted.

5. Cases and Issues
The following are brief descriptions of the types of
problems that often come up in cases about prisoners’
right to religious freedom.

Religious services and meetings with clergy: You
have the right to meet with a religious leader and to
attend religious services of your faith. You may
meet with a clergy person of a particular faith even
if you weren’t a member of that faith before
entering prison. However, courts have allowed
prisons to restrict your rights based on the prison’s
interests in order, security, and efficiency. The
bottom line is that while you are not entitled to
unlimited meetings, you have a right to a
“reasonable opportunity” to attend services or meet
with a religious leader. The prison gets to decide
what a “reasonable opportunity” means. For
example, courts have allowed work requirements
that prevent prisoners from attending some weekly
services of their faith if it does not deprive a
prisoner of all means of expressing their faith,
O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342 (1987).
Most courts have upheld denial of access to sweat
lodges for religious practice, Thomas v. Gunter,
103 F.3d 700 (8th Cir. 1997). The prison can also
require that all religious services be led by a nonprisoner religious leader, Anderson v. Angelone,
123 F.3d 1197 (9th Cir. 1997).


Personal grooming, hygiene, and headgear: Courts
have taken different approaches to prisoners who

Both RFRA and RLUIPA provide prisoners with more
protection of religious freedom than the First
Amendment. Specifically, the RFRA states that the
government can only “substantially burden a person’s
exercise of religion” if two conditions are met. First,
the government restriction must be “in furtherance of a
compelling governmental interest.” Second, the
government must prove that its restriction is the “least
restrictive means of furthering that compelling
This is a much stricter test than the Turner standard.
However, the Supreme Court struck down the RFRA as
it applies to state prisoners in a 1997 case, City of
Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997). This means that
you cannot use the RFRA if you are a state prisoner.
The Supreme Court did not overrule the RFRA as it
applies to the federal government, and most courts have
held it is still valid as to federal agencies like the
Federal Bureau of Prisons. If you are a federal prisoner
and you think your right to practice your religion has
been violated, you can write a separate claim in your
complaint under the Religious Freedom
Restoration Act.


maintain certain hairstyles or facial hair or wear
headgear. Prisons can only keep you from doing
this if they have a good reason based on security or
hygiene, Swift v. Lewis, 901 F.2d 730 (9th Cir.
1990). That said, courts often agree with whatever
the prison says is a “good reason.” Young v. Lane,
922 F.2d 370 (7th Cir. 1991). However, if there is
an alternative way to maintain those security
concerns, some courts have found that the
regulation might infringe on the inmate’s religious
practice. Benjamin v. Coughlin, 905 F.2d 571 (2d
Cir. 1990); Smith v. Ozmint, 578 F.3d 246 (4th Cir.


Special diets: Special religious diets often raise
issues of cost, and sometimes also raise questions
related to the Establishment Clause, which
prohibits endorsement of one religion above others.
Courts have often required prisons to accommodate
prisoners’ religious diets, but usually allow them to
do so in a way that is least costly or difficult for
them. Ashelman v. Wawrzaszek, 111 F.3d 674 (9th
Cir. 1997); Beerheide v. Suthers, 286 F.3d 1179
(10th Cir. 2002); Makin v. Colorado Dept. of
Corrections, 183 F.3d 1205 (10th Cir. 1999). If
there is an alternative way for a prisoner to exercise
his dietary beliefs, like by choosing vegetarian
options, courts will usually not find a violation.
Williams v. Morton, 343 F.3d 212 (3d Cir. 2003).
Name Changes: Prisoners who convert in prison
may want to change their name. Prisoners have a
First Amendment right to change their names for
religious reasons, but prisons may require them to
use both their old and new names. In Hakim v.
Hicks, 223 F.3d 1244 (11th Cir. 2000), for
example, a court decided that a prisoner’s rights
had not been violated when his religious name was
placed on the back of his identification card. Other
cases like this are Ali v. Dixon, 912 F.2d 86 (4th
Cir. 1990) and Imam Ali Abdullah v. Cannery, 634
F.2d 339 (6th Cir. 1980). The procedure for getting
a name change is usually controlled by state law,
rather than the Constitution. More information
about name changes is available at page 59 of this
Chapter, in Section I, on the rights of Transgender

Courts have addressed many other issues related to
religion. In Chriceol v. Phillips, 169 F.3d 313 (5th Cir.
1999), a court held that the prison could ban a piece of
religious mail because it had the potential to produce
violence by advocating racial or religious hatred. In
Shaffer v. Saffle, 148 F.3d 1180 (10th Cir. 1998), the
court decided that a law requiring DNA sampling did

not violate a prisoner’s religious rights because it
applied to all prisoners. The right to possess religious
objects is discussed in Morrison v. Garraghty, 239 F.3d
648 (4th Cir. 2001).

Your Right to be Free From
THE BASICS: Prison officials cannot treat you differently
because of your race, religion, or gender and the prison
can’t segregate prisoners by race or religion except in
very limited circumstances. However, proving
discrimination is hard.

THE RULE: Any claim for discrimination must show
that the regulation has both a discriminatory effect and
intent. If there is discriminatory effect and intent, the
court will use strict, intermediate, or rational-basis
scrutiny to decide if the practice is constitutional. Which
test it uses depends on whether you are complaining
about race, religion, gender or some other form of
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution
guarantees everyone “equal protection of the law.”
Equal Protection means that a prison cannot treat some
prisoners differently than it treats others without a
reason. How good a reason the prison needs varies
depending on what kind of discrimination is at issue.
The courts are much more critical of laws that
discriminate against people based on “suspect
classifications.” The most important suspect
classification is race. For that reason, courts are very
strict in reviewing laws that treat people of one race
differently than another. Such laws are subjected to a
type of review called “strict scrutiny” and are
frequently struck down.
Other suspect classifications include ethnicity and
religion. Suspect classifications target groups that are
(1) a “discrete or insular minority,” (2) have a trait they
cannot change, also called an “immutable trait,” (3)
have been historically discriminated against, and (4)
cannot protect themselves through the political process.
The Supreme Court discussed each of these factors in a
case called City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center,
473 U.S. 432 (1985). In that case, the Supreme Court
decided that people with developmental disabilities are
not entitled to suspect classification status.


The Court has also created a category called “quasisuspect classification” for groups who they felt need
more protection than usual, but not quite as much as the
most suspect classifications. Gender is a “quasisuspect” classification.
Level of

Interest or

Relation to



Narrowly tailored






Rationally related

In a case called Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996),
the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a
Colorado state law that prohibited regulations
protecting gay people from discrimination, but the
court did so without deciding that sexual orientation is
a suspect classification.

1. Freedom from Racial Discrimination
Racial discrimination and segregation by prison
authorities are unconstitutional under the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Washington v. Lee, 263 F. Supp. 327 (M.D. Ala. 1966).
For example, prisons cannot prevent black prisoners
from subscribing to magazines and newspapers aimed
at a black audience. Jackson v. Godwin, 400 F.2d 529
(5th Cir. 1968). Nor can they segregate prisoners by
race in their cells. Sockwell v. Phelps, 20 F.3d 187 (5th
Cir. 1994). The Supreme Court stated that racial
segregation in prison cannot be used as a proxy (a
stand-in) for gang membership or violence without
passing “strict scrutiny” – which is defined several
paragraphs below and in the chart on the previous page.
The easiest type of equal protection claim to bring is a
challenge to a policy that is explicitly race-based, for
example, if a prison has a written policy of segregating
prisoners by race. It is rare to come across written
policies of that nature these days. More likely, you will
be challenging a policy or practice that doesn’t actually
say anything about race, but has the effect of treating
black prisoners different than white prisoners, for
example. For this type of claim there are two essential
points to prove: (1) the prison rule had the effect of
discriminating against you and (2) discriminatory

purpose or intent was at least part of the reason for the
rule. David K. v. Lane, 839 F.2d 1265 (7th Cir. 1988).
The first part is usually easier to prove: in a challenge
to an unwritten segregation policy, for example, you
could show that all the prisoners on your unit are
Proving intent to discriminate is harder, because prison
officials will often come up with various excuses to
explain away what looks like discrimination. You will
need to show that you are being treated differently
because of your race. If you have direct proof of
discriminatory intent – like the warden who decides
which unit prisoners go to has made racist comments –
you will include that in your complaint. However, if
you don’t have any direct proof of discriminatory
intent, you can argue that discrimination is the only
plausible reason for the treatment you are experiencing.
For example, a federal court in Alabama decided that
the Constitution had been violated because it could not
find any non-discriminatory reason for the fact that
African-Americans consistently made up a greater
proportion of those detained in Alabama’s segregation
unit than those detained in Alabama’s prisons
generally. McCray v. Bennett, 467 F. Supp. 187 (M.D.
Ala. 1978).
However, proving a case like this is not easy, and will
probably require expert witnesses and statistical
analysis. One great example is Santiago v. Miles, 774
F. Supp. 775 (W.D.N.Y. 1991). In that case, the
prisoners showed through statistical data that the prison
was made up of mostly African-American and Latino
men, but white prisoners received better housing and
job assignments and had better disciplinary hearing
outcomes for similar infractions. The Court decided
that discriminatory intent was the only possible
explanation for what was going on in the prison. On
the other hand, in Betts v. McCaughtry, 827 F. Supp.
1400 (W.D. Wisc. 1993) a different court held that
prison officials did not violate the Constitution when
they censored certain cassettes, most of which were
African-American rap music, because there was not
enough evidence that they intended to discriminate
against African-Americans.
Even if you successfully prove discriminatory effect
and intent, courts may allow racial segregation or
discrimination if prison officials can show that it passes
“strict scrutiny.” Strict scrutiny is another two-step
process where the prison officials will have to show
that the segregation or discrimination is being done to
advance a “compelling government interest” and the
way the prison is achieving that interest is “narrowly


tailored.” Johnson v. California, 543 U.S. 499 (2005).
This means that the prison must have a very good
reason for the rule and the rule directly fixes the
problem at issue.
Johnson is an important case to read if you are
considering a segregation claim. In Johnson, the
Supreme Court considered a California policy that
segregated inmates by race for the first 60 days of any
The Court decided in Johnson that the prison’s concern
about gang violence was a compelling government
interest. (Courts often find “gang violence” to be a very
good reason for rules.) However, the Court said that
California’s rule did not address the problem of gangs
and violence in a way that was narrowly tailored
because segregating prisoners without looking at their
disciplinary history or gang connections affected all the
prisoners, not just those who were in gangs or who
were violent. The Court stated the prison should have
made a case-by-case decision about who to segregate.
The Court also said that not all gangs or violence
happen because people of different races are housed
together, so it was not narrowly tailored to have a rule
based on race.

Note: The California policy in Johnson is one of
the rare policies described earlier that is explicitly
based on race.

A vague fear of racial violence is not a sufficient
justification for a broad policy of racial segregation.
For example, in Sockwell v. Phelps, 20 F.3d 187 (5th
Cir. 1994), the court did not accept the argument that
there might be an increase in violence if people of
different races shared two-person cells, since the rest of
the prison was integrated. However, some courts have
held that a brief period of racial segregation, like during
a lockdown or another emergency where the safety of
members of one racial group is an issue, is OK. Fischer
v. Ellegood, 238 Fed.Appx. 428 (11th Cir. 2007)
Most courts have held that racial discrimination in the
form of occasional verbal abuse does not violate the

2. Freedom from Gender Discrimination
THE BASICS: Women have a right to programs that are
as good as the programs in prisons for men, but this
right is very hard to enforce.

A gender-based prison rule must be substantially related
to important governmental interests,
A gender-neutral rule that treats women who are similarly
situated to men differently must be rationally related to
legitimate government interests.
The Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment also prohibits discrimination based on
gender. While it protects both men and women from
discrimination, gender discrimination is a bigger
problem for women.
In addition to the sexism toward women that exists
outside prison, women prisoners often experience
discrimination because they are a minority population
in prison. While the population of women prisoners has
grown much larger over the past few years, women still
are at risk for being lumped together in one prison with
other prisoners from all levels of security classification
because there are fewer women’s prisons. They will
sometimes be sent much farther away from their homes
than men because there are no women’s prisons nearby.
States that provide treatment and educational programs
for male prisoners usually provide fewer programs for
women, because it is very expensive to provide so
many programs for so few women.
Faced with these inequalities, women prisoners in some
states have brought successful suits against state prison
officials using an Equal Protection argument. For
example, in a landmark class action case in Michigan,
Glover v. Johnson, 478 F. Supp. 1075 (E.D. Mich.
1979), female prisoners challenged the educational
opportunities, vocational training, prison industry and
work pass programs, wage rates, and library facilities
they were provided as compared to those male
prisoners were provided. Although prison officials tried
to argue that it was impractical and too expensive to
provide the smaller population of women the same
level of services that they provided to men, the court
ruled in favor of the women. The judge ordered the
prison to undertake a series of reforms, and the court
oversaw these reform efforts for close to twenty years,
often stepping in to enforce its decision when it became


distinction between men and women is
“substantially related to important governmental
objectives.” Mississippi University for Women v.
Hogan, 458 U.S. 718, 724 (1982); Jackson v.
Thornburgh, 907 F.2d 194 (D.C. Cir. 1990). This is
known as “intermediate scrutiny.” Note that this is
a less strict standard than “strict scrutiny” which is
used for racial discrimination, described in Part 1
of this Section.

clear that the prison was not following the Glover
court’s orders.
While women in some states have effectively
challenged gender discrimination under the Equal
Protection clause, relatively few cases have succeeded.
Like other cases involving constitutional rights of
prisoners, the courts like to leave the decisions to
prison officials. There are a number of things a court
takes into account when deciding a gender
discrimination case, and each raises its own obstacles
for female prisoners trying to bring an Equal Protection
action. The following section addresses these
considerations and the challenges they create.
a. The “similarly situated” argument
To make an Equal Protection claim, you must first
show that the male and female prisoners you wish to
compare are “similarly situated” for the purposes of the
claim you are bringing. “Similarly situated” means that
there are no differences between male and female
prisoners that could explain the different treatment they
receive. While it is unconstitutional to treat prisoners
who are in the same situation differently, it is
acceptable to treat prisoners in different situations
differently. Courts will look at several factors to decide
whether male and female prisoners are “similarly
situated,” including number of prisoners, average
sentence, security classification, and special
characteristics such as violent tendencies or
experiences of abuse. Unfortunately, courts very often
decide on the basis of these factors that male and
female prisoners are not similarly situated. Keevan v.
Smith, 100 F.3d 644 (8th Cir. 1996); Klinger v. Dept. of
Corrections, 31 F.3d 727 (8th Cir. 1994).
b. The Equal Protection test for gender
If you successfully show that male and female
prisoners are “similarly situated” for the purposes of
the challenge you are making, you must then show that
prison officials discriminated between the groups on
the basis of gender, and not for a different, legitimate
reason. Courts will use a different test for this
depending on whether the action you are challenging is
“gender-based” or “gender-neutral.” These two terms
are explained below.

Gender-based classifications: A rule or practice is
“gender-based” if it states one thing for men, and
another for women. For example, a policy that says
all women will be sent to child care training and all
men will be sent to vocational training is “genderbased.” Judges look very carefully at gender-based
rules. The government must show that the


Gender-neutral classifications: A “genderneutral” classification may still have the effect of
discriminating against women in practice, but it
does not actually say anything about gender. One
example is a prison system that has a rule that only
prisons with 2000 prisoners or more get college
programs, and all the women’s prisons are too
small to qualify. If the action challenged is
“gender-neutral” then the courts use a less strict
standard of review. The court asks whether the rule
is “rationally related to legitimate government
interests” (the Turner test) or whether, instead, it
shows an intent to discriminate on the basis of
gender. Jackson v. Thornburgh, 907 F.2d 194 (D.C.
Cir. 1990).

There are two important considerations to keep in mind
about these tests.
First, any type of government interest – whether it’s
“important” or “legitimate” – cannot be based on
stereotypes or outdated ideas about gender. Pitts v.
Thornburgh, 866 F.2d 1450 (D.C. Cir. 1989). For
example, the court will not accept a government
interest of protecting one gender because it is
“inherently weaker” than the other gender. Glover v.
Johnson, 478 F. Supp 1075 (E.D. Mich. 1979).
Second, it is not always obvious whether a prison’s
action is gender-based or gender-neutral, and courts
disagree on how to read regulations or policies. Often,
there will be two regulations at play. The first
regulation assigns men and women to specific prisons
on the basis of their gender. Courts have rarely held
that this kind of segregation is discrimination. The
second regulation assigns certain programs or facilities
to prisons on the basis of such factors as size, security
level, or average length of prisoner sentence. These
second types of regulations do not appear to be genderbased; they seem to be based on characteristics of the
prisons alone. However, they often result in different
treatment of male and female prisoners.
Some courts rarely decide that any rule is gender-based.
These courts state that when a statute or policy does not


explicitly distinguish between men and women in how
the prison facility is run, it is gender-neutral. Klinger v.
Dept. of Corrections, 31 F.3d 727 (8th Cir. 1994);
Jackson v. Thornburgh, 907 F.2d 194 (D.C. Cir. 1990).
Other courts, however, have read the requirement more
favorably to prisoners. They see that in reality, genderneutral regulations about programming interact with
gender-based assignment of prisoners to specific
prisons, which makes the regulations gender-based.
(“Programming” means how a prison is run by
officials.) One example of this is Pitts v. Thornburgh,
866 F.2d 1450 (D.C. Cir. 1989).

3. Freedom from Other Forms of
If you believe you are being unfairly singled out for
mistreatment, but it is not based on your race, ethnicity,
gender, or some other suspect or quasi-suspect factor,
you can still make an equal protection claim. However,
that claim will be very hard to win.
To win your case, you will need to show that you are
being treated differently than other prisoners and that
your treatment is not rationally related to a legitimate
governmental purpose. One good example of a
successful case is Doe v. Sparks, 73 F. Supp. 227
(W.D. Pa. 1990). In that case, the court held that it was
irrational for a prison to ban same-sex boyfriends and
girlfriends from non-contact prison visits.

Your right to procedural due process means that the
prison must provide you with some amount of
protection (like a hearing or notice) before the prison
does something that harms your life, liberty, or
property. Discipline, placement in segregation,
transfers to different prisons, and loss of good time
credit are all things that the prison can do to you that
might violate procedural due process if they are done
without process.
Procedural due process has two parts: first you have to
show a liberty interest and second, you have to show
that you should have gotten more procedure than you
You have a liberty interest when the prison’s actions
interfere with or violate your constitutionally protected
rights or result in conditions of confinement that are
much worse than is normal for prisoners. If you don’t
have a liberty interest then the prison doesn’t have to
provide you with any process at all.

1. Two important Supreme Court cases
govern due process rights for prisoners:

In the first case, Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539
(1974), the Supreme Court found that, when
prisoners lose good time credits because of a
disciplinary offense, they are entitled to: (1) written
notice of the disciplinary violation; (2) the right to
call witnesses at their hearing; (3) assistance in
preparing for the hearing; (4) a written statement of
the reasons for being found guilty; and (5) a fair
and impartial decision-maker in the hearing.


The second important Supreme Court case, Sandin
v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472 (1995), however, sharply
limits the decision of Wolff and sets a higher
standard that you have to meet in order to show that
you have a liberty interest.

Your Procedural Due Process Rights
Regarding Punishment, Administrative
Transfers, and Segregation
THE BASICS: You can only challenge a transfer or
punishment in prison if it is extremely and unusually
harsh, or if it is done to get back at you for something
you have the right to do.

THE RULE: If the prison subjects you to treatment or
conditions that are an atypical and significant hardship in
relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life, they must
provide you with some level of process.
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment
prohibits a state from depriving “any person of life,
liberty or property without due process of law.” There
are two parts to this clause: “substantive due process”
and “procedural due process.” This section deals only
with procedural due process.

Any prisoner alleging a violation of due process
should first read Sandin. In Sandin, a prisoner was
placed in disciplinary segregation for 30 days and
was not allowed to have witnesses at his
disciplinary hearing. But the Court in Sandin found
that, unless the punishment an inmate receives is an
“atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in
relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life,”
then there is no right to the five procedures laid out
in Wolff. “Atypical” means that you are being
treated very differently than the way most prisoners
are treated. “Significant hardship” means that
treatment must be really awful, not just
uncomfortable or annoying.


You cannot bring a procedural due process
challenge to a disciplinary proceeding if winning
would result in the court reversing the judgment of
the disciplinary proceeding. The only way to
challenge the result of a disciplinary proceeding is
through the appeal process.
This important but confusing concept comes from a
Supreme Court case called Edwards v. Balisok, 520
U.S. 641 (1997). In Edwards, a prisoner challenged
the conduct of the hearing examiner, stating that the
examiner hid evidence that would have helped him and
didn’t question witnesses adequately. At the hearing,
the prisoner was sentenced to time in solitary and loss
of good time credits. The Court held that, if what the
prisoner said was true, it would mean that the result of
his disciplinary hearing would have to be reversed and
his good time credits would have to be given back to
him. This would affect the length of his confinement,
and a challenge like that can only be brought if the
prisoner can show that his/her disciplinary conviction
has already been overturned in a state proceeding.
If you are just challenging the prison’s failure to
follow fair procedures, or a disciplinary decision
that does not affect the length of your confinement,
you are probably O.K. Read Brown v. Plaut, 131 F.3d
163 (D.C. Cir. 1997), for more on this issue.

Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523 (3d Cir. 2003) are other
good cases examining short placement in very bad
Although Sandin changed the law in important ways,
the Supreme Court did not say they were overruling
Wolff. This means that when you can show that there is
a liberty interest at stake, even though it is much harder
to prove under Sandin, the rights guaranteed by Wolff
still apply. In other words, if a decision by prison
officials results in conditions that are severe enough to
meet the “significant and atypical” standard, or
prolongs your time in prison, the prison must give you
procedures like a hearing and a chance to present
Courts have found due process violations when
prisoners are disciplined without the chance to get
witness testimony, have a hearing, or present evidence.
Courts have also found due process violations when
punishment is based on vague claims of gang
affiliation. Some cases in which these types of claims
were successfully made are: Ayers v. Ryan, 152 F.3d 77
(2d Cir. 1998); Taylor v. Rodriguez, 238 F.3d 188 (2d
Cir. 2001); and Hatch v. District of Columbia, 184 F.3d
846 (D.C. Cir. 1999).

2. Transfers and Segregation
If you want to argue that your rights were violated
because you did not receive the procedures laid out in
Wolff, you must first show that the punishment you
received either prolonged your sentence (like by taking
away good time) or was extremely harsh. Frequently,
short periods of solitary confinement, “keeplock,” or
loss of privileges will not be considered harsh enough
to create a liberty interest. For example, in Key v.
McKinney, 176 F.3d 1083 (8th Cr. 1999), the court
found that 24 hours in shackles was not severe enough
to violate due process. The circuit courts have taken
very different approaches to the question of whether
prolonged placement in SHU is atypical and
significant. The Second Circuit has found that 305
days in solitary confinement in one case, and 762 days
in another, were severe enough to create a liberty
interest, but 101 days was not. You can read Giano v.
Selsky, 238 F.3d 223 (2d Cir. 2001), and Colon v.
Howard, 215 F.3d 227 (2d Cir. 2000), to get a sense of
how to make this type of claim.
The severity of the conditions matters a lot. For
example, in Palmer v. Richards, 364 F.3d 60 (2d Cir.
2004), the same court held that 77 days under
aggravated conditions could be atypical and significant.
Gillis v. Litscher, 468 F.3d 495 (7th Cir. 2006) and

If you are transferred to a different facility or to a
different location within a prison, the same standard in
Sandin v. Connor applies: you must show that the
transfer resulted in conditions that were a significant or
atypical departure from the ordinary incidents of prison
life. Given the fact that the new prison will likely be
similar to prisons everywhere, it is very hard to win on
such a claim. In Freitas v. Ault, 109 F.3d 1335 (8th Cir.
1997), for example, the court said that transfer from a
minimum-security facility to a maximum-security
facility did not create a liberty interest. However, you
may have a case if you are transferred to a
supermaximum security facility where conditions are
way harsher than most prisons. The Supreme Court
considered transfer to a Supermax in Wilkinson v.
Austin, 545 U.S. 209 (2005). The conditions were so
harsh at the Supermax (almost no human contact, 24hour lighting, no outside recreation, etc), that the Court
found a liberty interest. However, even in this situation,
the Court held that not all the Wolff protections were
required: it was enough for prisoners to get notice, and
opportunity to challenge their transfer, and some
periodic review.
You may also have a right to procedural protections if
you are transferred out of the prison system entirely. In
Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480 (1980), the Supreme Court


found a liberty interest when a prisoner was involuntary
removed from the prison to a medical hospital for
mandatory mental health treatment.
If you are placed in administrative segregation, rather
than disciplinary segregation, you still have some due
process rights, but these rights are more limited. The
Supreme Court has found that, in general, a formal or
“adversarial” hearing is not necessary for putting
prisoners in administrative segregation. All you get is
notice and a chance to present your views informally.
This was decided in Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460
(1983), the most important case on administrative
segregation. Some courts believe that, after Sandin,
there is no longer an obligation on the part of prisons to
follow any procedures at all before placing an inmate in
administrative segregation. An example of this can be
found in Wagner v. Hanks, 128 F.3d 1173, 1175 (7th
Cir. 1997). One case that provides a useful argument
against this is Sealey v. Giltner, 197 F.3d 578 (2d Cir.
1999). When the conditions in administrative
segregation are exceptionally harsh, you are entitled to
some procedural protections. Wilkinson v. Austin, 545
U.S. 209 (2005).
One good state case you might want to read is Schuyler
v. Roberts, 285 Kan. 677 (2008). In Schuyler, the
Supreme Court of Kansas considered a prisoner’s due
process challenge to his classification as a sex offender
even though he had not been convicted on that charge,
nor had he been disciplined while incarcerated for
inappropriate sexual behavior. Because of the sex
offender status, the prisoner lost work privileges, had to
transfer to another facility, and had to register as a sex
offender upon release. Additionally, he would lose
other privileges if he refused to participate in the
program. The court found a liberty interest.
There may be other ways of challenging transfers and
administrative segregation as well. For example, a
prison can’t transfer you to punish you for complaining
or to keep you from filing a lawsuit. Prison officials
must not use transfers or segregation to restrict your
access to the courts. For an example of this type of
claim, read Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220 (3d Cir.
2000) and Section G of this Chapter.

Your Right to be Free from
Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
THE BASICS: Prison officials can search your cell
whenever they want but there are some limits on when
and how they can strip search you.

THE RULE: Strip searches must be reasonably related to
a legitimate penological interest and not done in a
humiliating manner.
The Fourth Amendment forbids the government from
conducting “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Outside of prison, this means that a police officer or
F.B.I. agent cannot come into your home or search your
body without your consent or a search warrant, unless it
is an emergency. However, the Fourth Amendment
only protects places or things in which you have a
“reasonable expectation of privacy.” In the outside
world, this means that if you have your window shades
wide open, you can’t expect somebody not to look in,
so a cop can too.
In Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 530 (1984), the
Supreme Court held that prisoners don’t have a
reasonable expectation of privacy in their cells, so
prison officials can search them as a routine matter
without any particular justification, and without having
to produce anything like a search warrant.
This doesn’t mean that all cell searches are OK. If a
prison official searches your cell just to harass you or
for some other reason that is not justified by a
penological need, this may be a Fourth Amendment
violation. However, to get a court to believe that the
“purpose” was harassment, you will need some truly
shocking facts. For example, in Scher v. Engelke, 943
F.2d 921, 923-24 (8th Cir. 1991) a prison guard
searched a prisoner's cell 10 times in 19 days and left
the cell in disarray after three of these searches.
There is more protection against strip searches. While
prisoners have no expectation of privacy in their cells,
they retain a “limited expectation of privacy” in their
bodies. In analyzing body cavity searches, strip
searches, or any invasions of bodily privacy, a court
will balance the need for the search against the invasion
of privacy the search involves. Strip searches are
generally allowed but many courts state that the
searches must be related to legitimate penological


interests and cannot be excessive or used to harass,
intimidate, or punish. In Jean-Laurent v. Wilkenson,
540 F. Supp. 2d 501 (S.D.N.Y 2008), for example, one
court stated that a second-strip search might be
unconstitutional, because the inmate was under the
constant supervision of guards since the first search.
Another good case to read is Lopez v. Youngblood, 609
F. Supp. 2d 1125 (E.D. Cal. 2009), in which a court
held it was unconstitutional to strip search detainees in
a group. The jail tried to justify the group strip search
as necessary for administrative ease. The court
disagreed, stating that administrative burdens and
inconvenience do not justify constitutional violations.
Prisoners seem to have had the most success when the
searches were conducted by, or in front of, guards of
the opposite gender. For example, in Hayes v. Marriott,
70 F.3d 1144, 1147-48 (10th Cir. 1995), the court held
that a body cavity search of a male prisoner in front of
female guards stated a claim for a Fourth Amendment
violation because there was no security need. In
Cornwell v. Dahlberg, 963 F.2d 912, 916 (6th Cir.
1992), the court recognized a male prisoner’s Fourth
Amendment claim based on a strip search done
outdoors, in front of several female guards.
This rule is not limited to strip searches. Where a
female prisoner had a documented history of sexual
abuse but was forced by male guards to endure patdown searches that sometimes included inappropriate
touching and unwarranted sexual advances, a court
found that the circumstances could violate the Fourth
Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable
searches and its more general guarantee of a right to
some measure of bodily privacy. Colman v. Vasquez,
142 F. Supp. 2d 226 (D. Conn. 2001). In Fortner v.
Thomas, 983 F.2d 1024, 1030 (11th Cir. 1993), the
court recognized a claim by male inmates who were
observed by female guards while they showered and
went to the bathroom. In Kent v. Johnson, 821 F.2d
1220, 1226-27 (6th Cir. 1987), the court refused to
dismiss an inmate’s complaint that stated female prison
guards routinely saw male prisoners naked, showering,
and using the toilet.
Even when the search is not done by or in front of a
person of the opposite gender, however, you may be
able to show a Fourth Amendment violation if there
was no reasonable justification for the invasive search.
Unfortunately, many courts have held that strip
searches after contact visits are constitutional.
Additionally, courts have held strip searches that are
accompanied by officer misconduct (name calling or
some inappropriate touching) usually do not violate the

prisoner’s constitutional rights if there is no physical
injury. This may, however, be actionable under state
tort law and should always be reported and
investigated. We discuss this more in Section F, Part 2
of this chapter.
The law is slightly better for pretrial detainees, so if
you haven’t yet been convicted, read Section J of this
Chapter, on the rights of pretrial detainees.

Your Right to be Free from Cruel and
Unusual Punishment
The Eighth Amendment forbids “cruel and unusual
punishment” and is probably the most important
amendment for prisoners. It has been interpreted to
prohibit excessive force and guard brutality, as well as
unsanitary, dangerous or overly restrictive conditions.
It is also the source for your right to medical care in

1. Protection from Physical Brutality
THE BASICS: Guards do NOT have the right to beat you
or harm you unless their action is considered
“reasonable” given the situation.

THE RULE: A use of force is excessive and violates the
Eighth Amendment when it is not applied in an effort to
maintain or restore discipline but is used to maliciously
and sadistically cause harm. Where a prison official is
responsible for unnecessary and wanton infliction of
pain, the Eighth Amendment has been violated.
“Excessive force” by prison guards constitutes cruel
and unusual punishment. In a very important Supreme
Court case called Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1
(1992), the Court found a violation of the Eighth
Amendment when prison officials punched and kicked
a prisoner, leaving him with minor bruises, swelling of
his face and mouth, and loose teeth. The Court held that
a guard’s use of force violates the Eighth Amendment
when it is not applied “in a good faith effort to maintain
or restore discipline” but instead is used to “maliciously
and sadistically cause harm.”
“Excessive force” is any physical contact by a guard
that is meant to cause harm, rather than keep order.


To decide what force is excessive, judges consider:
1. The need for force,
2. Whether the amount of force used was
reasonable given the need,
3. How serious the need for force appeared to the
4. Whether the guard made efforts to use as little
force as necessary, and
5. How badly you were hurt.
To win on an excessive force claim, you will have to
show that force was used against you, but you do not
have to show a serious injury or harm. It is usually
enough to show some actual injury, even if it is
relatively minor. However, if the injury is too minor,
the court may not think the force was excessive. For
example, one court found that there was no violation of
the Eighth Amendment when a prisoner’s ear was
bruised during a search. Siglar v. Hightower, 112 F.3d
191 (5th Cir. 1997).
It is also very important that you show the “state of
mind” of prison officials in excessive force cases.
Courts have found a violation of the Eighth
Amendment where prison officials were responsible for
“the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.”
“Wanton” means hateful, cruel, or uncalled-for. You
can meet this requirement by showing that the force
used was not a necessary part of prison discipline. For
example, one court found an Eighth Amendment
violation when an officer repeatedly hit a prisoner even
though the prisoner had immediately obeyed an order
to lie face down on the floor, and was already being
restrained by four other officers. Estate of Davis by
Ostenfeld v. Delo, 115 F.3d 1388 (8th Cir. 1997). In
another successful case, the prisoner was handcuffed
and hit several times in the head and shoulders while in
a kneeling position. Brown v. Lippard, 472 F.2d 384
(5th Cir. 2006). On the other hand, the Ninth Circuit
held that there was no Eighth Amendment violation
when a prisoner was shot in the neck during a major
prison disturbance, because the court found that the
officer was trying to restore order. Jeffers v. Gomez,
267 F.3d 895 (9th Cir. 2001).
NOTE: As with many of the other types of claims
described in this Handbook, please remember that a
constitutional claim in federal court is not your only
option. In a guard brutality case, it may be simpler to
bring a “tort” case in State court.
It is important to know that you can also sue prison
officials under the Eighth Amendment if they fail to
protect you from being attacked by another prisoner.

This was established in an important Supreme Court
case called Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994).
To bring a failure-to-protect claim, you need to show
“deliberate indifference.” This requires proof that:
1. Guards knew that there was a substantial risk
you would be seriously harmed; and
2. They failed to respond reasonably to protect
You can bring this kind of claim before you are injured,
to ask to be moved or placed in protective custody.
To argue a guard unreasonably disregarded an
excessive risk to your safety, it can be helpful to
mention if the guard’s action violated prison policy.
Some courts, though, have said that merely deviating
from prison policy is not enough to prove the officer
disregarded a substantial risk of harm. In Longoria v.
Texas, 473 F. 3d 586 (5th Cir. 2006), the court rejected
a claim against an officer who violated a policy against
removing more than one prisoner at a time.

2. Rape, Sexual Assault, and Sexual
Everyone has the right to be free from rape and sexual
assault in prison. The Prison Rape Elimination Act
(PREA), passed by Congress in 2003, applies to all
detention facilities, including federal and state prisons,
jails, police lock-ups, private facilities, and immigration
detention centers, and specifically recognizes that
sexual assault in detention can constitute a violation of
the Eighth Amendment. 42 U.S.C. § 15601(13). PREA
requires that facilities adopt a zero-tolerance approach
to this form of abuse. 42 U.S.C. § 15602(1). Even
before PREA was passed, courts agreed that rape or
sexual assault of prisoners by correctional officers
violates the Eighth Amendment. Farmer v. Brennan,
511 U.S. 825 (1994); Schwenk v. Hartford, 204 F.3d
1187 (9th Cir. 2000). Schwenk involved the rape of a
male prisoner, but the court held that the gender of the
guard and victim in the incident did not make a legal
While you usually need to meet a two-part test to prove
an Eighth Amendment violation, the test is less difficult
in cases of rape and serious sexual assault. These cases
definitely meet the first prong of the test—there is
objectively serious harm or risk of harm. And because
sexual assault is unjustifiable conduct without any
legitimate penological purpose, you will have no
problem meeting the intent standard. To sue prison
supervisors for allowing you to be raped or assaulted by
a guard (or another prisoner) you will have to meet the
deliberate indifference standard explained above.


You can bring a claim for sexual assault even if it does
not result in physical injury. One good case to read on
this issue is Schwenk v. Hartford, 204 F.3d 1187, 119697 (9th Cir. 2000).
Also, rape and sexual assault need not be committed by
a prison guard in order to violate the Eighth
Amendment. Courts have held that people who are
similar to prison guards, such as supervisors in prison
work programs, also violate the Constitution by
assaulting prisoners. Smith v. Cochran, 339 F.3d 1205
(10th Cir. 2003).
States also may be liable for sexual abuse if facilities
have a policy and practice of permitting male staff to
view and supervise incarcerated women, especially in
isolated or remote settings, without female staff
present. Cash v. Erie County, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
50129 (W.D.N.Y. 2007).
Almost all state legislatures have now passed laws
criminalizing rape or sexual assault of an inmate by a
correctional officer. For an overview of these laws,
state-by-state, see Amnesty International, Abuse of
Women in Custody: Sexual Misconduct and Shackling
of Pregnant Women, available at
?id=1108309. The Washington College of Law’s
Project on Addressing Prison Rape has put together a
survey of all state criminal laws prohibiting sexual
abuse of individuals in custody available at
a. Outrageous Conduct vs. Unconstitutional
Unfortunately, just as courts do not always recognize
the seriousness of sexual harassment outside of prison,
they do not acknowledge the harm that verbal sexual
abuse or less invasive sexual touching can cause in
prison. Courts often call the behavior of prison guards
“outrageous” or “reprehensible” but do not find it
unconstitutional. For, example, one court found that it
was not cruel and unusual punishment when a
corrections official repeatedly made sexual comments
about a women prisoner’s body to her, including one
instance when he entered her cell while she was
sleeping and commented on her breasts. Adkins v.
Rodriguez, 59 F.3d 1034 (10th Cir. 1995). Other cases
that failed to find Eighth Amendment violations,
despite noting the seriously inappropriate behavior of
prison officials, include Morales v. Mackalm, 278 F.3d

126 (2d Cir. 2002), and Boddie v. Schneider, 105 F.3d
857 (2d Cir. 1997).
It is worth noting that in many cases rejecting claims of
sexual harassment in prison, the alleged harassment has
been of male inmates presenting no history of sexual
abuse, often by female officers. For example, one court
refused to find an Eighth Amendment violation where
four maintenance workers approached a male prisoner
and grabbed his buttocks briefly. Berryhill v. Schriro,
137 F.3d 1073 (8th Cir. 1998). The court noted that
although the victim claimed to be humiliated and
paranoid after the incident, he had not sought medical
care for any psychological or emotional trouble.
Not all courts have been so insensitive to the effects of
sexual harassment. In Women Prisoners of District of
Columbia Department of Corrections v. District of
Columbia, 93 F.3d 910 (D.C. Cir. 1996), the court
upheld a decision ordering a prison to adopt a new
sexual harassment policy that prohibited conduct
including “(1) all unwelcome sexual activity directed
by any DCDC employee at a prisoner including acts of
sexual intercourse, oral sex, or sexual touching and any
attempt to commit these acts; and (2) all unwelcome
sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other
unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual
nature directed by any DCDC employee at a prisoner.”
Id. at 933.
More recently, in Daskalea v. District of Columbia, 227
F.3d 433 (D.C. Cir. 2000), a Court of Appeals upheld a
prisoner’s claims of sexual harassment and assault
based on a series of incidents including a forced
striptease in front of all the prisoners and officers at her
facility. The court found deliberate indifference based
on the plaintiff’s repeated filing of grievance claims
and letters to officials seeking help, as well as the
widespread and ongoing pattern of harassment and
sexual assault at the facility. The court similarly
rejected the District’s attempt to argue that it was not
deliberately indifferent because it had a policy in place
prohibiting such behavior (the policy required by
Women Prisoners, discussed in the previous
paragraph), based on its finding that no prisoner had
ever received a copy of the policy, only a few
employees remembered receiving it, and it had never
been posted anywhere in the facility.
b. Psychological Harm
As discussed in Chapter Four, Section C, the Prison
Litigation Reform Act makes it harder to get
compensatory damages for emotional, rather than
physical, injury.


Few courts have addressed whether rape or sexual
assault is a physical injury for the purposes of the
PLRA, probably because they assume that it is, and at
least one court has said so explicitly. Kemner v.
Hemphill, 199 F. Supp. 2d 1264 (N.D. Fl. 2002).
Courts disagree as to whether verbal harassment or
sexual touching short of intercourse causes “injury” to
the extent that you could bring a money damages claim
for mental or emotional injury in conjunction with
allegations of this behavior. To understand the impact
of this issue, make sure you read Chapter Four, Section
C carefully, and research the law in your district.
c. Consensual Sex between Prisoners and
Courts disagree about whether a correctional officer
can be held liable for having sex with a prisoner when
the prisoner consents to the act. In Carrigan v. Davis,
70 F. Supp. 2d 448 (D.Del. 1999), a federal court in
Delaware held that a guard had violated the Eighth
Amendment by engaging in vaginal intercourse with a
prisoner under his supervision, whether or not she had
consented. The court relied on Delaware state law that
made it a crime for a correctional officer to have sex
with a prisoner, whether or not it was consensual. In
Freitas v. Ault, 109 F.3d 1335 (8th Cir. 1997),
however, the Eighth Circuit found that consensual sex
does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment
because it does not cause any pain, according to that
court’s definition.
Today, the federal government and most states have
statutes making it a crime for a correctional employee
to have intercourse with an inmate, regardless of
whether or not he or she consents. A federal law, 18
U.S.C. § 2243, criminalizes sexual intercourse or other
physical conduct between an officer and prisoner in any
federal prison. You can check out the resources listed
earlier in this section for State laws on sexual contact
between guards and prisoners.
d. Challenging Prison Supervisors and
Prison Policies
If you are a victim of sexual abuse in prison, you may
wish to sue not only the person who abused you but
also that person’s supervisors. Or, you may want to
challenge some of your prison’s policies. Special issues
about suing supervisors are discussed in Chapter Four,
Section D. Women prisoners in one major case
successfully challenged the policies regarding sexual
harassment in Washington, D.C., prisons. The court in
that case, Women Prisoners of District of Columbia
Department of Corrections v. District of Columbia, 93
F.3d 910 (D.C. Cir. 1996), ordered the prison to
implement a new inmate grievance procedure so that

prisoners could report sexual harassment confidentially
and get a prompt response, and to start a confidential
hotline for women to report instances of abuse, and to
create a mandatory training program on sexual
harassment for all corrections officers in D.C. prisons.
In another case, however, women prisoners attempted
but failed to challenge a County’s policies regarding
sexual harassment after they were sexually abused by a
prison employee. The court held that a municipality can
only be accountable for an Eighth Amendment
violation when it shows deliberate indifference, and
explained that deliberate indifference only exists under
these circumstances where a municipality has actual
notice that its actions or failures to act will result in a
constitutional violation, or when it is highly predictable
that a constitutional violation will occur. Since the
County in this case did provide training programs
addressing sexual harassment and inmate-officer
relations to the officer convicted of abuse, the court did
not find deliberate indifference. Barney v. Pulsipher,
143 F.3d 1299 (10th Cir. 1998).
Finally, if you have been sexually assaulted in
detention, you may want to obtain a copy of Just
Detention International’s booklet, Hope for Healing:
Information for Survivors of Sexual Assault in
Detention (2009), available at
HopeforHealingweb.pdf, or by writing to Just
Detention International, 3325 Wilshire Boulevard,
Suite 340, Los Angeles, CA 90010.

3. Your Right to Decent Conditions in
The Basics: You have a right to humane conditions in
prison. Conditions that are harsh but not harmful do
not violate the Constitution.

The Rule: Prison officials violate the Eighth
Amendment when they act with deliberate indifference
to a prison condition that exposes a prisoner to an
unreasonable risk of serious harm or deprives a
prisoner of a basic human need.
The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and
unusual punishment also protects your right to safe and
humane conditions in prison. You can challenge prison
conditions that are unsafe or that deprive you of a
“basic human need,” such as shelter, food, exercise,
clothing, sanitation, and hygiene. However, the


standard for unconstitutional conditions is high—courts
allow conditions that are “restrictive and even harsh.”
Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 346 (1981). You
must have evidence of conditions that are serious and
To challenge prison conditions using the Eighth
Amendment, you must meet both “objective” and
“subjective” requirements. Farmer v. Brennan, 511
U.S. 825 (1994); Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294 (1991).
To meet the objective Eighth Amendment standard,
you need to show that you were deprived of a basic
human need or exposed to serious harm. Under the
subjective part of the test, you must show that the
prison official you are suing knew you were being
deprived or harmed and did not respond reasonably.
You must also show how you were injured and prove
that the denial of a basic need caused your injury.
Under the objective part of the test, the court will look
at whether the condition or conditions you are
challenging could seriously affect your health or safety.
In considering a condition, a court will think about how
bad it is and how long it has lasted. Barney v.
Pulsipher, 143 F.3d 1299, 1311 (10th Cir. 1998). You
must show that you were injured either physically or
psychologically, though courts do not agree on how
severe the injury must be. You may challenge
conditions even without an injury if you can show that
the condition puts you at serious risk for an injury in
the future, like second-hand smoke. Helling v.
McKinney, 509 U.S. 25 (1993).
Under the subjective part of the test, you must show
that the official you are suing acted with “deliberate
indifference.” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294 (1991).
This is an important legal term. It means that the
official knew of the condition and did not respond to it
in a reasonable manner. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S.
825 (1994). One way to show this is by proving that the
condition was so obvious that the official must either
know about it or be purposefully ignoring it. Courts
will also consider any complaints or grievance reports
that you or other prisoners have filed, Vance v. Peters,
97 F.3d 987 (7th Cir. 1996), as well as prison records
that refer to the problem. Prison officials cannot ignore
a problem once it is brought to their attention.
Prison officials may try to argue that the prison does
not have enough money to fix problems, but courts
have generally not accepted this defense (although the
Supreme Court has not clearly addressed this defense
yet). Carty v. Turnbull, 144 F. Supp. 2d 395 (V. I.
2001). It is important to note that while there is a
subjective component to Eighth Amendment claims,

you do not need to show why prison officials acted as
they did.
Remember that courts disagree on whether the PLRA
bars claims for damages that rely on a showing of
emotional or mental injury without a showing of
physical injury. This provision should not affect a
lawsuit that tries to change conditions (injunctive
relief). However it may be difficult to get money
damages for exposure to unsafe or overly restrictive
conditions unless they have caused you a physical
injury. The courts are not in agreement on this issue, so
you may want to just include these claims anyway, and
hope for the best.
Below are some of the most common Eighth
Amendment challenges to prison conditions.
Remember, to prevail on a claim for any of these, you
must show both subjective and objective evidence.

Food: Prisons are required to serve food that is
nutritious and prepared under clean conditions.
Robles v. Coughlin, 725 F.2d 12 (2d Cir. 1983).
Meals cannot be denied as retaliation, since
denying meals (usually several meals; one denial
will most likely not succeed) can be a deprivation
of a life necessity, violating the Eight Amendment.
Foster v. Runnels, 554 F.3d 807 (9th Cir 2009).
However, as long as the prison diet meets
nutritional standards, prisons can serve pretty much
whatever they want. Prisons must provide a special
diet for prisoners whose health requires it.


Exercise: Prisons must provide prisoners with
opportunities for exercise outside of their cells.
Keenan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083, 1089 (9th Cir.
1996); Delaney v. DeTella, 256 F.3d 679 (7th Cir.
2001). Courts have not agreed upon the minimum
amount of time for exercise required, and it may be
different depending on whether you are in the
general population or segregation. One court
considered three hours per week adequate, Hosna
v. Groose, 80 F.3d 298, 306 (8th Cir. 1996), while
another approved of just one hour per week for a
maximum security prisoner, Bailey v. Shillinger,
828 F.2d 651 (10th Cir. 1987). Some circuits have
determined that prisoners cannot be deprived of
outdoor exercise for long periods of time. Hearns
v. Terhune, 413 F.3d 1036 (9th Cir. 2005). Prisons
must provide adequate space and equipment for
exercise, but again, there is no clear standard for
this. It is generally acceptable to limit exercise
opportunities for a short time or during



Air Quality and Temperature: Prisoners have
successfully challenged air quality when it posed a
serious danger to their health, particularly in cases
of secondhand smoke, Talal v. White, 403 F.3d 423
(6th Cir. 2005); Alvarado v. Litscher, 267 F.3d 648
(7th Cir. 2001); and asbestos, LaBounty v.
Coughlin, 137 F.3d 68 (2d Cir. 1998). While you
are not entitled to a specific air temperature, you
should not be subjected to extreme heat or cold,
and should be given bedding and clothing
appropriate for the temperature. Bibbs v. Early, 541
F.3d 267 (5th Cir. 2008); Gaston v. Coughlin, 249
F.3d 156 (2d Cir. 2001).


Sanitation and Personal Hygiene: Prisoners are
entitled to sanitary toilet facilities, DeSpain v.
Uphoff, 264 F.3d 965 (10th Cir. 2001), proper trash
procedures, no roach or rat infestations, and basic
supplies such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap,
sanitary napkins, razors, and cleaning products. See
DeSpain (above) and Gillis v. Litscher, 468 F.3d
488 (7th Cir. 2006).


Overcrowding: Although overcrowding is one of
the most common problems in U.S. prisons, it is
not considered unconstitutional on its own. Rhodes
v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337 (1981); C.H. v. Sullivan,
920 F.2d 483 (8th Cir. 1990). If you wish to
challenge overcrowding, you must show that it has
caused a serious deprivation of basic human needs
such as food, safety, or sanitation. French v.
Owens, 777 F.2d 1250 (7th Cir. 1985); Toussaint v.
Yockey, 722 F.2d 1490 (9th Cir. 1984).



Rehabilitative Programs: In general, prisons are
not required to provide counseling services like
drug or alcohol rehabilitation to prisoners unless
they are juveniles, mentally ill, or received
rehabilitative services as part of their sentence.
Women Prisoners of District of Columbia Dept. of
Corrections v. District of Columbia, 93 F.3d 910,
927 (D.C. Cir. 1996).
“Supermax” Isolation: Some courts have
recognized that constant isolation, illumination, and
other sensory deprivation for prisoners with serious
mental health issues violates the Eighth
Amendment. Jones El v. Burge, 164 F. Supp. 2d
1096 (W.D. Wisc. 2001). In cases where this
argument failed, the prisoners were not able to
prove the subjective element -- that the prison knew
the conditions were making their mental illness
worse. Scarver v. Litscher, 434 F.3d 972 (7th Cir.


Other Conditions: Prisoners have also
successfully challenged problems with lighting,
Hoptowit v. Spellman, 753 F.2d 779, 783 (9th Cir.
1985), fire safety, Id. at 784; furnishings, Brown v.
Bargery, 207 F.3d 863 (6th Cir. 2000);
accommodation of physical disabilities, Bradley v.
Puckett, 157 F.3d 1022 (5th Cir. 1998); unsafe
work requirements, Fruit v. Norris, 905 F.2d 1147
(8th Cir. 1990), as well as other inadequate or
inhumane conditions.

Instead of challenging a particular condition, you may
also bring an Eighth Amendment suit on a “totality of
the conditions” theory. You can do this on your own or
as part of a class action lawsuit. Using this theory, you
can argue that even though certain conditions might not
be unconstitutional on their own, they add up to create
an overall effect that is unconstitutional. Palmer v.
Johnson, 193 F.3d 346 (5th Cir. 1999). The Supreme
Court has limited this argument to cases where multiple
conditions add up to create a single, identifiable harm,
Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 305 (1991), but the
courts disagree on exactly what that means.

4. Your Right to Medical Care
The Basics: The prison must provide you with medical
care if you need it, but the Eighth Amendment does not
protect you from medical malpractice

THE RULE: Prison officials may not act with deliberate
indifference to a serious medical need.
The Eighth Amendment protects your right to medical
care. The Constitution guarantees prisoners this right,
even though it does not guarantee medical care to
people outside of prison. The Supreme Court explained
that this is because “[a]n inmate must rely on prison
authorities to treat his medical needs; if the authorities
fail to do so, those needs will not be met.” Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976). Unfortunately, the
Eighth Amendment does not guarantee you the same
level of medical care you might choose if you were not
in prison.
If you feel that your right to adequate medical care has
been violated, the Constitution is not the only source of
your legal rights. You can bring claims under your state
constitution or state statutes relating to medical care or
the treatment of prisoners. You can also bring a
medical malpractice suit in state court. If you are a
federal prisoner, you might also bring a claim in federal


court under the Federal Tort Claims Act. However, this
section will focus exclusively on your right to medical
care under the U.S. Constitution.
To succeed in an Eighth Amendment challenge to the
medical care in your prison, you must show three
things. These are:
(a) You had a serious medical need;
(b) Prison officials showed “deliberate
indifference” to your serious medical need; and
(c) This deliberate indifference caused your injury.
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). These
requirements are described in more detail below.
a. Serious Medical Need
Under the Eighth Amendment, you are entitled to
medical care for “serious medical needs.” Courts do not
agree on what is or isn’t a serious medical need; you
should research the standard for a serious medical need
in your circuit before filing a suit.
One court described a serious medical need as “one that
has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating
treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay
person would easily recognize the necessity for a
doctor's attention.” Hill v. Dekalb Reg'l Youth Det. Ctr.,
40 F.3d 1176, 1187 (11th Cir. 1994). Courts usually
agree that a prisoner can show a serious medical need if
the “failure to treat a prisoner’s condition could result
in further significant injury or the ‘unnecessary and
wanton infliction of pain.’” Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104;
Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006). In
other words, if a doctor says you need treatment, or
your need is obvious, than it is probably a “serious
medical need.”
Courts generally agree that the existence of a serious
medical need depends on the facts surrounding each
individual. Smith v. Carpenter, 316 F.3d 178 (2d Cir.
2003). A condition may not be a serious medical need
in one situation but could be a serious medical need in
another. Chronic conditions like diabetes, HIV, AIDS,
hepatitis, epilepsy and hypertension are serious medical
needs, for which you deserve medical attention and
In considering whether you have a serious medical
need, the court will look at several factors,

(1) Whether a reasonable doctor or patient
would consider the need worthy of comment
or treatment;
(2) Whether the condition significantly affects
daily activities; and
(3) Whether you have chronic and serious pain.
For more on these factors, a good case to read is Brock
v. Wright, 315 F.3d 158 (2d Cir. 2003).
Mental health concerns can qualify as serious medical
needs. For example, several courts have held that a risk
of suicide is a serious medical need for the purposes of
the Eighth Amendment. Estate of Cole by Pardue v.
Fromm, 94 F.3d 254 (7th Cir. 1996); Gregoire v. Class,
236 F.3d 413 (8th Cir. 2000).
It is important that you keep detailed records of your
condition and inform prison medical staff of exactly
how you are suffering.
b. Deliberate Indifference
The standard for “deliberate indifference” in medical
care cases is the same two-part standard (objective and
subjective) used in cases challenging conditions of
confinement in prison, explained in Part 2 of this
section. To prove deliberate indifference, you must
show that (1) prison officials knew about your serious
medical need and (2) the prison officials failed to
respond reasonably to it. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104;
Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1369 (7th Cir.
1997). This means that you cannot bring an Eighth
Amendment challenge to medical care just because it
was negligent (like if a doctor tries to help you but
accidentally makes you worse) or because you disagree
with the type of treatment a doctor gave you. You can
bring those sorts of claims through other means, such
as state medical malpractice laws.
To increase your chances of receiving proper care and
succeeding in a constitutional challenge to your
medical care, you should keep careful records of your
condition and your efforts to notify prison officials.
You should take advantage of sick call procedures at
your prison and report your condition even if you do
not think officials will help you. Although courts will
not find deliberate indifference just because a prison
“should have known” that you had a serious medical
need, courts will assume that prison officials knew
about your condition if it was very obvious. Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 842 (1995).


Courts most often find deliberate indifference when:



A prison doctor fails to respond appropriately or
does not respond at all to your serious medical
needs. Scott v. Ambani, 577 F.3d 642 (6th Cir
2009); Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218 (3d Cir.
2004); Meloy v. Bachmeier, 302 F.3d 845, 849 (8th
Cir. 2002).
Prison guards or other non-medical officials
intentionally deny or delay your access to
treatment. Brown v. District of Columbia, 514 F.3d
1279 (D.C. Cir. 2008)
When these same non-medical officials interfere
with the treatment that your doctor has ordered.
Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05; Lopez v. Smith, 203
F.3d 1122 (9th Cir 2000).

Prison officials can be held liable even for following
the advice of prison medical officials if it is obvious,
even to a layperson, that the person is in need of
hospitalization or other critical medical care. McRaven
v. Sanders, 577 F.3d 974 (8th Cir. 2009). Otherwise,
prison officials may rely on what a prison doctor tells
them. Johnson v. Doughty, 433 F.3d 1001 (7th Cir.
Unfortunately, courts do not usually require prison
medical staff to give you the best possible care. For
example, one court did not find a violation when prison
medical staff followed the doctor’s orders about what
to do with a prisoner who had been beaten. Even
though the prisoner complained several times and the
prisoner’s condition was more serious than the doctor
had recognized, there was no violation of the Eighth
Amendment. Perkins v. Lawson, 312 F.3d 872 (7th Cir.
2002). Another court found that there was not
deliberate indifference in a case where a patient
received thirteen medical examinations in one year,
even though he claimed that a muscular condition in his
back did not improve. Jones v. Norris, 310 F.3d 610
(8th Cir. 2002).
c. Causation
Finally, you must show that you suffered some harm or
injury as a result of the prison official’s deliberate
indifference. If officials failed to respond to your
complaints about serious pain but the pain went away
on its own, you will not succeed in a constitutional
challenge. For example, one court did not find a
constitutional violation when a prison did not give a
prisoner with HIV his medication on two occasions,
because even though HIV is a very serious condition,
the missed medication did not cause him any harm.
Smith v. Carpenter, 316 F.3d 178 (2d Cir. 2003).

In some situations, you may wish to challenge your
prison’s medical care system as a whole, and not just
the care or lack of care that you received in response to
a particular medical need. These systemic challenges to
prison medical care systems are also governed by the
deliberate indifference standard. Successful cases have
challenged the medical screening procedures for new
prisoners, the screening policies or staffing for
prisoners seeking care, and the disease control policies
of prisons. Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678 (1978).
Finally, the Constitution protects your right to have
your sensitive medical information kept private. Prison
officials are only allowed to share this information
about you if it is reasonably related to a legitimate
penological objective. Gossip is not a legitimate
penological objective. Powell v. Schriver, 175 F.3d
107, 113 (2d Cir. 1999). Under this standard, courts
have said prison staff may not disclose a prisoner’s
HIV status or psychiatric history without need.

Your Right to Use the Courts
The Basics: Prisoners have a fundamental right to
access and use the court system.

Just like people on the outside, prisoners have a
fundamental constitutional right to use the court
system. This right is based on the First, Fifth and
Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Under the
First Amendment, you have the right to “petition the
government for a redress of grievances,” and under the
Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, you have a right to
“due process of law.” Put together, these provisions
mean that you must have the opportunity to go to court
if you think your rights have been violated. This right is
referred to as the “right of access to the courts.”
Unfortunately, doing legal work in prison can be
dangerous, as well as difficult, so it is important to
A terrible but common consequence of prisoner
activism is harassment by prison officials. Officials
have been known to block the preparation and filing of
lawsuits, refuse to mail legal papers, take away legal
research materials, and deny access to law books, all in
an attempt to stop the public and the courts from
learning about prisoner issues and complaints. Officials
in these situations are worried about any actions that
threaten to change conditions within the prison walls or
limit their power. In particular, officials may seek to
punish those who have gained legal skills and try to


help their fellow prisoners with legal matters. Prisoners
with legal skills can be particularly threatening to
prison management who would like to limit the
education and political training of prisoners. Some
jailhouse lawyers report that officials have taken away
their possessions, put them in solitary confinement on
false charges, denied them parole, or transferred them
to other facilities where they were no longer able to
communicate with the prisoners they had been helping.
With this in mind, it is very important for those of you
who are interested in both legal and political activism
to keep in contact with people in the outside world. One
way to do this is by making contact with people and
organizations in the outside community who do
prisoners’ rights or other civil rights work. You can
also try to find and contact reporters who may be
sensitive to, and interested in, prison issues. These can
include print newspapers and newsletters, broadcast
television and radio shows, and online sites. It is always
possible that organizing from the outside aimed at the
correct pressure points within prison management can
have a dramatic effect on conditions for you on the
Certain court decisions that have established standards
for prisoner legal rights can be powerful weapons in
your activism efforts. These decisions can act as strong
evidence to persuade others that your complaints are
legitimate and reasonable, and most of all, can win in a
court of law. It is sometimes possible to use favorable
court rulings to support your position in non-legal
challenges, such as negotiations with prison officials or
in administrative requests for protective orders, as well
as providing a basis for a lawsuit when other methods
may not achieve your desired goals.
The Supreme Court established that prisoners have a
fundamental right to access the courts in a series of
important cases, including Ex parte Hull, 312 U.S. 546
(1941), Johnson v. Avery, 383 U.S. 483 (1969), and
Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977). This right
allows you to file a Section 1983 or Bivens claim,
habeas petitions, or to work on your criminal case. The
right is so fundamental that it requires a prison to fund
a way for you to have meaningful access to the court.
Prisons can do this in different ways. They can give
you access to a decent law library OR they can hire
people to help you with your cases.
However, the right of access to the courts has one very
serious limitation, that comes from a Supreme Court
case called Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996). This
case states that a prisoner cannot claim he was denied
his right of access to the courts unless he shows an

“actual injury.” To show actual injury, you have to
prove that prison officials or prison policy stopped you
from being able to assert a “nonfrivolous claim.” In
other words, even if your prison isn’t allowing you to
use the law library and isn’t giving you legal help, you
still can’t necessarily win a lawsuit about it. To win,
courts usually require you to show that you had a
legitimate claim or case that you lost, or were unable to
bring, due to some action by prison officials, or due to
the inadequacy of your access to legal assistance.
You can show actual injury in a lot of different ways.
In Myers v. Hundley, 101 F.3d 542 (8th Cir. 1996), for
example, the court held that a prison policy requiring
prisoners to chose between purchasing hygiene supplies
and stamps to file legal documents might violate the
right to access the courts if it caused a prisoner to miss
a filing deadline. And in Benjamin v. Kerik, 102 F.
Supp. 2d 157 (S.D.N.Y. 2000), the court found actual
injury when a prisoner could not locate cases cited by
defendants in the prison law library, and thus could not
fully respond to his adversary’s motion.
The unfortunate problem of Lewis v. Casey is that some
courts will only recognize “actual injury” if you have
lost your suit or missed a filing deadline because of
inadequate access. Other courts, however, allow access
to the court claims based on “impairment” of a legal
claim, even if the case is not lost. For example, in
Cody v. Weber, 256 F.3d 764 (8th Cir. 2001), the court
found “actual injury” based on the advantage
defendants gained by reading a plaintiff’s confidential
legal material.
The most common areas of litigation around court
access include your right to:
1. File legal papers, and to seek and meet with
lawyers and legal workers;
2. Get reasonable access to law books;
3. Obtain legal help from other prisoners or help
other prisoners; and
4. Be free from retaliation based on legal activity.

1. The Right to File Papers and Meet with
Lawyers and Legal Workers
Your right of access to the courts includes the right to
try to get an attorney and then to meet with him or her.
For pretrial detainees, the Sixth Amendment right to
counsel protects your right to see your attorney, and the
Lewis v. Casey actual injury requirement does not
Prisoners without pending criminal cases have a due


process right to meet with a lawyer, but that right is
limited. In Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396
(1974), the Supreme Court explained that you have a
right to meet with your attorney and with law students
or legal workers, such as paralegals, who work for your
attorney. However, this right is subject to the actual
injury requirement.

Federal courts have also required that prison libraries
provide tables and chairs, be of adequate size, and be
open for inmates to use for a reasonable amount of
time. This does not mean that inmates get immediate
access or unlimited research time. Limitations that are
too restrictive may constitute a denial of your right of
access to the courts, but only if show that these
problems caused actual injury.

Lewis v. Casey

If the denial of access to the law library is somehow
connected to another violation of your constitutional
rights, you might not have to show that the denial
harmed your non-frivolous lawsuit. For example, in
Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263 (2d Cir 2006), a
prisoner was not allowed to go to religious services on
the days he went to the law library. The case was
primarily about free exercise of religion, so the plaintiff
did not have to met the actual injury requirement.
However, the court still considered the case to be, in
part, about access to the library. Similarly, in Kaufman
v. Schneiter, 474 F. Supp. 2d 1014 (W.D. Wisc. 2007),
the court found an Eighth Amendment violation when a
prisoner was forced to chose between using limited outof-cell time for exercise or for access to the law library.

It is important to keep the Lewis v. Casey “actual injury”
requirement in mind as you read the rest of this
chapter. It applies to almost all of the following rights
related to access to the courts, and it means that many
cases on access to courts from before 1996 are of
somewhat limited usefulness. Those cases can still
help you understand the content of the right of access
to the court, but unless denial of the right has led to
injury under Lewis v. Casey, you will not be able to win.

You should be aware that prisons can impose
reasonable restrictions on timing, length, and
conditions of attorney visits. For example, the right to
meet with legal workers and lawyers does not
necessarily mean that you have a right to meet them in
a contact visit. In Shepherd v. Malan, 13 Fed.Appx.
584 (9th Cir. 2001), the court denied an access to courts
claim arising from the exclusion of an attorney from a
contact visit, because the prisoner did not show actual
Other important ways to communicate with a lawyer is
through legal calls and legal mail. Your right to
confidential conversation and communication with your
lawyer is explained in Section A of this chapter.

2. Access to a Law Library
If your prison decides to have a law library to fulfill the
requirements under Bounds, you can then ask the
question: Is the law library adequate? A law library
should have the books that prisoners are likely to need.
The lower courts have established some guidelines as
to what books should be in the library. Remember,
under Lewis v. Casey, you can’t sue over an inadequate
law library unless it has hurt your non-frivolous lawsuit
or habeas petition.
Books that Should be Available in Law Libraries:

Relevant state and federal statutes
State and federal law reporters from the past few
Shepards citations
Basic treatises on habeas corpus, prisoners’ civil
rights, and criminal law

Inmates who cannot visit the law library because they
are in disciplinary segregation or other extra-restrictive
conditions must have meaningful access to the courts
some other way. Some prisons use a system where
prisoners request a specific book and that book is
delivered to the prisoner’s cell. This system makes
research very hard and time-consuming, and some
courts have held that, without additional measures, such
systems violate a prisoner’s right to access the courts.
Trujillo v. Williams, 465 F.3d 1210 (10th Cir. 2006);
Marange v. Fontenot, 879 F. Supp. 679 (E.D. Tex.

3. Getting Help from a Jailhouse Lawyer
and Providing Help to Other Prisoners
You have a right to get legal help from other prisoners
unless the prison “provides some reasonable alternative
to assist inmates in the preparation of petitions.”
Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 490 (1969). This
means that if you have no other way to work on your
lawsuit, you can insist on getting help from another
prisoner. In Johnson, the Supreme Court held that the
prison could not stop prisoners from helping each other
write legal documents because no other legal resources
were available.
If you have other ways to access the court, like a law
library or a paralegal program, the state can restrict
communications between prisoners under the Turner
test if “the regulation… is reasonably related to


legitimate penological interests.” Turner v. Safley, 482
U.S. 78, 89 (1987) (See Section A for more discussion).
The Supreme Court has held that jailhouse lawyers do
not receive any additional First Amendment protection,
and the Turner test applies even for legal
communications. Therefore, if prison officials have a
“legitimate penological interest,” they can regulate
communications between jailhouse lawyers and other
prisoners. Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223, 228 (2001).
Courts vary in what they consider a “reasonable”
regulation. Johnson itself states that “limitations on the
time and location” of jailhouse lawyers’ activities are
permissible. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said
that it was OK to ban meetings in a prisoner’s cell and
require a jailhouse lawyer to only meet with prisonerclients in the library. Bellamy v. Bradley, 729 F.2d 417
(6th Cir. 1984). The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals
upheld a ban on communication when, due to a
transfer, a jailhouse lawyer was separated from his
prisoner-client. Goff v. Nix, 113 F.3d 887 (8th Cir.
1997). However, the Goff court did require state
officials to allow jailhouse lawyers to return a
prisoner’s legal documents after the transfer. Id. at 892.
While a state can regulate jailhouse lawyers, it can’t
ban them altogether if prisoners have no other means of
access to the court. In Bear v. Kautzky, 305 F.3d 802
(8th Cir. 2002), for example, the court found an access
to courts violation when a prison banned prisoners who
had no other way to get legal help from speaking to
jailhouse lawyers.
The right of access to the court is a right that belongs to
the person in need of legal services. It does not mean
that you have a right to be a jailhouse lawyer or provide
legal services. Gibbs v. Hopkins, 10 F.3d 373 (6th Cir.
1993); Tighe v. Wall, 100 F.3d 41, 43 (5th Cir. 1996).
Since jailhouse lawyers are usually not licensed
lawyers they generally do not have the right to
represent prisoners in court or file legal documents with
the court, and the conversations between jailhouse
lawyers and the prisoner-clients are not usually
privileged. Bonacci v. Kindt, 868 F.2d 1442 (5th Cir.
1989); Storseth v. Spellman 654 F.2d 1349, 1355-56
(9th Cir. 1981). Furthermore, the right to counsel does
not give a prisoner the right to choose who he wants as
a lawyer. Gometz v. Henman, 807 F.2d 113, 116 (7th
Cir. 1986). And jailhouse lawyers don’t get any
special protection from rules that may impact
communication with clients. Rather, courts will apply
the Turner test described in Section A.

prisoner. For example, a New York state court held that
the prison could punish a prisoner for helping another
prisoner by writing to the FBI without first getting
permission. Rivera v. Coughlin, 620 N.Y.S.2d 505, 210
A.D.2d 543 (App. Div. 1994).
Nor will being a jailhouse lawyer protect you from
transfer, although the transfer may be unconstitutional
if it hurts the case of the prisoner you are helping. For
more on this, compare Buise v. Hudkins, 584 F.2d 223
(7th Cir. 1978) with Adams v. James, 784 F.2d 1077,
1086 (11th Cir. 1986). The prison may reasonably limit
the number of law books you are allowed to have in
your cell. Finally, jailhouse lawyers have no right to
receive payment for their assistance. Johnson v. Avery,
393 U.S. 483, 490 (1969).

4. Dealing With Retaliation
If you file a civil rights claim against the warden, a
particular guard, or some other prison official, there is a
chance that they will try to threaten you or scare you
away from continuing with your suit. Retaliation can
take many forms. In the past, prisoners have been
placed in administrative segregation without cause,
denied proper food or hygiene materials, transferred to
another prison, and had their legal papers intercepted.
Some have been physically assaulted. Most forms of
retaliation are illegal, and you may be able to sue to get
In many states, you may be transferred to another
correctional facility, or briefly put in administrative
segregation for many, many reasons. Olim v.
Wakinekona, 460 U.S. 238 (1983). However, you
cannot be put into administrative segregation solely to
punish you for filing a lawsuit. Cleggett v. Pate, 229 F.
Supp. 818 (N.D. Ill. 1964). Nor can you be transferred
to punish you for filing a lawsuit, whether for yourself,
or for someone else. Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d
378 (6th Cir. 1999). Of course, there are other, more
subtle things that officers can do to harass you. Perhaps
your mail will be lost, your food served cold, or your
turn in the exercise yard forgotten. One of these small
events may not be enough to make a claim of
retaliation, but if it keeps happening, it may be enough
to make a claim of a “campaign of harassment.”
Calhoun v. Hargone, 312 F.3d 730 (5th Cir. 2002);
Witte v. Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections, 434 F.3d 1031
(7th Cir. 2006) (prison doctor subjected to a campaign
of harassment for testifying for prisoners).
To prove that the warden or a correctional officer has
illegally retaliated against you for filing a lawsuit, you
must show three things:

Some courts require a jailhouse lawyer to get
permission from prison officials before helping another

(1) You were doing something you had a
constitutional right to do, which is called “protected
conduct.” Filing a Section 1983 claim or a
grievance is an example of “protected conduct” as
part of your First Amendment rights;
(2) What the prison official(s) did to you, which is
called an “adverse action,” was so bad that it would
stop an “average person” from continuing with
their suit; and
(3) There is a “causal connection.” That means the
officer did what he did because of what you were
doing. Or, in legal terms: the prison official’s
adverse action was directly related to your
protected conduct.
If you show these three things, the officer will have to
show that he would have taken the same action against
you regardless of your lawsuit.
An officer learns that you have filed suit against the
warden and throws you into administrative segregation
to keep you away from law books or other prisoners
who might help you in your suit. The “protected action”
is you filing a lawsuit against the warden; the “adverse
action” is you being placed in the hole. You would have
a valid claim of retaliation unless the officer had some
other reason for putting you in the hole, like you had
just gotten into a fight with another prisoner.

In one case, a prisoner was able to prove that there was
a policy or custom of retaliating against prisoners who
helped other prisoners exercise their right of access to
the courts. The retaliation violated their First
Amendment rights. Gomez v. Vernon, 255 F.3d 1118
(9th Cir. 2001).
It is possible -- but not easy -- to get a preliminary
injunction to keep correctional officers from
threatening or harming you or any of your witnesses in
an upcoming trial. Valvano v. McGrath, 325 F. Supp.
408 (E.D.N.Y. 1970). Preliminary injunctions are
discussed in Chapter Four, Section B. It is also a
federal crime for state actors (the prison officials) to
threaten or assault witnesses in federal litigation. 18
U.S.C. § 1512 (a)(2). Also remember that groups of
prisoners are allowed to bring class action suits if many
of them are regularly deprived of their constitutional
rights. You have strength in numbers – it cannot hurt to
enlist the help of friends inside and outside prison. If
you can get somebody on the outside to contact the
media or the prison administration on your behalf, it

may remind the powers that be that others are out there
watching out for you, and it may scare them away from
engaging in particularly repressive tactics.
Finally, remember that even when you think it would
be pointless or go through the prison’s formal
complaint system, the PLRA still requires you to do so.
If you complain and a guard or someone else threatens
you, you still have to go through all available prison
grievance and appeal procedures before the court will
consider your Section 1983 claim. Booth v. Churner,
532 U.S. 731, 740 (2001).

Issues of Importance to Women
This section discusses some issues of special concern to
women prisoners, including gynecological care,
prenatal care (medical care during pregnancy),
abortion, and privacy from observation and searches.
As you learned in Section C, female prisoners have the
same rights as male prisoners under the U.S.
Constitution. The number of women in prison is
growing fast, but women have been and still are a
minority in prison. That means that most cases
involving prisoners have been about male prisoners and
have been based on men’s needs. One example is your
constitutional right to medical care. Courts agree that
prisons must respond to your “serious medical needs,”
but relatively few courts have considered whether
pregnancy or abortion should be considered serious
medical needs.

1. Medical Care
As you learned in Section F, Part 4 of this chapter, your
right to medical care is guaranteed by the Eighth
Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual
punishment. To make a claim for an Eighth
Amendment medical care violation, you must show a
“serious medical need” and a prison official must have
shown “deliberate indifference” to that need.
Despite these rights, women prisoners often do not get
the medical care they need. In Todaro v. Ward, 565
F.2d 48 (2d Cir. 1977), for example, a class of women
prisoners argued that their prison’s medical system
violated constitutional standards. The court applied the
“deliberate indifference” test and determined that by
not properly screening women’s health problems and
poorly administering prison health services, the prison
had denied or unreasonably delayed prisoners’ access
to proper medical care in violation of the Eighth


Amendment. The court ordered the prison to take
specific steps to improve its medical services.
a. Proper Care for Women Prisoners
Most courts have not yet considered how to judge the
level of medical care women in prison need, including
pregnant women. However, State and local regulations
sometimes require certain medical services, such as a
physical exam, for every new prisoner. Under federal
law, all federal prisoners are entitled to a medical
screening, with appropriate record-keeping, that meets
guidelines issued by the Bureau of Prisons. 28 CFR §§
522.20 - 522.21.
If you are unsure about your own medical needs, or
want to challenge the medical care you have received,
you may want to take a look at some guidelines for
women’s health published by national medical
associations. The American College of Obstetricians
and Gynecologists (ACOG) publishes a pamphlet
called “You and Your Baby: Prenatal Care, Labor and
Delivery, and Postpartum Care” that describes
pregnancy and explains guidelines for prenatal care.
They also publish a pamphlet called “Staying Healthy
at all Ages” which includes guidelines about when to
get pap smears and mammograms. They have many
more pamphlets on other women’s health issues. You
can request a free copy of these pamphlets by
contacting the ACOG Distribution Center, PO Box
933104, Atlanta, Georgia 31193, by calling 1-800-4102264, or by sending an email to
The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual from Columbia
University also provides a good summary of the
medical services and tests that national guidelines
recommend for women. Information on how to order
the Columbia Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual is available
in Appendix J.
While a court cannot enforce these guidelines, a judge
may be willing to take them into account, especially
since there is not that much case law in this area.
b. Medical Needs of Pregnant Women
Women who are pregnant require special medical care,
called “prenatal care,” to ensure that they deliver
healthy babies. Many pregnant women experience
complications during their pregnancy. With immediate
and appropriate medical care, these complications can
be resolved and women can go on to have healthy
pregnancies and babies. When these complications are
ignored, however, they can lead to miscarriages,
premature or risky labor, and future reproductive health
problems for the pregnant woman involved.

Challenging inadequate prenatal care in court
The two-part test for inadequate medical care under the
Eighth Amendment raises some special questions in the
area of prenatal care.

Is pregnancy a serious medical need? Courts
disagree whether a healthy pregnancy is a “serious
medical need.” One court said that pregnancy is not
a serious medical need if a doctor has not identified
any special need for care and when it would not be
obvious to an average person that there is a
problem. Coleman v. Rahija, 114 F.3d 778 (8th Cir.
1997). In a case about a prisoner’s right to an
abortion, however, another court stated that
pregnancy is different from other medical issues
and is a “serious medical need” even when there
are no complications or abnormalities. Monmouth
County Correctional Institution Inmates v.
Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326 (3d Cir. 1987).


What counts as deliberate indifference? If you
experienced major complications during your
pregnancy, a court is likely to find that you had a
serious medical need, but the court must still decide
whether a prison official who denied you
appropriate care showed deliberate indifference to
your needs. In Coleman v. Rahija, 114 F.3d 778
(8th Cir. 1997), the court found that a prison nurse
showed deliberate indifference when she ignored
requests to transfer a pregnant prisoner in early
labor to a hospital, leaving the prisoner to give birth
in severe pain on the floor of her prison cell. The
court held that the nurse must have known of the
prisoner’s serious medical need because the signs
of her pre-term labor were obvious and because the
nurse had access to the prisoner’s medical records,
which documented a history of multiple
pregnancies, all with serious complications.

In some cases, a prison official’s supervisor can be
found guilty of deliberate indifference when the official
violates a prisoner’s rights, even if the supervisor was
not aware of the particular incident in question. In
Boswell v. Sherburne County, 849 F.2d 1117 (8th Cir.
1988), the court found a possibility of deliberate
indifference among both the jailers who repeatedly
ignored a pregnant pre-trial detainee’s complaints of
severe vaginal bleeding and their supervisors, even
though the supervisors were not directly involved. The
court relied on the fact that the supervisors encouraged
jailers to use their own untrained medical judgment and
to reduce the jail’s medical costs even when it put pretrial detainees’ health at risk.


You should be aware, however, that it is very difficult
in general to succeed on a claim that a supervisor is
liable to you for a violation of your rights. For a
detailed explanation of when you may be able to bring
a “supervisory liability” claim, see page 73 of this

before having an abortion, or it may be able to require a
parent’s permission if the woman is a minor. The court
defined an “undue burden” as “a state regulation that
has the purpose or effect of placing a substantial
obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion.”
Casey, 505 U.S. at 877.

Is it acceptable to shackle a pregnant prisoner?
It is a sad fact that prisons sometimes shackle pregnant
prisoners. At least one court has held that a prison
cannot use any restraints on a woman during labor,
delivery, or recovery from delivery, and cannot use any
restraints while transporting a woman in her third
trimester of pregnancy unless that woman has a history
of escape or assault, in which case only handcuffs are
allowed. Women Prisoners of the District of Columbia
Dept. of Corrections v. District of Columbia, 93 F.3d
910 (D.C. Cir. 1996). Another good case on this issue
is Nelson v. Correction Medical Services, 583 F.3d 522
(8th Cir. 2009), in which a woman prisoner who was
forced to endure the final stages of labor and delivery
while shackled was allowed to continue her case
against the guard who shackled her.

A woman in prison may challenge an official’s failure
to provide her access to an abortion in one of two ways.
First, she can claim a violation of her fundamental right
to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment. Second,
she can claim a violation of her Eighth Amendment
right to medical care, using the two-part test described
above. Each of these approaches has been successful,
but they can also be challenging for a number of

For a state-by-state overview of the laws regarding
shackling or restraining pregnant inmates, see Amnesty
International, Abuse of Women in Custody: Sexual
Misconduct and Shackling of Pregnant Women,
available at

2. Your Right to an Abortion in Prison
THE BASICS: You cannot be forced to have an abortion
you don’t want, and you must be allowed an abortion if
you want one. If you are being denied an abortion you
want, or forced to have one you don’t want, you may
want to contact the ACLU Reproductive Freedom
Project. Their address is listed in Appendix H.

a. Fourteenth Amendment Claim
If the prison has a policy that limits your ability to get
an abortion in any way, you can challenge that policy
under the Fourteenth Amendment. In deciding if the
policy is constitutional, the court will use the Turner
standard, described in Section A of this Chapter.
One important case is Monmouth County Correctional
Institution Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326 (3d Cir.
1987). In that case, a prison policy required pregnant
women to get a doctor to state that an abortion was
medically necessary or get a court order before it would
allow the prisoner to obtain an abortion. The Court
held that this violated both the Fourteenth Amendment
and Eighth Amendment. The Monmouth court applied
the four-part Turner reasonableness test to the prison
policy in question and determined that the women
prisoners’ Fourteenth Amendment rights outweighed
any claim of legitimate penological interest that might
explain the policy.
The court addressed each part of the test as follows:

In Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), the Supreme
Court upheld a woman’s right to choose to have an
abortion under the Fourteenth Amendment, which
protects certain fundamental rights to privacy. Almost
twenty years later, in Planned Parenthood of
Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833
(1992), the Court once again upheld the right to an
abortion, but also held that the state can limit this right
in certain ways, to promote childbirth. The state can
require women to do certain things, as long as those
limitations did not place an “undue burden” on a
woman’s right to choose abortion. For example, the
state can make a woman wait a certain period of time


Is there a valid, reasonable connection between the
prison regulation and a legitimate, neutral state
interest used to justify the regulation? The court
found that the regulation had no valid relationship
to a legitimate security interest. It pointed out that
maximum- and minimum-security prisoners could
receive “medically necessary” services without a
court order, but that even minimum-security
prisoners had to receive a court order to seek an
Is there another way for prisoners to exercise the
constitutional right being limited under the
regulation? The court found no other way for
prisoners to exercise their right to an abortion under
the regulation. It argued that maximum-security


prisoners would be unlikely to be released for an
abortion by court order and could not get an
abortion in the prison. While minimum-security
prisoners might receive the release order for an
abortion, the court argued that the likelihood of
delay in the process was too big a risk, since
women are unable to have abortions legally past a
certain point in their pregnancy.


How would eliminating the court-ordered release
requirement for prisoner abortions impact prison
resources, administrators, and other prisoners? The
court noted that although allowing prisoners access
to abortions imposed some costs on the prison,
giving prisoners proper prenatal care and access to
hospitals for delivery imposes equal costs, so
eliminating the regulation would not be too costly
for the prison. The court also noted that while a
prison must help fund abortions for prisoners who
cannot pay for them, it is not obligated to pay for
all abortion services.
Are there less restrictive ways for the government
to promote its interests? In other words, is the
regulation an exaggerated response to the
government’s interests? Finally, the court ruled that
the regulation was an exaggerated response to
questionable financial and administrative burdens
because it had nothing to do with prison security
and because plaintiffs were simply asking the
prison to accommodate the medical needs of all
pregnant prisoners, not just those who wished to
give birth.

Roe v. Crawford, 514 F.3d 789 (8th Cir. 2008) is
another very positive case. There, a class of women
seeking elective abortions sued over a Missouri
Department of Corrections policy that denied pregnant
prisoners transport to receive elective abortions. The
department defended the policy by citing a security
concern: that protests and conditions at abortion clinics
posed a risk to guards and inmates. The Court decided
this concern was legitimate, and that, under the first
Turner question, the ban on transport did rationally
advance the concern. However, under Turner question
two, the Court found that the transport ban entirely
eliminated access to abortion, which weighed very
heavily against the constitutionality of the rule. After
considering the final two Turner factors, the court
determined that the rule violated the Fourteenth
Amendment, and must be struck down.
Not all Fourteenth Amendment claims have been
successful. One bad case is Victoria W. v. Larpenter,
369 F.3d 475 (5th Cir. 2004). That case involved an

unwritten prison policy requiring pregnant women to
obtain a court order allowing transport for an elective
abortion. The court found that the prison’s policy of
requiring inmates to seek and receive a court order
before allowing them to be released for non-emergency
medical services met the Turner v. Safley test for
b. Eighth Amendment Claim
While a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim is a
more likely way to win an abortion case, prisoners have
also had success with Eighth Amendment claims.
However, proving both a serious medical need and
deliberate indifference can be difficult.
Is abortion a serious medical need?
When an abortion is necessary to preserve your life or
health, it is without question a serious medical need.
The debate among courts centers on abortions that are
“elective”—that is, abortions that are not medically
necessary to preserve a woman’s health or save her life.
In Monmouth, the Court of Appeals determined that
abortions are a serious medical need whether or not
they are medically necessary to protect the health of the
woman. The court rejected the argument that only a
painful or serious injury counts as a serious medical
need, and noted the unique nature of pregnancy. Even
when an abortion is elective, the court decided, it is
always a serious medical need because delaying an
abortion for too long or denying one altogether is an
irreversible action. Without fast medical attention, a
woman who wants to exercise her right to have an
abortion cannot do so.
Not all courts have agreed with the Monmouth decision,
and the case law on whether an elective abortion is a
serious medical need is different in different states. For
example, in Roe v. Crawford, 514 F.3d 789 (8th Cir.
2008), described above, the appellate court reversed the
district court’s decision that the Missouri policy
violated the Eighth Amendment. The court decided
that because an elective abortion is not medically
necessary, it is not a serious medical need.
When is the failure to provide access to abortion
deliberate indifference?
Proving deliberate indifference can also be hard.
Courts seem to disagree about the standard for
deliberate indifference when it comes to abortion.
Some courts find only negligence (which is not a
violation of a constitutional right) even when it seems
like a prison official knew of a prisoner’s request for
and right to an abortion. For example, in Bryant v.
Maffuci, 923 F.2d 979 (2d. Cir. 1991), the court held


that prison officials had only been negligent in failing
to schedule an abortion for a pregnant prisoner until it
was too late for her to have one under New York law,
even though, as the dissent noted, the prisoner
requested an abortion upon her arrival to prison and
every day thereafter, and the medical staff had
measured the duration of her pregnancy so far and
marked her file as an “EMERGENCY.”
It can be especially difficult to prove deliberate
indifference when the actions of many officials are
involved. In Gibson v. Matthews, 926 F.2d 532 (6th
Cir. 1991), a federal judge sentenced a pregnant woman
to prison and, based on the prisoner’s repeated requests
for an abortion, requested that she be provided with an
abortion as soon as possible. After several days of
travel, Ms. Gibson reached her assigned facility and
learned that no abortions were performed there. When
she finally arrived at a facility that did perform
abortions, she was told that it was too late in her
pregnancy to arrange an abortion. The court held that
the denial of Ms. Gibson’s abortion could not be
attributed to any particular official, and was only
negligence, not deliberate indifference.

3. Observations and Searches by Male
Many women in prison feel uncomfortable or anxious
when they are observed or searched by male guards.
The Constitution provides you with some protection
from these searches: the Fourth Amendment protects
your right to privacy from unreasonable searches, while
the Eighth Amendment protects your right to be free
from cruel and unusual punishment. However, as with
other constitutional rights, your Fourth and Eighth
Amendment rights must be weighed against the
prison’s interests in security and efficiency. It is also
important to understand that since the federal
government prohibits employment discrimination based
on gender, courts are reluctant to prevent men from
doing a certain type of work in prisons simply because
they are men.
Title VII of the United States Code, a federal law,
forbids employment discrimination against someone
because of his or her gender. This means that in
general, an employer cannot refuse to hire someone for
a certain job or give someone a promotion because of
his or her gender. The only exception to this rule is
when there is a strong reason, not based on stereotypes
about gender, to believe that a person of one gender
could not perform the job or would undermine the goal
of the work. In the language of the statute, it must be
“reasonably necessary” to have an employee of a

specific gender; if this is the case, gender is considered
a “bona fide occupational qualification” or a “BFOQ.”
Many courts have weighed prisoners’ privacy interests
against the need to prevent discrimination in our
society and decided that preventing discrimination is a
more serious concern. For example, in Johnson v.
Phelan, 69 F.3d 144 (7th Cir. 1995), a case about
women guards in men’s prisons, the court expressed
concern that women would get stuck with office jobs
and decided that gender is not a BFOQ. In Torres v.
Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services,
859 F.2d 1523 (7th Cir. 1988), however, the same court
found it acceptable that a women’s maximum security
prison did not allow men to work as security guards
because the administrators of the women’s prison had
determined that male guards might harm the women
prisoners’ rehabilitation. According to the court,
Johnson and Torres are not inconsistent, even though
they reached different conclusions about a similar
question, because in each case the court deferred to the
expertise of prison administrators.
There was a similar result in Everson v. Michigan
Department of Corrections, 391 F.3d 737 (6th Cir.
2004). There, the court considered a decision by the
Michigan Department of Corrections to ban men from
certain positions at female prisons in reaction to widespread sexual abuse of female prisoners. Male guards
sued the prison unsuccessfully. The Court deferred to
prison officials, and found that gender was a BFOQ.
Although many courts have recognized that strip
searches and pat-downs by guards of the opposite sex
can be uncomfortable and even humiliating, courts do
not usually consider these searches cruel and unusual
punishment. In one important case, however, a court
found that pat-down searches of female prisoners by
male guards did violate the Eighth Amendment because
the searches led the women to experience severe
emotional harm and suffering. The court based its
argument on statistics showing that 85% of women in
that particular prison had been abused by men during
their lives. Since the superintendent knew these
statistics and had been warned that pat-downs could
lead to psychological trauma in women who had been
abused, and since the superintendent could not show
that the searches were necessary for security reasons,
the court called the search policy “wanton and
unnecessary” and held it unconstitutional. Jordan v.
Gardner, 986 F.2d 1521 (9th Cir. 1993).
Courts are more likely to uphold invasions of your
privacy by male prison guards when there is an
emergency situation. For example, the Jordan court did


not prohibit all cross-gender searches of prisoners,
despite the women’s histories of abuse; it only found
“random” and “suspicionless” searches by male guards
unconstitutional. In contrast, another court approved of
a visual body cavity search performed on a male
prisoner in front of female correctional officers because
the officer performing the search believed the situation
to be an emergency, even though it was not. Cookish v.
Powell. 945 F.2d 441 (1st Cir. 1991).

Issues of Importance to
Transgender Prisoners
Transgender people face specific and unique difficulty
in prisons and jails due to ignorance, discrimination,
and violence from guards and other prisoners.
Unfortunately, many transgender prisoner cases are
unsuccessful. However, there have been some
victories, and we are hopeful that more will follow as
courts and prisons are forced to recognize this growing
and vocal community. There are several organizations
involved in this movement, so you may want to contact
one of them before beginning any case. They are listed
in Appendix H.

Section I: Table of Contents
Part 1 – Classification
Part 2 – Health
Part 3 – Free Gender Expression
Part 4 –Dealing with Violence and Abuse.
This Section describes legal issues that may be
important to transgender prisoners, and uses examples
of cases brought by such prisoners. Where there is very
little law specifically addressing transgender prisoners,
we have included cases about gay, lesbian, and bisexual
prisoners; our hope is that these cases may be useful by
Intersex conditions or disorders of sexual
differentiation (DSDs), are the terms used for people
born with physical conditions that make their bodies
not seem “typically” male or female. People with
intersex conditions may have some challenges in prison
that are similar and some that are different from the
challenges transgender people face. Where we could,
we have also talked about some cases brought by
people with intersex conditions in prison.

1. Classification
a. Placement in male or female facilities
Many transgender people are placed in male facilities
against their will even if a female facility would be
more consistent with their gender identity, expose them
to less danger of violence, or make more sense to them
for other reasons. Some transgender people are placed
in female facilities against their will even if a male
facility would be better. In general, courts have said
that prison officials have the power to decide where
transgender people and people with intersex conditions
should be placed. However, just like all other
prisoners, prison officials have to keep transgender
prisoners safe from substantial risk of serious harm,
whether they are in male or female facilities. In
practice, people are usually placed in male or female
facilities based on their genitals, regardless of what
would be the best placement for them.
Some transgender women have brought lawsuits
against prison officials for categorizing them as men
and placing them in male facilities, rather than treating
them as women and placing them in female facilities.
So far, we have found no court decisions that rule in
favor of the transgender woman on this issue. There
have been several unsuccessful cases. In Meriweather
v. Faulkner, 821 F.2d 408 (7th Cir. 1987), a court
dismissed a transgender woman’s argument that
placing her in a male facility violated her Equal
Protection rights. The court relied in part on a Supreme
Court decision, Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215
(1976), that stated that prisoners do not have the right
to be placed in any particular facility. Other
unsuccessful cases are Lamb v. Maschner, 633 F. Supp.
351 (D. Kan. 1986); Lucrecia v. Samples, NO. C-933651, 1995 WL 630016 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 16, 1995); and
Long v. Nix, 877 F. Supp. 1358, 1366-67 (S.D. Iowa
However, we know of at least one successful challenge
by a transgender woman to placement in a male facility
in New York. In that case, the prison officials she sued
agreed to place her in a female facility in exchange for
her ending the law suit against them. The case was
settled in 1990.
A non-transgender woman with an intersex condition
brought a law suit because she was placed with men
and strip searched by male guards. The court ruled
against her, saying that she could not prove that the
sheriff was “deliberately indifferent” because he
seemed to have mistakenly thought that she was a man.
The court also said that she could not prove a
“sufficiently serious deprivation” because she did not


say that she had physical injuries. Tucker v. Evans, No.
07-CV-14429, 2009 WL 799175 (E.D. Mich. March
24, 2009).
On one occasion, a non-transgender woman brought a
lawsuit because a transgender woman was housed with
her in a female facility. The plaintiff, a non-transgender
woman, argued that a transgender woman should not be
housed with her and that prison officials were violating
her privacy rights. The court ruled against the plaintiff,
and said that the prison officials were not liable for
placing a transgender woman in a female facility with
her. Crosby v. Reynolds, 763 F. Supp. 666 (D. Me.
Strategies other than lawsuits may have a chance. For
example, working with others to convince a prison
system to make new policies for classifying transgender
prisoners may lead to change. Or, trying to find a
friendly doctor or psychologist who will explain to
prison officials why you should be placed in a
particular facility could help.
Using “Suspect Classification”
Transgender prisoners might have more luck with equal
protection challenges if they can convince the courts
that transgender people are part of a “suspect” or
“quasi-suspect classification.” As explained in Section
C, the courts are much more critical of laws that
discriminate against people based these types of
classifications. We have not seen any courts apply the
“quasi-suspect classification” for gender to a case
brought by a transgender litigant, but a strong
argument could be made for application of that
These arguments will be hard for a pro se prisoner to
make, because they will probably require expert
testimony, so you may want to reach out to one of the
organizations listed Appendix H for help if you want to
attempt this type of claim.

b. Involuntary segregation
Transgender and intersex prisoners often end up in
segregation against their will, sometimes as
punishment, sometimes for “protection,” and
sometimes because prison officials cannot decide what
gender they should consider the person. If you are in
some form of segregation or restrictive housing and
don’t want to be, there are a few different ways to
challenge your placement. Remember, in a lawsuit,
you don’t have to pick just one theory. You can and
should include all of the theories that you think might
have some real chance of working.

Due Process
As we explained in Section D of this chapter, in certain
situations prisoners are entitled to “procedural due
process” before being placed in segregation. You may
want to review that section to help you understand the
following cases.
In Estate of DiMarco v. Wyoming Dept. of Corrections,
473 F.3d 1334 (10th Cir. 2007), the court found that the
due process rights of a woman with an intersex
condition were not violated even though she was kept
in the most restrictive setting in a women’s prison for
fourteen months, the whole time she was in prison. She
had the lowest possible security classification and was
isolated only because she had an intersex condition.
Some of the reasons the court gave for ruling that way
were that DiMarco had access to medical care and
prison staff throughout her incarceration and that prison
officials talked with doctors when they made the
placement decision. The court said that DiMarco had
access to the “ordinary essentials” of prison life, and
that she had a chance to be heard at a review of her
placement every 90 days. The court thought it was
important that DiMarco did not say that segregation in
itself was unreasonable, just that the conditions and
extreme isolation were too severe.
In Farmer v. Kavanaugh, 494 F.Supp.2d 345 (D. Md.
2007), a transgender woman named Dee Farmer
challenged her transfer to a Supermax facility after
another prisoner said she was trying to steal the identity
of a warden. The court said that her due process rights
were violated. Because the Supermax was so harsh and
isolating, the prison should have given her some chance
to find out why she was being transferred and for her to
explain why she didn’t deserve the transfer. She did
not get that chance. But, the court also said that at the
time she was transferred, the law was not clear, so the
rule of “qualified immunity” meant that she could not
get damages as a result of the constitutional violation.
Qualified immunity is explained in Section D of
Chapter Four.
Deliberate Indifference to a Serious Medical Need
Isolation can hurt anyone’s mental health, but it can be
especially dangerous for people with certain psychiatric
disabilities. If prison officials know that you have a
serious medical need that isolation makes worse and
ignore that need, you might have a claim. The general
requirements for these types of claims are described in
Part 4 of Section F, above.
In Farmer v. Kavanaugh, 494 F.Supp.2d 345 (D. Md.
2007), described earlier, Ms. Farmer also argued that
the officials acted with deliberate indifference to her


serious medical needs when they transferred her to a
Supermax. She had HIV, depression and other physical
and mental health conditions. There was also a memo
in her file stating that segregation hurt her health. Once
she was transferred, her viral load and her depression
got worse. Unfortunately, the court said that Ms.
Farmer could not show that the officials actually knew
how bad the Supermax would be for her health, even if
they should have known. So, the court ruled against
Ms. Farmer on that argument.

unconstitutional. The court ordered that the jail make a
classification plan that did not automatically treat
transgender prisoners worse just because they were
transgender. The court said that transgender prisoners
should not be shackled when other prisoners were not,
should have access to recreation during the day, group
religious services, and contact with other prisoners,
unless there were specific reasons based on individual
facts that kept a particular transgender person from
being able to do those things.

Basic Needs and Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Section F, Part 3 of this chapter explains your right to
have your basic needs met in prison. If you have been
placed in segregation and are not allowed to have basic
things, like food, showers, or exercise, you might be
able to bring a case based on your right to be free from
cruel and unusual punishment.

Other challenges have not gone as well. In Farmer v.
Hawk, No. 94-CV-2274, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13630
(D.D.C. Sep. 5, 1996), Ms. Farmer was placed in
controlled housing because she was HIV positive and
performed oral sex on another prisoner. The court said
her equal protection rights were not violated, because
as someone with a “deadly disease” who was “putting
other inmates at risk,” she was not in the same position
as other prisoners. The court did not take into
consideration the relatively lower risk of HIV
transmission for oral sex as compared to anal or vaginal

In Meriweather v. Faulkner, 821 F.2d 408 (7th Cir.
1987), a transgender woman serving a thirty-five year
sentence challenged her placement in administrative
segregation. The court allowed her to continue with
her claim when defendants moved to dismiss her case.
The court said that she did not have a due process claim
because no liberty interest was at stake. The court also
said that her Equal Protection claim failed because she
could not prove “purposeful and intentional
discrimination.” But, the court said that placing her in
administrative segregation might be cruel and unusual
punishment because it was for such a long period of
Equal Protection
Sometimes, transgender people are treated differently
than other prisoners by being put in segregation when
other prisoners would not. You can challenge this
treatment under the Equal Protection clause if you can
show the different treatment is not “rationally related to
a legitimate government interest.” The requirements
for an equal protection claim are laid out in Section C
of this chapter. You will have to be able to show that
the officials intentionally discriminated against you.
There have been two very important victories in
California in this area. Tates v. Blanas, No. S-00-2539,
2003 WL 23864868 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 11, 2003) and
Medina-Tejada v. Sacramento County, No. Civ.S-04138, 2006 WL 463158 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 27, 2006), are
two unpublished decisions about transgender women
kept in “T-Sep” or “Total Separation” in a men’s
county jail. T-Sep was usually reserved for the most
dangerous and violent prisoners and had much worse
conditions than other parts of the jail. The jail put all
transgender women in T-Sep for the entire time they
were in jail. The court found the practice

In Murray v. U.S. Bureau of Prisoners, 106 F.3d 401
(Table), Nos. 93-00259, 94-00147, 1997 WL 34677
(6th Cir. Jan 28, 1997), a court said a transgender
woman’s rights were not violated when she was placed
in segregation on several occasions. Some of the times
she was placed in segregation were to protect her and
other times were to discipline her for refusing to wear
the bra they ordered her to wear. The court said that it
was proper for the prison to put her in segregation for
these reasons and ruled against her.
c. Access to Protective Custody
Most prisons have a process available to ask for
placement in segregation if you fear for your safety. As
explained in Section F, Part 1, It can be a violation of
the Eighth Amendment for prison officials to refuse to
place you in protective custody if they know that you
are likely to be seriously harmed in general population
and they do not take action to stop that harm.
The same transgender woman, Dee Farmer, brought the
famous case that the U.S. Supreme Court used to
establish the basic standard for deliberate indifference.
The prison acknowledged that Ms. Farmer "project(ed)
feminine characteristics" yet placed her in the general
population of a men's prison, where she was beaten and
sexually assaulted by another prisoner. Ms. Farmer
brought suit against the prison officials, claiming that
the officials had shown "deliberate indifference" by
placing her in the general population, thus failing to
keep her safe from harm inflicted by other prisoners.


The Supreme Court held that prison officials may be
held liable under the Eighth Amendment when they
know a prisoner faces substantial risk of serious harm
and disregard that risk by failing to take reasonable
measures to address it. Farmer v Brennan, 511 U.S.
825 (1994).
Because of this case, if officials know that you are in
danger and refuse to put you in protective custody or
take other action to protect you, you can bring a claim
against them for violation of your right to be free from
cruel and unusual punishment.
For example, in Maggert v. Hanks, 131 F.3d 670 (7th
Cir. 1998), a court acknowledged that a transgender
woman had the right to be protected. The court stated,
“Of course, as the cases have already established, [s]he
is entitled to be protected, by assignment to protective
custody or otherwise, from harassment by prisoners
who wish to use …[her] as a sexual plaything, provided
that the danger is both acute and known to the
If you are denied protective custody because of your
gender, sexual orientation, or race, you might also have
an Equal Protection claim against prison officials. In
Johnson v. Johnson, 385 F.3d 503 (5th Cir. 2004), an
effeminate gay male prisoner was repeatedly raped by
other prisoners. He asked for help from guards over
and over again and asked to be held in “safekeeping” or
put in protective custody. The prison kept him in
general population and told him to learn to “f*** or
fight.” He brought a case against the officials for
violation of his Eighth Amendment and Equal
Protection rights. When discussing the Equal
Protection claim, the court stated that if the officials
denied him protection because he was gay, that would
violate Equal Protection. Johnson v. Johnson, 385 F.3d
503, 532 (5th Cir. 2004).

2. Health
a. Access to Gender-Affirming Health Care
Transgender prisoners often have a very difficult time
getting gender-affirming health care in prison. For this
reason, it is not surprising that there are a lot of cases
about whether you have the right to hormone therapy
and other gender-related medical care in prison.
To understand transgender prisoners’ right to medical
care, it is important to first review the basics of
prisoners’ rights to medical care, explained in Chapter
3, Section F, Part 4. A successful suit can be brought
under the Eighth Amendment if you show that prison
officials were “deliberately indifferent” to your
“serious medical need” and you were hurt because of it.

To make an Eighth Amendment claim regarding access
to gender-affirming care, you will probably need to
prove that you have what is called “Gender Identity
Disorder” (GID), which is a condition recognized by
the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Courts
sometimes refer to GID as “transsexualism.” As of
2010 the APA is considering making changes to the
way GID is diagnosed. Among other changes, they
may rename the condition “Gender Incongruence” or
Currently, though, the APA describes GID as
“persistent cross-gender identification” with “clinically
significant distress or impairment of functioning.”
“Identification” is about how you see yourself in terms
of gender. “Distress” can mean that you have feelings
of sadness, depression, anxiety, disconnect, or selfhatred about your body and gender. “Impairment” can
mean that you have a hard time doing everyday
activities, relating to other people, getting a job, or
taking care of your body because of your feelings about
your gender and body. A number of courts have said
that GID is a “serious medical need.”
Some transgender people find this medical framework
helpful for understanding and explaining their
experience. Others find it frustrating or offensive to
have to fit their experience and identity in a medical
model. To succeed in cases about health care, you will
need to include at least enough medical information to
convince a court you have a “serious medical need.” It
can be tricky to find ways to talk about your gender that
feel right and empowering to you that also help you
achieve your legal and health goals. You can look at
other cases and sources, then make your own decision
about how to explain your healthcare needs to the
Some transgender people have had a hard time proving
that they have GID if they have not gotten a formal
diagnosis. One case like this is Cuoco v. Moritsugu,
222 F.3d 99 (2d Cir. 2000). Of course, it can be hard to
get a formal diagnosis if your prison will not let you get
evaluated by anyone qualified to diagnose you. You
might be able to get a court to order that you should be
evaluated for GID in the course of a lawsuit. You can
argue that prisons are not allowed to just ignore signs
that prisoners have serious medical needs and fail to
diagnose those conditions to avoid their duty to provide
medical care. To show that you need evaluation and
treatment for GID, you should include in your
complaint facts about how you feel about your gender
and how long you have felt that way, the ways that not
being able to get treatment have affected you, any


attempts you may have made to live and appear as the
gender you identify with, and any past treatment you
may have had, such as hormones or surgery.
Many courts have held that prisons must provide some
gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender
prisoners in general, but have not required the prison to
provide any particular treatment. In other words, if you
complain to the prison about problems with your
gender identity, and they refuse to examine you, or
provide you with any treatment, you may have a strong
Eighth Amendment case. However, if you want to
challenge their decision to only provide therapy, as
opposed to hormones, or only provide hormones
instead of surgery, or provide hormones at a lower dose
than you think you need, you will probably have a
harder time. What this means on a practical level is
that, if you can, you should state in your complaint that
you have not received any treatment at all for GID.
Still, there have been some cases where courts have
ordered specific treatment. One good case is that of
Marty Philips, a transgender woman who received
estrogen for years before going to prison, and sued the
Michigan Department of Corrections over their refusal
to allow her to continue taking estrogen at her own
expense. Phillips v. Michigan Department of
Corrections, 731 F. Supp. 792 (W.D. Mich. 1990). She
experienced pain, bruising, vomiting, and depression as
a result. The District Court Judge was clearly moved
by Ms. Phillips’ story, and took the prison doctor to
task for intentionally denying necessary medical care.
The Judge ordered the prison to provide Ms. Phillips
with estrogen in a preliminary injunction. (Preliminary
injunctions are explained in Chapter Four, Section B.)
Prisoners have been most successful in seeking specific
treatment when they can show that they were
prescribed that treatment before going to prison, as in
Phillips above. In at least one case, though, a court
ordered estrogen treatment for someone who did not
have a diagnosis of GID before incarceration, again
through a preliminary injunction. Gammett v. Idaho
State Bd. of Corrections, No. CV05-257-S-MHW, 2007
WL 2186896 (D. Idaho July 27, 2007). In that case, a
transgender woman named Jennifer Ann Spenser had
not been diagnosed with GID before she was
incarcerated. She made many requests for treatment.
After getting no help, she performed surgery on herself
by cutting off her testicles. Then, the prison offered her
testosterone treatment, and still refused her estrogen.
The court found that she was likely to succeed on the
merits of her case and should get a preliminary
injunction to maintain her health while the case was

A number of prison systems have policies that will not
allow transgender people to get certain types of
treatment (like sex reassignment surgery) or to get any
treatment under certain circumstances (like if you
weren’t getting it before you were locked up). Allard v.
Gomez, 9 Fed. Appx. 793 (9th Cir. 2001), is a helpful
case if your prison has this type of policy. In Allard a
transgender woman sued because she was not getting
hormone therapy. The court said that denying
treatment based on a blanket administrative policy,
rather than an individualized medical evaluation, was
unconstitutional. Similarly, in Fields v. Smith, 712 F.
Supp. 2d 830 (E.D. Wisc. 2010), the court found a state
law unconstitutional because it barred funding of
hormone therapy without considering the prisoner’s
individual medical condition.
If your prison has a policy like this, another tool that
might be helpful is a position statement released by the
National Commission on Correctional Health Care
(NCCHC). While it is not binding on courts, it can
provide support for your position. Among other things,
the position statement says: “Because inmate-patients
may be under different stages of care prior to
incarceration, there should be no blanket administrative
or other policies that restrict specific medical
treatments for transgender people. Policies that make
treatments available only to those who received them
prior to incarceration or that limit GID treatment to
psychotherapy should be avoided.”
In some cases, prison policies are actually helpful, but
prison staff do not follow their own policy. For this
reason you should find out whether your prison or
prison system has an official policy about treatment for
transgender prisoners, and what that policy says.
In South v. Gomez, No. 99 -15976, 2000 U.S. App.
LEXIS 3200 (9th Cir. 2000) Torey Tuesday South sued
prison officials after they stopped her female hormone
therapy. The guards asked the court to dismiss South’s
claim on the basis of qualified immunity. (Qualified
immunity is discussed in detail in Chapter Four,
Section D, Part 2.) The prison officials argued that
even if there is a right to hormone therapy that right is
not “clearly established” because the court had never
ruled on it before. The Ninth Circuit refused to dismiss
South’s case, and explained that the defendants were
being too specific. The right at issue is the general
standard under the Eighth Amendment: the right not to
have prison officials act with deliberate indifference to
a serious medical need. This is a very good case that
you may want to rely on if the officials you sue ask the
court to dismiss based on qualified immunity.


At the time of publication we know of no cases in
which a court has ordered sexual reassignment surgery,
but that may change soon. In Kosilek v. Maloney, 221
F. Supp. 2d 156 (D. Mass. 2002), Michelle Kosilek
sued prison officials for money damages and sex
reassignment surgery after over a decade in which she
was incarcerated without any form of gender-affirming
medical or psychological care. While in prison she
tried to kill herself and to castrate herself. The prison
system at issue had a policy that “froze” medical care
based on what the person got before being sent to
prison. Someone who received female hormones from
a doctor before entering the system, for example, could
keep getting them in prison. However, someone who
didn’t receive hormones before incarceration, or got
them from the streets, could not get them. No one in
the prison could get surgery. The Court decided that
Kosilek had been denied necessary medical care
because her care was based on a rigid prison policy, not
a doctor’s individual examination. Although the court
found that Kosilek had not satisfied the deliberate
indifference requirement, the court’s opinion put the
prison on notice that they had to start providing Kosilek
with medically appropriate care. Kosilek sued again in
2005 saying that the treatment she was receiving,
including psychotherapy, hormone treatment, and laser
hair removal were not enough to relieve her anxiety or
depression. As of publication, we do not yet know
whether the Judge will order that the prison provide her
with sex reassignment surgery.

you were physically hurt. This problem is described in
Chapter Four, Section C, Part 2.

b. Confidentiality
As we explained in Chapter Three, Section F, prisons
must generally keep prisoner’s health information
confidential. In Powell v. Schriver, 175 F.3d 107, 111
(2d Cir. 1999) a court ruled that the fact that a prisoner
is transgender must be also be kept confidential. In that
case, a transgender woman in a women’s prison sued
because prison staff said that she was HIV positive and
had sex reassignment surgery in front of other staff and
prisoners. As a result, rumors spread through the
prison and both guards and prisoners harassed her. The
court said that “like HIV status … transsexualism is the
unusual condition that is likely to provoke both an
intense desire to preserve one’s medical confidentiality,
as well as hostility and intolerance from others.” Under
this reasoning, the court decided that the prison
employee in question violated the constitutional right to
privacy. More routine medical information can
probably be shared without violating the constitution,

Below we explain some arguments that can be made for
clothing and grooming needs of transgender people
who are incarcerated. Be sure to think carefully before
you try to file a lawsuit on these issues. The law is not
on your side when you bring a claim for your right to
express your gender through clothing, hair length,
shaving, make up, or similar means. And as explained
in Chapter 5, Section C, Part 2, if your lawsuit is
dismissed as frivolous, it counts as a strike under the

The PLRA can cause problems in cases about
confidentiality as it makes it difficult to bring a claim
for compensatory damages unless you can show that

Equal Protection
Clothing and grooming policies that force prisoners to
meet different standards depending on whether they are

3. Free Gender Expression
a. Clothing and Grooming
Generally, prison officials can control clothing and
grooming as they see fit. However, there are some
small limits on what they can require, mostly in terms
of the way people practice their religion.
Prison officials often defend their clothing and
grooming policies by bringing up interests such as:
prisoner safety, prison security, sanitation, cost
effective options at the prison commissary, or ease of
prisoner identification. Courts usually accept these
interests and do not find that prisoners’ constitutional
rights have been violated.
Transgender people challenging clothing and grooming
policies have had very little success so far. One
exception where there has been some success is in
getting the right to have access to bras. In Tates v.
Blanas, 2003 WL 23864868 (E.D. Cal. 2003), the court
decided that access to a bra cannot be denied simply
because a person is housed in a male facility. The
facility, and its medical staff, must weigh (1) the
possibility that a bra could be misused as a weapon
against (2) any medical or psychological harm denying
access to a bra may cause.

While we focus on Constitutional claims, you should
also consider if there might be state law claims that you
can bring. One young transgender woman in foster
care won a case against her group home when they
wouldn’t let her wear feminine clothes. The court said
that not allowing her to wear clothes that matched her
identity violated the state law against discrimination on
the basis of disability. Doe v. Bell, 194 Misc.2d 774
(N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2003).


seen as men or women may seem like obvious genderbased discrimination. Unfortunately though, courts
have found that a different grooming policy for male
and female prisoners is not discrimination on the basis
of gender. Hill v. Estelle, 537 F.2d 214 (5th Cir. 1976).
Arguments that transgender women are not being
treated the same as other women when they are not
allowed to have long hair or wear female
undergarments, or that transgender men are not being
treated the same as other men when they are not
allowed to have facial hair or wear male
undergarments, have not yet been accepted by the
courts. Star v. Gramley, 815 F.Supp. 276 (C.D. Ill.
1993). Instead courts have compared the treatment of
transgender people to the treatment of other people in
their facility—so if no one in a male facility is allowed
to have long hair, some courts have said there is no
discrimination against a transgender woman in that
facility who is also not allowed to have long hair. One
court has even found that prison policies banning
earrings, long hair, or use of make-up can be based on
the governmental interest of “promot[ing] institutional
security by discouraging transsexual dressing by
inmates.” Ahkeen v. Parker, No. W1998-00640-COAR3CV, 2000 WL 52771 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 10, 2000).
There could be a greater chance of success in a claim
about transgender people who are treated differently
from other people in their facility. For example, if nontransgender men in a facility are not punished for
having long hair but transgender women in the facility
are, the transgender women may be able to state an
Equal Protection claim. The general requirements for
an Equal Protection claim are explained in Section C of
this Chapter.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Eighth Amendment claims of cruel and unusual
punishment are also very unlikely to succeed for
clothing and grooming. As summarized in Section F of
this Chapter, to establish cruel and unusual punishment,
you must show that you are being denied a basic need
of “civilized life” or that prison officials were
deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need.
As explained above, courts have consistently
considered “transsexualism” to be a serious medical
need. Healthcare professionals recommend that
transgender people dress and present in a way that
matches their gender identity as a form of treatment. If
prison officials know that you need this form of
treatment, refuse to let you have it, and don’t give you
any other sort of treatment instead, then an argument
could be made that the prison is being deliberately

indifferent to your serious medical need. One
excellent recent case is Konitzer v. Frank, 03-c-717,
2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45648 (E.D. Wis. May 10,
2010). In that case, a transgender woman sued to gain
access to hormone therapy and clothing and grooming
items that would aid her in expressing her gender,
including a bra and make-up. The Judge denied the
prisons’ motion for summary judgment, and ordered
the case to go to trial.
However, at this point courts are still unlikely to see
restrictions on the clothing and grooming of a prisoner
as rising to the level of cruel and unusual punishment.
In Murray v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 106 F.3d 401
(Table), 1997 WL 34677 (6th Cir. 1997), a transgender
woman claimed that the denial of hair and skin care
products that she had received in a previous facility and
that were necessary to maintain her feminine
appearance violated her Eighth Amendment rights.
The court rejected her argument, stating, “cosmetic
products are not among the minimal civilized measure
of life's necessities.”
Freedom of Speech and Religion
Section A of this Chapter talks about Freedom of
speech and association. The “speech” protected by the
First Amendment does not apply only to words you
say, but can also apply to other ways you try to express
your identity and your views. The way you do your
hair, whether or not you shave certain parts of your
body, and the clothes you wear might be seen as
“speech” in this way. Unfortunately, though, under the
Turner test courts will generally find that there are
many ways to express yourself, and that restrictions on
clothing and grooming are reasonably related to prison
interests in safety and security. Some of the way prison
officials have explained those interests to courts is to
say that a person in a men’s prison who presents as a
woman might be more likely to be attacked. Prison
officials have also said that someone in prison could
hide contraband in long hair or a beard.
If you also have religious reasons for needing to do
something different than what the prison requires, you
may have a much stronger chance of success under the
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
of 2000 ("RLUIPA"). This is explained in Section B of
this Chapter.


b. Name and ID Gender changes
Name changes and gender changes are not the same
thing. A name change order alone will not let you
change your gender on your ID.
ID Gender Changes
In some states, but not others, you can get a court order
that says your gender has been changed. These court
orders are often used to change your gender on a birth
certificate if you were born in that state. If you want to
change your gender through a court, you will usually
need to provide some sort of proof from a doctor about
your gender transition.

change their name. People in Illinois convicted of
other felonies can change their name, but only ten years
after they have finished their sentence. 735 I.L.C.S.
5/21-101. Some courts have also denied prisoners’
name change petitions, usually because they found that
the name change would cause administrative burdens
for the prison system, barriers to law enforcement
identifying the person, or confusion in penal records.
Some examples of these types of cases are In re Verrill,
660 N.E.2d 697 (Mass. App. Ct. 1996); Williams v.
Racine County Circuit Court, 197 Wis.2d 841, 541
N.W.2d 514 (Wis. App.1995); and Brown v. Wyrick,
626 S.W.2d 674 (Mo. App. W.D. 1981).

In those states where there is no way to get a court
order, you can usually still change your gender on
different forms of ID. You need to follow the rules of
each agency to change your gender. It is possible to
change your gender without changing your name or
visa versa. But, it is often convenient to do both at the
same time. Most agencies will require some sort of a
letter from a doctor. For example, Social Security asks
for a letter from a doctor saying that sex reassignment
surgery has been completed. Currently every state
except Ohio, Tennessee, and Idaho allow gender
changes on birth certificates. Puerto Rico also does not
permit gender changes on birth certificates.

However, in many states, name changes for prisoners
are possible. For example, in Tennessee, a court ruled
in a case called In re Ely, No. M2000-01937-COA-R3CV, 2004 WL 383304 (Tenn. Ct. App 2004) that a
criminal conviction alone is not enough to deny a name
change. And in a case called In re Crushelow, 926
P.2d 833 (Utah 1996) the Utah Supreme Court found
that judges cannot deny prisoners’ name changes based
only on general concerns about confusion in the
records. A court in California also recently found that
federal prisoners may seek name changes. That case is
called In re Arnett, 148 Cal.App.4th 654 (Cal. App.

Not all agencies require proof of surgery. For example,
in New York, Massachusetts, and California, it is
possible to get your gender changed on a driver’s
license or state ID without having had surgery.
Washington State allows gender changes on birth
certificates without proof of surgery. To change your
gender on ID, you may need to wait until you are out of
prison or close to leaving.

You should never have to provide any sort of medical
evidence or letters from doctors for your name change.
Judges in some states have asked transgender people
for that sort of evidence and denied them name changes
if they did not provide that evidence. Some
transgender people have appealed those denials. So far,
in every case the transgender person has won the appeal
and was granted the name change without medical
evidence. Some examples of these cases are In re
Golden, 56 A.D.3d 1109 (N.Y. App. Div. 3rd Dep’t
2008); In re McIntyre, 552 Pa. 324, 715 A.2d 400 (Pa.
1998); In Re Eck, 245 N.J. Super. 220, 223, 584 A.2d
859, 860-861 (1991); and In Re Maloney, 96 Ohio St.
3d 307, 774 N.E.2d 239 (2002). It is not reasonable to
require transgender people to give notes from their
doctors to get a name change when no one else needs a
doctor’s note to get a name change.

Name Changes
You can change your name without changing your
gender. The law about name changes is very different
from state to state so you will need to look up your
state law. In New York, for example, the law for name
changes can be found starting at N.Y. Civ. Rts. § 60.
Non-prisoners who are at least 18 years old are
generally allowed to change their name for any reason
at all, so long as they are not trying to escape law
enforcement, avoid debts or commit any sort of fraud.
However, some states have put limits on when people
who are in prison or who have convictions can change
their names. For example, in Louisiana, people who
are convicted of felonies cannot change their names
while in prison. LSA-R.S. 13:4751. In Illinois, people
convicted of sex offenses or identity theft can never

If you get asked for medical evidence for your name
change, you can decide what to do next. If you have a
doctor who will write a letter or affidavit for you, one
option is just to give the court what it wants. If you do
not want to share your medical information with the
judge or if you do not have a doctor who will help you,
you can try to explain to the judge why you shouldn’t
have to provide that evidence. You can file an appeal if


you get denied. It is a good idea to try to find a lawyer
if you want to challenge a name change denial.
In a recent case in Idaho, a transgender woman prisoner
appealed when a trial court denied her name change
petition. The appellate court said that there was no
improper purpose for the name change and that a
criminal record alone was not a legitimate reason to
deny a name change. The court granted her name
change. In re Gammett, Case No. CV NC 06 03094
(Oct. 3, 2006).
Unfortunately, even after you get a legal name change,
it is possible that you will still be referred to by the
name that you were first incarcerated under. In a recent
case in California, a transgender woman sued prison
officials for continuing to use her former, masculine
name instead of her current legal feminine name. The
court ruled against her. The court found that the prison
officials’ need to prevent confusion in records, quickly
and easily identify prisoners, and communicate
efficiently with other agencies that use the commitment
name outweighed the prisoner’s interest in using her
legal name. Babcock v. Clark, No. CV-07-5073-FVS,
2009 WL 911214 (E.D. Wash. March 31, 2009).
While the name change process varies from state to
state, it is generally not too complicated. It usually
involves submitting a petition with information about
yourself and why you want to change your name,
sometimes also with a birth certificate and information
about your criminal record. In many states, you need to
publish notice of your name change in a paper one or
more times, unless you can get a waiver because you
would be at risk of violence if you had to publish your
name change. One court in New York recently allowed
a transgender person not to publish notice of a name
change because transgender people are at high risk for
hate violence. In re E.P.L. 26 Misc.3d 336 (Sup. Ct.
Westchester Co. 2009).
Some states have special requirements for people with
convictions. For example, in New York, people who
are incarcerated or on parole for listed violent felony
offenses have to send copies of a notice of the name
change to the district attorney and criminal court where
they were convicted.
If there is a court hearing about the name change, most
times it is short and simple with only a few questions.
Once your name change is granted, you can use a
certified copy of the order from the court to change
your name with different agencies.

c. Access to Reading Material
The Supreme Court has not specifically addressed a
prisoner’s right to reading material with transgender
content. General rules covering your right to receive
any books or magazines in prison will apply. Cases
relating to prisoners’ right to receive books and
magazines with gay or lesbian content can also help
you figure out when you have a right to receive reading
materials with transgender content. For information
about general rules and some information about
material with gay or lesbian content, review Section A,
Part 1 under the heading “Access to Reading
Prison officials will usually argue that they are banning
a publication because it is a threat to safety and order in
prison. When prison officials want to stop prisoners
from receiving transgender material, they may argue
that other prisoners will see this material, think the
person who has it is transgender, and target that person
for violence. This particular argument may not work in
situations where a person is already known to be
transgender by the prison population. Still, prison
officials may make a number of general arguments
about safety, and will often win in the case of sexually
explicit material.
If a publication is not sexually explicit, and instead
deals with transgender rights or literature with
transgender themes, it is less likely to be banned. In the
case of gay and lesbian publications however, prison
officials have argued successfully that even non-sexual
materials are a threat to prison security. Depending on
where you are incarcerated, courts may or may not
agree with prison officials if they ban transgender
material that is not sexually explicit.
d. Job/Program Discrimination
If you think you were denied or removed from a prison
job or program because of your gender identity, you
may be able to fight the prison’s decision by bringing a
Section 1983 suit.
Some people have tried to challenge denials of a job or
program with procedural due process claims.
Unfortunately, these claims have generally not worked.
Courts have said that prisoners do not have a
constitutionally protected interest in their prison jobs.
See Holmes v. Artuz, 1995 WL 634995 (S.D.N.Y.
1995); Gilbreath v. Clark, 193 Fed. Appx. 741 (10th
Cir. 2006), Gill v. Mooney, 824 F.2d 192, 194 (2d Cir
Equal Protection claims, on the other hand, might be
possible. District courts in New York and California


have suggested that Equal Protection claims for gay
and transgender prisoners denied prison programs may
succeed. In Holmes v. Artuz, 1995 WL 634995
(S.D.N.Y. 1995), a prisoner brought an action saying
that he was not allowed to have a job in the mess hall
because of being an “overt homosexual.” The court
refused to dismiss his complaint, saying that the
prisoner may have stated a claim for violation of his
Equal Protection Rights. The judge wrote that, “A
person’s sexual orientation, standing alone, does not
reasonably, rationally or self-evidently implicate mess
hall security concerns. It is not sufficient to assert, as
defendants do in their motion papers, that the prison’s
exclusionary policy is designed to prevent ‘potential
disciplinary and security problems which could arise
from heterosexual inmates’ reaction to and interaction
with homosexual and/or transsexual inmates who serve
and prepare food.”
In Bass v. Santa Cruz Dept. of Corrections Sup’rs, No.
C 94-20679 JW, 1994 WL 618554 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 27,
1994) a group of nine gay and transgender prisoners
filed a law suit for violation of their Equal Protection
Rights. One of their claims was that they were denied
access to the prison’s programs because they were gay
and transgender. The court acknowledged that the
prison could not discriminate against them simply for
being gay, unless the discriminatory policy or practice
was reasonably related to legitimate penological
interests. But, the court found that the prisoners
couldn’t move forward with their case because none of
them claimed that they tried to participate in any
particular program. The court dismissed the case but
allowed them to submit a new complaint within 30
days. While these cases focus primarily on sexual
orientation, a similar argument could be used for
discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Finally, there could be a basis for a First Amendment
claim if you were not allowed into or were kicked out
of a program because you expressed your gender
identity, held a political belief about transgender rights,
or objected to mistreatment of gay, transgender, or
intersex prisoners. In Holmes v. Artuz, for example, the
judge allowed a First Amendment claim on the theory
that the prisoner was retaliated against after
complaining about unfair treatment for gay prisoners.
4. Dealing with Violence and Abuse
Transgender prisoners are often more vulnerable than
other prisoners to physical assault, harassment and
sexual violence. Having a body or gender that does not
match dominant norms can be challenging outside of
prison. On the inside, the close quarters, reduced
privacy and power dynamics can present more

problems. The system often increases the risks faced
by transgender prisoners by assigning transgender
women to male prisons. Prison employees may be
unaware of the needs of incarcerated transgender
individuals. All too often, they are part of the
problem, ‘looking the other way’ when violence
happens or directly abusing transgender people.
People who speak out may face retaliation by guards or
other prisoners.
a. Verbal Harassment
Humiliation and verbal harassment of transgender
prisoners takes many forms. At one prison, female
transgender prisoners reported being forced to walk
topless through a sea of male prisoners to get their
clothes each week. Other prisoners have spoken out
against frequent transphobic slurs and solicitations for
sex. Unfortunately, the sexual harassment and
psychological abuse that occurs in prison can be
difficult to litigate. To learn about these types of
claims, start by reading the section about Sexual
Harassment and Abuse in Section F of this Chapter.
In Murray v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 106 F.3d 401 (6th
Cir. 1997), Michelle Murray, a transgender woman,
tried to sue over a series of harassing comments about
her bodily appearance and her presumed sexual
preference. The court dismissed the claim, saying that
verbal abuse alone does not rise to the level of
“unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain” necessary
for an Eighth Amendment violation.
b. Rape and Sexual Assault
Section F of this chapter also explains the law about
sexual assault and rape in prison. As explained in that
section, to hold the prison liable if you are attacked by
another prisoner, you will need to show that the prison
officials knew you were at a risk for harm. If the prison
has documented a history of attacks and harassment
against you, those reports will probably be enough to
show knowledge of the risk. Some courts have inferred
that prison officials knew of the risk based on a
plaintiff’s feminine appearance, small size,
youthfulness or reputation as a drag queen or “known
homosexual.” Taylor v. Mich. Dept. of Corrections, 69
F.3d 76 (6th Cir. 1995), Jones v. Banks, 878 F. Supp.
107 (N.D. Ill. 1995). In arguing to the court that the
prison did not adequately protect you, it might be
helpful to mention the Prison Rape Elimination Act
(PREA) of 2003, which lists transgender prisoners
within the category of “potentially vulnerable
prisoners” that deserve special attention and


A female transgender prisoner survived summary
judgment in the Sixth Circuit for her claim against a
prison warden for failing to protect her from a
maximum-security prisoner who beat her with a fiftypound fire extinguisher. Greene v. Bowles, 361 F.3d
290 (6th Cir. 2004). The Court found that she raised
sufficient facts to show the warden knew about the risk
to her safety because of her “vulnerability as a
transsexual” and her attacker’s reputation as a
If the guard took any action, like writing up the matter
or processing a complaint you submitted, the court
might say the guard didn’t disregard the risk to your
safety. In Johnson v. Johnson, 385 F. 3d 503 (5th Cir.
2004), the Fifth Circuit held that an officer who
“referred the matter for further investigation” might
have done enough to not be liable to a gay prisoner who
claimed to have been forced into sexual servitude by a
prison gang.
As with all the other types of claims discussed in this
handbook, you can always consider bringing a case in
State court as well. For a good example of a state claim
about violence endured by a prisoner, see Giraldo v.
California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 168
Cal.App.4th 231 (1st Dist., 2008). Ms. Giraldo, a
transgender woman, successfully sued prison guards
under California state law after she was repeatedly
raped and abused by other prisoners.
Of course, some assault and rape claims involve abuse
by guards, rather than other prisoners. In Schwenk v.
Hartford, 204 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir. 2000), a court ruled
in favor of a transgender woman in prison who claimed
a guard grinded his exposed penis into her buttocks
after she refused his demand for oral sex, allowing her
to make an Eighth Amendment argument. Whether an
incident of objectionable sexual touching meets the
objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim
will depend on what Circuit you are in, how serious the
touching was, and whether it was a single incident or
happened repeatedly.
c. Strip Searches
Section E of this Chapter summarizes the law about
searches in prison, and Section H, Part 3 includes
information about cross-gender strip searches.
Some people, like Victoria Schneider, have
successfully challenged strip searches. Ms. Schneider
was placed with male prisoners after her arrest even
though she had been arrested before and booked as a
female. In Schneider v. San Francisco, 97-2203 (N.D.
Ca. 1999) she challenged a strip search used to

determine her gender and a jury awarded her $750,000
in damages at trial. There does not appear to be a
reported opinion from this case. In another good case,
Meriwether v. Faulkner, 821 F.2d 408 (7th Cir. 1987),
the Seventh Circuit allowed a transgender woman to
proceed with an Eighth Amendment claim after she
was strip searched before a group of guards who sought
to humiliate and harass her.
On the other hand, in Doe v. Balaam, 524 F.Supp.2d
1238 (D. Nev. 2007), a transgender man lost his case
challenging a strip search. After he was arrested for a
misdemeanor, he told the police that he was
transsexual. He was forced to strip in front of several
officers before he was released on his own
recognizance. The court found that the search was
permissible because the officers had reasonable
suspicion that he was concealing “contraband” (a
rolled-up sock) in his crotch area.

Issues of Importance to
Pretrial Detainees
THE BASICS: Pretrial detainees have most of the same
rights as convicted prisoners.

THE RULE: Jail conditions must not be punitive or an
exaggerated response to a security need.
Not everybody who is incarcerated in a prison or jail
has been convicted. Many people are held in jail before
their trial, and are referred to in the Handbook as
“pretrial detainees.” As a pretrial detainee, most of the
legal standards explained in the above sections apply to
However, there are some differences in law for pretrial
detainees. As you know from the above sections, the
Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual
punishment. This protection only applies to people
who have already been convicted. Since detainees have
not been convicted, they may not be punished at all
until proven guilty. One legal result of this is that jail
conditions for pretrial detainees are reviewed by courts
under the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment Due Process
Clause, not the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel
and unusual punishment.
The most important case for pretrial detainees is Bell v.
Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979), which was a challenge to


the conditions of confinement in a federal jail in New
York. In Bell, the Court held that jail conditions that
amount to punishment of the detainee violate due
process. The Court explained that there is a difference
between punishment, which is unconstitutional, and
regulations that, while unpleasant, have a valid
administrative or security purpose. It held that
regulations that are “reasonably related” to the
institution’s interest in maintaining jail security are not
unconstitutional punishment, even if they cause
discomfort. This is why detainees can be put into
punitive segregation or SHU.
You can prove that poor conditions or restrictive
regulations are unconstitutional punishment in two
different ways:
(1) by showing that the prison administration or
individual guard intended to punish you, or
(2) by showing that the regulation is not reasonably
related to a legitimate goal. This can be because the
regulation doesn’t have any purpose or because it is
overly restrictive or an exaggerated response to a real
concern. On example of a case like this is Pierce v.
County of Orange, 526 F.3d 1190 (9th Cir. 2008). In
that case, a court held there was no legitimate reason
for pretrial detainees in SHU to only get 90 minutes of
exercise per week.
As with the Turner standard (see Section A) for
convicted prisoners, courts defer to jail officials in
analyzing what is a “legitimate concern.” Security is a
legitimate concern of jail officials, so they can put you
in the hole for breaking a jail rule, just like a prison
Although the standard in Bell for analyzing the claims
of pretrial detainees is well-established, the courts are
not in agreement as to whether the content of that
standard is actually any different from the content of
the Eighth Amendment standard explained in Section
F. In City of Revere v. Massachusetts General Hospital,
463 U.S. 239, 244 (1983), the Supreme Court held that
pretrial detainees have due process rights that are “at
least as great” as the Eighth Amendment protections
available to prisoners.
Other courts have held that pretrial detainees should
have more protection than convicted prisoners. Two
examples are Gibson v. County of Washoe, 290 F.3d
1175, 1188 n. 9 (9th Cir. 2002) and Alberti v.
Klevenhagen, 790 F.2d 1220, 1224 (5th Cir. 1986).
However, when faced with claims by pretrial detainees,
many courts simply compare the cases to Eighth

Amendment cases. If you are a pretrial detainee, you
should start by reading Bell v. Wolfish, and then
research how courts in your circuit have applied that
One area where the law may be different for pretrial
detainees is when and how you can be searched. The
Second Circuit, for example, has held that strip
searches of pretrial detainees who are in custody for
misdemeanor or other minor offenses are
unconstitutional unless the guard or officer has a
“reasonable suspicion” that the detainee has a
concealed weapon or contraband of some sort.
Reasonable suspicion means that the official searching
you must have specific facts for suspecting you of
having contraband. One case that explains this issue is
Shain v. Ellison, 273 F.3d 56, 66 (2d Cir. 2001).
However, other circuits have held that the practice of
conducting full body visual strip searches on all jail
detainees being booked into the general population for
the first time does not violate the Fourth Amendment.
Powell v. Barrett, 541 F.3d 1298 (11th Cir. 2008).
The Second Circuit has also stated that pretrial
detainees retain a limited expectation of privacy under
the Fourth Amendment that protects them from
searches that are not done for legitimate security
reasons. This means that the jail cannot search your cell
looking for evidence to use against you in trial, only for
contraband or other risks to jail security. United States
v. Cohen, 796 F.2d 20 (2d Cir. 1986). Other courts do
not agree with the Second Circuit on this.
In a few states, under state law, pretrial detainees retain
a similar “limited but legitimate expectation of privacy
… [if] the search of the pre-trial detainee's cell is …
solely for the purpose of uncovering incriminating
evidence which could be used against the detainee at
trial, rather than out of concern for any legitimate
prison objectives.” State v. Henderson, 271 Ga. 264,
267 (1999). See also Rogers v. State, 783 So.2d 980
(Fla. 2001).
One other area in which pretrial detainees may get
more protection is around procedural due process
challenges to placement in segregation. In Mitchell v.
Dupnik, 75 F.3d 517, 524 (9th Cir.1996), one appellate
court held that a pretrial detainees may be subject to
disciplinary segregation only after a due process
hearing to determine whether they have violated any
rule, regardless of the difficult question, described in
Section D, of whether the conditions in segregation are
so serious and unusual as to create a liberty interest.


Issues of Importance to Non-Citizens
and Immigration Detainees
Since Congress changed the immigration laws in 1996,
more and more non-citizens are being held in detention
centers or jails during their immigration cases, or while
they are waiting for deportation, even though they are
not convicted criminals or even pretrial detainees.
When a person is held in custody by the Immigration
and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) they are called
“immigration detainees,” rather than prisoners.
Note for Non-Citizens Serving
Prison Sentences:
One important thing to be aware of as a non-citizen is
that if you have been convicted of certain qualifying
crimes (as defined by federal immigration law), you
may be deportable after you have served your
sentence. Regardless of your immigration status, noncitizens can be removed for criminal convictions. This is
complicated, and something you should discuss with an
attorney who specializes in immigration law.

If you are ordered removed while serving your criminal
sentence or if you are fighting your immigration case
while in prison, you could be detained after you have
finished serving your sentence and held for an
uncertain period of time before you are deported from
the country or your immigration case is decided.
As an immigration detainee, you have most of the same
constitutional rights to decent treatment as citizens do.
Like pretrial detainees, immigration detainees can
challenge the conditions of their confinement under the
Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which
protects any person in custody from conditions that
amount to punishment. See Wong Wing v. United
States, 163 U.S. 228, 237-38 (1896).
However, the Supreme Court has not yet determined
what due process standard should be used to analyze
conditions and abuse challenges by people in
immigration detention. Some courts have
acknowledged that it is not yet clear how immigration
detainees’ claims should be treated. In Preval v. Reno,
203 F.3d 821, 2000 WL 20591 (4th Cir. 2000), the
Fourth Circuit reversed a lower court ruling on a case
brought by immigration detainees because the district
court had dismissed their claims using the standard for
pretrial detainees without giving the detainees the
opportunity to argue about the correct standard.

That said, most courts have held that such challenges
should be analyzed under the Bell standard for pretrial
detainees, discussed above. For an example of this
point of view, read Edwards v. Johnson, 209 F.3d 800
(5th Cir. 2000) Turkmen v. Ashcroft, No. 02 CV 2307,
2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39170, *98 (E.D.N.Y. June 14,
2006) or Foreman v. Lowe, No. 07-1995, 2008 U.S.
App. LEXIS 1011 (3d Cir. Jan. 16, 2008). In
considering due process claims by immigration
detainees, the courts have stated that the Eighth
Amendment sets a floor for those rights. This means
that immigration detainees have at least as much
protection as that under the Eighth Amendment. It is
not clear if they have more.
If you are an immigration detainee, you may want to
argue that you deserve a standard that is more
protective of your rights than the standard for pretrial
detainees or convicted prisoners because you have not
gotten the usual protections that courts give defendants
in the criminal justice system. Some courts have
explicitly stated that the Eighth Amendment “does not
set a ceiling” on due process rights. In other words,
immigration detainees may get more protection under
the Due Process Clause than convicted prisoners get
from the Eighth Amendment. This means that some
conditions courts find lawful for prisoners, might not be
lawful for detainees. Crosby v. Georgeakopoulos, No.
03-5232, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32238, *8-10 (D.N.J.
June 24, 2005).
Though not a case involving immigration detainees, in
Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 933-34 (9th Cir. 2004),
a court decided that conditions for other “civil
detainees,” those who have a mental illness or face civil
commitment for a sex offense, must be better than
conditions for pre-trial criminal detainees. If people
facing civil commitment are held in the same
conditions as criminal detainees, the Ninth Circuit will
presume the conditions are punitive, and thus unlawful.
If you are an immigration detainee held in a jail or
prison, or if your conditions are identical or more
restrictive than conditions for pretrial detainees or
prisoners, you may want to argue that the court should
presume your conditions are punitive and
You should look at cases from your jurisdiction to see
which approach, if any, courts in your area have taken.
You can also argue that, because the correct standard is
unclear, the court should appoint an attorney to
represent you. You may have a good chance of getting
appointed a lawyerl if you are an immigration detainee
held in a private facility, as that raises multiple


complex questions of law. In Agyeman v. CCA, 390
F.3d 1101 (9th Cir. 2004) for example, the Ninth
Circuit said the lower court abused its discretion when
it did not appoint counsel to an immigration detainee
who sued a private corporation because the case was
very complex. See also Sanusi v. Immigration and
Naturalization Service, 100 Fed. Appx. 49, 2004 WL
1303644 (2d Cir. 2004).
Examples of the types of cases detainees can bring
under the Due Process Clause:
- Restrictive or inhumane conditions of confinement
- Use of excessive force by guards.
- Problems with food, exercise, or sanitation.
- Failure to provide adequate medical care.

The law is even less clear for non-citizens who are
arrested while entering the United States without a
valid visa, or who are arrested after entering without
inspection. These people are called “inadmissible” and
the government sometimes argues they should get even
less legal protection than other non-citizens. One of the
first cases to address this issue was Lynch v.
Cannatella, 810 F.2d 1363 (5th Cir. 1987). In Lynch,
sixteen Jamaican stowaways claimed that they were
abused while in the custody of the New Orleans harbor
police. For ten days they were locked in a short-term
detention cell without beds, mattresses, pillows, or
heaters. Defendants kept them handcuffed and forced
them to work while shackled. The police hosed them
down with fire hoses, beat them, shot them with a stun
gas, and locked them in shipping containers.
When the non-citizens sued, the defendants in Lynch
argued that “inadmissible” aliens have “virtually no
constitutional rights.” The Fifth Circuit disagreed, and
held that due process protects “persons” whether or not
they are citizens or legal residents. The court held that
immigration detainees are “entitled under the due
process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth
Amendments to be free of gross physical abuse at the
hands of state or federal officials.”
Unfortunately, some courts have taken this language to
be the outer limit of due process protection for
inadmissible aliens. For an example of this type of
reasoning, read Adras v. Nelson, 917 F.2d 1552 (11th
Cir. 1990). We think that all detainees should be
protected from far more than “gross physical abuse,”
whether they are inadmissible or deportable, and urge
you not to use this standard in your papers. If the
defendants in your case use this standard, you could
point out that it doesn’t make sense to offer civil

immigration detainees less protection than convicted
criminals get under the Eighth Amendment.
There are almost no cases addressing the application of
the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on “unreasonable
searches and seizures” to immigration detainees.
Because searches can be based on similar security
concerns in all types of detention, most court treat
prisoners, pretrial detainees, and immigration detainees
the same, although those who have not been convicted
of a crime may have somewhat more success in
challenging the worst searches, like strip or body cavity
searches. One unlawful search case by an immigration
detainee is Al-Shahin v. DHS, No. 06-5261, 2007 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 75018 (D.N.J. 2007).
As explained in Section J on pretrial detainees, some
courts have held that pretrial detainees charged with
misdemeanors or other minor offenses cannot be strip
searched in the absence of individualized reasonable
suspicion that the detainee possesses a weapon or
contraband. Thus, at a minimum, the same standard
should apply to immigration detainees, who have not
been charged with any crime. Some cases that discuss
strip searches of pretrial detainees are Bell v. Wolfish,
441 U.S. 520 (1979); Shain v. Ellison, 273 F.3d 76 (2d
Cir. 2001); Kelly v. Fonti, 77 F.3d 819 (5th Cir. 1996).
Also similar to pretrial detainees, the law about
placement in segregation without due process may be
better for immigration detainees than for convicted
prisoners. One good case to read on this issue is
Bromfield v. McBurney, C07-5226RBL-KLS, 2008
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11844 (W.D. Wash. Jan 14, 2008).
Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) and
Exhaustion Requirements
Every circuit court to address the issue has held that the
PLRA does not apply to immigration detainees because
they are not “prisoners” within the meaning of the act.
This means that the restrictive provisions of the PLRA
discussed in Chapter 2, Section F and throughout this
handbook do not apply to you, including the exhaustion
requirement, filing fees, and three strikes provisions.
Some examples of these cases include Ojo v. INS, 106
F.3d 680 (5th Cir. 1997); LaFontant v. INS, 135 F.3d
158 (D.C. Cir. 1998); Preval v. Reno, 203 F.3d 821
(4th Cir. 2000); Agyeman v. INS, 296 F.3d 871 (9th Cir.
2002). See also Page v. Torrey, 201 F.3d 1136 (9th
Cir. 1999); Troville v. Venz, 303 F.3d 1256 (11th Cir.
2002); Perkins v. Hedricks, 340 F.3d 582 (8th Cir.
2003) (holding that the PLRA does not apply to people
who have been civilly committed).


However, that doesn’t mean you can ignore the
detention center grievance system or the Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (ICE) administrative
complaint process. Before Congress passed the PLRA,
courts created their own exhaustion requirements, and
those may apply to you. The Supreme Court held in
McCarthy v. Madigan, 503 U.S. 140 (1992), that courts
need to balance a person’s right to go to court to sue
over injustice against an institution’s interest in having
you use whatever grievance system they have set up.
Under this balancing test, there are three arguments you
can make to allow you into court before exhausting: (1)
if exhaustion would somehow hurt your ability to sue,
for example because it might take too long; (2) if the
institution’s grievance system can’t give you what you
want, for example money damages; or (3) if the
institution is biased or has already decided the issue
against you. Still, it is safer to use or try to use any
grievance system that ICE or the jail or detention center
has, before you sue.

Cartoon by Jim McCloskey, The News Leader, Staunton, VA


what it can cover, and how to enforce it. Section C of
this Chapter explains money damages, Section D
explains who you can sue (the “defendants”) and
Section E explains settlements.

Now that you know your rights under the Constitution,
the next step is figuring out how to put together your
lawsuit. You will need to decide what you want the
court to do, who to include as plaintiffs, and who to

If you are part of a group of prisoners who want a
declaratory judgment and injunctive relief (and
sometimes money damages) from a court, you can ask
the court to make the lawsuit a class action. This kind
of lawsuit joins together all people who have been
harmed in the same way as you at the same prison or
jail. There are very specific requirements for bringing a
class action lawsuit. These requirements will be
discussed in Section F of this chapter.

What To Ask for in Your Lawsuit
If you bring a lawsuit under Section 1983, you can ask
for three things: money damages, a declaratory
judgment, or an injunction. You don’t have to ask for
just one – you can ask for two or all three. In the legal
world, all three of these options are called “relief.”



Chapter Four: Table of Contents

Money damages is when the court orders the
defendants to pay you money to make up for harm
you suffered in the past.

Section A
What to Ask for in Your Lawsuit

An injunction is a court order that directs prison
officials to make changes in your prison conditions
and/or stop on-going conduct that the court finds to
be illegal.

Section B
Section C
Money Damages

A declaratory judgment is when a court makes a
decision that explains your legal rights and the
legal duties and obligations of the prison officials.
However, the court doesn’t order the prison to do
or stop doing anything. If you get a declaratory
judgment and the prison doesn’t follow it, you can
then ask the court for an injunction to make them
do so.

Section D
Who You Can Sue
Section E
Section F
Class Actions

Courts usually issue a declaratory judgment and an
injunction together. However, it is also possible for a
court to issue only the declaratory judgment and let the
prison officials decide what actions will comply with
the declaratory judgment.

When you think about what kind of relief you want, it
is important to keep in mind that in a Section 1983 or
Bivens suit, a federal court cannot release you from
prison or reduce your sentence. Additionally, you
cannot use these kinds of lawsuits to request the
reinstatement of good-conduct-time credits that have
been unconstitutionally taken from you. Preiser v.
Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973). You can only
challenge the fact or the length of your prison sentence
through a writ of habeas corpus, which requires that
you go through your state court system before seeking
relief from a federal court.

A court will only issue an injunction if it feels that
money damages will not fix whatever has harmed you.
For instance, if you have to continue living in the
unsafe conditions you sued over, money damages will
not make those conditions any safer.
Section B of this chapter talks about injunctions in
more detail, including when you can get an injunction,


“Actual or imminent injury” means that you have to
show the court that you are being harmed in some way,
or that it is likely that you will be harmed very soon. It
is not enough to show that there is something wrong in
your prison. To get an injunction, you must show that
you are being harmed or are likely to be harmed by
whatever it is that is wrong.

A detailed discussion of the writ of habeas corpus is
beyond the scope of this Handbook. But see Appendix
J for some books and resources on habeas corpus.

An injunction is an order issued by a court that tells the
defendant to do or not do some act or acts. The court
can order the defendants to stop doing harmful and
unconstitutional things to you. It can require the
defendants to act in a way that will prevent them from
violating your rights in the future. If the defendants
don’t follow the court’s order, as set out in the
injunction, they can be held in “contempt” by the court
that issued the injunction. Contempt means that the
Judge can order the defendants fined or jailed.

An injunction is only appropriate if the injury you face
is ongoing. For example, if you are currently
imprisoned in a severely overcrowded prison, that is a
current and ongoing harm, and you can request an
On the other hand, if the overcrowding just happened
for a week or two, and you do not have a good reason
to believe that it is likely to happen again in the near
future, you should not request an injunction. An
example of harm that is not ongoing is being beaten
once by a guard. Unless the guard threatens to beat you
again, or engages in a pattern of violence, there is
nothing that the court can order the prison officials to
do that will fix the abuses that you suffered in the past.
That situation is better dealt with by asking for money

In considering whether to ask for an injunction in your
lawsuit, you should think about the harm you have
suffered and identify whether it happened just once, is
still happening, or is likely to happen again soon. You
may be able to get an injunction if the harm is
continuing or is very likely to happen again soon.
The Supreme Court in Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343
(1996), stated that in order to get an injunction, a
prisoner must show “actual or imminent injury.” In this
context, “injury” does not have to mean physical
damage to your body. It just means that you are, or will
be, worse off because of the illegal acts of the prison
staff, such as: your mail isn’t sent out, your books are
taken away, or you have to live in a strip cell.

1. Preliminary Injunctions and Permanent
Most injunctions are called permanent injunctions.
The court can only give you a permanent injunction at
the end of your lawsuit. However, lawsuits take a very
long time, and many prisoners can’t wait years for the
court to decide whether to grant them a permanent
injunction. Perhaps you are facing serious injury or
even death. In a case like that, you can ask the court for
a preliminary injunction. You can get a preliminary
injunction much faster than a permanent injunction and
it protects you while the court is considering your case,
and deciding whether or not you will get a permanent

What is an Injunction?
An injunction is an order issued by a court that tells the
defendant to do or not do something. You can get an
injunction to stop the defendants from harming you.
Or, you can get an injunction to make the defendants
do something to improve conditions or care in the
prison. Sometimes an injunction is referred to as
“prospective relief.” You can ask for an injunction if
you are experiencing any of the following:

There are four things that you have to show to win a
preliminary injunction:
(1) You are likely to show at trial that the
defendants violated your rights;

1. Overcrowded, unsafe, or extremely harsh conditions;

(2) You are likely to suffer irreparable harm if you
do not receive a preliminary injunction.
“Irreparable harm” means an injury that can
never be fixed;

2. A pattern of guard brutality or harassment;
3. Inadequate medical care; or
4. Continuing violation of any of your rights.

(3) The threat of harm that you face is greater than
the harm the prison officials will face if you get
a preliminary injunction; and

are forced to wait until after using the prison grievance
system to sue, you will be irreparably harmed.
Irreparable harm is an injury that would cause
permanent injury or damage that cannot be fixed by
money or some other form of relief. In your complaint,
explain what that harm. On-going pain is an example
of irreparable harm, as are many ongoing violations of
your constitutional rights.

(4) A preliminary injunction will serve the public
Chapter Five includes sample documents to show how
to seek a preliminary injunction.
If you are successful in winning your preliminary
injunction, the battle is unfortunately not over. Under
the PLRA, the preliminary injunction lasts only 90 days
from the date that the court issues it. This usually
means that you have to hope that you are able to win
your permanent injunction within those 90 days. As
stated before, lawsuits take a long time and it is
unlikely that this will happen. You can get the
preliminary injunction extended for additional 90-day
periods if you can show the same conditions still exist.
Mayweathers v. Newland, 258 F.3d 930 (9th Cir. 2001).

3. Temporary Restraining Orders
There is another means of relief that you can get even
faster than a preliminary injunction, called a
“temporary restraining order” or “TRO.” Sometimes
you can get a TRO before the prison officials are even
aware of the lawsuit. These are issued in emergency
situations and only last for a short period of time.
A TRO is very difficult to get, especially without a
lawyer. Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure sets out the standard for a TRO. To get one
you must show that you will suffer “immediate and
irreparable injury, loss or damage” if the court doesn’t
help you before the other side has a chance to respond.

Even a permanent injunction is not actually permanent
under the PLRA. After the first two years of a
permanent injunction, defendants can challenge it every
year. To keep the injunction, you will have to show that
without it, your rights would still be violated. Under the
PLRA you will have to convince the court that
continuing the injunction is “necessary to correct a
current or ongoing violation” of your rights and that
you still meet the requirements for an injunction listed

Chapter Five has a sample TRO request.

Money Damages

But don’t let this stop you from filing for an injunction.
It is very likely that if you win an injunction, but are
faced with it ending under the PLRA, you will be able
to find a lawyer to help you.

In a Section 1983 or Bivens lawsuit, the court can order
prison officials to give you money to make up for the
harm you suffered when your rights were violated. You
can get money damages instead of, or in addition to, an
injunction. You may want an injunction against some
of the people you sue and money damages from others,
or both. This section explains when and how to get
money damages.

2. Exhaustion and Injunctions
You must also consider the “exhaustion” requirements
of the PLRA. “Exhaustion” means that you must
complete your prison’s grievance system before filing a
lawsuit. You will learn more about this in Chapter Five,
Section A. It is smart to use the prison grievance
system while are working on your lawsuit.

1. The Three Types of Money Damages
There are three types of money damages. The first type
is an award of nominal damages. Nominal damages
are frequently just $1, or some other very small sum of
money. Nominal damages are awarded when you have
proven a violation of your rights, but you have not
shown any actual harm that can be compensated.

If you have an emergency situation and you do not
have time to use the prison grievance system, you can
request a preliminary injunction anyway. Usually, you
will have to exhaust your prison’s administrative
remedies while you are getting relief through the
injunction. One case to read on this issue is Jackson v.
District of Columbia, 254 F.3d 262 (D.C. Cir. 2001).
That case states that the court can only protect prisoners
with a preliminary injunction while the court waits for
them to exhaust grievance procedures.

You are most likely to win a significant amount of
money if you suffered an actual physical injury. The
officials who are responsible should pay you for
medical and other expenses, for any wages you lost, for
the value of any part of your body or physical
functioning which cannot be replaced or restored, and
for your “pain and suffering.” These are called
compensatory damages. The idea behind

To get a preliminary injunction without having
exhausted, you will have to show the court that if you


damages. In that case, Ms. Coleman had a history of
premature and complicated pregnancies and was
experiencing severe pain and bleeding in connection
with her premature labor. Nurse Rahija, the nurse on
duty at Ms. Coleman’s prison, was aware of Ms.
Coleman’s medical history. Nurse Rahija examined
Ms. Coleman and determined that Ms. Coleman could
be in early labor. However, she delayed Ms. Coleman’s
transfer to a hospital for several hours. The court ruled
that Nurse Rahija’s actions reached the standard of
“deliberate indifference” and therefore violated the
Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, but were not
bad enough to show that she acted with “callous
indifference” as required for punitive damages.

compensatory damages is to try and get you back to the
condition you were in before you were injured.
The third type of damages you may be able to get is
punitive damages. To get punitive damages, you need
to show that the defendants’ actions were “motivated
by evil motive or intent” or involved “reckless or
callous indifference to your rights.” In other words, the
officials had to either hurt you on purpose, or do
something so clearly dangerous, they must have known
it was likely to hurt you. An example of a prisoner
getting punitive damages can be found in Smith v.
Wade, 461 U.S. 30 (1983). In that case, Mr. Wade had
been moved into protective custody in his prison after
having been assaulted by other prisoners. A prison
guard moved two other prisoners into Mr. Wade’s cell,
one of whom had recently beaten and killed another
prisoner. Mr. Wade’s cellmates harassed, beat, and
sexually assaulted him. The court found that the
guard’s conduct in placing Mr. Wade in a situation the
guard knew was likely to expose him to serious
physical harm satisfied the standard for punitive
damages. Mr. Wade won $25,000 in compensatory
damages, and $5,000 in punitive damages.

Even though you may not always get punitive damages,
if you are suing for a violation of your rights and you
have to prove deliberate indifference or excessive
force to win your claim, it probably makes sense to ask
for punitive damages, too. The standards for deliberate
indifference and excessive force are discussed in
Chapter Three.

2. Damages Under the PLRA
If you have not been physically hurt, the PLRA makes
it harder to get damages. The PLRA states

Not all punitive damage awards require physical
assault. Some courts and juries have awarded punitive
damages for violations of other Constitutional rights
based on a showing of “evil intent” by prison officials.
One example is Siggers-El v. Barlow, 433 F.Supp.2d
811 (E.D. Mich. 2006). In that case a prisoner received
$200,000 in punitive damages after he was transferred
in retaliation for complaining to the warden about a
prison official who harassed the prisoner and refused to
put in the routine paperwork the prisoner needed to pay
his appellate lawyer. The transfer ended up causing the
prisoner to lose a very good prison job and contact with
his family. That prisoner also received $19,000 in
compensatory damages.

No federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner
confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility,
for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody
without a prior showing of physical injury.
This means that you cannot get money for the way
something makes you feel unless you are also seeking
money for a physical injury. Most courts have
interpreted this statement to only affect claims for
compensatory damages. This interpretation is
explained in Thompson v. Carter, 284 F.3d 411 (2d Cir.
2002). So in most jurisdictions, you can still bring a
claim for nominal or punitive damages for any kind of
harm. And you can still try to get an injunction. Other
cases to read on this issue are Harris v. Garner, 190
F.3d 1279 (11th Cir. 1999) (injunctive relief) and Royal
v. Kautzky, 375 F.3d 720 (8th Cir. 2004) and Calhoun
v. DeTella, 319 F.3d 936 (7th Cir. 2003) (nominal and
punitive damages). Some of these courts have
explained their interpretation by saying that otherwise,
this section of the PLRA would be unconstitutional.

The point of punitive damages is to punish members of
the prison staff who violate your rights and to set an
example to discourage other prison staff from acting
illegally in the future. Therefore, the court usually
won’t impose punitive damages for one incident. You
will have to show there has been a pattern of abuse or
that there is a threat of more abuse in the near future.
Just because you are able to prove your case and win
compensatory damages, does not automatically mean
you will win punitive damages. For instance, in
Coleman v. Rahija, 114 F.3d 778 (8th Cir. 1997), Ms.
Coleman was able to win $1000 in compensatory
damages by proving that she was illegally denied
medical treatment, but she did not win punitive

However, a few courts have held that this provision of
the PLRA also bars punitive damages for emotional
injuries. One case like that is Davis v. District of
Columbia, 158 F.3d 1342 (D.C. Cir. 1998).
Another area in which courts disagree is whether a
claim of a constitutional violation is a claim for “mental


Different courts have different standards as to what
qualifies as physical injury. The physical injury has to
be greater than “de minimis” which means “very
minor,” but it does not have to be severe. For example,
in a case called Siglar v. Hightower, 112 F.3d 191 (5th
Cir. 1997), a guard twisted a prisoner’s ear, and it was
bruised and sore for three days. The court held that this
was not enough of a physical injury. However, the
court noted that a prisoner does not need to show a
“significant” injury. Many courts do not have clear
precedent on what kind of injury is enough.

or emotional injury.” Most courts have decided that
constitutional violations, like those described in
Chapter Three, are in a different category. For that
reason, you can get compensatory damages even if you
have no physical injury.
One example is Canell v. Lightner, 143 F.3d 1210,
1213 (9th Cir. 1998). In that case, the Ninth Circuit
stated that the plaintiff was, “not asserting a claim for
'mental or emotional injury.' He is asserting a claim for
a violation of his First Amendment rights. The
deprivation of First Amendment rights entitles a
plaintiff to judicial relief wholly aside from any
physical injury he can show, or any mental or
emotional injury he may have incurred. Therefore, §
1997e(e)[of the PLRA] does not apply to First
Amendment claims regardless of the form of relief

3. Deciding How Much Money to Ask For
It is difficult to decide how much in compensatory
and/or punitive damages you should request from the
court. You should think carefully about asking for huge
amounts of money, like millions of dollars, because the
judge will be less likely to take your claim seriously if
you do not ask for an appropriate amount. You can
estimate a number for your compensatory damages by
thinking about what your injury cost you. For example,
try and come up with the amount of medical expenses
you are likely to face in the future, or wages you have
lost or will lose because you cannot work. Also, think
about the effect your injury has had on your life. How
long have you suffered? Are you permanently injured?
In what specific ways were you harmed? You can look
up cases in your Circuit involving injuries that are
similar to your own and see what the court awarded
those prisoners.

Other good cases on this issue are Robinson v. Page,
170 F.3d 747, 748 (7th Cir. 1999); Thompson v. Carter,
284 F.3d 411 (2d Cir. 2002); Cockroft v. Kirkland, 548
F.Supp.2d 767 (N.D. Cal. 2008); and Siggers-El v.
Barlow, 433 F.Supp.2d 811 (E.D. Mich. 2006). As
another court explained, because “First Amendment
violations rarely, if ever, result in physical injuries,
construction of the PLRA against recovery of damages
would defeat congressional intent and render
constitutional protections meaningless. If § 1997e(e) is
applied to foreclose recovery in First Amendment
actions, it would place the First Amendment itself “on
shaky constitutional ground.” Siggers-El 433 F.Supp.2d
at 816 (E.D. Mich. 2006).

Who You Can Sue

Money Damages

You can get nominal damages if your rights have
been violated.


You can get compensatory damages to make up
for physical or other harm you were caused.


You can get punitive damages to punish guards
who hurt you on purpose.

In your complaint you have to name at least one
defendant. But if you want, you can name more than
one. You should include all of the people or entities
that were responsible for the harm that you suffered.
However, you do not want to go too far and name
uninvolved people in the hopes of increasing your
chances of winning. You must have a good reason to
sue someone.
Every defendant you sue must have acted “under color
of state law” as you learned in Chapter Two, Section A,
Part 2. What this means is that each prison official who
was responsible for your injury must have acted while
working at your prison or otherwise “on duty.” This
can include anyone who is involved in running your
prison. You can sue the people who work in your
prison, such as guards, as well as the people that
provide services to prisoners, such as nurses or doctors.

Other courts have disagreed with this approach and
state that the PLRA even bars damages for
constitutional claims. One example is Holloway v.
Bizzaro, 571 F.Supp.2d 1270 (S.D.Fla. 2008), in which
a prisoner filed a lawsuit seeking damages for being
denied a pork-free diet in violation of the First
Amendment Free Exercise clause. The Court
dismissed his case, because he did not state he had any
physical injury, and he was only seeking damages.


You have to prove that each defendant in your case
acted in a way or failed to act in a way that led to the
violation of your rights. This is called “causation.” For
example, if a guard illegally beats you and violates
your rights, he or she causes your injury. The guard’s
supervisor could also be liable for violating your rights
if you can show that the supervisor made or carried out
a “policy” or “practice” that led to the violation of your
rights. So, let’s say that the prison warden, who is the
supervisor of the guard who beat you, instructed his
guards to beat prisoners anytime that they did not
follow orders. In this instance, the warden didn’t
actually beat you himself, but he is responsible for
creating a policy that led to the beatings.

1. Who to Sue for an Injunction

Sometimes, a supervisor may also be sued for ignoring
or failing to react to a widespread health or safety
problem. For example, if the warden was aware that
guards refused to let prisoners eat on a regular basis
and did not do anything to stop it, you might be able to
sue the warden as well as the guards.

Naming Your Defendants:

In 2009 the Supreme Court decided a case called
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), that may
limit the ways in which supervisors can be sued for
ignoring illegal action. Some courts are interpreting
Iqbal to limit a plaintiff’s right to sue a supervisor who
ignored illegal action by a guard s/he supervised. Other
courts have found that ignoring illegal action is still a
ground for suit after Iqbal. This issue is discussed in
more detail in Part 2 of this section.

If you want both, sue everybody in their “individual and
official capacities.”

The purpose of an injunction is to change conditions in
your prison by making prison officials take some action
or stop doing something that violates your rights. In
this kind of lawsuit you need to sue the officials in
You cannot sue a state or a state agency directly. This
means you can’t sue “The New York State Department
of Correctional Services” or New York State itself for
either an injunction or for money damages. Pennhurst
State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89


Sue prison guards or administrators in their
“individual capacity” if you want money damages.


Sue prison guards or administrators in their “official
capacity” if you want an injunction.

You will learn where to state that you are suing
someone in his or her individual or official capacity in
Chapter Five.

But, when you sue state-employed prison officials in
their official capacity, this can force the state and its
state agencies to respect your rights. For that reason,
you need to sue the person at the prison who has the
ability to make whatever change you want. This might
be the warden, or a counselor, or a unit manager. If
you are asking for an injunction, make sure you sue
high-ranking officials at your prison, and mention the
titles of the prison officials who you are suing as well
as their names.

You also have to decide whether to sue a prison official
in his or her “individual capacity” or “official
capacity.” If you sue John Doe, supervising guard at
your prison, in his individual capacity, it means you are
suing John Doe personally. When you sue a guard for
money damages, you need to sue him in his individual
In contrast, if you sue John Doe, supervising guard at
your prison, in his official capacity, that means that you
are suing whoever is the supervising guard at the time
of your lawsuit, whether or not that person is actually
John Doe. If you are seeking injunctive relief, you will
need to sue the guard in his official capacity. If you are
seeking both damages and injunctive relief, you sue the
guard in both their individual and official capacity.

Although you can’t sue a state, you can sue a
municipality directly for an injunction. A
“municipality” is a city, town, county or other kind of
local government. This is called a “Monell claim”
because it first succeeded in an important case called
Monell v. Dept. of Social Services of the City of New
York, 436 U.S. 659 (1978). You can sue a city, or any
other municipality, for an injunction or damages where
the violation of your rights was the product of a city’s
official policy or unofficial custom. Pembaur v.
Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469 (1986). Be warned that
proving a policy or custom is hard unless the policy is
actually written down.

There are legal differences between who you can sue in
an action for an injunction and who you can sue for
money damages. A discussion of these differences
follows below. It is important to keep in mind that
you can sue for an injunction and money damages
together in one lawsuit.


prison and guards should have known (or did know)
that they were violating your rights. The prison or
guards are going to argue that the law is not clearly
established and you want to show laws, prison
regulations, or cases to prove that it is.

You are unlikely to win against a municipality if your
injury was the result of one specific event, or was
caused by only one prison or jail official. You will be
in a better position to win against a municipality if you
can show that the municipality was guilty of a pattern
of abuse that resulted in the violation of your rights

The personal involvement requirement means that you
can only get damages from officials or guards who
actually personally violated your rights. Prison
supervisors or other high level officials (like the state
prison commissioner) cannot be held liable for a
violation of your rights just because they are
responsible for supervising or employing the guards
who actually violated your rights. Holding a supervisor
responsible just because they are a supervisor is called
“respondeat superior” and it is not allowed in Section
1983 claims.

Remember that you can still get an injunction against
the prison or jail officials even if you can’t get one
directly against the municipality. Name everyone who
you want to hold liable.

2. Who to Sue for Money Damages: the
Problem of “Qualified Immunity.”
If you want to sue for money damages, you have to sue
the prison officials who violated your rights in their
individual capacity (personally). As with injunctions,
you cannot sue your state or the prison itself.

Before 2009, the law was clear that you can hold
supervisors responsible on the following theories:

The biggest hurdle in suing prison officials for money
damages is the doctrine of qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity is a form of legal protection given
to government officials. If a court rules that the prison
officials you are suing are protected by qualified
immunity, that will be the end of your lawsuit for
damages. However, qualified immunity does not
protect defendants from an injunction!

(1) The supervisor directly participated in the
(2) The supervisor learned of the violation of your
rights and failed to do anything to fix the
(3) The supervisor created a policy or custom
allowing or encouraging the illegal acts; or
(4) The supervisor failed to adequately train or
supervise his or her subordinates.

To overcome qualified immunity and get money
damages, your complaint (explained in detail in
Chapter Five) must include facts that show that:

One case discussing this kind of liability is Colon v.
Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865 (2d Cir. 1995). In Colon, the
court held that a letter from a prisoner to the prison
superintendent was not enough to establish the
superintendent’s personal involvement. In another
case, Valdes v. Crosby, 450 F.3d 1231 (11th Cir. 2006),
the court allowed suit against a warden who had been
warned by the previous warden about a correctional
officer’s violent behavior. Hardy v. District of
Columbia, 601 F.Supp. 2d 182 (D.C. Dist. 2009) is a
case that talks about supervisory liability for failure to
supervise or a lack of training.

Your constitutional rights were violated;
The right that was violated was “clearly
established” and
The defendant was personally responsible for
the violation of your rights. This is called the
“personal involvement” requirement.

For a right to be clearly established, a prison official
must have fair warning that his or her actions in a
situation were illegal. Prison officials are allowed to
make reasonable mistakes. A prison official may act
illegally and still be free from liability if he or she
couldn’t be expected to know better because the law in
that area is unclear. However, an official can be held
responsible if he or she knew (or should have known)
that he or she was acting illegally. The main Supreme
Court cases on this topic are Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S.
194 (2001) and Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800
(1982). Most states will require you to show that a
reasonable prison official would know that his or her
actions were unconstitutional. Prison Legal News v.
Lehman, 397 F.3d 692, 701 (9th Cir. 2005). You should
cite to cases that are similar to yours to show that the

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Ashcroft v.
Iqbal,129 S. C.t 1937 (2009), courts are divided on
whether there are new limits to a prisoner’s ability to
sue a supervisor who ignored information about a
constitutional wrongdoing, as opposed to participating
in the action himself or herself. As the law is changing
quickly in this area, you should research the impact of
Iqbal on supervisory liability in your district when
deciding what supervisors to name.


not. No one, not even the judge or your attorney, can
force you to settle.

Some public officials have what is called absolute
immunity. Unlike qualified immunity, absolute
immunity is a complete bar to lawsuit. Because of this
doctrine, you cannot sue a judge, a legislator, or anyone
else acting “as an integral part of the judicial or
legislative process” no matter what he or she has done.

The PLRA creates some rules on settlements.
Settlements which order the prison to do something or
stop doing something are often called “consent
decrees.” Consent decrees must meet strict
requirements: the settlement must be “narrowly
drawn,” necessary to correct federal law violations, and
do so in the least intrusive way. The court will need to
approve of the settlement and make sure PLRA
restrictions are enforced. This means that a court can
only approve a consent decree if there is evidence or
admissions by the defendants that your rights were
violated by the prison officials. This can be a difficult

You may also be worried that the prison officials you
want to sue do not seem to have enough money to pay
you. But in most cases any money damages that the
court orders the prison officials to pay will actually be
paid by their employers: the prison, the state, or the
state agency that runs the prison. This is called
Finally, although there are different rules as to which
remedies you can ask for from specific defendants, you
can still ask for an injunction and money damages in
the same complaint. For example, you can sue a guard
in his or her individual capacity (for money damages)
and his or her official capacity (for an injunction) in the
same lawsuit.

Some prisoners have been successful in having their
consent decrees approved by a court when both the
prisoner and the officials being sued agree that the
decree meets all of the PLRA requirements. There is no
guarantee that this will work in all cases.

3. What Happens to Your Money Damages

Parties can enter into “private settlement agreements”
that may not meet PLRA standards, but these
agreements cannot be enforced by federal law. Private
settlement agreements are very risky if your rights are
being violated.

If you win money damages, the PLRA contains rules
that may affect your award before you get it. The
PLRA states: “any compensatory damages…shall be
paid directly to satisfy any outstanding restitution
orders pending against the prisoner. The
remainder…shall be forwarded to the prisoner.”

The PLRA does not restrict settlements that only deal
with money. If you are not asking for an injunction,
then the restrictions discussed above do not apply.

This means that if you are awarded compensatory
damages after a successful suit, any debts you have
towards the victim of your crime will be automatically
paid out of your award before you get your money.
This rule does not apply to punitive damages.

Class Actions

The PLRA also states that if you are awarded damages,
“reasonable efforts” will be made to notify the “victims
of the crime” for which you were convicted. There
have been very few rulings regarding these provisions
so far, so it is hard to say whether and how they will be

One person, or a small group of people, can sue on
behalf of all other people who are in the same situation.
This is called a “class action.” The requirements for a
class action are found in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure. Rule 23 is part of Title 28 of the
United States Code (U.S.C.), which you can request
from your law library. (Chapter Seven explains more
about how to use statutes and law books.) We have
summarized important parts of the rule below, but if
you are thinking about bringing a class action you may
want to read the exact words of Rule 23 yourself.

Before a judge rules on your case, you may consider
“settlement” which means both parties involved give in
to some of each others’ demands and your suit ends
without a trial. In a settlement, you can get the same
type of relief, like money or a policy change, as you
could get if your case went to trial. As a plaintiff, it is
always your decision whether to settle your lawsuit or


Second, a class action for injunctive relief cannot be
dismissed as “moot” just because the prisoners who
start the suit are released from prison or transferred to a
prison outside the court’s jurisdiction, or because the
prison stops abusing those particular prisoners. The
case will still be alive for the other prisoners in the
class. Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393 (1975). “Moot”
means that the problem you are complaining about has
stopped happening, and is not likely to happen to you
again. You can lose a case by it becoming “moot.” The
problem of “mootness” is discussed more in Chapter
Six, Section D.

Rule 23(a) requires:
(1) The class must be so large that it would not be
practical for everyone in it to bring the suit and
appear in court;
(2) There must be “questions of law or fact
common to the class;”
(3) The claims made by the people who bring the
suit must be similar to the claims of everyone
in the class; and
(4) The people who bring the suit must be able to
“fairly and adequately protect the interests of
the class.”

A class action has one very big disadvantage. If you
lose a class action, the court’s decision binds all the
class members, so other prisoners who are part of the
class cannot bring their own challenges.

Additionally, Rule 23(b) requires that any one of (1),
(2) or (3), below, is true:
(1) Bringing separate actions would create a risk
(A) different rulings for different individual
class members that would lead to contradicting
standards of conduct for the other side; or
(B) rulings for individuals that, as a practical
matter, would dictate the rights of other class
members not in the case or harm their ability to
protect their interests;

In contrast, if you lose a suit that is not a class action,
you merely establish a bad “precedent.” Other prisoners
can still raise the same legal issues in another suit, and
they may be able to convince a different judge to ignore
or overrule your bad precedent. Chapter Seven explains
how precedent works.
This is why the Federal Rules require that the people
who bring a class action must be able to “fairly and
adequately protect the interests of the class.” Protecting
the interests of a class requires resources that are not
available to prisoners, such as a staff of investigators,
access to a complete law library, and the opportunity to
interview potential witnesses scattered throughout the
state. As a result, if a court decides that your case meets
all the requirements for a class action, the court will
appoint a lawyer to represent you and the class.

(2) The party who doesn’t want it to be a class
action has acted the same toward everyone in
the class, so that final injunctive relief or
declaratory relief is appropriate for the class as
a whole; or

(3) The court finds that there are more questions of
law or fact common to class members than
questions affecting only individuals, and that a
class action is better than an individual case for
fairly and quickly deciding the case. The Court
will consider:
(A) the class members’ interests in individually
controlling the their own case;
(B) whether any other case about the same
issue has already started by class members;
(C) whether it would be a good thing to keep
all cases about the issue in one court; and
(D) whether the case will be hard to manage as
a class action.

You can also start a suit under Section 1983 for
yourself and a few other prisoners and send copies to
some lawyers to see if they’ll help. If a lawyer agrees to
represent you or the court appoints a lawyer, your
lawyer can “amend” your legal papers to change your
suit into a class action.

A class action has two big advantages. First, any court
order will apply to the entire class. Anyone in the class
can ask the court to hold the officials in contempt of
court and fine or jail them if they disobey the court
order. If the suit were not a class action, prisoners who
were not a part of the suit would have to start a new suit
if prison officials continued to violate their rights.


Chapter One, Section D, explains how to try and
find a lawyer.


Chapter Five, Section C, Part 3 explains how to
ask the court to appoint a lawyer to represent you.


You may find reading the rules frustrating, since they
are written in very technical language, and even
lawyers and judges can’t always agree on what they
mean. For this reason, you may want to refer to a book
that explains the Federal Rules and explains the court
decisions that interpret the Rules. If your library has it,
a good book to look up questions in is Wright and
Miller’s Federal Practice and Procedure. You may
also want to read the Advisory Committee notes which
are printed in some editions of the rules. These notes
explain the purpose of the rules and how they are
supposed to work.

This chapter explains how to start a lawsuit under
Section 1983 or Bivens. It explains what legal papers to
file, when, where, and how to file them, and it provides
forms and examples to guide your writing. It also
explains what to do in an emergency, when you need
immediate help from the court.

Chapter Five: Table of Contents
Section A
When to File Your Lawsuit
Section B
Where to File Your Lawsuit

In addition to the Federal Rules, each U.S. District
Court issues “Local Rules of Practice,” which are based
on the Federal Rules. The Local Rules cover details of
procedure that may be different in each particular
district. You can get a copy from the Clerk of the U.S.
District Court for each district, but you may have to pay
a small fee. You may want to request these rules when
you write the court to get forms (explained below).
Look in Appendix L to find the address of your District
Court. Or, if you have a friend or relative with internet
access, he or she can download the rules for free from
the specific District Court’s website.

Section C
How to Start Your Lawsuit
Section D
How to Serve Your Legal Papers
Section E
Getting Immediate Help From the Court
Section F
Signing Your Papers


The next chapter, Chapter Six, discusses what happens
after a suit is started. Neither chapter gives all the rules
or procedures for this kind of suit. These details are in
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Federal
Rules are supposed to be in your prison library,
included in Title 28 of the United States Code (U.S.C.).
There is an annotated version of the U.S.C., called the
United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.), which gives
short summaries of important court decisions which
interpret each rule. The U.S.C. will only have the text
of the Federal Rules, but the U.S.C.A. will give some
explanation and cases and is probably more helpful to
you. Chapter Seven explains how to use the U.S.C.A.
and other law books.

When To File Your Lawsuit
If you are trying to stop an official policy or practice
within the prison, you will, of course, want to act as
quickly as possible. If a rule has been issued or an
official decision has been made, you do not need to
wait until the new procedure is put into effect. You can
sue right away to block it as long as you have first
completed all internal grievance processes.
If you are suing mainly to recover damages for an
abuse that has already ended, you may not be in such a
hurry. But it is usually best to get your suit going
before you lose track of important witnesses or

The Federal Rules are not too long and they are very
important. When we refer to a specific rule in this
Handbook, you should read the rule if you possibly can.
The rules are revised every few years, so be sure to
check the “pocket parts” in the back of the books in the
U.S.C.A. or read a current copy of the paperback.


limitations has run out. However, you may have trouble
if you try to add new defendants after the statute of
limitations. Read Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule
15(c) to learn whether your new complaint will “relate
back” to your first filing.

TIP: Before you start writing your complaint, request
the following documents from your District Court:

The District Court’s Local Rules;
Forms for a Section 1983 pro se action;
In Forma Pauperis forms;
Forms for Appointment of Counsel.

2. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
The PLRA states that “[n]o action shall be brought
with respect to prison conditions … by a prisoner
confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional
facility until such administrative remedies as are
available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C.A. § 1997e(a).

1. Statute of Limitations
For suits where you will be asking for money damages,
there is a “statute of limitations” which sets a deadline
for how long you can wait after the events occurred
before you start your suit. If your time runs out, your
case is “time-barred,” which means your case will be

This provision is known as the “exhaustion”
requirement, and it means that you have to use the
prison grievance system before you file your lawsuit. If
you have not used your prison’s grievance system and
you try to sue a prison official about anything he or she
has done to you, the court will almost always dismiss
your case. Not only do you have to file a grievance, but
you also need to wait for a response, and appeal that
response as far up as possible. If prison officials fail to
respond in the amount of time stated on the form, you
can treat that as a denial, and appeal immediately.

To meet a statute of limitations, you need to file your
suit before the deadline. As long as you file on time, it
is OK if your case lasts past the deadline. The deadline
for a Section 1983 suit is determined by your state’s
general personal injury statute. Owens v. Okure, 488
U.S. 235, 236 (1989). This same rule applies to Bivens
actions brought by federal prisoners. In some states, the
statute of limitations is as short as one year, but most
states give two or more years. Statutes of limitations
can change, so always check current state statutes to
make sure. To discover the statute of limitations in your
state, look in the “civil code” or “civil procedure”
section of the state code (your state’s collection of

It doesn’t matter if you believe your prison’s grievance
system is inadequate, unfair or futile. You may know
that nothing is going to change by filing a grievance,
but you still need to do it. Your case will be dismissed
if you do not.

If you expect to get out of prison fairly soon – for
example, you already have a parole date – then you
might be better off waiting until you are out before you
start a suit that is only for damages. You will obviously
have more freedom to get your suit together when
you’re out, and you’ll have access to a more complete
law library. You may be able to raise the money to hire
a lawyer, and prison officials will have a harder time
getting back at you for filing a suit. Also, some sections
of the PLRA, like exhaustion, and the limitation on
damages for emotional injury, do not apply to prisoners
who have been released.

Very rarely, exhaustion may not be required if you can
show that you were unable to file a grievance through
no fault of your own. For instance, if you are in SHU
without access to grievance forms, or if a prison official
told you not to file a grievance, the court may decide to
excuse the exhaustion requirement in your case.
However, courts are very skeptical of these claims and
show very little mercy, so you must go through the
grievance process unless you are truly unable.
The language of the PLRA says that the exhaustion
requirement applies to cases regarding “prison
conditions.” Although “prison conditions” sounds like
it might only include claims about things like
inadequate food or dirty cells, in a case called Porter v.
Nussle, 534 U.S. 516 (2002), the Supreme Court held
that “prison conditions” refers to everything that
happens in prison, including single incidents of guard
brutality or inadequate medical care. Under another
important Supreme Court case, Booth v. Churner, 532
U.S. 731 (2001), you have to use the prison’s grievance
system even if it does not offer the type of relief you
would like to sue for. The prisoner in that case,
Timothy Booth, wanted money damages and the

You do not have to worry about the statute of
limitations if you are asking for an injunction.
However, if you want an injunction you need to start
and finish your suit while you are inside prison. If you
do not, then your case may be dismissed as “moot,”
which is explained in Chapter Six, Section D.
If you file your complaint within the statute of
limitations, you can usually file an “amended
complaint” to add new claims that are related to the
ones you initially included even if the statute of


administrative grievance system at his prison did not
allow money damages. The Court decided that even
though Mr. Booth’s prison administrative grievance
system could not award him money damages, Mr.
Booth was still forced to go through the entire
administrative grievance process before coming to
court to seek money damages.

Where To File Your Lawsuit
You will file your lawsuit at the federal trial court,
called a “district court.” This is where all Section 1983
and Bivens cases start. Some states, such as Alaska,
only have one district. Others have several. New York,
for example, is composed of four districts: the
Northern, Western, Eastern, and Southern Districts. In
total, there are 94 district courts. What district you
should file in is determined by the law of “venue.” The
main venue rule for a Section 1983 or Bivens lawsuit is
Section 139(b) of Title 28 of the United States Code.

In the U.S. Supreme Court Case, Jones v. Bock, 549
U.S. 199 (2007), the Court stated that prisoners do not
need to show in their complaint that they have
exhausted all grievance procedures. However,
defendants can rely on a prisoner’s failure to exhaust as
a defense. The Court also said that when a prisoner
brings a case with both exhausted and unexhausted
claims, the court must let the exhausted claims move
forward without dismissing the entire suit. The court
can only dismiss the unexhausted claims.

It is usually easiest to file in the district “in which the
claim arose.” That is, you should file in the district that
includes the prison where your rights were violated. To
determine what district this is and to get the address of
the district court, locate your state in Appendix L, and
then check to see which district covers the county your
prison is in.

You should always try to be as detailed as possible in
your grievances. You should mention all the issues and
facts you want to sue about, and try to comply with all
the prison’s grievance rules and deadlines, even if they
don’t make any sense.

You do not have to say in your complaint why you
decided to file in a particular district. It is up to the
defendants to challenge your choice of venue if they
think you filed in the wrong place. However, the
district court often will return your papers if the judge
decides you sued in the wrong court. For this reason,
we have included a sentence on “venue” in our sample
complaint in Section C, Part 1 of this chapter.

To be safe, you should also name everyone who you
think is responsible and who you may want to sue. If
your prison grievance system requires you to name
everyone, and you don’t, a court may not let you sue
that person. If your prison grievance system does not
require that you name the responsible people, you will
be able to sue them even if you didn’t name them in the

TIP: Always be sure to send the Court Clerk a letter
stating that your address has been changed if you
are transferred to a different prison while your case
is pending.

If the court does dismiss your case or one of your
claims for “failure to exhaust,” it will probably be a
“dismissal without prejudice” which means that you
can exhaust your remedies, and then re-file. The
dismissal will probably not be considered a “strike”
against you. (For more about “strikes” see Section C,
Part 2 of this Chapter)

How To Start Your Lawsuit
As you will see, a lawsuit requires a lot of paperwork.
There are two basic papers for starting any federal
lawsuit: a summons and a complaint. They are
described in Part 1, below.

Unfortunately, statutes of limitation can run out while
you are exhausting the grievance process. If the statute
of limitations has run by the time you are done
exhausting, you will be out of luck. So you want to
make sure you start exhausting the grievance system
immediately after the incident occurs. This is also
important because many prison grievance systems have
short time deadlines.

If you have little or no money, you will also want to
request that the court allow you to sue “in forma
pauperis,” which is Latin for “as a poor person.” Filing
that way gives you more time to pay the court filing
fee. In forma pauperis papers are described in Part 2.
You will also probably want to ask the court to appoint
a lawyer for you, and this is described in Part 3.


Try to follow the forms in this chapter and the local
rules for your district. But don’t let these rules stop you
from filing your suit. Just do the best you can. If you
can’t follow all the rules, write the court a letter that
explains why. For example, you can tell the court that
you were not allowed to use a typewriter, or you could
not get the right paper. The courts should consider your
case even if you do not use the correct form. When a
prisoner files a lawsuit without help from a lawyer, the
federal courts will even accept handwritten legal

Eventually, you may want to submit declarations to
present additional facts in support of your complaint.
Declarations are described in Part 4 of this Section.
Lawyers write legal papers a certain way, which is
different from how people ordinarily write. But don’t
be intimidated! This does not mean that you need to use
legal jargon, or try to sound like a lawyer. Judges do
not expect or want prisoners who are not lawyers to
write like lawyers. It is best to just write simply and
clearly. Do not worry about using special phrases or
fancy legal words.

Be sure to put your name and address at the top left
hand corner of the first page of your complaint and any
motion you submit. All the prisoners who bring the suit
should sign the complaint. At least one should sign
each motion.

This chapter will include forms for some of the basic
documents that you will need. There are additional
forms in Appendix D, and a sample complaint in
Appendix B. The forms and examples in this chapter
show only one of the many proper ways to write each
type of paper. Feel free to change the forms to fit your
case. If you have access to copies of legal papers from
someone else’s successful Section 1983 lawsuit, you
may want to follow those forms instead.

1. Summons and Complaint
You start a Section 1983 suit by mailing two legal
documents called a “complaint” and a “summons” to
the appropriate U.S. District Court. Both documents
will also have to be “served” or given to, the
defendants. Service is very important, and is explained
in Section D below.

If you need a legal paper that is not covered by this
chapter, Chapter Six, or Appendix B or D, you may
want to see if your prison library has a book of forms
for legal papers. Two good books of forms for federal
suits are: Moore’s Manual-Federal Practice Forms and
Bender’s Federal Practice Forms. Some U.S. District
Courts have special rules about the form your legal
papers should follow – like what kind of paper to use,
what line to start typing on and what size type to use.
You will find these rules in the Local Rules you request
from your district court. Some courts have more rules
than others and unfortunately, the rules vary a lot from
court to court.

The complaint is the most important document in your
lawsuit. In it, you describe your lawsuit. You explain
who you are (plaintiff), who you are suing
(defendants), what happened (factual allegations), what
laws give the court the power to rule in your favor
(legal claims), and what you want the court to do
(relief). If your complaint does not meet all the
requirements for a Section 1983 or Bivens lawsuit, your
suit could be dismissed at the very start.

Most district courts also have a packet of forms that it
will send for free to prisoners who want to file actions
pro se (without a lawyer). You can write a letter to the
court clerk explaining that you are a prisoner and are
requesting forms for a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. The
court may or may not require you to use their forms. If
you can get these forms, use them. They are the easiest
way to file a complaint! With or without the forms, you
will need to be sure to include all of the information
described below. It is a good idea to request both the
Local Rules and the Section 1983 forms before you
start trying to write your complaint.

Getting all the right facts down in your complaint can
be difficult, but is very important. Chapter Seven has
some legal research and writing tips that may help you
write your complaint.
Below, we explain each part of a complaint. In
Appendix B, you will find an example of a complaint in
a made-up case. We recommend that read the form
complaint, explanation and sample complaint before
you try to write your own. Yours should be on a full
sheet of paper (like the sample in Appendix B), not in
two columns like the complaint form explained here.

Generally, you should type if you can. Large type is
best. Check with the local court rules to see if you need
to use a particular type or length of paper. Type or
write on only one side of each sheet, and staple the
papers together.

You can copy the parts of this form that are appropriate
for your suit, and add your own facts to the italicized
sections. If part of a paragraph here doesn’t apply to


your suit, don’t include it. Each paragraph in your
complaint should be numbered, starting with the
number “1.” The letters (A) through (J) in grey by each
section should not be included in your complaint. They
are just there for your reference, so that you will be
able to tell which part of the complaint we are talking
about in the explanation below.

Defendant, [full name of head of corrections
department] is the [Director / Commissioner] of the
state of [state] Department of Corrections. He is legally
responsible for the overall operation of the Department
and each institution under its jurisdiction, including
[name of prison where plaintiffs are confined].
Defendant, [warden’s full name] is the
[Superintendent / Warden] of [name of prison]. He is
legally responsible for the operation of [name of
prison] and for the welfare of all the inmates in that

Names of all the people
bringing the suit,
: Civil Action No. __
Names of all the people
the suit is against,
individually and in their
official capacities,

Defendant, [guard’s full name] is a
Correctional Officer of the [state] Department of
Corrections who, at all times mentioned in this
complaint, held the rank of [position of guard] and was
assigned to [name of prison].
Each defendant is sued individually and in his
[or her] official capacity. At all times mentioned in this
complaint each defendant acted under the color of state
State IN DETAIL all the facts that are the basis
for your suit. You will want to include what happened,
where, when, how and who was there. Remember that
the judge may know very little about prison, so be sure
to explain the terms you use. Divide your description of
the facts into separate short paragraphs in a way that
makes sense – by time, date, or event.

This is a civil action authorized by 42 U.S.C.
Section 1983 to redress the deprivation, under color of
state law, of rights secured by the Constitution of the
United States. The court has jurisdiction under 28
U.S.C. Section 1331 and 1343 (a)(3). Plaintiff seeks
declaratory relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 2201
and 2202. Plaintiff’s claims for injunctive relief are
authorized by 28 U.S.C. Section 2283 & 2284 and Rule
65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

You may want to include some facts that you do
not know personally. It may be general prison
knowledge, or it may be information given to you by
people who are not plaintiffs in your lawsuit. It is OK
to include this kind of information, but you need to be
sure that each time you give these kinds of facts, you
start the paragraph with the phrase “Upon information
and belief.” If you include such facts, you must have a
good faith basis for believing them to be true.

The [name of district you are filing your suit
in] is an appropriate venue under 28 U.S.C. Section
1391 (b)(2) because it is where the events giving rise to
this claim occurred.

You can refer to documents, affidavits, and
other materials that you have attached at the back of
your complaint as “exhibits” in support of your
complaint. Each document or group of documents
should have its own letter: “Exhibit A,” “Exhibit B”

Plaintiff, [your full name], is and was at all
times mentioned herein a prisoner of the State of [state]
in the custody of the [state] Department of Corrections.
He/she is currently confined in [name of prison], in
[name of City and State].



Plaintiff [name] used the prisoner grievance
procedure available at [name of institution] to try and


solve the problem. On [date filed grievance] plaintiff
[name] presented the facts relating to this complaint.
On [date got response] plaintiff [name] was sent a
response saying that the grievance had been denied. On
[date filed appeal] he/she appealed the denial of the

proper, and equitable.
Dated: _____________________
Respectfully submitted,
Prisoners’ names and addresses


I have read the foregoing complaint and hereby
verify that the matters alleged therein are true, except
as to matters alleged on information and belief, and, as
to those, I believe them to be true. I certify under
penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.

Plaintiffs reallege and incorporate by reference
paragraphs 1 – 11 [or however many paragraphs the
first four sections took].
The [state the violation, for example, beating,
deliberate indifference to medical needs, unsafe
conditions, sexual discrimination] violated plaintiff
[name of plaintiff]’s rights and constituted [state the
constitutional right at issue, for example, cruel and
unusual punishment, a due process violation] under the
[state the number of the Constitutional Amendment at
issue, like Eighth or Fourteenth] Amendment to the
United States Constitution.

Executed at [city and state] on [date]
Type name of plaintiff

Explanation of Form:
Part (A) is called the “caption.” It looks strange, but it
is how courts want the front page of every legal
document to look. There is no one right way to do a
caption, so you should check your court’s local rules to
see what they want. The top line is the name of the
court. You will have already figured out where you are
filing your lawsuit by reading Section B of this chapter,
and referring to Appendix L. If you are suing in the
Western District of New York, where many New York
prisons are, you would insert those exact words
“Western District of New York” where the blank is. In
the example in Appendix B, the prisoners are suing in
the Northern District of Illinois.

The plaintiff has no plain, adequate or
complete remedy at law to redress the wrongs
described herein. Plaintiff has been and will continue to
be irreparably injured by the conduct of the defendants
unless this court grants the declaratory and injunctive
relief which plaintiff seeks.

WHEREFORE, plaintiff respectfully prays that this
court enter judgment granting plaintiff:
A declaration that the acts and omissions
described herein violated plaintiff’s rights under the
Constitution and laws of the United States.

Inside the caption box, you need to put the full names
of all the plaintiffs, and the full names and titles of all
the defendants. Think carefully about the discussion in
Chapter Four about who you can sue. Remember to
write that you are suing them in their “official
capacity,” if you want injunctive relief, and their
“individual capacity” if you want money damages. The
plaintiffs and defendants are separated by the letter “v”
which stands for “versus” or “against.” Across from the
box is the title of your document. Each document you
file in your case will have a different title. This is a
“Complaint,” so title it that. Under the title is a place
for your civil action number. Leave that line blank until
you are assigned a number by the court. You will get a
number after you file your complaint.

A preliminary and permanent injunction
ordering defendants [name defendants] to [state what it
is you want the defendants to do or stop doing].
Compensatory damages in the amount of
$____ against each defendant, jointly and severally.
Punitive damages in the amount of $____
against each defendant.

A jury trial on all issues triable by jury


Plaintiff’s costs in this suit


Any additional relief this court deems just,


Part (B) is a statement of the court’s jurisdiction
(paragraph 1) and venue (paragraph 2). Jurisdiction
really means “power.” Federal courts are courts of


will need to put careful thought into who you are suing,
and whether to sue them in their official or individual
capacity. Only sue people who were actually involved
in violating your rights! You will also want to include a
statement for each defendant of their role at the prison.
Generally, this just means stating a defendant’s job
duties. You must be sure to include the statement in the
final paragraph of this section: that “at all times, each
defendant acted under color of state law.” (See
Paragraph 7 in the form complaint). As you may
remember from Chapter Two, Section A, this is one of
the requirements for Section 1983 actions.

“limited jurisdiction.” This means they can only hear
cases that Congress has said they should hear. For the
purposes of a complaint, all you have to understand
about jurisdiction is what statutes to cite. If you are
filing a Bivens action instead of a Section 1983 action,
say so in the first sentence. All prisoners bringing
Section 1983 or Bivens suits should cite 28 U.S.C.
Section 1331 and 1343 (a)(3) in this paragraph. The
other statutes you cite depend on what kind of case you
are bringing:

If you are seeking declaratory relief (see Chapter
Four, Section A), you should include a sentence
stating “Plaintiffs seek declaratory relief pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. Section 2201 and 2202.”


If you are seeking injunctive relief (see Chapter
Four, Section B) you should include a sentence
stating “Plaintiff’s claims for injunctive relief are
authorized by 28 U.S.C. Section 2283 & 2284 and
Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.”


If you have included state law claims in your
complaint you should include a sentence stating,
“The court has supplemental jurisdiction over
plaintiff’s state law claims under 28 U.S.C. Section


Part (E) is the factual section of your complaint. It is
very important, and can be very rewarding if done well.
It is your chance to explain what happened to you. In
this section, you must be sure to state (or “allege”)
enough facts to meet all the elements of your particular
claim. This can be a very big task. We would suggest
that you start by making a list of all the claims you
want to make, and all the elements of each claim.
For example, in Chapter Three, Section F, Part 1, you
learned that an Eighth Amendment claim based on
guard brutality requires a showing that:
(1) you were harmed by a prison official;
(2) the harm caused physical injury (necessary for
money damages under PLRA); and
(3) the guard’s actions were not necessary or
reasonable to maintain prison discipline.

If you are including Federal Tort Claims Act claims
(explained in Chapter 2, Section C) you should
include a sentence stating: Plaintiffs’ Federal Tort
Claims Act claims are authorized by 28 U.S.C.
Section 1346.

This means that in your complaint, you will need to
state facts that tend to show that each of these three
factors is true. It is fine to state a fact that you believe is
true but don’t know to be true through personal
knowledge, as long as you write “upon information and
belief” when stating it as a fact.

Part (C) is a list of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. This
may just be you. Or, you may have decided to file suit
with other prisoners who are having or had similar
problems. In this paragraph, you should tell the court
who you are, and where you are incarcerated. If you are
bringing an equal protection claim (described in
Chapter Three), you may also want to include your
race, ethnicity, or gender. Each plaintiff should get their
own paragraph. If there are differences in each
plaintiff’s situation then you need to note that. For
example, one plaintiff could have been released since
the event occurred. If you or any of the other plaintiffs
were transferred from one facility to another since the
events occurred, indicate where you were at the time of
the event, and where you are now.

This is the section where you can refer to “exhibits,” if
you have any. Read through this chapter to get an idea
of the types of documents you can submit as exhibits
and how to number them. Then, when you write this
section (factual section) of your complaint, you can use
phrases like “Refer to Exhibit A” to help illustrate and
support your facts.
In the factual section, you must include facts that show
how each defendant was involved in the violation of
your rights. If you do not include facts about a certain
defendant, the court will probably dismiss your claim
against that person. (Refer to Chapter Seven for more
legal research and writing tips.)

Part (D) is a list of potential defendants and their titles.
Those listed are just examples. You may sue more
people or less people, so delete or add additional
paragraphs in your complaint. The defendants may be
all guards, or all supervisors. As explained above, you

Part (F) is a statement that you have exhausted your


before writing this section. If you request an injunction,
spend some time thinking about what it is you actually
want the prison to do or stop doing. Be creative but also
specific. Make sure that the injunction you request is
related to a continuing violation of your rights. In the
example in Appendix B Plaintiff Abdul does not ask for
an injunction, because his rights were only violated
once. Plaintiff Hey, however, is experiencing
continuing violence, so it is appropriate for him to seek
an injunction.

administrative remedies by using the prison grievance
system. In the first part of this chapter, we discussed
“exhaustion” and the case Jones v. Bock, where the
Supreme Court decided that you don’t have to show in
your complaint that you exhausted all remedies.
However, it’s still a good idea to include all the steps
you have taken to exhaust your complaint, and if you
can, attach copies of your grievance and appeal forms
as exhibits.
Part (G) is where you state your legal claims, and
explain which of your rights were violated by each
defendant. In all complaints, you need to be sure to
include the sentence in Paragraph 12 so you do not
have to restate all the facts you have just laid out. You
should have one paragraph for each individual legal
claim. For example, if you feel that prison officials
violated your rights by beating you and then denying
you medical care, you would want to list these two
claims in two separate paragraphs. If all the defendants
violated your rights in all the claims, you can just refer
to them as “defendants.” If some defendants violated
your rights in one way, and others in another way, then
refer to the defendants individually, by name, in each
paragraph. Here is an example:

You need paragraphs 17 and 18 if you are requesting
money damages. Review Chapter Four, Section C on
damages before writing this section. You should think
carefully about how much money you want in
compensatory and punitive damages. If you cannot
figure out how much to ask for, just request
compensatory and punitive damages without including
a dollar amount.
Part (I) is where you sign and date the complaint. You
must always sign a legal document.
Part (J) is a “verification.” This part is optional. You do
not have to verify a complaint, but it is best if you do. If
you verify your complaint, you can use your complaint
as evidence if the defendants file a motion for summary
judgment against you (see Chapter Six, Section F) or to
support your request for a temporary restraining order
(see Section E of this Chapter). When you verify a
complaint, you are making a sworn statement that
everything in the complaint is true to the best of your
knowledge. Making a sworn statement is like testifying
in court. If you lie, you can be prosecuted for perjury.

1. Defendant Greg Guard’s use of excessive force
violated plaintiff’s rights, and constituted cruel and
unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment
of the United States Constitution.
2. Defendants Ned Nurse, Darla Doctor and Wilma
Warden’s deliberate indifference to plaintiff’s
serious medical needs violated plaintiff’s rights,
and constituted cruel and unusual punishment
under the Eighth Amendment of the United States

Remember, you need to tell the truth in an “unverified”
complaint as well.

Paragraph 14 is only necessary if you are applying for
declaratory or injunctive relief. You should include that
sentence in any complaint that requests an injunction or
a declaratory judgment.

Amended Complaints
If you want to change your complaint after you have
submitted it, you can submit an “amended complaint”
which follows the same form as your original
complaint, but with “Amended Complaint” as the title.
An amended complaint must be about the same basic
events. You might want to amend a complaint if you
want to change who some of the defendants are, ask the
court to do slightly different things, add or drop a
plaintiff, or change your legal claims. You also might
discover that you need to make some changes in order
to avoid having your complaint dismissed. See Chapter
Six, Section C.

Part (H) is where you tell the court what you want it to
do. You can ask for a declaration that your rights were
violated, an injunction, money damages, costs, and
anything else the court thinks is fair. What is written
there is just an example.
Include Paragraph 15, requesting a declaratory
judgment, if that is at least part of the relief you want.
Include Paragraph 16, requesting injunctive relief, only
if you are eligible for injunctive relief. You should
review Chapter Four, Section B on injunctive relief

When and how you can amend your complaint is
governed by Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil


Procedure. You have a right to amend one time before
the defendants submit an Answer (explained later in
this Chapter) in response to your complaint. You need
the court’s permission, or the consent of the defendants,
to submit a second amended complaint or to submit any
amendment after the prison officials have filed an
Answer. According to the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure Rule 15(a), the court should grant
permission “freely… when justice so requires.”

You are hereby summoned and required to
serve upon plaintiffs, whose address is [your address
here] an answer to the complaint which is herewith
served upon you, within 20 days after service of this
summons upon you, exclusive of the day of service, or
60 days if the U.S. Government or officer / agent
thereof is a defendant. If you fail to do so, judgment by
default will be taken against you for the relief
demanded in the complaint.

You might also want to change your complaint to tell
the court about events that happened after you filed it.
The guards might have beaten you again, confiscated
your books, or placed you in an isolation cell. This is
called a “supplemental complaint.” Your right to file a
supplemental complaint is governed by Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure Rule 15(d). The court can let you
submit a supplemental complaint even if your original
complaint was defective. The supplemental complaint
also follows the same form as your original complaint
but you will use “Supplemental Complaint” as the title.

Clerk of the Court
Date: ____________

Leave the date line under “Clerk of the Court” blank,
the clerk will fill it out for you. We explain how this
works in section D, on service, below.

2. In Forma Pauperis Papers


As of this printing, the federal courts charge $350 for
filing a lawsuit. It costs more if you want to appeal the
court’s decision. If you can’t afford these fees, you will
usually be allowed to pay them in installments by
proceeding “in forma pauperis,” which is Latin for “as
a poor person.” If you are granted this status, court fees
will be taken a little at a time from your prison account.
Before the PLRA, the court could let you proceed
without paying for filing or service. However, this is no
longer possible. Now you must eventually pay the
entire filing fee. If you win your suit the court will
order the defendants to pay you back for these

Along with your complaint, you must submit a
“summons” for the court clerk to issue. The summons
notifies the defendants that a suit has been started
against them and tells them by when they must answer
to avoid having a judgment entered against them. A
summons is much easier than a complaint.
You will notice that the caption (Part A) is the same as
the one you did for your complaint. All you need to do
is follow this form:

The legal basis for suing in forma pauperis is Section
1915 of Title 28 of the United States Code. To request
this status, you will need to file an Application to
Proceed in Forma Pauperis. You must request this
form from the district court clerk before filing your
complaint because each court has a different

Names of all the people
bringing the suit,
: Civil Action No.__
Names of all the people
the suit is against,
individually and in their
official capacities,

You will also need to file a Declaration in support of
your application. The form for this Declaration will
probably be sent to you in the pro se packet, but in case
it is not, use the following example.
The court clerk should send you paperwork to fill out
regarding your prison account. You will also need to
file a certified copy of your prison account statement
for the past six months. Some prisoners have
experienced difficulty getting their institution to issue
this statement. If you are unable to get a copy of your


c. Pensions, annuities, or life insurance payments?
YES___ NO ___
d. Gifts or inheritances?
YES___ NO ___
e. Any form of public assistance?
YES___ NO ___
f. Any other sources?
YES___ NO ___

prison account statement, include in your Declaration
an explanation of why you could not get the account
Again, only use the example Declaration below if you
cannot get the Declaration form required by your
district court clerk’s office. If you have to use this
Declaration, copy it exactly, and fill in your answers,
taking as much space as you need.

If the answer to any of questions (a) through (f) is yes,
describe each source of money and state the amount received
from each during the past months ________________.

Note that this is only the Declaration that you send
along with your Application to Proceed in Forma
Pauperis, it is not the actual Application, which you
need to request from your district court.

4. Do you have any cash or money in a checking or savings
account? _______. If the answer is yes, state the total value
owned. (C)

In Forma Pauperis Declaration:

5. Do you own any real estate, stock, bonds, notes,
automobiles, or other valuable property (including ordinary
household furnishings and clothing)? ____. If the answer is
yes, state the total value owned. ___________.

Name of the first
plaintiff, et al.,
Name of the first
Defendant, et al.
: Civil Action No.

6. List the person(s) who are dependent on you for support,
state your relationship to those person(s), and indicate how
much you contribute toward their support at the present time.
7. If you live in a rented apartment or other rented building,
state how much you pay each month for rent. Do not include
rent contributed by other people. _______________. (D)
8. State any special financial circumstances which the court
should consider in this application.
I understand that a false statement or answer to any questions
in this declaration will subject me to the penalties of perjury.

I, ________________, am the petitioner / plaintiff in the
above entitled case. In support of my motion to proceed
without being required to prepay fees or costs or give
security therefore, I state that because of my poverty I am
unable to pay the costs of said proceeding or to give security
therefore, and that I believe I am entitled to redress.

I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true
and correct.
Signed this _______ day of ________, 20 ___.

I declare that the responses which I have made below are

(your signature)
Date of Birth

1. If you are presently employed, state the amount of your
salary wage per month, and give the name and address of
your employer ____________________________. (B)

Social Security Number

2. If you are not presently employed state the date of last
employment and amount of salary per month that you
received and how long the employment lasted.

Explanation of Form:
3. Have you received, within the past twelve months, any
money from any of the following sources:
a. Business, profession or form of self-employment?
YES___ NO ___
b. Rent payments, interest or dividends?
YES___ NO ___

In Part (A), you can use a slightly shortened version of
the caption you used for your complaint. You only need
to list the first plaintiff and defendant by name. The rest
are included by the phrase “et al.” which is Latin for


able to recover these expenses from the defendants if
you win.

“and others.” You only need to add “et al.” if there is
more than one plaintiff or defendant. However, be
aware that if there is more than one plaintiff in your
lawsuit, each plaintiff needs to file his or her own
Application to Proceed in Forma Pauperis and

The Problem of Three Strikes:
The “three strikes provision” of the PLRA states:

In Part (B), if you have never been employed, just say
that. If you have a job in prison, state that.

In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action
or appeal a judgment in a civil action or
proceeding under this section [in forma
pauperis] if the prisoner has, on 3 or more
prior occasions, while incarcerated or
detained in any facility, brought an action or
appeal in a court of the United States that was
dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous,
malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is
under imminent danger of serious physical

In Part (C), you should include any money you have in
a prison account.
Some of these questions may sound weird, or not apply
to you -- Part (D) for example. However, answer them
anyway. Like for question 7, just state that you do not
live in an apartment.
Costs of Filing Your Lawsuit
Although the judge does not have to let you sue in
forma pauperis, he or she almost always will if you
show you are poor and your suit has a legal basis. You
do not need to be absolutely broke. Even if you are
given in forma pauperis status, you will still have to
pay some money to the court.

28 U.S.C.A. § 1915(g). This provision means that if
you have had three complaints or appeals dismissed as
“frivolous,” “malicious,” or “failing to state a claim,”
you cannot proceed in forma pauperis. This means you
will have to pay the entire filing fee up front, or your
case will be dismissed. The only way to get around
“three strikes” is to show you are in imminent danger
of serious injury.

Section 1915(b)(1) of Title 28 of the U.S. Code directs
the judge to compare your monthly deposits and the
average balance for your prison account. The judge will
see which amount is larger -- your monthly deposits or
your prison account’s average balance. Then, the judge
will decide that you must pay twenty percent (20%) of
the larger amount right away. If twenty percent is less
than $350, then Section 1915(b)(2) states that you must
pay twenty percent of the monthly deposits to your
account until the $350 is paid. If the court decides you
are not poor or your suit is “frivolous,” it will return
your legal papers and you will have to find a way to
pay the full amount.

The PLRA is very specific about what dismissals count
as strikes: these are dismissals for “frivolousness,”
“maliciousness,” or “failure to state a claim.” Frivolous
means that the court believes your suit is not serious or
has no chance of winning. In legal terms, the court
believes that your case has “no legal merit.” Malicious
means that the court believes you are filing your suit
only to get revenge or do harm to others, rather than
uphold your rights. Failure to state a claim means that
the court could not find any cause of action in your suit,
which means that the facts you included in your
complaint, even if true, do not amount to a violation of
your rights.

There are lots of benefits to gaining in forma pauperis
status. You may avoid having to pay witness fees for
depositions and at trial. If you appeal, you may not
have to pay the costs of preparing transcripts. In
addition, some courts have used Section 1915 to
appoint a lawyer to represent a prisoner in a Section
1983 suit and even to pay the lawyer’s expenses. This
is discussed in Part 3 of this section.

A case dismissed on some other ground is not a strike.
A summary judgment is not a strike. A “partial
dismissal” – an order that throws out some claims, but
lets the rest of the case go forward – is not a strike. A
case that you voluntarily withdraw will usually not be
considered a strike. A dismissal is not a strike if it is
impossible to tell what the basis for the dismissal was.
Dismissal in a habeas corpus action is not a strike.

Unfortunately, in forma pauperis status affects only a
very small part of the expense of your lawsuit. It will
not pay for postage or for making photocopies, and it
will not cover the costs of “pretrial discovery,” which is
discussed in Chapter Six, Part E. However, you may be

Dismissals may be strikes even if you didn’t have in
forma pauperis status for the case. Cases filed or
dismissed before the PLRA was enacted have also been


that the judge abused his discretion because the
plaintiff’s case would likely require expert testimony
and the plaintiff would have to serve process on seven
defendants. In Parham v. Johnson, 126 F.3d 454, 461
(3d Cir. 1997), another Court of Appeals said that
“where a plaintiff’s case appears to have merit and
most of the aforementioned factors have been met,
courts should make every attempt to obtain counsel.” In
general, whether you will be appointed counsel has a
lot to do with how strong your case looks to a judge. If
the judge thinks your case has no merit, he or she will
not want to appoint counsel.

counted as strikes. Dismissals will not count against
you until you have exhausted or waived all your
appeals. At that point, if the court dismisses your case
as “frivolous, malicious, or failing to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted,” you will receive a strike.
The “three strikes provision” does not apply when a
prisoner is in “imminent danger of serious physical
injury.” “Imminent” means something is about to
happen. To meet this requirement, the threatened
injury does not need to be so serious as to be an Eighth
Amendment violation. A risk of future injury is enough
to invoke the imminent danger exception.

The best procedure is to request appointment of counsel
at the same time you request in forma pauperis status.
If you can get an appointment of counsel form from the
district court, use that form. If there is no form for this
request in the pro se packet, use the following form:

In conclusion, the “three strikes provision” means you
will need to think more carefully about whether any
litigation you may bring is well-founded and worth it.
Once you are given a third strike, you will have to pay
the entire filing fee of $350 up front before you can file
a new lawsuit.

Name of the first plaintiff, et al., :
Name of the first
defendant, et al.,

3. Request for Appointment Of Counsel
The in forma pauperis law, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1),
allows a U.S. District Judge to “request an attorney to
represent any person unable to afford counsel.” On the
basis of this law, district judges have appointed lawyers
for prisoners who filed Section 1983 suits on their own.
Generally, when deciding whether or not to appoint a
lawyer for you, the court will consider:


How well can you present your own case?
How complicated are the legal issues?
Does the case require investigation that you will
not be able to do because of your imprisonment?
Will credibility (whether or not a witness is telling
the truth) be important, so that a lawyer will need
to conduct cross-examination?
Will expert testimony be needed?
Can you afford to hire a lawyer on your own?

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) plaintiff (or
plaintiffs) moves for an order appointing counsel to
represent him in this case. In support of this motion,
plaintiff states:

These factors are listed in Montgomery v. Pinchak, 294
F.3d 492, 499 (3d Cir. 2002). Some courts apply a test
that asks whether the plaintiff is competent to try the
case and if not, whether an attorney would make a
difference in the outcome. Farmer v. Haas, 990 F.2d
319, 322 (7th Cir. 1993).

1. Plaintiff is unable to afford counsel. He has
requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis.
2. Plaintiff’s imprisonment will greatly limit his ability
to litigate. The issues involved in this case are complex,
and will require significant research and investigation.
Plaintiff has limited access to the law library and
limited knowledge of the law. (A)

Unfortunately, appointment is usually at the
“discretion” of the judge, which means that if a judge
doesn’t want to appoint you an attorney, he or she
doesn’t have to, and you are unlikely to be able to
challenge that by an appeal. On the other hand, there
have been a few rare cases in which a court held that a
judge abused this discretion. In Greeno v. Daley, 414
F.3d 645 (7th Cir. 2005), the Court of Appeals decided

3. A trial in this case will likely involve conflicting
testimony, and counsel would better enable plaintiff to
present evidence and cross examine witnesses.


it has ruled that you have a legitimate case. To renew
your motion, use the same form as above.

4. Plaintiff has made repeated efforts to obtain a
lawyer. Attached to this motion are
____________________________________. (B)

4. Declarations
WHEREFORE, plaintiffs request that the court
appoint__________________, a member of the
________ Bar, as counsel in this case. (C)

At the beginning of or during your case, you may also
want to submit declarations. A “declaration” is a sworn
statement of facts written by someone with personal
knowledge of those facts, which is submitted to the
court in a certain form. The following is an example of
what a declaration might look like in the case of Hey v.
Smith, which we used as an example in the sample
complaint found in Appendix B.

Signature, print name below

In the United States District Court
For the Northern District of Illinois
Hey, et al.,
Smith, et al.,
: Civil Action
: No. 09-cv-86


Explanation of Form:
The caption at the top is the shortened form explained
above, but here the title will be “Motion for
Appointment of Counsel.”
In Part (A), you can include any facts in this motion
that you think will help convince the court that you
need a lawyer. For example, you could add that you are
in administrative segregation, that your prison doesn’t
have a law library, or that it takes weeks to get a book.
If you have limited formal education, you could state
that too.

Sam Jones hereby declares:
I have been incarcerated at Illinois State Prison since
2005. Since March of 2006 I have been housed in
Block D. I am currently in cell 203, which is directly
next to cell 204. Walter Hey and Mohammed Abdul
are currently in cell 204, and have been for several

In Part (B) you need to describe the evidence that you
will attach to show that you have tried to get a lawyer.
Copies of letters lawyers have sent you, or you have
sent them (if not confidential), should be enough.

On June 30, 2009, I saw Officer Thomas approach cell
204, and enter the cell. A few minutes later, I heard
loud voices, a thud, and heard Walter Hey cry out. It
sounded like he was in pain.

Only ask for a specific lawyer in part (C) if there is a
lawyer who you know and trust. If you do have a
relationship like this, list the lawyer’s name, and the
state where he or she is admitted to practice law. If the
judge decides to appoint a lawyer for you, he or she
does not have to appoint the one you suggest, but this
may well be the easiest and most convenient thing for
the judge to do. And it is obviously very important that
the lawyer appointed for you be someone you can trust,
who is clearly on your side.

A few days later, I noticed Warden Smith standing in
front of Hey and Abdul’s cell, looking in. He remained
there for approximately 5 minutes, and then left.
I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is
true and correct. Executed at Colby, IL on July 15,

If the court denies your request at that time, or simply
ignores it, be sure to try again after the court has denied
the prison’s Motion to Dismiss your complaint and
again after their Motion for Summary Judgment. These
motions are explained in Chapter Six, Sections C and F.
The court may be more willing to appoint counsel after

Sam Jones
If your suit has several plaintiffs, each of you should
make out a separate statement of the details of all the
facts you each know. This statement does not need to
be “notarized.” Just put at the bottom: “I declare under
penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.


Executed on (date) at (city and state).” Then sign. This
can also be called a “declaration under penalty of
perjury.” It is acceptable in any federal court and most
state courts.

How To Serve Your Legal Papers
Besides sending your summons and complaint to the
district court, you also have to “serve” both papers on
each defendant in the case. The way to serve papers is
explained in Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil

The declaration is made and signed by the person who
knows the relevant facts. This could be anyone: it does
not have to be from you or another plaintiff. It is
helpful to submit declarations from other people who
were witnesses to events that you describe in your
complaint or who know facts that you need to prove.
These declarations may be important when prison
officials move for summary judgment against you.
Summary judgment is explained in Chapter Six,
Section F.

You can have a friend or family member serve papers
for you, or you can pay the U.S. Marshal’s office or a
professional process server to do it. One of the
advantages to gaining in forma pauperis status is that
Rule 4(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
directs that your complaint will be served quickly and
without cost by the U.S. Marshal’s Service.

You can submit declarations from plaintiffs or other
people along with your complaint. Each declaration is
an “exhibit” in support of the complaint and each
exhibit has its own letter – “Exhibit A,” “Exhibit B,”
etc. You can also submit letters from prison officials,
copies of rules, and any other relevant document as
lettered exhibits. You can refer to these exhibits when
you state the facts of your case in your complaint. You
do not have to submit declarations or other evidence
when you file a complaint. But considering how
frequently judges dismiss or discredit prisoner
complaints, if you have strong support for your facts, it
may be in your best interests to show the court right

You should know that if you ask for in forma pauperis
status at the start of your suit, your legal papers will not
be served on the defendants – and so your suit will not
begin – until the court decides whether you can sue in
forma pauperis.
While most courts grant in forma pauperis status
quickly and routinely, some courts have a reputation for
taking a long time. This is a serious problem. If you
discover that the court in your district has long delays,
or your motion to proceed in forma pauperis is denied,
you could try one of the following methods to serve
your complaint.
(1) If you can raise the money, pay the $350 filing fee
yourself, and have someone outside the prison serve
your papers for free. Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure describes how to do this and allows
any person older than 18 who is not a party to the
lawsuit to serve papers.

Importance of Declarations
It is always helpful to submit declarations. You can
submit them anytime you get them. If there are people
who were witnesses to events that you describe in your
complaint, or who know facts that you need to prove,
ask them to fill out and sign a declaration. It will help
strengthen your suit and can stop prison officials from
getting “summary judgment” against you.

(2) Another way to deal with the service of process fee
is that you can ask the defendants to waive service
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(d). You do this
by mailing them a Request for Waiver of Service. You
can find the forms for this request in the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure Appendix of Forms, Form 1A and
1B (You can find the Appendix of forms at the end of
the Federal Rules). Make sure you save copies of both
the Notice of Lawsuit and Request for Waiver of
Service of Summons (one document) and the Waiver of
Service of Summons. When you send these documents,
make sure to include a copy of your complaint, a
stamped envelope or other pre-paid means to return the
waiver, and an extra copy of the request. If the
defendant does not agree with your request to waive
service, then you may later be able to recover the costs

You can also submit declarations later in your suit. You
can submit declarations any time you get them. In some
situations, which will be explained later in this
Handbook, you are required to submit declarations
from yourself and other plaintiffs.
Remember to include your Civil Action Number, if you
have received one, on any papers filed after your initial


of personal service by a professional process service or
a marshal.
In the United States District Court
For the _____________________
Name of first plaintiff
in the case, et al.,
Names of first defendant
in the case, et al.,
: Civil Action No. __

The summons and complaint are the only documents
you have to serve on defendants in this special way.
However, it is very important to request the Local
Rules from the district you plan to file in because
different courts have different rules about filing and
serving documents after the case has started. Different
courts require different numbers of copies. You should
follow the local rules whenever possible. In general,
you will need to send the original of each document
and one copy for each defendant to the Clerk of the
Court for the U.S. District Court for your district. Also
include two extra copies – one for the judge and one for
the clerk to endorse (showing when and where it was
filed) and return to you as your official copy. The court
will have a marshal deliver a copy to each defendant,
unless you ask that someone else be appointed to
deliver them.

Upon the complaint, the supporting affidavits
of plaintiffs, and the memorandum of law submitted
herewith, it is:
ORDERED that defendants [names of
defendants against who you are seeking a preliminary
injunction] show cause in room ____ of the United
States Courthouse, [address] on the ___ day of ____,
20__, at ___ o’clock, why a preliminary injunction
should not issue pursuant to Rule 65(a) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure enjoining the defendants, their
successors in office, agents and employees and all other
persons acting in concert and participation with them,
from [state the actions you want the permanent
injunction to cover].
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that effective
immediately, and pending the hearing and
determination of this order to show cause, the
defendants [names of defendants against whom you
want temporary relief] and each of their officers,
agents, employers, and all persons acting in concert or
participation with them, are restrained from [state the
actions you want the TRO to cover].
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the order to
show cause, and all other papers attached to this
application, be served on the aforesaid Plaintiffs by

Be sure to keep your own copy of everything you send
the court, in case your papers are lost in the mail or
misplaced in the clerk’s office. If you cannot make
photocopies, make copies by hand. If you are
concerned about the safety of your documents, you
might want to consider sending a copy of them to
someone you trust on the outside. Try to always have a
copy you can get access to easily.

Getting Immediate Help From the Court
Ordinarily a federal lawsuit goes on for months or years
before the court reaches any decision. But you may
need help from the court long before that. A U.S.
District Court Judge has the power to order prison
officials to stop doing certain things while the judge is
considering your suit. The judge can do this by issuing
a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) or a Preliminary
Injunction, or both.
Chapter Four, Section B explains when you are eligible
for an injunction. If you decide to go ahead and try to
get a preliminary injunction or a TRO, you will need to
follow the instructions below.

[Leave blank for the Judge’s signature]
Dated: [leave blank]
United States District Judge

If you think you meet all the tests for immediate help
from the court, submit a “Temporary Restraining Order
and Order to Show Cause for a Preliminary Injunction.”
You can do this in one motion and you can use this

Explanation of Form:
If you want a TRO, include the parts of this form that
are more darkly shaded. If you do not want a TRO and
are only asking for a preliminary injunction leave the
darker parts out.


If the judge signs your TRO and Order to Show Cause,
the prison staff will be restrained for at least 10 days.
They will have to submit legal papers to show why the
court should not issue a preliminary injunction that will
be in force through the suit. You will be sent a copy of
their legal papers and get a chance to respond to them.

You will notice that you are supposed to leave some
blanks in this document. That is because it is an order
that the Judge will sign, and you are just writing a draft
for the Judge to make it easier. He or she will fill in the
information about times and places.
The most difficult part of the document is where you
have to fill in why you want a preliminary injunction
and / or a TRO. You should limit what you ask for in
the TRO to the things that the prison officials have to
stop doing immediately. Include in your request for a
preliminary injunction everything you want the court to
order the prison staff to stop doing while the court is
considering your case.

The judge should consider the legal papers submitted
by both sides. He or she is not supposed to meet with
lawyers representing prison officials unless he or she
appoints a lawyer for you or orders prison officials to
bring you to court to argue your own case.
Political pressure and media publicity may be as
important as your suit itself, and they may help you win
your suit. Send copies of your legal papers to prison
groups, legislators, other public officials, newspapers,
radio, TV, etc. Enclose a brief note explaining what
your suit is about and why it is important.

There are other documents you must send to the court.
You will also need to give or send copies of all these
documents to all of the defendants. The supporting
documents you need to attach to both the court’s and
defendant’s copies are:

A declaration which states how you tried to
notify the defendant that you’re applying for a
TRO, like by giving a copy of the documents to
the warden. Or, your declaration can explain
why you shouldn’t have to notify the
defendant. The declaration should also state in
detail exactly what “immediate and irreparable
injury, loss or damage will result” if the court
does not sign your TRO. The quote is from
Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, which governs TROs and
preliminary injunctions. A court will often
consider an ongoing violation of your
constitutional rights to be an “irreparable
injury.” Submit your declaration and your
“TRO and Order to Show Cause” together with
your summons, complaint and in forma
pauperis papers.


You also need to submit a short “memorandum
of law.” A memorandum of law is a document
in which you cite legal cases, and argue that
your situation should be compared to or
distinguished from these cases. For this, you
will need to do legal research and writing,
explained in Chapter Seven. You will want to
find cases similar to yours in which prisoners
got TROs or preliminary injunctions. Cite a
few cases that show that the officials’ actions
(or failures to act) are unconstitutional. Also
explain how you meet the test for temporary

Under Rule 65(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, a plaintiff who requests a TRO or a
preliminary injunction is supposed to put up money as
“security” to repay the defendants for any damages
they suffer if it later turns out that they were
“wrongfully enjoined or restrained.” This is up to the
judge’s discretion, which means he or she will look at
your situation and decide whether or not you should
have to pay. Some judges will not make people who
file in forma pauperis pay. In Miller v. Carlson, 768 F.
Supp. 1331, 1340 (N.D. Cal 1991), for example, the
plaintiffs were poor people who received AFDC (Aid
for Families with Dependant Children) so the judge did
not make them pay security. Look for more decisions in
your circuit, and cite those cases in your memorandum
of law and ask the court not to require security from

Signing Your Papers
All documents that you submit to the court must be
signed by you personally if you are not represented by
a lawyer. Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure requires that you sign your name, your
address, your email address, and telephone number.
Obviously, you might not have all of these, and it is
fine to just include your name, prison ID number, and
the address of your prison.


If the case goes to trial, you and your witnesses and
defendants and their witnesses will testify in court, and
will be cross-examined. Both sides may submit
exhibits. If you request money damages, you can have
that issue decided by a jury.

Short Summary of a Lawsuit
Filing your suit is only the beginning. You must be
prepared to do a lot of work after you file the complaint
to achieve your goal. Throughout the suit, it will be
your responsibility to keep your case moving forward,
or nothing will happen. This chapter will explain what
may happen after you file the complaint and how to
keep your case moving.

Whichever side loses in the district court after trial or
summary judgment has a legal right to appeal to a U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court may
affirm (agree with) or reverse (disagree with) the
district court’s decision. It may also remand, which
orders the district court to hold a new trial or to take
another look at a certain issue. The side which loses on
appeal can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the
case, by filing a “petition for writ of certiorari.” The
Supreme Court does not have to consider the case,
however, and it will not unless it thinks that the case
raises a very important legal issue.

Once you file (by sending the Court your complaint and
summons), the court clerk will give you a civil action
number. You need to write this number in the case
caption of all documents you file related to your case.
Next you will have to deal with a series of pretrial
procedures. The PLRA creates several roadblocks for
prisoners. You will have to deal with the possibility of
a waiver of reply and screening by the district court.
Both of these issues are described in Section B of this

Chapter Six: Table of Contents
Section A
Short Summary of a Lawsuit

Once you make it through these two hurdles, a
defendant has a certain period of time after he or she is
served with your complaint, to submit a motion to
dismiss, a motion for a more definite statement
(asking that you clarify some part of your complaint), a
motion for an extension of deadline, or an answer.
The amount of time depends on what process you used
to serve your complaint, and is explained in Rule 12 of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Each defendant
must eventually submit an answer, unless the judge
dismisses your complaint as to that defendant. The
answer admits or denies each fact you state. It can also
include affirmative defenses.

Section B
Dismissal by the Court and Waiver of Reply
Section C
How to Respond to a Motion to Dismiss Your
Section D
The Problem of Mootness
Section E
Section F
Summary Judgment

When your case progresses to discovery, each side can
get more information from the other through
interrogatories, depositions, and other forms of pretrial discovery. Each side can submit additional
declarations from people who have relevant
information. Finally, each side can file motions for
summary judgment which ask the judge to decide the
case, or some part of the case, in its favor without a

Section G
What To Do If Your Complaint Is Dismissed Or The
Court Grants Defendants Summary Judgment

This chapter of the Handbook will help you handle the
key parts of pretrial procedure: the motion to dismiss;
the motion for summary judgment; and pretrial
discovery. It will also explain what to do if the court


your case, and may get things moving. If your case
stalls after discovery, you can move for summary
judgment (Part F of this Chapter) or ask the court to set
a date for a trial.

dismisses your complaint or grants the defendants
summary judgment against you.
Unfortunately, a discussion of trial is beyond the scope
of this handbook, and we cannot describe all pretrial
procedures in detail or provide much in the way of
strategy and tactics. But you can get a basic
understanding of some of the procedures by reading
some of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and this
Handbook. Also, if your case goes to trial, the judge
might appoint a lawyer to assist you.

Keep trying at every point to get the court to appoint a
lawyer for you. If you don’t have a lawyer, don’t be
afraid to keep moving forward pro se, which means “on
your own behalf.” You can also try writing the court
clerk and prisoners’ rights groups when you don’t
know what to do next. The worst thing is to let your
suit die.

Remember that much of the success of your suit
depends on your initiative. If you don’t keep pushing,
your suit can stall at any number of points. For
example, if the defendants haven’t submitted an
answer, a motion, or some other legal paper after the
time limits set by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
submit a Declaration for Entry of Default. If the court
accepts your Declaration, you will receive a Notice of
Entry of Default from the court. You then submit a
Motion for Judgment by Default. Forms and more
information about these procedures are in Appendix D.
You probably can’t win a judgment this way, but you
can keep the case moving.

Dismissal by the Court
and Waiver of Reply
Once you have filed your complaint, the court is
required to “screen” it. This means the court looks at
your complaint and decides, without giving you the
chance to argue or explain anything, whether or not you
have any chance of winning your case. The PLRA
requires the court to dismiss your complaint right then
and there if it:

Cases Before Magistrate Judges

(1) is “frivolous or malicious;”
(2) fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted; or
(3) seeks money damages from a defendant who is
immune from money damages.

Many prisoner complaints are given to “Magistrate
Judges.” A Magistrate Judge is a judicial officer who is
like a Federal Judge. Their powers are limited in
comparison to a District Court Judge, but they do much
of the work in many prison cases.

If the court decides that your complaint has any one of
these problems, the court will dismiss it “sua sponte,”
without the defendant even getting involved. “Sua
sponte” is Latin for “on its own.”

Your District Court Judge can tell the Magistrate to
decide certain things in your case, like a discovery
issue, scheduling, or requests for extensions. If you
don’t like what the Magistrate says, you can write
“objections” to the action within ten days and file them
at the District Court. However, for decisions like these,
it is very hard to get a Magistrate’s decision changed.

Hopefully, if the court does dismiss your case, it will
do so “without prejudice” or “with leave to amend.”
This is ok. It means you can change your complaint and
fix whatever problems the court brings to your
attention. If the court dismisses your lawsuit without
saying anything about amending, you can ask the court
for permission to fix your complaint by filing a Motion
to Amend. (See Appendix D). A court should not deny
you at least one chance to amend, and maybe more, if it
is possible for you to fix whatever the court thinks is
wrong with your complaint. Shomo v. City of New
York, 579 F.3d 176 (2d Cir. 2009) is one case in which
a court talks about how important it is to give pro se
prisoners a chance to amend their complaint.

A District Court Judge can also ask the Magistrate to
do important things in your case, like hold a hearing or
“propose findings.” You can also file objections to these
types of actions. You are more likely to get meaningful
review by a District Court Judge on an issue of
importance. Whether or not you file objections, the
District Court Judge will read what the Magistrate has
written, and then adopt, reject, or modify the
Magistrate’s findings.

The prison officials may just submit an answer and then
do nothing. If this happens, you should move ahead
with discovery (Part E of this chapter). This will make
them realize you are serious about pushing forward

Instead of amending, you may want to quickly respond
(within ten days if possible) with a Motion for


cannot find any information, just send the letter and
send a copy to the prison officials’ lawyer.

Reconsideration. In this short motion, all you need to
do is tell the court why they got it wrong, and cite a
case or two that support your position. The next section
of this Handbook will give you some advice on what
kind of arguments you can make.

If neither of these approaches work, you can appeal.
Procedures for appealing are laid out in Section G of
this chapter.

Chapter Seven explains in more detail how to research
and write your opposition, so be sure to read it before
you start working. After you read the suggestions in
Chapter Seven, you may want to try to read all of the
cases that the defendants use in their memo. If you read
these cases carefully, you may come to see that they are
different in important ways from your case. You should
point out these differences. You can also try to find
cases the defendants have not used that support your

The other new hurdle created by the PLRA is
something called a waiver of reply. A defendant can
file a waiver of reply to get out of having to file an
answer or other motions. When a defendant does this,
the court reviews your complaint to see if you have a
“reasonable opportunity to prevail on the merits.” If the
court thinks you have a chance at winning your lawsuit,
it will order the defendants to either file a Motion to
Dismiss or an Answer. If the court does nothing for a
few weeks, you can file a motion asking the court to
order the defendants to reply.

To support their motion to dismiss, the prison officials
can make all kinds of arguments which have been dealt
with in other parts of this Handbook. They may say you
failed to exhaust administrative remedies (see Chapter
Five, Section A), or that you cannot sue top prison
officials who did not personally abuse you (see Chapter
Four, Section D). They may claim you sued in the
wrong court (“improper venue” – see Chapter Five,
Section B) or that your papers weren’t properly served
on some of the defendants (see Chapter Five, Section


The prison officials may also argue against your
constitutional claims. They might say that you failed to
state a proper claim because the actions you describe do
not deny due process or equal protection, or are not
cruel and unusual punishment.Your memorandum of
law should respond to whatever arguments the
government makes.

If your complaint was dismissed by a Magistrate Judge,
you can file “objections” to the Magistrate’s

How to Respond to a Motion to
Dismiss Your Complaint
If you get through the first hurdles, the next legal paper
you receive from the prison officials may be a Motion
to Dismiss your suit. Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure explains some of the grounds for a
motion to dismiss. Defendants may give a number of
reasons. One reason is sure to be that you did not “state
a claim upon which relief can be granted,” which
means defendants think that what you are complaining
about does not violate the law.

Unfortunately, writing a memorandum of law requires
quite a bit of legal research and writing. Because time
to do this research might be an issue for you, you can
prepare for this memorandum before you even receive
the motion to dismiss. Research cases that are both
helpful and harmful to your case. There is a chance
defendants will use some of them and you will have
already done a lot of your research.

The motion to dismiss is a written request that the
judge end your suit, without you getting the chance to
get discovery, or go to trial. Attached to the motion will
be a memorandum of law which gives the defendant’s
legal arguments for dismissing your suit. Each court
has different rules about how long you have to respond
to this motion, but usually you will have at least two or
three weeks to file an opposition to the defendant’s
motion to dismiss. The opposition is a memorandum
of law that responds to the defendant’s arguments. If
you need more time, send the judge a letter explaining
why and asking for a specific number of extra weeks.
If you can, check the local rules to see if the court has
any specific requirements for time extensions. If you

Defendants might point out something that is wrong
with your case that you want to fix, instead of
defending against the motion to dismiss. Under rule
15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, you have
the right to amend your complaint once, as long as you
do so within 21 days of defendants answering or filing
a motion to dismiss. If the defendants have already
answered, or you have already amended once, Rule 15
allows you to ask the defendants to consent to you
filing an amended complaint, or ask the court for
permission to amend. Courts are supposed to give you
permission “freely” when “justice so requires.” Ask for


Section C, Part 3. The judge is more likely to
appoint a lawyer for you at this stage of your case.

consent first, and if you don’t get it, file a Motion for
Leave to Amend in which you describe your proposed
changes or attach the proposed amended complaint.

If the judge does decide to dismiss your complaint, he
or she must send you a decision stating the grounds for
his or her action. The judge may or may not dismiss
your case with leave to amend. Either way, you can
appeal from that decision. Part G of this chapter
explains what else you can do if the court dismisses
your complaint.

One thing you will have going for you is that in
considering the defendant’s motion to dismiss, the
judge must assume that every fact you stated in your
complaint is true. The judge must then ask: if all those
facts are true, is it plausible that the defendants
violated your rights? If any combination of the facts
stated in your complaint might qualify you for any form
of court action under Section 1983, then the judge is
legally required to deny the prison officials’ motion to
dismiss your complaint. In making this decision, Courts
are supposed to treat unrepresented parties, including
prisoners, more leniently that people who are filing a
suit with a lawyer. In considering a motion to dismiss,
a pro se complaint should be held to less strict
standards than a complaint drafted by a lawyer.

Instead (or before) a Motion to Dismiss, you may
receive a Motion for Extension of Time or a Motion
to Relate from the prison. A motion for extension of
time (or “enlargement”) gives the other side more time
to file an answer or motion. One extension is usually
automatic. If your situation is urgent, write the court to
explain the urgency and ask that the prison officials not
get another extension.
A motion to relate tries to combine your suit with
others which the court is already considering. Check
out what the other suit is about, who is bringing it, and
what judge is considering it. This could be a good or
bad thing for you, depending on the situation. If you
think you’d be better off having your suit separate,
submit an affidavit or memorandum of law in
opposition to the motion to relate. Say clearly how your
suit is different and why it would be unfair to join your
suit with the other one. For example, the facts might get

It is important to remember in writing your opposition
that defendants have to deal with the facts as you put
them in your complaint. For example, if you stated in
your complaint that you were “severely beaten” by two
guards, yet the defendant says in his motion to dismiss
that an “inadvertent push” doesn’t amount to cruel and
unusual punishment, you should tell the court in your
memo that you did not allege an “inadvertent push,”
you alleged a severe beating, and that is what the court
has to assume is true.
Send three copies of your memo to the court clerk (one
will be returned to you to let you know they accepted
your papers) and one copy to each defendant’s lawyer.
Usually all the prison officials are represented by one
lawyer from the office of the Attorney General of your
state. The name and office address of that lawyer will
be on the motion to dismiss.

The Problem of Mootness
One argument that prison officials often raise, either in
their motion to dismiss or later on, is that you have no
legal basis for continuing your suit because your case
has become “moot.” This is only a problem if you are
asking for injunctive or declaratory relief. If you are
asking for money damages, your case cannot become

In some cases, after the parties exchange memoranda of
law, attorneys for both sides appear before the judge to
argue for their interpretation of the law. However,
when dealing with a case filed by a prisoner pro se,
most judges decide motions based only on the papers
you send in, not on arguments in person. In the rare
case that a judge does want to hear argument, many
federal courts now use telephone and video hook-ups,
or hold the hearing at the prison. It is quite hard to get a
court to order prison administrators to bring you to
court, because the PLRA requires that courts use these
new techniques “to the extent practicable.”

A case may be moot if, after you have filed your suit,
the prison stops doing what you complained about,
releases you on parole, or transfers you to a different
prison. The prison officials can ask the court to dismiss
your case as moot, saying there is no longer anything
the court can order the prison to do that would affect
For example, imagine you sue the prison for injunctive
relief because they are not providing medical care for
your diabetes. In your suit, you ask the court to order

Note: If you defeat the prison officials’ motion to
dismiss your complaint, ask again for appointed
counsel. Follow the procedure in Chapter Five,


Goord, 571 F.Supp.2d 477 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) and Oliver
v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736 (5th Cir. 2002).

the prison to provide you with adequate medical care in
the future. Then, after you file your complaint, the
prison starts to provide you with medical care. The
prison can argue that your case is moot because the
only remedy you asked for has already been given to
you by the prison.

(3) If you get a lawyer and file a “class action” suit on
behalf of all the prisoners who are in your situation and
the class is certified, your suit will not be moot as long
as the prison continues to violate the rights of anyone in
your class. If you are paroled or transferred, the court
can still help the other members of your class. Section
F of Chapter Four discusses class action lawsuits.
Remember that it is very hard to bring a class action
without an attorney.

The good news is that the defendants will have the
burden of proving that the case is really moot. This is a
heavy burden, since they must show that there is no
reasonable expectation that the violations of your rights
will happen again. There are five arguments you may
be able to make to defeat the prison’s efforts to get your
case dismissed because of mootness:

(4) If any negative entries have been put in your prison
records because of your suit or the actions you are
suing about, you may be able to avoid mootness by
asking the court to order the prison officials to remove
(or “expunge”) these entries from your records. The
federal courts have held that a case is not moot if it
could still cause you some related injury. An entry
which could reduce your chances for parole could
count as a related injury. Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S.
40, 55 (1968).

(1) If you have asked for money damages your suit can
never be moot. You have a right to get money for
injuries you suffered in the past, as long as you sue
within the period allowed by the statute of limitations.
This does not just apply to physical harm: if you have
been denied your constitutional rights, it is an “injury”
for which you might be able to get money damages. For
more on damages, read Chapter Four, Section C.

(5) You can argue that just because the prison has
stopped doing something illegal or has reversed a
policy does not mean that the court can’t review the
case. You may have a strong argument if you can
convince the judge that the prison has just changed
course to avoid litigation. You can quote the U.S.
Supreme Court that, “voluntary cessation of allegedly
illegal conduct does not deprive the tribunal of power
to hear and determine the case.” Los Angeles County v.
Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631 (1979). This argument against
mootness has been successful in several Section 1983
claims brought by prisoners. One example is Burns v.
PA Dep’t of Corrections, 544 F.3d 279 (3d Cir. 2008).
The prison officials must show that there is no
reasonable expectation that the violations will recur.
They must also show that the relief or changes in policy
that they put in place have completely fixed the
constitutional violation, and the effects it may have

(2) A violation of your rights may not be moot if it is
“capable of repetition, but evading review.” In other
words, the court will allow you to continue your case in
a situation where the illegal action will almost always
end before the case could get to court. Imagine that a
prisoner wants to sue to force the prison to improve
conditions in administrative segregation. By the time
the prisoner actually gets into court, however, he has
been moved back to general population. This case
should not be dismissed as moot because it is “capable
of repetition,” meaning he could get put in
administrative segregation again, and it “evades
review” because he might never stay in segregation
long enough to get to trial.
To meet this test, the condition must be reasonably
likely to recur. Most courts have not applied this
exception when a prisoner is transferred to another
prison, since it is only “possible” and not “likely” that
he will be transferred back. Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d
736, 741 (5th Cir. 2002). Transfer may not moot your
case however, if the department or officials whom you
sued are also in charge of the new prison. Scott v.
District of Columbia, 139 F.3d 940, 942 (D.C. Cir.

If you have made it past the defendant’s motions for
dismissal, there is a better chance that the court will
appoint an attorney to assist you. If so, you can use this
section of the Handbook to understand what your
lawyer is doing, to help him or her do it better and to
figure out what you want him or her to do. If you do
not have a lawyer, this section will help you get

Sometimes, being transferred away from where the
violation happened does not make your suit moot.
Courts have found that a state-wide policy that violated
your constitutional rights in one facility may still
violate your rights in the new facility. See Pugh v.


through the next stage on your own – but what you will
be able to do will be more limited.

A deposition is very much like testimony at a trial. In
fact, you can use what was said at a deposition in a trial
if the deponent either (1) is a party (plaintiff or
defendant), (2) says something at the trial which
contradicts the deposition, or (3) can’t testify at the
trial. Despite these benefits, you should BEWARE: a
deposition is very hard to arrange from in prison
because it can be expensive and involves a lot of

The next major activity in your suit will be discovery.
Rules 26-37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
explain “discovery” tools that both parties in a lawsuit
can use. You should begin by reading through those
rules. Some of the rules, like Rule 26, set out different
requirements for pro se prisoners than for others. It is
also very important to read the corresponding local
rules from the district your case is in, as many courts
have made important changes to the federal rules.

Interrogatories are written questions which must be
answered in writing under oath. Under Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure Rule 33, you can send up to 25
questions to each of the other parties to the suit. You
can use the following example to write interrogatories
of your own.

The Importance of “Discovery”
1. Uncover factual information about the events that
gave rise to your case.
2. Collect evidence to use at “summary judgment” or
your trial.

In the United States District Court
For the _____________________
Name of first plaintiff
in the case, et al.,
Names of first defendant
in the case, et al.,
: Civil Action No. __

3. Force the defendants to explain their version of the
facts, and provide you with evidence they may rely on.

Discovery helps you to get important information and
materials from the other party before the case goes to
trial. If you don’t have a lawyer at this stage, you will
need to spend a lot of time thinking about what facts
you will need to prove at trial, and coming up with a
plan about how to find out that information. The
Southern Poverty Law Center’s litigation manual for
prisoners, Protecting Your Health & Safety, has a very
helpful chapter on developing discovery strategies. You
will find information on ordering that book in
Appendix J.

In accordance with Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, Plaintiff requests that Defendant [Defendant’s
name] answer the following interrogatories under oath, and
that the answers be signed by the person making them and be
served on plaintiffs within 30 days of service of these

1. Discovery Tools
There are four main discovery tools: depositions,
interrogatories, production, and inspection. You can
also request an examination by an outside doctor, under
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 35. This
Handbook gives you only a brief introduction to these
techniques. The details of how they work are in the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

If you cannot answer the following interrogatories in full,
after exercising due diligence to secure the information to do
so, so state and answer to the extent possible, specifying your
inability to answer the remainder and stating whatever
information or knowledge you have concerning the
unanswered portions.
These interrogatories shall be deemed continuing, so as to
require supplemental answers as new and different
information materializes.

A deposition is a very valuable discovery tool. You
meet with a defendant or a potential witness, that
person’s lawyer, and maybe a stenographer. You or
your lawyer ask questions which the “deponent” (the
defendant or witness you are deposing) answers under
oath. Because the witness is under oath, he or she can
be prosecuted for perjury if he or she lies. The
questions and answers are tape-recorded or taken down
by the stenographer.

[List your questions here…and be creative and as detailed as
possible. ]


If you have a guard brutality case, you may want to
ask questions about how long the specific guard has
worked at the prison, where he is assigned, what


his duties are, what he remembers of the incident,
what he wrote about the incident in any reports,
whether he has ever been disciplined, and more.

In the United States District Court
For the _____________________
Name of first plaintiff
in the case, et al.,
Names of first defendant
in the case, et al.,
: Civil Action No. __
Pursuant to Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
Plaintiff requests that Defendants [put defendants’ full names
here] produce for inspection and copying the following

It is also a good idea to take the opportunity to try to
find out who else might be a helpful witness. You could
ask the defendant to:

State the name and address or otherwise identify
and locate any person who, to you or your
attorney’s knowledge, claims to know of facts
relevant to the conduct described in these

BEWARE: Although interrogatories are fairly cheap,
other forms of discovery require money. If you request
production of documents, you have to pay to get copies
of the documents the prison produces. If the court lets
you tape record depositions instead of hiring a certified
court reporter (Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 30(b)(2)), you still
need a typed transcript of the entire tape if you want to
use any of it at the trial of your suit. Discovery
expenses are included in the costs you will be awarded
if you win, but federal courts generally refuse to
advance money for discovery. You will have to find
some other way to pay for copying and transcription.

[List the documents you want here, some examples follow]
1. The complete prison records of all Plaintiffs
2. All written statements, originals or copies, identifiable as
reports about the incident on August 18, 2009, made by
DOCS employees, and / or witnesses.
3. Any and all medical records of Plaintiff from the time of
his incarceration in Fishkill Correctional Institution through
and including the date of your response to this request.
4. Any and all rules, regulations, and policies of the New
York Department of Corrections about treatment of prisoners
with diabetes.

You can also ask for documents. For example, you
could include the following as a question:


Dated: ______________

Identify and attach a copy of any and all documents
relating to prison medical center staff training and


You can also get inspection of tangible things, like
clothing or weapons, and a chance to “copy, test or
sample” them. And you have a right to enter property
under the defendants’ control – such as a prison cell,
exercise yard or cafeteria, to examine, measure, and
photograph it.

Identify and attach a copy of any and all documents
showing who was on duty in cell block B at 9 p.m.
the night of August 18, 2009.

At the end of your questions, you should date and sign
the page and type your full name and address below
your signature.

You can use any combination of these techniques at the
same time or one after the other. If you have new
questions or requests, you can go back to a defendant
for additional discovery. You can also use informal
investigation to find out important information. You
can talk to other prisoners and guards about what is
going on. Or, you can use state and federal Freedom of
Information Laws to request prison policies and
information. Each state has different rules about what
information is available to the public. Of course, prison
officials may use various tactics to interfere with your
investigation. Try to be creative in dealing with these
problems, and, if necessary, you may want to write a
letter to the judge explaining the problem.

A person who is just a witness, but not a party, cannot
be made to answer interrogatories. However, he or she
can voluntarily answer questions in an affidavit. To get
an affidavit from someone in another prison, you may
need a court order.
The third discovery tool is “Document Production.” If
you want to read and copy documents such as letters,
photos, or written rules that the prison officials have,
ask for production of those items under Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure Rule 34. You can look at Form 24 in
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Appendix of
Forms, or you can use the following form:


2. What You Can See and Ask About

“undue” because the information was essential to the
suit and could not be obtained any other way.

The Federal Rules put very few limits on the kind of
information and materials you can get through
discovery and the number of requests you can make.
Under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 26(b)(1),
you have a legal right to anything which is in any way
“relevant” to any party’s claim or defense. This
includes anything relevant to any defense offered by
the prison officials. “Relevant” means somehow related
to what you are suing about.

3. Privilege
You may not be able to discover material that is
protected by a special legal “privilege,” such as the
attorney-client privilege. A “privilege” is a rule that
protects a certain type of information from discovery.
There are several types of privileges, including the
attorney-client privilege, attorney work product
privilege, and the husband-wife privilege. Explaining
all these privileges is too complicated for us to attempt
here. However, it is important for you to know that
prison officials cannot avoid discovery of relevant
information merely by claiming it is “confidential.”
Beach v. City of Olathe, Kansas, 203 F.R.D. 489 (D.
Kan. 2001). If the prison officials claim information is
privileged, they have the burden of identifying the
specific privilege at issue, and proving that the
particular information is in fact privileged. A judge
may order the privileged information to be “redacted”
from the documents provided to you. This means that
information covered by any privilege mentioned above
will be blacked out.

You can demand information that the rules of evidence
would not allow you to use at a trial, so long as the
information “appears reasonably calculated to lead to
the discovery of admissible evidence.” This just means
that the information could possibly help you to find
other information that you could use at trial.
The people you are suing must give you all the “nonprivileged” information that is available to them. (The
issue of “privilege” is explained below.) If you sue a
top official, discovery includes what his subordinates
know and the information in records available to him.
This could possibly even include information that is
only held by a party’s attorney, if you can’t get that
information any other way. Hickman v. Taylor, 329
U.S. 495 (1947).

Information which would be considered “confidential”
under state law may still have to be disclosed if, after
examining it privately (“in camera”), the judge decides
it is very important for your suit. King v. Conde, 121
F.R.D. 180, 190 (E.D.N.Y. Jun. 15, 1988). If the
material is confidential, the judge may keep you from
showing the information to anyone else or using it for
any reason besides your suit.

Defendants may try to get out of having to comply with
your requests by arguing that they are “unduly
burdensome or expensive.” This means that your
request would cost the prison a lot of money, and
wouldn’t be very helpful to you. However, as one
judge explained, “the federal courts reject out of hand
claims of burdensomeness which are not supported by a
specific, detailed showing, usually by affidavit, of why
weighing the need for discovery against the burden it
will impose permits the conclusion that the court
should not permit it.” Natural Resources Defense
Council v. Curtis, 189 F.R.D. 4, 13 (D.D.C. 1999). In
other words, the defendants can’t avoid discovery by
just stating it will be too difficult. They have to really
prove it.

4. Some Basic Steps
Usually, in a prison suit, you start with document
production and interrogatories and then move to
depositions. The documents you get in response to a
motion for production can lead you to other useful
documents, potential witnesses, and people you might
want to depose. Some of the kinds of documents that
have been obtained from prison officials include: policy
statements, prison rules and manuals, minutes of staff
meetings, files about an individual prisoner (provided
he or she signs a written release), and incident reports
filed by prison staff.

Even when defendants can show that producing the
requested information would be very expensive and
difficult, the court may not let them off the hook if the
information is truly essential for your lawsuit. For
example, in Alexander v. Rizzo, 50 F.R.D. 374 (E.D.
Pa. 1970), the court ordered a police department to
compile information requested by plaintiffs in a Section
1983 suit even though the police claimed it would
require “hundreds of employees to spend many years of
man hours.” The burden and expense involved was not

You can use interrogatories to discover what kinds of
records and documents the prison has, where they are
kept, and who has them. This information will help you
prepare a request for production. Only people you have
named as defendants can be required to produce their
documents and records. Wardens, associate wardens,
and corrections department officials have control over
all prison records. If your suit is only against guards or


other lower-level staff, however, you may have to set
up a deposition of the official in charge of the records
you need and ask the court clerk to issue a “subpoena”
which orders the official to bring those records with
him to the deposition. See Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure Rule 45(d).
Interrogatories are also good for statistics which are not
in routine documents but which prison officials can
compile in response to your questions. Examples are
the size of cells, the number and titles of books in the
library, and data on prisoner classification, work
release, and punishments. If your suit is based on
brutality or misbehavior by particular prison
employees, you can also use interrogatories to check
out their background and work history, including suits
or reprimands for misbehavior. If you are suing top
officials for acts by their subordinates, you should find
out how responsibilities relevant to your case are
assigned within the prison and the Corrections
Department and how, if at all, these responsibilities
were fulfilled in your case.

5. Some Practical Considerations
Interrogatories have two big drawbacks: (1) you can
use them only against people you have named as
defendants; and (2) those people have lots of time to
think out their answers and go over them with their
lawyers. As a result, interrogatories are not good for
pressing officials into letting slip important information
they’re trying to hide. You won’t catch them giving an
embarrassing off-the-cuff explanation of prison
practices or making some other blunder that you can
use against them.
Depositions are much better for this purpose. You can
use depositions against anyone. The deponent can’t
know the questions in advance and must answer them
right away. Regular depositions, however, are much
less practical than interrogatories for a prisoner suing
pro se. Judges are unlikely to order the authorities to set
up a deposition within the prison or allow you to
conduct one outside. If you have no lawyer, you might
try a “Deposition Upon Written Questions” (Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 31). You submit your
questions in advance, as with interrogatories, but the
witness does not send back written answers. The
witness has to answer in his or her own words, under
oath, before a stenographer who writes down the
answers. Although the witness will still have time to
prepare in advance, at least he or she won’t be able to
submit answers written by a Deputy Attorney General.

6. Procedure
The procedure for getting interrogatories and
production is fairly simple. Just send your questions
and your requests for production to the lawyer for the
prison officials, usually the Deputy Attorney General.
Send separate requests and questions for each
The prison officials must respond within 30 days unless
the court or the parties agree otherwise. The officials
may ask the judge for a “protective order” which blocks
some of your questions or requests because they are
irrelevant, privileged, or impose “undue burden or
expense.” They have to submit a motion to avoid
responding to your requests. There is then an
opportunity for memoranda of law and a court hearing.
The prison officials may also refuse to answer
questions or requests which are not covered by a
protective order. They may simply ignore your request.
Then you need to submit a Motion for an Order
Compelling Discovery. In this motion, you indicate
what they refused and why you need it. Use the
following example:

In the United States District Court
For the _____________________
Name of first plaintiff
in the case, et al.,
Names of first defendant
: Civil Action No. __
in the case, et al.,
Plaintiffs move this court for an order pursuant to Rule 37(a)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure compelling
Defendants [list defendants who failed to fully answer
interrogatories] to answer fully interrogatories number [list
unanswered questions], copies of which are attached hereto.
Plaintiffs submitted these interrogatories, pursuant to Rule 33
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on [date] but have
not yet received the answers.
Plaintiffs move this court for an order pursuant to Rule 37(a)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure compelling
Defendants [list defendant who did not produce documents]
to produce for inspection and copying the following
documents: [list requested documents that were not
produced]. Plaintiffs submitted a written request for these
documents, pursuant to Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure on [date] but have not yet received the documents.


Plaintiffs also move for an order pursuant to Rule 37(a)(4)
requiring the aforesaid Defendants to pay Plaintiffs the sum
of $___ as reasonable expenses in obtaining this order, on the
ground that the Defendants’ refusal to answer the
interrogatories [or produce the documents] had no substantial
Type name and address

7. Their Discovery of Your Information and
Prison officials can use discovery against you. This
may be an intimidating process, and prison officials
may try to scare you and get you to say things they can
use against you. You must respond to discovery
requests unless the defendants are asking for
information that is totally irrelevant, or privileged. If
you don’t have an attorney, then the privilege that is
most important for you to know about is the 5th
Amendment right against self-incrimination. You can
refuse to answer a question in a deposition or an
interrogatory if it might amount to admitting that you
have committed a crime for which you could face
Under Rule 30(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, a prisoner can only be deposed with leave of
the court. If defendants ask to depose you, you may
want to ask the judge to put off the deposition until
after he or she reconsiders your request for appointed
counsel. Put in another request for appointment of
counsel and see if the judge will at least appoint a
lawyer to represent you at the deposition. You may
want to tell the judge that you’re afraid you might be
asked to say things which could be used against you in
a criminal prosecution.
If you are deposed, it is important to keep cool and
answer questions directly and honestly. You do not
need to volunteer any information. You should also
warn any witnesses you may have that the Attorney
General’s office probably will depose them once
you’ve revealed their identities. You must be notified in
advance of any deposition scheduled in your case. You
or your lawyer are entitled to be present, to advise and
consult with your witness, and ask him or her questions
that become part of the official record of the deposition.
The witness has a right to talk with you or your lawyer
beforehand. The witness can also refuse to talk about
your suit outside the deposition with anyone from the
prison or the Attorney General’s office.

Summary Judgment
At some point, the prison officials will probably submit
a Motion for Summary Judgment. Be sure to read about
the rules and procedure for summary judgment in Rule
56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendants
can ask for summary judgment along with their motion
to dismiss your complaint or at some later time. You
can also move for summary judgment. Your motion
will be discussed separately at the end of this section.

1. The Legal Standard
“Summary Judgment” means the judge decides some or
all of your case without a trial. Through summary
judgment, a court can throw out part or all of your case.
Under Rule 56(c)(2), to win on summary judgment, the
prison officials have to prove to the judge there is no
genuine issue as to any material fact and that
defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of
law. In other words, the judge finds that there is no
point in holding a trial because both you and the
defendant(s) agree about all the important facts and the
Judge can use those facts to decide that the defendant(s)
should win.
This test is very different from the test which is applied
in a Motion to Dismiss your complaint. When the judge
receives a Motion to Dismiss, he or she is supposed to
look only at your complaint. In a Motion to Dismiss,
the judge asks: could you win a judgment in your favor
if you could prove in court everything you say in your
complaint? When the judge receives a Motion for
Summary Judgment, however, he or she looks at
evidence presented by both sides, including affidavits,
and asks: is there is any real disagreement about the
important facts in the case?
The first part of the test for a Motion for Summary
Judgment that is important to understand is what is
meant by “a genuine issue.” Just saying that something
happened one way, when the prison says it happened
another way, is not enough: You need to have some
proof that it happened the way you describe. Sworn
statements (affidavits or declarations), photographs,
deposition transcripts, interrogatory responses, and
copies of letters or documents count as proof because
you or the prison officials could introduce them as
evidence if there were a trial in your case.
An “unverified” Complaint or Answer is not proof of
any facts. It only says what facts you or the prison
officials are going to prove. If you “verify” your
complaint, however, then it counts the same as a


declaration. See Chapter Five, Section C, Part 1 for
more on verification.
If prison officials give the judge evidence that
important statements in your complaint are not true,
and you do not give the judge any evidence that your
statements are true, then there is no real dispute about
the facts. The judge will see that the prison officials
have submitted evidence about their version of the facts
and that you have not. The judge can then end your
case by awarding summary judgment to the prison
On the other hand, if you give the judge some evidence
that supports your version of the important facts, then
there is a real dispute. The prison officials are not
entitled to summary judgment and your case should go
to trial.
For example, if you sue guards who you say locked you
up illegally, the guards could submit affidavits
swearing they didn’t do it and then move for summary
judgment. If you do not present evidence supporting
your version of what happened, the guards’ motion
might be granted. But if you present a sworn affidavit
from yourself or a witness who saw it happen, the
guards’ motion for summary judgment should be
A good way to think about a “genuine issue” is whether
the judge can tell, by the evidence presented by you and
the prison, that you disagree with specific facts the
prison officials are relying on.
The second important part of the test is that the
“genuine issue” explained above must be about a
“material fact.” A material fact is a fact that is so
important to your lawsuit that it could determine
whether you win or lose. If the prison officials can
show that there is no genuine issue (or disagreement, as
discussed above) over any material fact, then the court
may grant them summary judgment. To know whether
a fact is material, you have to know what courts
consider when they rule on your type of case.
Imagine a prisoner sues a guard for excessive force. As
you know from Chapter Three, one of the most
important facts in an excessive force claim is whether
there was a legitimate need for the guard to use force
against you. In your complaint, you write that you
were quietly sitting in your cell when the guard entered
and began to beat you for no reason. The guard
submits an affidavit swearing that he only entered your
cell after he saw you attack your cellmate, and that he
used only the force necessary to pull you of your

cellmate. Imagine he submits a declaration from your
cellmate supporting his story. The question of why the
guard entered your cell is a material fact. If you don’t
provide any evidence to support your version of what
happened, like an affidavit of your own, a declaration
by another witness, or a doctor’s report showing your
injuries were inconsistent with a guard merely pulling
you off another inmate, the court may decide there is no
“genuine issue of material fact” and dismiss your
Strope v. Collins, 492 F. Supp. 2d 1289 (D. Kan. 2007),
provides another helpful example. In that case, two pro
se prisoners sued various officials at Lansing
Correctional Facility for violating their First
Amendment right to receive information in prison, and
their Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due
process after defendants censored magazines containing
nudity. Defendants moved for summary judgment
before any discovery had occurred. You’ll remember
from Chapter Three that a prison regulation which
denies a prisoner books or magazines is valid if it is
reasonably related to a “legitimate penological
interest,” decided by the Turner Test. The judge denied
summary judgment on the First Amendment claim
because there wasn’t yet a factual record allowing for
Turner analysis.
However, the court granted summary judgment on the
procedural due process claim, because both parties
agreed that the prisoners were provided notice of the
censorship, and under the law, notice is all the process
that is required. Had the prisoners filed a verified
complaint or an affidavit stating they did not receive
notice of the censorship, this might have presented a
genuine issue of material fact.
In deciding summary judgment, a court isn’t supposed
to decide which party is telling the truth, or compare
the strength of evidence. If there is a real dispute, the
court should just deny summary judgment. In reality
however, if the prison officials moving for summary
judgment have a lot of evidence, like witness
statements and medical records, and all you have is a
verified complaint, you may lose summary judgment.
So you should try to present as much evidence as you
can to the court, and not just rely on a verified
When the judge considers a motion for summary
judgment, he or she is supposed to view the evidence
submitted by both sides “in the light most favorable to
the party opposing the motion.” Adickes v. S.H. Kress
& Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 160 (1970); see also Curry
v. Scott, 249 F.3d 493, 505 (6th Cir. 2001). If


defendants move for summary judgment against you,
you are the “opposing party.” This means that as the
opposing party you get the benefit of the doubt if the
meaning of a fact could be interpreted in two different

2. Summary Judgment Procedure
If prison officials move for summary judgment, you
will then have a chance to submit declarations,
deposition transcripts, interrogatory responses, and
other evidence. You need to submit all your evidence,
and a memorandum explaining what you are submitting
within 21 days, or ask for an extension. The
memorandum of law should summarize your evidence
and explain how it supports each point that you need to
prove. Check Chapter Three for the requirements of
your claim. Be sure to repeat the major cases which
support your argument that the prison officials violated
your federal constitutional rights. Your memorandum
should also point out to the judge all the specific facts
that show there are material issues in dispute.
Defendants may try to move for summary judgment
before you have had a chance to get discovery against
them. It also may be difficult for you to get
declarations, especially from prisoners who have been
transferred to other prisons or placed in isolation. If this
is a problem, write an declaration to the judge
explaining what facts you think you can get, how you
want to get them, how those facts will create a genuine
issue of material fact, any effort you have already made
to get them and why that effort was unsuccessful.
Examples of Evidence or Proof of What You
Say in Your Complaint:

Affidavits and Declarations
Interrogatory Responses
Deposition Transcripts
Copies of Letters
Copies of Documents
Your Verified Complaint

Under Rule 56(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, the judge can deny the prison officials’
motion for summary judgment because you cannot get
the declarations you need or because you haven’t yet
had access to discovery. If the judge doesn’t deny the
motion for summary judgment under Rule 56(f), you
should ask him or her to grant you a “continuance”
(more time) until you have a chance to get the
declarations you need. This means the judge puts off

ruling on the motion. Some courts have been very
supportive of the fact that prisoners may need extra
time to get declarations. Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918
(9th Cir. 2004), is a good case explaining this rule.
The judge also has the power under Rule 56(f) to “issue
any other just order.” This could include ordering
prison officials to let you interview witnesses or write
to prisoners in other prisons.

3. Summary Judgment in Your Favor
You also have a right to move for summary judgment
in your favor. You may want to do this in a case where
everyone agrees that the prison is following a particular
policy and the only question for the court is whether
that policy is legal.
For example, suppose your complaint says that you
were forced to let prison officials draw your blood to
get your DNA and put it in a DNA database. The prison
officials admit they are doing this, but deny that it is
illegal. You may move for summary judgment on your
behalf. Since the material facts are agreed on, the judge
should grant you summary judgment if he or she agrees
with your interpretation of the law. On the other hand,
if your suit is about brutality or prison conditions or
denial of medical care, you usually will have to go to
trial since what actually happened is bound to be the
major issue.
NOTE: If you defeat the prison officials’ Motion for
Summary Judgment, be sure to renew your request
for appointment of counsel. Follow the procedure
outlined in Chapter Four, Section C, Part 3. The
judge is much more likely to appoint a lawyer for
you at this stage of your case. You may also want to
consider approaching attorneys with your case at this
point. Since Summary Judgment is a big hurdle to
clear, some attorneys might see it as a sign that your
case has the potential to win.

What to do if your Complaint is
Dismissed or the Court Grants
Defendants Summary Judgment
The sad truth of the matter is that prisoners file
thousands of Section 1983 cases every year, and the
vast majority of these are dismissed at one of the three
stages described in sections B, C, & F of this chapter.
This may happen to you even if you have a valid claim
and a good argument. It may happen even if you work
very hard on your papers, and follow every suggestion


in this Handbook perfectly. The important thing to
remember is that you don’t have to give up right away.
You can choose to keep fighting. You have already
learned how to file an amended complaint in Section C
and the next few pages tell what else you can do if your
case is dismissed or the court grants summary judgment
in favor of the defendants.

1. Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment
Your first option is to file a Motion to Alter or Amend
the Judgment under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
Rule 59(e). This motion must be filed within ten days
after entry of judgment, so you will have to move
quickly. Include a Memorandum of Law that cites the
cases from your circuit.
You can make this kind of motion if the court dismisses
your complaint, denies you leave to amend, or grants
summary judgment to the defendants.

2. How to Appeal the Decision of the
District Court

Submit these papers within 30 days after you are
notified that the district court ruled that your appeal
was not in good faith.
Soon after you receive a notice that your appeal has
been transferred to the Court of Appeals, submit
another Motion for Appointment of Counsel. Use the
form in Chapter Four, Section C, Part 3, for requesting
counsel but change the name of the court and state the
basis of your appeal. If you have to submit new in
forma pauperis papers, send them together with the
motion for counsel.
Along with your Motion for Appointment of Counsel,
submit a Memorandum of Law which presents all your
arguments for why the appeals court should reverse the
decision of the district court, for example, because the
district court got the law wrong. If the appeals court
thinks your appeal has merit, it usually will appoint a
lawyer for you. Otherwise you may get a summary
dismissal of your appeal.

If you lose your motion to alter the judgment, or if you
decide not to make one, you can appeal to the U.S.
Court of Appeals for your district. You begin your
appeal by filing a Notice of Appeal with the clerk of the
U.S. District Court whose decision you want to appeal.
Follow the form in Appendix D If you filed a Motion to
Alter under Rule 59(e), file your Notice of Appeal
within 30 days after the court denies your Motion to
Alter. Otherwise file your notice within 30 days after
the order or judgment was entered by the district court
The appeals process is governed by the Federal Rules
of Appellate Procedure. These rules are supposed to be
in your prison library, included as part of Title 28 of the
United States Code (U.S.C.). There is an annotated
version of the U.S.C. called the United States Code
Annotated (U.S.C.A.) which gives summaries of
important court decisions which interpret the Federal
Rules of Appellate Procedure. The U.S.C. will only
have the text of the Federal Rules while the U.S.C.A.
will give some explanation and cases and is probably
more helpful to you. Chapter Seven explains how to
use the U.S.C.A. and other law books. Some of the
books listed in Appendix J give more information on
the appeals process.
If you sued in forma pauperis, you can appeal in forma
pauperis, unless the district court finds that your appeal
is not taken “in good faith.” If the district court decides
this, you have to send to the Appeals Court in forma
pauperis papers like those you sent to the district court,
except that you should explain the basis of your appeal.

If you’ve had to do legal research before, you know
how confusing it can be. Sometimes the whole legal
system seems designed to frustrate people who are not
familiar with the law and to make them totally
dependent on lawyers. The law could be written and
organized in a way that allows ordinary people to
understand it and use it. The National Lawyers Guild,
the Center for Constitutional Rights, and other groups
are engaged in a political struggle to make the law
accessible to the people.


Chapter Seven: Table of Contents

The federal court system is not separated by state, but
rather by “districts” and “circuits.” A federal suit
begins in a United States District Court. The District
Court is the trial court of the federal system. In total
there are 94 U.S. District Courts. Some states, such as
Alaska, only have one district. Others have several.
New York, for example, is composed of four districts:
the Northern, Western, Eastern, and Southern Districts.
District Courts all have the name of a state in them, like
the “Eastern District of New York.”

Section A
The Importance of Precedent
Section B
Legal Citations – How to Find Court Decisions and
other Legal Material
Section C
Legal Writing

This chapter is only a general introduction to legal
research for a federal prison lawsuit. It does not explain
how to research other legal problems you face, and it
does not go into every detail that could be useful for a
Section 1983 or Bivens suit.
If you plan to do a lot of research, you will probably
want to read some more books. A good detailed
explanation of all types of legal research is a book
called “Cohen and Olson's Legal Research in a
Nutshell,” which might be in your prison library. If not,
you can order a copy (see Appendix J).
Technical legal terms are defined in Ballantine’s Law
Dictionary and Black’s Law Dictionary, one of which
is supposed to be in your prison library. The detailed
rules for every kind of legal citation are in a paperback
called The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation
(see Appendix J).

The Importance of Precedent
To understand how to make legal arguments, it is
important to have an understanding of our court system.
This section focuses on the Federal Court system.
Every state has its own state court system, which is
separate from the federal system.

1. The Federal Court System

Someone who loses in the District Court has a legal
right to appeal to the United States Circuit Court of
Appeals. The Court of Appeals is divided into regions
called “circuits.” There are 11 circuits in the United
States that have number names. Washington, D.C. is
just known as the “D.C. Circuit” and does not have a
number. Each Circuit Court contains a number of
district courts. For instance, the “First Circuit” includes
all the districts in Maine, New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico.
Someone who loses in the Court of Appeals can ask for
review by the United States Supreme Court. This is
called “petitioning for certiorari.” Generally, the
Supreme Court can decide which decisions it wishes to
review, called “granting cert.” and can refuse to review
the others, called “denying cert.”

2. How Judges Interpret Laws on the Basis
of Precedent
Most of the claims we have talked about in this book
are based on one of the Constitutional Amendments,
which are reprinted in Appendix E at the back of this
book. Amendments are very short and they are written
in very broad and general terms. Courts decide what


these general terms mean when they hear specific
lawsuits or “cases.” For instance, you probably already
know that the Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and
unusual punishment.” However, there is no way to
know from those four words exactly which kinds of
punishments are allowed and which aren’t. For
instance, you may think to yourself that that execution
is very “cruel and unusual.” But, execution is legal in
the United States. To understand how judges interpret
“cruel and unusual punishment” you need to read cases
in which other people, in the past, argued that one type
of punishment or another was “cruel and unusual” and
see how they turned out.
Each court decision is supposed to be based on an
earlier decision, which is called “precedent.” To show
that your constitutional rights have been violated, you
point to good court decisions in earlier cases and
describe how the facts in those cases are similar to the
facts in your case. You should also show how the
general principles of constitutional law presented in the
earlier decisions apply to your situation.
Besides arguing from favorable precedent, you need to
explain why bad court decisions which might appear to
apply to your situation should not determine the
decision in your case. Show how the facts in your case
are different from the facts in the bad case. This is
called “distinguishing” a case.
The most important precedent is a decision by the U.S.
Supreme Court. Every court is supposed to follow this
precedent. The next best precedent is a decision of the
appeals court for the circuit in which your district court
is located. This is called “binding precedent” because
it must be followed.
The third-best precedent is an earlier decision by the
district court which is considering your suit. This may
be by the judge who is in charge of your suit or by a
different judge from the same court.
Some questions in your case may never have been
decided by the Supreme Court, the Circuit Court, or
your District Court. If this is the case, then you can
point to decisions by U.S. Appeals Courts from other
circuits or by other U.S. District Courts. Although a
district court is not required to follow these kinds of
precedents, it should consider them seriously. This is
called “persuasive authority.”
One complication is that you should only cite cases
which remain “good law.” Good law means that a case
has not been reversed on appeal, or overruled by a later
case. For example, in Chapter Three we wrote at

length about Overton v. Bazzeta, 539 U.S. 126 (2003),
a Supreme Court case about prisoners’ rights to visits.
Before the Supreme Court heard the case, the Sixth
Circuit Court of Appeals heard the prison officials’
appeal from a district court decision finding that
Michigan’s prison visit policy violated prisoners’
constitutional rights. The Sixth Circuit decision is
reported at Overton v. Bazzeta, 286 F.3d 311 (6th Cir.
2002). The Sixth Circuit agreed with the district court
that the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights were being
violated, and wrote a wonderful decision. However,
because the Supreme Court later granted cert and came
to a different conclusion, you cannot rely on any of the
parts of the (good) Sixth Circuit opinion that the
Supreme Court reversed.

Order of Precedents:
Supreme Court (Strongest)
Appeals Court for your Circuit
District Court for your District
Another Appeals Court
Another District Court in your Circuit
Another District Court outside your Circuit.
(Weakest, but still important)

Sometimes it is hard to tell, from reading a decision,
whether the whole thing has been reversed or not.
Some part of a lower court decision can remain good
law after an appeal. If only one part of the case is
appealed, while other claims are not, the portion of the
lower court decision that was not appealed is still good
law. You can cite it. And of course, if a case is
affirmed on appeal, meaning that the Appellate court
agrees with what the district court said, the district
court decision is still good law, and you can cite to it.
In that example, however, you may want to cite to the
appellate decision instead, as an appellate decision is
higher up in the order of precedent.
Let’s go back to the Overton v. Bazetta example. In
that case, plaintiffs argued before the district court that
Michigan rules restricting visits violated their First and
Eighth Amendment rights, as well as procedural due
process. They had a trial at the district court and won.
The appellate court “affirmed” or agreed with that
decision. When the Supreme Court decided to hear the
case it decided to review the First and Eighth
Amendment claims. It went on to reverse on those
claims, holding that Michigan’s policies did not violate


the First and Eighth Amendment. So, the Supreme
Court decision does not affect the lower courts’
procedural due process decision. That part of the Sixth
Circuit opinion is still “good law.”
How do you find out if a case is still good law? Most
lawyers today do it using an internet legal research
system. In prison, you can do it using books called
“Shepards.” These books tell you whether any court
has made a decision that affects a case that you want to
rely on. They also list, to the exact page, every other
court decision which mentions the decision you are
checking. To research federal cases, you need
Shepards Federal Citations. A booklet that comes with
each set of citations explains in detail how to use them.
It is very important for you to read that booklet and
follow all of the directions.
When you use Shepard’s Citations, it is often called
“shepardizing.” Shepardizing a decision is the only way
you can make sure that decision has not been reversed
of overruled. It also can help you find cases on your
topic. Be sure to check the smaller paperback “advance
sheets” which come out before each hardbound

forth his views about a whole area of law relevant to
that decision. Although the judge’s general views do
not count as precedent, you can quote his view in
support of your arguments just as you would quote a
“legal treatise” or an article in a “law review.” A “legal
treatise” is a book about one area of the law and a “law
review” is a magazine or journal that has essays about
different parts of the law written by legal scholars.

Legal Citations – How to Find Court
Decisions and Other Legal Material
When you make a legal argument, you should always
back it up by citing the names of the cases you are
referring to. Every decision in a case has an official
“citation,” which is the case name, followed by a bunch
of letters and numbers that tell you where you can find
a copy of the decision. Case citation is a very picky and
frustrating activity, but it is very important to making a
legal argument. Before you worry about how to cite to
a case, the first thing you need to deal with is finding a

1. Court Decisions
REMEMBER: It will not help your case to cite a
decision that has been reversed on appeal! Make
sure to shepardize all cases you want to rely on.

3. Statutes
Federal courts use the same method to interpret laws
passed by the U.S. Congress. These laws are called
“statutes.” Judges interpret the words in these laws in
court cases. This method also governs how judges
apply the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which are
made by the U.S. Supreme Court. Since statutes and
rules are more specific than provisions in the
Constitution, they leave less room for judicial

4. Other Grounds for Court Decisions
Sometimes no precedent will be very close to your
case, or you will find conflicting precedent from
equally important courts. Other times there may be
weak precedent which you will want to argue against.
In these situations it helps to explain why a decision in
your favor would be good precedent for future cases
and would benefit society in general. This is called an
argument based on “policy.”

Reported Decisions
Court decisions are published in books called
“Reporters” or “Reports.” All U.S. Supreme Court
decisions are in the United States Reports, which is
abbreviated “U.S.” They also are in the Supreme Court
Reporter, abbreviated “S.Ct” and the United States
Supreme Court Reports Lawyers Edition, abbreviated
“L.Ed.” or “L.Ed. 2d.” These different reporters all
have the same cases, so you can just use whichever
version your prison law library has.
Decisions of the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal are in
the Federal Reporter. As of 2010, there are three series
of the Federal Reporter: the first series is abbreviated
“F.” the second series is abbreviated F.2d, and the third
series is abbreviated F.3d. All new cases are in the third
U.S. District Court decisions are in the Federal
Supplement, abbreviated “F. Supp.” the Federal
Supplement Second series, abbreviated “F. Supp. 2d,”
or F. Supp. 3d. Others are in the Federal Rules of
Decisions, cited as “F.R.D.”

You can refer to books and articles by legal scholars to
back up your arguments. Sometimes when a judge
writes an opinion to explain his decision, he will set

How to Read a Case


“Johnson v. Avery” is the name of the case.
Usually, the case name comes from the last name
of the person who brings the suit, and the last name
of the person being sued. The name of the plaintiff
always comes first at the trial level, but the names
can switch order after that, depending on which
party is appealing. You should always italicize or
underline the case name.


“393” is the number of the volume of United States
Reports in which you can find the case.


The “U.S.” indicates that the decision can be found
in United States Reports.


“483” is the page number in volume 393 on which
the decision begins.


“1969” is the year the decision was announced.

When a judge decides a case, he or she writes a
description of the facts of that case, the law the judge
used to get to his or her decision, and the reason they
decided one way or the other. When you first start
reading cases, you may have trouble understanding
them, but be patient, and follow these suggestions to
get as much as possible from the case.
The Summary – Many times when you look up a case
in a book, the first thing you will see under the name of
the case is a short paragraph stating who won the
Key Number Links - Directly under the summary, you
may see numbered paragraphs with headings and little
pictures of keys. These paragraphs are there to help
you with your research. They set out general rules of
law that you will encounter in the case.
The Syllabus – The syllabus is a summary of the
“holding” or decision in the case. It may help you get a
sense of what the case is about, but be careful – it was
not actually written by the Judge, and you cannot cite it
on your brief.
The Facts – After the syllabus, you will see the name
of the judge or judges who decided the case in capital
letters, and the names of the attorney as well. After that
comes the actual official opinion. Most judges start out
an opinion by stating the facts – who sued who, over
what. Read the facts carefully, you will need to use
them if you want to show how the case is like or unlike
your situation.
Legal Reasoning – Most of what you read in a case is
legal reasoning. The judge will state general legal rules,
or holdings from past cases, and explain them. This
part of a case can be very complicated and difficult, but
the more you read, the more you will understand.
The Holding – The holding is the actual decision in a
case. After the judge goes through the facts and the
legal reasoning, he or she will apply the law to the
facts, and state the outcome of the case. It is important
to figure out what the holding is, so you know whether
the case hurts you, or helps you.

As we wrote earlier, every decision has an official
“citation,” which is the case name, followed by a bunch
of letters and numbers that tell you where you can find
a copy of the decision. The citation also explains what
court made the decision and in what year. For example,
this is a typical Supreme Court citation:
Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483 (1969)

If you want to quote from a decision, or refer to
reasoning used in the decision, you will also need to
include the page number where your point appears in
the decision. This is called a “pin cite” or “jump cite”
and you put it between the page number the decision
begins on and before the date of the decision. In the
following example, “485” is the pin cite:
Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 485 (1969)
Sometimes a U.S. Supreme Court decision will be cited
to all three sets of reports, like:
Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 89 S.Ct. 797,
21 L.Ed. 2d 718 (1969).
You can cite all three if you want, but it is usually not
required. The “U.S.” citation is the important one. Do
not give only a “S.Ct.” or L.Ed.” citation without also
giving the U.S. citation, unless the decision has not yet
been reported in U.S. or you cannot find it. If this
happens, cite the case as: Johnson v. Avery,
___U.S.___, 89 S.Ct. 747, 21 L.Ed. 2d 718 (1969). If
you have only S.Ct. or only L.Ed., put what you have
after “___U.S.___.”
The “S.Ct.” stands for “Supreme Court Reporter” and
the “L.Ed.” stands for “Lawyer’s Edition.” These books
are supposed to be in your prison library and usually
give the “U.S.” cite for each decision.
A typical Circuit Court citation is:
United States v. Footman, 215 F.3d 145
(1st Cir. 2000)


This decision is in volume 215 of the Federal Reporter,
third series, starting on page 145. The information in
parentheses tells you that this decision is from the First
Circuit, and that it was decided in the year 2000.
A typical District Court citation is:
Bracewell v. Lobmiller, 938 F. Supp. 1571
(M.D. Ala. 1996)
This decision is in volume 938 of the Federal
Supplement and starts on page 1571. It was issued in
1996 by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District
of Alabama.
Unpublished Decisions
Not every district court or circuit court decision is
reported. Some decisions are “unpublished,” which
means they do not appear in the official reporters.
Unfortunately, a lot of cases about prisoners are
unpublished. Not all courts allow you to cite to
unpublished cases, and they are very hard for prisoners
to get. To find out whether or not you can use
unpublished cases, look in your district court’s local
A publication called U.S. Law Week, which may be in
the prison law library, prints a few important decisions
by various courts before those decisions appear in
regular reports. You can use a Law Week citation until
the decision appears in a reporter. Use the same general
form as for reported case, but indicate the court, the
case number on the court docket and the exact date of
the decision (not just the year). For example:
Oswald v. Rodriguez, 40 U.S.L.W. 3597 (U.S.
June 19, 1972) (No. 71-1369).
Outside of prison, most lawyers no longer use books to
find opinions or do legal research. Today, lawyers use
one of two online services that simplify legal research,
and make many unpublished opinions easily accessible.
These services are called LEXIS and Westlaw. They
cost a lot of money, and your prison probably does not
give you access to them. Hopefully, internet access to
decisions will increase in the future. LEXIS and
Westlaw cites look like this.
Lucrecia v. Samples, No. C-93-3651-VRW, 1995
WL 630016 (N.D.Cal. Oct. 16, 1995)
Farmer v. Hawk, No. 94-CV-2274, 1996 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 13630 (D.D.C. Sep. 5, 1996)
The number that appears after the case name, and starts

with “No.” is the official docket number of the case.
As you learned in Chapter Three, every case gets a
docket number as soon as the complaint is filed. When
you are citing an unpublished case, you need to include
the docket number. The next part is the LEXIS or
Westlaw citation. It includes the year the case was
decided, and a special identification number created by
Westlaw or LEXIS. In the parenthesis you will find the
abbreviation for the court that decided the case, and the
date of the decision. When you are citing a published
opinion, you only need to include the year the decision
issued. For an unpublished decision, you should
include the exact day.
When you want to use a case in a memorandum of law
or a brief or any other legal document, you should put
the case cite, as it appears in the examples above, at the
end of every sentence that refers to a fact or a legal rule
or a quote that comes from that case. Throughout this
handbook, there are many examples that can help you
see how this works. For instance, on page 19 in Chapter
Three, we wrote:
“Courts have allowed censorship of
materials that advocate racial superiority and
violence against people of another race or
religion. Stefanow v. McFadden, 103 F.3d
1466 (9th Cir. 1996); Chriceol v. Phillips,
169 F.3d 313 (5th Cir. 1999).”
We “cited” the two cases above because they support
our statement about courts allowing censorship. Citing
a case allows the reader to go look up the case for proof
that what the writer has written is true.
Sometimes you also need to include more information
about the case. When you refer to a decision which has
been appealed, list all the decisions in the case and
indicate what each court ruled. For example:
Gilmore v. Lynch, 319 F. Supp. 105 (N.D. Cal.
1970), aff’d sub nom Younger v. Gilmore, 404
U.S. 15 (1971).
The abbreviation “aff’d” stands for “affirmed.” This
citation indicates that the U.S. Supreme Court
“affirmed” or agreed with the decision of the District
Court in the Gilmore case. This happened one year
later, under a slightly different name, which is
abbreviated “sub nom”. The name is different because
Younger had replaced Lynch as Attorney General of
California, and Gilmore – one of the prisoners who
filed the suit – had his name second because he was
now defending against Younger’s appeal of the district
court decision in favor of the prisoners.


As explained above, you might want to cite a decision
which has been reversed on appeal, if the part of the
decision which helps you was not reversed. The citation
would look like:
Toussaint v. McCarthy, 597 F. Supp. 1388
(N.D. Cal. 1984), aff’d in part, rev’d in part on
other grounds, 801 F.2d 1080 (9th Cir. 1986).
The abbreviation “rev’d” stands for “reversed.” Here
the case name was not changed on appeal, so you don’t
have to include it a second time.
When you cite a circuit court decision, you should
indicate if the Supreme Court has agreed to review the
decision or has refused to review it, if that decision was
made in the last three years. For example:
Roe v. Crawford, 514 F.3d 789 (8th Cir. 2008),
cert. denied, __U.S. __, 129 S. Ct. 109 (2008).
“Cert” stands for the “writ of certiorari” that the
Supreme Court issues when it decides to review lower
court decisions. If the Supreme Court had decided to
grant a writ of certiorari in Roe v. Crawford, the
citation would read “cert. granted.”
Once you have cited the full name of a case once, you
don’t have to cite it fully again. Instead, you can use a
short form of the official cite. So, instead of writing
Hershberger v. Scaletta, 33 F.3d 955 (8th Cir. 1994)
over and over again, you can just write:
Hershberger, 33 F.3d at 960.
Just remember to cite the case in full the first time you
use it. Notice that the last number, “960,” is the actual
page of the case that you want to refer to, rather than
the page on which the case starts. If you cite a case for
a second time and you haven’t cited any other cases in
between, you can use another, shorter, short form: “Id.
at 960.” Id. is an abbreviation for the Latin word
“idem” which means “same.”
You may see in a memo or an opinion “Hershberger v.
Scaletta, supra at 960” or just “Hershberger v. Scaletta,
supra.” “Supra” is Latin for “above.” It means that the
full citation was given earlier.
You do not have to use words like “supra” and “id.” It
is your choice how you want to write your citations.
You will probably find it simpler to put the full case
name and the full citation each time you refer to a case.
This is perfectly fine. But you will need to know the

fancy words because lawyers like to use them.
Remember, whenever you don’t know what a term
means, try to get a hold of Black’s Law Dictionary,
Ballantine’s Law Dictionary, or any other law
dictionary. We also have included a limited glossary at
the end of the Handbook.

2. Legislation and Court Rules
Besides court decisions, you will also want to find and
refer to laws passed by the U.S. Congress, like Section
1983. The main places to find federal statutes are in the
United States Code (abbreviated U.S.C.) or the United
States Code Annotated (abbreviated U.S.C.A.), which
are supposed to be in every prison library. Both sets of
books are organized in the same way, except that the
“Code Annotated” version summarizes the main court
decisions that interpret each statute. It also lists related
law review articles and states the history of the statute.
In using the Code or the Code Annotated, be sure to
check for paperbound additions in the back of books.
These additions update the material in that book.
Citations for statutes follow roughly the same form as
citations to court cases. For example:
42 U.S.C. § 1983
refers to title 42 of the U.S. Code and section 1983 of
that title. A “title” is a group of somewhat related laws
which are collected together. One book of the Code or
Code Annotated may contain several titles or only part
of a title, depending on how big that title is.
The U.S. Code also includes the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure (Fed. R. Civ. P.) and the Federal Rules of
Appellate Procedure (Fed. R. App. P.). These rules are
published as an appendix to Title 42. The Code
Annotated (U.S.C.A.) annotates each rule the same way
it does each statute. It summarizes important court
decisions which interpret the rule, etc. The correct way
to cite a rule is: “Fed. R. Civ. P. [rule number]” or
“Fed. R. App. P. [rule number].”

3. Books and Articles
Citations to legal treatises and law review articles
follow the same general pattern as statutes and court
decisions. For instance:
Betsy Ginsberg, Out With the New, In With
the Old: The Importance Of Section 504 Of
The Rehabilitation Act To Prisoners With
Disabilities, 36 Fordham Urb. L.J. 713


You can tell from this citation that Betsy Ginsberg
wrote an article that appeared in volume 36 of the
Fordham Urban Law Journal on page 713, and that it
came out in 2009. You should always give the author’s
full name and italicize the name of the article.
Citing a book is relatively easy. You write the author’s
full name, the name of the book, the page you are citing
too, and the year it was published:
Deborah L. Rhode, Justice and Gender 56

4. Research Aids
Prison law libraries should include books which help
you do legal research. The most important books for
legal research are Shepard’s Citations, which we
described above. Some other important books are
described below.
A “digest” has quotations from court decisions,
arranged by subject matter. Every topic has a “keynumber.” You look in the subject index to find the key
number of your topic. Under that number you will find
excerpts from important decisions. The last volume of
each digest has a plaintiff-defendant table, so you can
get the citation for a case if you only know the names
of the parties.
The prison library is also supposed to have the Modern
Federal Practice Digest (covering all federal court
decisions since 1939) and West’s State Digest for the
state your prison is in. The same key-number system is
used in all the books put out by the West Publishing
Company, including Corpus Juris Secundum
(explained below), Supreme Court Reporter, Federal
Supplement, and Federal Rules Decisions. Every
decision in a West Company Reporter starts with
excerpts or paraphrases of the important points in the
decision and gives the key number for each point.
Your law library may include Corpus Juris
Secundum, abbreviated “CJS.” CJS is a legal
encyclopedia. It explains the law on each of the keynumber topics and gives a list of citations for each
explanation. Be sure to check pocket parts at the back
of each book to keep up to date.
The explanations in CJS are not very detailed or
precise. But they can give you a rough idea of what is
happening and lead you to the important cases.
Encyclopedias and digests are good ways to get started

on your research, but it usually is not very helpful to
cite them to support arguments in your legal papers.
Judges do not consider the opinion of a legal
encyclopedia as a solid base for a decision.

Legal Writing
Although the rules explained in this chapter are very
complicated, it is important to keep in mind that most
judges will understand that you are not a lawyer, and
they won’t disregard your arguments just because you
cite a case wrong. Lawyers spend years perfecting their
legal research and writing skills, and usually have the
benefit of well-stocked libraries, expensive computers,
and paid paralegals to help them. Most prisoners don’t
have any of these things, so just do your best. This is
especially true with writing. You should not worry
about trying to use fancy legal terms or make your
writing sound professional. Don’t try to write like you
think a lawyer would write. Just write clearly and
There is a simple formula for writing clearly about
legal issues that you can remember by thinking of the
abbreviation: IRAC. IRAC stands for:

Some people find that creating an outline, making a
diagram, or drawing a picture is helpful in writing
IRAC formulas. These methods can help organize your
thoughts, facts, and cases.
Say you have an Eighth Amendment claim based on
exposure to secondhand smoke. Below is a sample of
how to do a very simple outline. Your outline may be
more complex or simple, depending on what works for
First you would go to the section in Chapter Three that
applies to you, write the rule out for proving that claim,
and put in citations to start keeping track of where you
are getting the quotes from:
1. To prove an Eighth Amendment violation, the
prison officials must act with deliberate
indifference to a prison condition that exposes
a prisoner to an unreasonable risk of serious
harm. Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25,
33 (1993).


Now, break the above sentence into the different parts
you will have to prove:
1. To prove an Eighth Amendment violation, the
prison officials must:
(a) act with deliberate indifference to a prison
condition that
(b) exposes a prisoner to an unreasonable risk
of serious harm.
Then, you look for cases in this Handbook or through
your own research that defines more how you prove (a)
and (b) above:
1. To prove an Eighth Amendment violation, the
prison officials must:
(a) act with deliberate indifference to a prison
i. Deliberate indifference is when prison
officials ignore an obvious and serious
danger. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S.
825, 835 (1994).
(b) exposes a prisoner to an unreasonable risk
of harm
i. Exposure to second-hand cigarette
smoke is an unreasonable risk of
serious harm. Talal v. White, 403 F.3d
423 (6th Cir. 2005)
Hopefully you can see how each of the (i) sections
explain each part of the rule. Now, you want to think
about what has happened -- the facts -- that fit each of
those sections. Those facts will become your
application section.
Now, lets follow IRAC to actually draft your section.
First, start with the Idea that you plan to support
through your argument. For example:

Prison officials act with deliberate indifference when
they ignore an obvious and serious danger. Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 835 (1994). Exposure to
second-hand cigarette smoke presents an unreasonable
risk of serious harm. Talal v. White, 403 F.3d 423 (6th
Cir. 2005)
Third is the Application. For this step, you want to
state the facts that show how your rights were violated.
You should show the court how and why the rule
applies to the facts of your specific case. Be detailed
and specific, brief and to the point. For example:
As I wrote in my complaint, upon admission to Attica
Correctional Facility, I was placed in a cell with Joe
Shmoe. Joe Shmoe smokes two packs of cigarettes a
day in our cell. The window in our cell doesn’t open, so
I am forced to breathe smoky air. I spend about twelve
hours a day in this smoky environment. I sent a letter to
Warden Wally on May 6, 2010 explaining this problem,
and he did not respond. I sent him another letter two
weeks later, and he still hasn’t dealt with the problem.
Then, in June, I used the prison grievance system to
request a transfer to another cell due to the smoke, and
when that grievance was denied, I appealed it. Guards
pass by my cell everyday and hear me coughing, and
smell and see the smoke. I yell to the guards to tell the
warden about this problem. I have been coughing a lot.
Finally, you should finish your section with a
Conclusion. The conclusion should state how your
rights were violated in one or two sentences. For

Warden Wally violated the Eighth Amendment by
putting me in a cell with a prisoner who smokes

Warden Wally’s refusal to move me to a different cell
or otherwise end my exposure to secondhand smoke
amounts to deliberate indifference to an unreasonable
risk of serious harm, in violation of the Eighth
Amendment. For this reason, his motion to dismiss my
case should be denied.

Next, state the Rule of law that sets out the standard for
your idea. If you can, you should also explain the rule
in this section, by citing cases that are similar to yours.
For example, first state the full rule:

If you use this formula for each and every point you
need to address in your complaint, you have a much
better chance of getting the Judge to treat your case
with the attention it deserves.

Prison Officials violate the Eighth Amendment when
they act with deliberate indifference to a prison
condition that exposes a prisoner to an unreasonable
risk of serious harm. Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25,
33 (1993).
Then we explain, in two separate sentences, the two
clauses from the above rule:


Table of Contents

Glossary of Terms

Appendix A
Glossary of Terms

Below is a list of legal terms, phrases and other
words that you may come across in this Handbook or
in further research.

Appendix B
Sample Complaint

Admissible: Evidence that can be used at a trial is
known as “admissible” evidence. “Inadmissible”
evidence can’t be used at a trial.

Appendix C
Appendix D
Other Legal Forms

Affidavit: A written or printed statement of facts that is
made voluntarily by a person who swears to the truth of
the statement before a public officer, such as a “notary

Appendix E
Constitutional Amendments (First through Fifteenth)
Appendix F
Excerpts from the PLRA

Affirm: When the appellate court agrees with the
decision of the trial court, the appellate court “affirms”
the decision of the trial court. In this case, the party who
lost in the trial court and appealed to the appellate court
is still the loser in the case.

Appendix G
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Appendix H
Sources of Legal Support

Allege: To claim or to charge that someone did
something, or that something happened, which has not
been proven. The thing that you claim happened is
called an “allegation.”

Appendix I
Sources of Publicity

Amendment (as in the First Amendment): Any
change that is made to a law after it is first passed. In
the United States Constitution, an “Amendment” is a
law added to the original document that further defines
the rights and duties of individuals and the government.

Appendix J
Prisoners Rights Books and Newsletters

Annotation: A remark, note, or comment on a section
of writing which is included to help you understand the

Appendix L
District Court Addresses

Appendix K
Free Book Programs

Burden of proof: The duty of a party in a trial to
convince the judge or jury of a fact or facts at issue. If
the party does not fulfill this duty, all or part of his/her
case must be dismissed.

Answer: A formal, written statement by the defendant
in a lawsuit which responds to each allegation in the
Appeal: When one party asks a higher court to reverse
the judgement of a lower court because the decision was
wrong or the lower court made an error. For example, if
you lose in the trial court, you may “appeal” to the
appellate court.

Causation: The link between a defendant’s conduct and
the plaintiff’s injury or harm. In a civil rights case, the
plaintiff must always prove “causation.”
Cause of Action: Authority based on law that allows a
plaintiff to file a lawsuit. In this handbook, we explain
the “cause of action” called Section 1983.

Brief: A document written by a party in a case that
contains a summary of the facts of the case, relevant
laws, and an argument of how the law applies to the
factual situation. Also called a “memorandum of law.”

“Cert” or “Writ of Certiorari”: An order by the
Supreme Court stating that it will review a case already


decided by the trial court and the appeals court. When
the Supreme Court makes this order, it is called
“granting cert.” If they decide not to review a case, it is
called “denying cert.”

Constitutional law: Law set forth in the Constitution of
the United States or a state constitution.

Cf.: An abbreviation used in legal writing to mean
“compare.” The word directs the reader to another case
or article in order to compare, contrast or explain views
or statements.

Criminal (as in “criminal case” or “criminal trial”):
When the state or federal government charges a person
with committing a crime. The burden of proof and the
procedural rules in a criminal trial may be different
from those in a civil trial.

Counsel: A lawyer.

Circuit Court of Appeals: The United States is divided
into federal judicial circuits. Each “circuit” covers a
geographical area, often called by its circuit number
(like “5th Circuit”), and has a court of appeals. The
appellate court is called the U.S. Court of Appeals for
that particular circuit (for example, the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the 5th Circuit).

Cross-examination: At a trial or hearing, the
questioning of a witness by the lawyer for the other
side. Cross-examination takes place after the party that
called the witness has questioned him or her. Each party
has a right to “cross-examine” the other party’s

Citation: A written reference to a book, a case, a
section of the constitution, or any other source of

Damages: Money awarded by a court to a person who
has suffered some sort of loss, injury, or harm.
Declaration: A statement made by a witness under
penalty of perjury.

Civil (as in “civil case” or “civil action”): In general,
all cases or actions which are not criminal. “Civil
actions” are brought by a private party to protect a
private right.

Declaratory Judgment: A court order that sets out the
rights of the parties or expresses the opinion of the court
about a certain part of the law, without ordering any
money damages or other form of relief for either side.

Claim: A legal demand made about a violation of one’s

Default judgment: A judgment entered against a party
who fails to appear in court or respond to the charges.

Class Action: A lawsuit in which a few plaintiffs sue on
behalf of a larger group of people whose rights are
being violated in the same way.

Defendant: The person against whom a lawsuit is

Color of State Law: When a state or local government
official is carrying out his/her job, or acting like he/she
is carrying out his/her job. Acting “under color of state
law” is one of the requirements of a Section 1983

Defense: A reason, stated by the defendant, why the
plaintiff should lose a claim.
Deliberate Indifference: The level of intent required
for a defendant in an Eighth Amendment claim. It
requires a plaintiff to show that a defendant (1) actually
knew of a substantial risk of serious harm, and (2) failed
to respond reasonably.

Complaint: The legal document filed in court by the
plaintiff that begins a civil lawsuit. A “complaint” sets
out the facts and the legal claims in the case, and
requests some action by the court.

De Minimis: Very small or not big enough. For
example, in an Eighth Amendment excessive force
claim, you need to prove an injury that is more than de

Consent: Agreement; voluntary acceptance of the wish
of another.
Consent Order / Consent Decree: An order for an
injunction (to change something the defendant is doing)
that is agreed on by the parties in a settlement and given
to the court for approval and enforcement.

Denial: When the court rejects an application or
petition. Or, when someone claims that a statement
offered is untrue.

Constitution: The supreme law of the land. The U.S.
Constitution applies to everyone in this country, and
each state also has a constitution.

Deposition: One of the tools of discovery. It involves a
witness giving sworn testimony in response to oral or
written questions.


Dictum: An observation or remark made by a judge in
his or her opinion, about a question of the law that is
not necessary to the court’s actual decision. Future
courts do not have to follow the legal analysis found in
“dictum.” It is not “binding” because it is not the legal
basis for the judge’s decision. Plural: “Dicta”

lawsuit. One of the requirements of the Prison
Litigation Reform Act.
Exhibit: Any paper or thing used as evidence in a
Federal law: A system of courts and rules organized
under the United States Constitution and statutes passed
by Congress; different than state law.

Direct Examination: At a trial or hearing, the
questioning of a witness by the lawyer or party that
called the witness. The lawyer conducts “direct
examination” and then the lawyer for the other side gets
the chance to “cross examine” that same witness.

File: When you officially send or give papers to the
court in a certain way, it is called “filing” the papers.

Discovery: The process of getting information which is
relevant to your case in preparation for a trial.

Finding: Formal conclusion by a judge or jury on a
issue of fact or law.

Discretion: The power or authority of a legal body,
such as a court, to act or decide a situation one way or
the other, where the law does not dictate the decision.

Footnote: More information about a subject indicated
by a number in the body of a piece of legal writing
which corresponds to the same number at the bottom of
the page. The information at the bottom of the page is
the “footnote.”

Disposition: The result of a case; how it was decided.
District Court: The trial courts within the federal court
system. There are District Courts in each federal circuit
and its decisions can be appealed to the Circuit Courts
of Appeal.

Frivolous: Something that is groundless, an obviously
losing argument or unbelievable claim.
Grant: To allow or permit. For example, when the
court “grants a motion,” it allows what the motion was
asking for.

Document Request: One of the tools of discovery,
allows one party to a lawsuit to get papers or other
evidence from the other party.

Habeas Corpus (Habeas): An order issued by a court to
release a prisoner from prison or jail. For example, a
prisoner can petition (or ask) for “habeas” because a
conviction was obtained in violation of the law. The
“habeas writ” can be sought in both state and federal

Due process: A constitutional right that guarantees
everyone in the United States a certain amount of
protection for their life, liberty and property.
Element: A fact that one must prove to win a claim.

Hear: To listen to both sides on a particular issue. For
example, when a judge “hears a case,” he or she
considers the validity of the case by listening to the
evidence and the arguments of the lawyers from both
sides in the litigation.

Enjoining: When a court orders a person to perform a
certain act or to stop performing a specific act. The
order itself is called an “injunction.”
Evidence: Anything that proves, or helps to prove, the
claim of a party. “Evidence” can be testimony by
witnesses and experts, documents, physical objects and
anything else admissible in court that will help prove a

Hearing: A legal proceeding before a judge or judicial
officer, in some ways similar to a trial, in which the
judge or officer decides an issue of the case, but does
not decide the whole case.
Hearsay: Testimony that includes a written or verbal
statement that was made out of court that is being
offered in court to prove the truth of what was said.
Hearsay is often “inadmissible.”

Exclude from evidence: The use of legal means to
keep certain evidence from being considered in
deciding a case.
Excessive Force: more force than is justified in the

Holding: The decision of a court in a case and the
accompanying explanation.

Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies: the
requirement that a prisoner use the prison grievance
system to make (and appeal) a complaint before filing a

Immunity: When a person or governmental body
cannot be sued, they are “immune” from suit.


Impartial: Even-handed or objective; favoring neither

Mistrial: If a fundamental error occurs during trial that
cannot be corrected, a judge may decide that the trial
should not continue and declare a “mistrial.”

Impeach: When one party presents evidence to show
that a witness may be lying or unreliable.

Moot: A legal claim that is no longer relevant is “moot”
and must be dismissed.

Inadmissible evidence: Evidence that cannot legally be
introduced at a trial. Opposite of “admissible” evidence.

Motion: A request made by a party to a judge for an
order or some other action.

Injunction: An order by a court that a person or persons
should stop doing something, or should begin to do

Municipality: A city or town.
Negligent or Negligence: To be “negligent” is to do
something that a reasonable person would not do, or to
not do something that a reasonable person would do.
Sometimes a party needs to prove that the opposing
party in the suit was “negligent.” For example, if you do
not shovel your sidewalks all winter when it snows, you
may be negligent.

Injury: A harm or wrong done by one person to another
Interrogatories: A set of questions in writing. One of
the tools of discovery.
Judge: A court officer who is elected or appointed to
hear cases and make decisions about them.

Notary or Notary Public: A person who is authorized
to stamp his or her seal on certain papers in order to
verify that a particular person signed the papers. This is
known as “notarizing the papers.”

Judgment: The final decision or holding of a court that
resolves a case and determines the parties’ rights and

Notice or Notification: “Notice” has several meanings
in the law. First, the law often requires that “notice” be
given to an individual about a certain fact. For example,
if you sue someone, you must give them “notice”
through “service of process.” Second, “notice” is used
in cases to refer to whether an individual was aware of

Jurisdiction: The authority of a court to hear a
particular case.
Jury: A group of people called to hear a case and
decide issues of fact.
Law: Rules and principles of conduct set out by the
constitution, the legislature, and past judicial decisions.

Objection: During a trial, an attorney or a party who is
representing him/herself pro se may disagree with the
introduction of a piece of evidence. He or she can voice
this disagreement by saying “I object” or “objection.”
The judge decides after each objection whether to
“sustain” or “overrule” the objection. If the judge
sustains an objection it means the judge, based on his or
her interpretation of the law, agrees with the attorney
raising the objection that the evidence cannot be
presented. If an objection is “overruled” it means the
judge disagrees with the attorney raising the objection
and the evidence can be presented.

Lawsuit: A legal action that involves at least one
plaintiff, making one or more claims, against at least
one defendant.
Liable: To be held responsible for something. In civil
cases, plaintiffs must prove that the defendants were
“liable” for unlawful conduct.
Litigate: To participate in a lawsuit. All the parts of a
lawsuit are called “litigation” and some time lawyers
are called “litigators.”

Opinion: When a court decides a case, a judge writes
an explanation of how the court reached its decision.
This is an “opinion.”

Majority: More than half. For example, an opinion
signed by more than half the judges of a court is the
“majority opinion” and it establishes the decision of the

Order: The decision by a court to prohibit or require a
particular thing.

Material evidence: Evidence that is relevant and
important to the legal issues being decided in a lawsuit.

Oral arguments: Live, verbal arguments made by the
parties of a case that a judge may hear before reaching a
decision and issuing an opinion.

Memorandum of law: A written document that
includes a legal argument, also called a “brief.”


Overrule: To reverse or reject.

Reckless: To act despite the fact that one is aware of a
substantial and unjustifiable risk.

Party: A plaintiff or defendant or some other person
who is directly involved in the lawsuit.

Record (as in the record of the trial): A written
account of all the proceedings of a trial, as transcribed
by the court reporter.

Per se: A Latin phrase meaning “by itself” or “in

Regulation: A rule or order that manages or governs a
situation. One example is a “prison regulation.”

Perjury: The criminal offense of making a false
statement under oath.

Relevant / irrelevant: A piece of evidence which tends
to make some fact more or less likely or is helpful in the
process of determining the truth of a matter is
“relevant.” Something that is not at all helpful to
determining the truth is “irrelevant.”

Petition: A written request to the court to take action on
a particular matter. The person filing an action in a
court or the person who appeals the judgment of a lower
court is sometimes called a “petitioner.”
Plaintiff: The person who brings a lawsuit.

Relief: The remedy or award that a plaintiff or
petitioner seeks from a court, or a remedy or award
given by a court to a plaintiff or petitioner.

Precedent: A case decided by a court that serves as the
rule to be followed in similar cases later on. For
example, a case decided in the United States Supreme
Court is “precedent” for all other courts.

Remand: When a case is sent back from the appellate
court to the trial court for further action or proceedings.

Preponderance of evidence: This is the standard of
proof in a civil suit. It means that more than half of the
evidence in the case supports your explanation of the

Remedy: Same as “relief”.

Presumption: Something that the court takes to be true
without proof according to the rules of the court or the
laws of the jurisdiction. Some presumptions are
“rebuttable.” You can overcome a “rebuttable
presumption” by offering evidence that it is not true.

Respondent: The person against whom a lawsuit or
appeal is brought.

Removal: When a defendant transfers a case from state
court to federal court.

Retain: To hire, usually used when hiring a lawyer.
Reverse: When an appellate court changes the decision
of a lower court. The party who lost in the trial court
and then appealed to the appellate court is now the
winner of the case. When this happens, the case is

Privilege: People may not have to testify about
information they know from a specific source if they
have a “privilege.” For example, “attorney-client
privilege” means that the information exchanged
between an attorney and his or her client is confidential,
so an attorney may not reveal it without the client’s

Right: A legal entitlement that one possesses. For
example, as a prisoner, you have the “right” to be free
from cruel and unusual punishment.

Proceeding: A hearing or other occurrence in court that
takes place during the course of a dispute or lawsuit.

Sanction: A penalty the court can impose when a party
disobeys a rule or order.

Pro se: A Latin phrase meaning “for oneself.” Someone
who appears in court “pro se” is representing him or
herself without a lawyer.

Service, “service of process” or “to serve”: the
physical act of handing something over, or delivering
something to a person, as in “serving legal papers” on a

Question of fact: A dispute as to what actually
happened. It can be contrasted to a “question of law.”

Settlement: when both parties agree to end the case
without a trial.

Qualified Immunity: a doctrine that protects
government officials from liability for acts they
couldn’t have reasonably known were illegal.

Shepardizing: Method for determining if a case is still
“good law” that can be relied upon.


Standing: A requirement that the plaintiff in a lawsuit
has an actual injury that is caused by the defendant’s
alleged action and that can be fixed by the court.

Verdict: A conclusion, as to fact or law, that forms the
basis for the court's judgment.
Verify: To confirm the authenticity of a legal paper by
affidavit or oath.

Statute: A law passed by the U.S. Congress or a state

Waive or waiver: To give up a certain right. For
example, when you “waive” the right to a jury trial or
the right to be present at a hearing you give up that

Statute of limitations: A law that sets out time
limitations within which different types of lawsuits
must be brought. After the “statute of limitations” has
run on a particular type of lawsuit, the plaintiff can not
bring that lawsuit.

Witness: a person who knows something which is
relevant to your lawsuit and testifies at trial or in a
deposition about it.

Stipulation: An agreement between the plaintiff and the
defendant as to a particular fact.

Writ: An order written by a judge that requires a
specific act to be performed, or gives someone the
power to have the act performed. For example, when a
court issues a writ of habeas corpus, it demands that
the person who is detaining you release you from

Subpoena: An official court document that requires a
person to appear in court at a specific time and place. A
particular type of “subpoena” requires an individual to
produce books, papers and other things.
Summary judgment: A judgment given on the basis of
pleadings, affidavits or declarations, and exhibits
presented for the record without any need for a trial. It
is used when there is no dispute as to the facts of the
case and one party is entitled to a judgment as a matter
of law.
Suppress: To prevent evidence from being introduced
at trial.
Testimony: The written or oral evidence given by a
witness under oath. It does not include evidence from
documents or objects. When you give testimony, you
Tort: A “wrong” or injury done to someone. Someone
who destroys your property or injures you may have
committed a “tort.”
Trial: A proceeding that takes place before a judge or a
judge and a jury. In a trial, both sides present arguments
and evidence.
v. or vs. or versus: Means “against,” and is used to
indicate opponents in a case, as in “Joe Prisoner v.
Charles Corrections Officer.”
Vacate: To set aside, as in “vacating the judgment of a
court.” An appellate court, if it concludes that the
decision of the trial court is wrong, may “vacate” the
judgment of the trial court.
Vague: Indefinite, or not easy to understand.
Venue: the specific court where a case can be filed.


Walter Hey, Mohammed Abdul,

John Smith, warden Illinois State Prison;
Dave Thomas, corrections officer at Illinois State Prison, :
individually and in their official capacities,

Civil Action No.______



This is a civil action authorized by 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 to redress the deprivation, under color
of state law, of rights secured by the Constitution of the United States. The court has jurisdiction under 28
U.S.C. Section 1331 and 1343 (a)(3). Plaintiff Hey seeks declaratory relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section
2201 and 2202. Plaintiff Hey’s claims for injunctive relief are authorized by 28 U.S.C. Section 2283 &
2284 and Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Northern District of Illinois is an appropriate venue under 28 U.S.C. section 1391 (b)(2)
because it is where the events giving rise to this claim occurred.
Plaintiff Walter Hey, is and was at all times mentioned herein a prisoner of the State of Illinois in
the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. He is currently confined in Illinois State Prison, in
Colby, Illinois.
Plaintiff Mohammed Abdul is and was at all times mentioned herein a prisoner of the State of
Illinois in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. He is currently confined in Illinois State
Prison, in Colby, Illinois.
Defendant John Smith is the Warden of Illinois State Prison. He is legally responsible for the
operation of Illinois State Prison and for the welfare of all the inmates of that prison.
Defendant Dave Thomas is a Correctional Officer of the Illinois Department of Corrections who,
at all times mentioned in this complaint, held the rank of prison guard and was assigned to Illinois State
Each defendant is sued individually and in his official capacity. At all times mentioned in this
complaint each defendant acted under the color of state law.

At all times relevant to this case, Plaintiffs Walter Hey and Mohammed Abdul shared a cell on
block D.
On June 29, 2009, Defendant Dave Thomas entered Hey and Abdul’s cell to conduct a routine
and scheduled cell search. Upon information and belief, Illinois State prison policy dictated that each cell
be searched once a week for contraband.
Thomas searched Hey and Abdul’s cell in their presence, and did not uncover any contraband.
Indeed, there was no contraband in their cell. After completing the search, Thomas told Hey to walk onto
the range so that he could talk to Abdul alone. Hey asked why. Thomas told him to shut up, and follow
the order.

Hey excited the cell and stood to the right of the cell, on the range. He could see into the cell.

After Hey left, Thomas told Abdul that Hey was a problem prisoner, was in “deep trouble” with
the prison administration, and that if Abdul knew what was good for him, he would tell Thomas what Hey
was up to.
When Abdul refused to say anything to Thomas about Hey, Thomas punched Abdul in the face.
The punch caused Abdul pain. Abdul’s left eye was bruised and swollen for approximately 4 days.
Thomas then got Hey from outside the cell, and told him that if he didn’t abandon the prison
grievance Hey had filed about racist comments Thomas made one week early at Hey’s disciplinary
hearing, he would “do the same” to Hey every single day. That grievance is attached as Exhibit A.
The following day, June 30, 2009, Thomas returned to Hey and Abdul’s cell, and asked Hey if he
had withdrawn the grievance. Hey replied that he had not. Thomas punched him in the right eye, causing
pain and swelling that lasted several days.
That same day, Hey and Abdul both requested sick call, and saw the prison medical tech
regarding the pain they were both experiencing. The tech prescribed aspirin, and noted bruising on their
medical files. Relevant pages of Hey and Abdul’s medical files are attached as Exhibit B.
Later that week, on July 2, 2009, Thomas again returned to Hey and Abdul’s cell and again asked
Hey if he had withdrawn the grievance. Hey said no. Thomas punched him again, this time in the
stomach, again causing pain and bruising. Thomas again stated that he would punch Hey every day until
he withdrew the grievance.
When Thomas opened the cell door to leave Hey and Abdul’s cell, Hey and Abdul saw that
Warden Thomas was outside the cell, looking in. Abdul asked the warden if he had seen what happened,
and what he was going to do about it. Warden Smith responded that “that is how we deal with snitches”
in Illinois State Prison.
The following week, July 4 – 11, Defendant Thomas returned to Plaintiffs’ cell each day, and
each day punched Hey.
Plaintiff Hey used the prisoner grievance procedure available at Illinois State prison to try and
solve the problem. On June 29, 2009 plaintiff Hey presented the facts relating to this complaint. On June
30, 2009 plaintiff Hey was sent a response saying that the grievance had been denied. On July 1, 2009 he

appealed the denial of the grievance to the warden. He received no response. Hey’s grievance and appeal
are attached as Exhibit C.
Plaintiff Abdul also used the prisoner grievance procedure available at Illinois State prison to try
and solve the problem. On June 30, 2009 plaintiff Abdul presented the facts relating to this complaint. On
June 30, 2009 plaintiff Abdul was sent a response saying that the grievance had been denied. On July 1,
2009 he appealed the denial of the grievance to the warden. He received no response. Abdul’s grievance
and appeal are attached at Exhibit D.

Plaintiffs reallege and incorporate by reference paragraphs 1-22.

Defendant Thomas used excessive force against Plaintiff Abdul by punching him in the face
when Abdul was not violating any prison rule, and was not acting disruptively. Defendant Thomas’s
action violated Plaintiff Abdul’s rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution,
and caused Plaintiff Abdul pain, suffering, physical injury and emotional distress.
Defendant Thomas used and continues to use excessive force against Plaintiff Hey by punching
him in the face repeatedly when Hey is not violating any prison rule, nor acting disruptively in any way.
Defendant Thomas’s action violated and continues to violate Plaintiff Hey’s rights under the Eighth
Amendment to the United States Constitution, and is causing Plaintiff Hey, pain, suffering, physical
injury and emotional distress.
By witnessing Defendant Thomas’s illegal action, failing to correct that misconduct, and
encouraging the continuation of the misconduct, Defendant Smith is also violating Plaintiff Hey’s rights
under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and causing Plaintiff Hey pain, suffering,
physical injury and emotional distress.
By threatening Plaintiff Hey with physical violence for exercise of his right to seek redress from
the prison through use of the prison grievance system, Defendant Thomas is retaliating against Plaintiff
Hey unlawfully, in violation of Plaintiff Hey’s rights under the First Amendment to the United States
Constitution. These illegal actions are causing Plaintiff Hey injury to his First Amendment rights.
Plaintiff Hey has no plain, adequate or complete remedy at law to redress the wrongs described
herein. Plaintiff has been and will continue to be irreparably injured by the conduct of the defendants
unless this court grants the declaratory and injunctive relief which plaintiff seeks.

WHEREFORE, plaintiffs respectfully pray that this court enter judgment:
Granting Plaintiff Hey a declaration that the acts and omissions described herein violate his rights
under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and
A preliminary and permanent injunction ordering defendants Thomas and Smith to cease their
physical violence and threats toward Plaintiff Hey, and
Granting Plaintiff Hey compensatory damages in the amount of $50,000 against each defendant,
jointly and severally.



Plaintiff Abdul seeks compensatory damages of $5,000 against defendant Thomas only.

Both plaintiffs seek punitive damages in the amount of $50,000. Plaintiff Hey seeks these
damages against each defendant, jointly and severally. Plaintiff Abdul seeks damages only against
defendant Thomas.

Plaintiffs also seek a jury trial on all issues triable by jury,


Plaintiffs also seek recovery of their costs in this suit, and


Any additional relief this court deems just, proper, and equitable.

Dated: July 13, 2009
Respectfully submitted,
Mohammed Abdul
Illinois State Prison,
PO Box 50000
Colby, IL
Walter Hey
Illinois State Prison,
PO Box 50000
Colby, IL
I have read the foregoing complaint and hereby verify that the matters alleged therein are true,
except as to matters alleged on information and belief, and, as to those, I believe them to be true. I certify
under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.
Executed at Colby, Illinois on July 13, 2009
Mohammed Abdul,
Mohammed Abdul
Walter Hey
Walter Hey

APPENDIX C (Next Two Pages) Î
Find a blank copy of the FTCA form on the following two pages.



INSTRUCTIONS: Please read carefully the instructions on the reverse side and
supply information requested on both sides of the form. Use additional sheet(s) if OMB NO.
necessary. See reverse side for additional instructions.

1. Submit To Appropriate Federal Agency:

2. Name, Address of claimant and claimant's personal representative, if any.
(See instructions on reverse.) (Number, street, city, State and Zip Code)


7. TIME (A.M. or P.M.)


8. Basis of Claim (State in detail the known facts and circumstances attending the damage, injury, or death, identifying persons and property
involved, the place of occurrence and the cause thereof) (Use additional pages if necessary.)

NAME AND ADDRESS OF OWNER, IF OTHER THAN CLAIMANT (Number, street, city, State, and Zip Code)

instructions on reverse side.)




12. (See instructions on reverse)

ADDRESS (Number, street, city, State, and Zip Code)

AMOUNT OF CLAIM (In dollars)

12d. TOTAL (Failure to specify may cause
forfeiture of your rights.)

13a. SIGNATURE OF CLAIMANT (See instructions on reverse side.)

The claimant shall forfeit and pay to the United States the sum of
$2,000 plus double the amount of damages sustained by the United
States. (See 31 U.S.C. 3729.)

Previous editions not usable.

NSN 7540-00-634-4046

13b. Phone number of signatory


Fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than 5 years
or both. (See 18 U.S.C. 287, 1001.)


STANDARD FORM 95 (Rev. 7-85) (EG)
28 CFR 14.2

This Notice is provided in accordance with the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. 552a(e)(3),
B. Principal Purpose: The information requested is to be used in evaluating claims.
and concerns the information requested in the letter to which this Notice is attached. C. Routine Use: See the Notices of Systems of Records for the agency to whom
you are submitting this form for this information.
A. Authority: The requested information is solicited pursuant to one or more of the D. Effect of Failure to Respond: Disclosure is voluntary. However, failure to supply
following: 5 U.S.C. 301, 38 U.S.C. 501 et seq., 28 U.S.C. 2671 et seq., 28 C.F.R.
the requested information or to execute the form may render your claim

Complete all items - insert the word NONE where applicable


Any instructions or information necessary in the preparation of your claim will be
furnished, upon request, by the office indicated in Item #1 on the reverse side.
Complete regulations pertaining to claims asserted under the Federal Tort Claims
Act can be found in Title 28, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 14. Many
agencies have published supplemental regulations also. If more than one agency is
involved, please state each agency.
The claim may be filed by a duly authorized agent or other legal representative,
provided evidence satisfactory to the Government is submitted with said claim
establishing express authority to act for the claimant. A claim presented by an
agent or legal representative must be presented in the name of the claimant. If the
claim is signed by the agent or legal representative, it must show the title or legal
capacity of the person signing and be accompanied by evidence of his/her
authority to present a claim on behalf of the claimant as agent, executor,
administrator, parent, guardian or other representative.
If claimant intends to file claim for both personal injury and property damage,
claim for both must be shown in Item 12 of this form.

(b) In support of claims for damage to property which has been or can be
economically repaired, the claimant should submit at least two itemized signed
statements or estimates by reliable, disinterested concerns, or, if payment has been
made, the itemized signed receipts evidencing payment.

The amount claimed should be substantiated by competent evidence as follows:
(a) In support of the claim for personal injury or death, the claimant should
submit a written report by the attending physician, showing the nature and extent
of injury, the nature and extent of treatment, the degree of permanent disability, if
any, the prognosis, and the period of hospitalization, or incapacitation, attaching
itemized bills for medical, hospital, or burial expenses actually incurred.

(c) In support of claims for damage to property which is not economically
repairable, or if the property is lost or destroyed, the claimant should submit
statements as to the original cost of the property, the date of purchase, and the
value of the property, both before and after the accident. Such statements should
be by disinterested competent persons, preferably reputable dealers or officials
familiar with the type of property damaged, or by two or more competitive bidders,
and should be certified as being just and correct.
(d) Failure to completely execute this form or to supply the requested material
within two years from the date the allegations accrued may render your claim
"invalid". A claim is deemed presented when it is received by the appropriate
agency, not when it is mailed.
Failure to specify a sum certain will result in invalid presentation of your claim and
may result in forfeiture of your rights.

Public reporting burden for this collection of information is estimated to average 15 minutes per response, including the time for reviewing instructions, searching existing
data sources, gathering and maintaining the data needed, and completing and reviewing the collection of information. Send comments regarding this burden estimate or
any other aspect of this collection of information, including suggestions for reducing this burden,
to Director, Torts Branch
and to the
Office of Management and Budget
Civil Division
Paperwork Reduction Project (1105-0008)
U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, DC 20503
Washington, DC 20530

In order that subrogation claims may be adjudicated, it is essential that the claimant provide the following information regarding the insurance coverage of his vehicle or property.
15. Do you carry accident insurance?

Yes, If yes, give name and address of insurance company (Number, street, city, State, and Zip Code) and policy number.

16. Have you filed claim on your insurance carrier in this instance, and if so, is it full coverage or deductible?


17. If deductible, state amount

18. If claim has been filed with your carrier, what action has your insurer taken or proposes to take with reference to your claim? (It is necessary that you ascertain these facts)

19. Do you carry public liability and property damage insurance?

Yes, If yes, give name and address of insurance company (Number, street, city, State, and Zip Code)



SF 95 (Rev. 7-85) BACK


2. Declaration for Entry of Default

More Legal Forms and Information

In the United States District Court
For the _____________________
Name of first plaintiff
in the case, et al.,
: Civil Action No.__
Name of first defendant
in the case, et al.,

Most of the legal forms that we discuss in this
handbook can be found within the chapters.
However, we have also placed some additional forms
in this appendix. Remember that these forms are
examples, and may not apply to your circumstances.

1. Motion for Leave to File an Amended
Below is one example of a Motion for Leave to File
an Amended Complaint. It is an example where the
plaintiff wants to add a new defendant. You could
also file this type of motion if you want to amend
your complaint to include more or different facts, or
add a new legal claim.

In the United States District Court
For the _____________________
Name of first plaintiff
in the case, et al.,
: Civil Action No.__
Name of first defendant
in the case, et al.,
Plaintiff [your name], pursuant to Rules 15(a) and 19(a),
Fed. R. Civ. P., requests leave to file an amended
complaint adding a party.
1. The plaintiff in his original complaint named a John Doe
2. Since the filing of the complaint the plaintiff has
determined that the name of the John Doe defendant is
[defendant’s name]. Paragraphs [paragraphs in which you
refer to John Doe] are amended to reflect the identity and
the actions of Officer {defendant’s name].
3. This Court should grant leave freely to amend a
complaint. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).
Respectfully submitted,
[Plaintiff’s name]
[Plaintiff’s Address]

[Your name], hereby declares:
I am the plaintiff herein. The complaint herein
was filled on the [day you filed the complaint] of [month,
year you filed the complaint].
The court files and record herein show that the
Defendants were served by the United States Marshal with
a copy of summons, and a copy of the Plaintiffs’ complaint
on the [day of service] of [month, year of service].
More than 20 days have elapsed since the date on
which the Defendants herein were served with summons
and a copy of Plaintiffs’ complaint, excluding the date
The Defendants have failed to answer or
otherwise defend as to Plaintiffs’ complaint, or serve a
copy of any answer or any defense which it might have
had, upon affiant or any other plaintiff herein.
Defendants are not in the military service and are
not infants or incompetents.
I declare under penalty of perjury that the
foregoing is true and correct. Executed at (city and state)
on (date).

3. Motion for Judgment by Default
You only need to submit this Motion if the court
clerk enters a default against the defendant.
In the United States District Court
For the _____________________
Name of first plaintiff
in the case, et al.,
: Civil Action No.__


Name of first defendant
in the case, et al.,
Plaintiffs move this court for a judgment by
default in this action, and show that the complaint in the
above case was filed in this court on the [date filed] day of
[month, year filed]; the summons and complaint were duly
served on the Defendant, [Defendants’ names] on the [date
served] day of [month, year served]; no answer or other
defense has been filed by the Defendant; default was
entered in the civil docket in the office of this clerk on the
[day default entered] day of [month, year default entered];
no proceedings have been taken by the Defendant since the
default was entered; Defendant was not in military service
and is not an infant or incompetent as appears in the
declaration of [your name] submitted herewith.
Wherefore, plaintiff moves that this court make
and enter a judgment that [same as prayer for relief in

Dated: ________
[your signature]
Plaintiffs’ Names and Addresses

4. Notice of Appeal
In the United States District Court
For the _____________________
Name of first plaintiff
in the case, et al.,
: Notice of Appeal
Name of first defendant
in the case, et al.,
Notice is hereby given that [
(here name all
parties taking the appeal)
, plaintiffs in the above
named case,] hereby appeal to the United States Court of
Appeals for the _________ Circuit (from the final
judgment) (from an order (describing it)) entered in this
action on the __________ day of ______, 20___

Dated: ________
[your signature]
Plaintiffs’ Names and Addresses

Constitutional Amendments
In this section you will find the text of the
Constitutional Amendments which we refer to
throughout this handbook. We have not included the
Articles of the Constitution, which are descriptions of
the duties of the Executive (the President), Judicial,
and Legislative Branches of government, because
they are not relevant to filing a Section 1983 claim.
The Bill of Rights and Amendments
to the U.S. Constitution
Note: The first ten amendments to the Constitution are
what is known as the "Bill of Rights."
The Preamble to the Bill of Rights
ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the
Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by
Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several
States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original
Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or
abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the
right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition
the Government for a redress of grievances.
Amendment II
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of
a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,
shall not be infringed.
Amendment III
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any
house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of
war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons,
houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches
and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall
issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or
affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be
searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or
otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or
indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the
land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual
service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any
person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in
jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any
criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be
deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process


of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use,
without just compensation.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the
Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved
to the States respectively, or to the people.

votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and
transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United
States, directed to the President of the Senate; -- the
President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate
and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and
the votes shall then be counted; -- The person having the
greatest number of votes for President, shall be the
President, if such number be a majority of the whole
number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such
majority, then from the persons having the highest
numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for
as President, the House of Representatives shall choose
immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the
President, the votes shall be taken by states, the
representation from each state having one vote; a quorum
for this purpose shall consist of a member or members
from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the
states shall be necessary to a choice. [And if the House of
Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the
right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth
day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall
act as President, as in case of the death or other
constitutional disability of the President. --]* The person
having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President,
shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority
of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no
person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers
on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a
quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the
whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole
number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person
constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be
eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.
*Superseded by section 3 of the 20th amendment.

Amendment XI
Passed by Congress March 4, 1794. Ratified February 7,
Note: Article III, section 2, of the Constitution was
modified by amendment 11.

Amendment XIII
Passed by Congress January 31, 1865. Ratified December
6, 1865.
Note: A portion of Article IV, section 2, of the
Constitution was superseded by the 13th amendment.

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be
construed to extend to any suit in law or equity,
commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States
by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of
any Foreign State.

Section 1.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a
punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been
duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any
place subject to their jurisdiction.

Amendment XII
Passed by Congress December 9, 1803. Ratified June 15,
1804. Note: A portion of Article II, section 1 of the
Constitution was superseded by the 12th amendment.

Section 2.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by
appropriate legislation.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the
right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of
the State and district wherein the crime shall have been
committed, which district shall have been previously
ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and
cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the
witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for
obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the
Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
Amendment VII
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy
shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall
be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise
re-examined in any Court of the United States, than
according to the rules of the common law.
Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines
imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall
not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by
the people.

The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote
by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom,
at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with
themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person
voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person
voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct
lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all
persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of

Amendment XIV
Passed by Congress June 13, 1866. Ratified July 9, 1868.
Note: Article I, section 2, of the Constitution was modified
by section 2 of the 14th amendment.
Section 1.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and
subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the
United States and of the State wherein they reside. No


State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge
the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United
States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life,
liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny
to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of
the laws.

on account of race, color, or previous condition of

Section 2.
Representatives shall be apportioned among the several
States according to their respective numbers, counting the
whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians
not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the
choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the
United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive
and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the
Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male
inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age,*
and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged,
except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the
basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the
proportion which the number of such male citizens shall
bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one
years of age in such State.

Amendment XVI
Passed by Congress July 2, 1909. Ratified February 3,
1913. Note: Article I, section 9, of the Constitution was
modified by amendment 16.
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on
incomes, from whatever source derived, without
apportionment among the several States, and without
regard to any census or enumeration.

Section 3.
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in
Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or
hold any office, civil or military, under the United States,
or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath,
as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United
States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an
executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the
Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in
insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or
comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a
vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.


Section 4.
The validity of the public debt of the United States,
authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of
pensions and bounties for services in suppressing
insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But
neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay
any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or
rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the
loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts,
obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Section 5.
The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by
appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
*Changed by section 1 of the 26th amendment.
Amendment XV
Passed by Congress February 26, 1869. Ratified February
3, 1870.
Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not
be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State

Section 2.
The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article
by appropriate legislation.

Excerpts from the PLRA
See also Chapter Two, Section F for some
descriptions of these provisions.

18 U.S.C. § 3626(h). Definitions. […]
(2) the term "civil action with respect to prison conditions"
means any civil proceeding arising under Federal law with
respect to the conditions of confinement or the effects of
actions by government officials on the lives of persons
confined in prison, but does not include habeas corpus
proceedings challenging the fact or duration of
confinement in prison;
(3) the term "prisoner" means any person subject to
incarceration, detention, or admission to any facility who
is accused of, convicted of, sentenced for, or adjudicated
delinquent for, violations of criminal law or the terms and
conditions of parole, probation, pretrial release, or
diversionary program; […]
(5) the term "prison" means any Federal, State, or local
facility that incarcerates or detains juveniles or adults
accused of, convicted of, sentenced for, or adjudicated
delinquent for, violations of criminal law;

18 U.S.C. § 3626. Appropriate remedies with respect to
prison conditions
(a) Requirements for relief.
(1) Prospective relief.— (A) Prospective relief in any civil
action with respect to prison conditions shall extend no
further than necessary to correct the violation of the
Federal right of a particular plaintiff or plaintiffs. The
court shall not grant or approve any prospective relief
unless the court finds that such relief is narrowly drawn,
extends no further than necessary to correct the violation
of the Federal right, and is the least intrusive means
necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right. The
court shall give substantial weight to any adverse impact
on public safety or the operation of a criminal justice


system caused by the relief. (B) The court shall not order
any prospective relief that requires or permits a
government official to exceed his or her authority under
State or local law or otherwise violates State or local law,
unless-(i) Federal law requires such relief to be ordered in
violation of State or local law; (ii) the relief is necessary to
correct the violation of a Federal right; and (iii) no other
relief will correct the violation of the Federal right.
(C) Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize
the courts, in exercising their remedial powers, to order the
construction of prisons or the raising of taxes, or to repeal
or detract from otherwise applicable limitations on the
remedial powers of the courts.
(2) Preliminary injunctive relief.--In any civil action
with respect to prison conditions, to the extent otherwise
authorized by law, the court may enter a temporary
restraining order or an order for preliminary injunctive
relief. Preliminary injunctive relief must be narrowly
drawn, extend no further than necessary to correct the
harm the court finds requires preliminary relief, and be the
least intrusive means necessary to correct that harm. The
court shall give substantial weight to any adverse impact
on public safety or the operation of a criminal justice
system caused by the preliminary relief and shall respect
the principles of comity set out in paragraph (1)(B) in
tailoring any preliminary relief. Preliminary injunctive
relief shall automatically expire on the date that is 90 days
after its entry, unless the court makes the findings required
under subsection (a)(1) for the entry of prospective relief
and makes the order final before the expiration of the 90day period.
(3) Prisoner release order.--(A) In any civil action with
respect to prison conditions, no court shall enter a prisoner
release order unless—
(i) a court has previously entered an order for less intrusive
relief that has failed to remedy the deprivation of the
Federal right sought to be remedied through the prisoner
release order; and
(ii) the defendant has had a reasonable amount of time to
comply with the previous court orders.
(B) In any civil action in Federal court with respect to
prison conditions, a prisoner release order shall be entered
only by a three-judge court in accordance with section
2284 of title 28, if the requirements of subparagraph (E)
have been met. (C) A party seeking a prisoner release
order in Federal court shall file with any request for such
relief, a request for a three-judge court and materials
sufficient to demonstrate that the requirements of
subparagraph (A) have been met. (D) If the requirements
under subparagraph (A) have been met, a Federal judge
before whom a civil action with respect to prison
conditions is pending who believes that a prison release
order should be considered may sua sponte request the
convening of a three-judge court to determine whether a
prisoner release order should be entered. (E) The threejudge court shall enter a prisoner release order only if the
court finds by clear and convincing evidence that--

(i) crowding is the primary cause of the violation of a
Federal right; and (ii) no other relief will remedy the
violation of the Federal right.
(F) Any State or local official including a legislator or unit
of government whose jurisdiction or function includes the
appropriation of funds for the construction, operation, or
maintenance of prison facilities, or the prosecution or
custody of persons who may be released from, or not
admitted to, a prison as a result of a prisoner release order
shall have standing to oppose the imposition or
continuation in effect of such relief and to seek termination
of such relief, and shall have the right to intervene in any
proceeding relating to such relief.
(b) Termination of relief.-(1) Termination of prospective relief.--(A) In any civil
action with respect to prison conditions in which
prospective relief is ordered, such relief shall be terminable
upon the motion of any party or intervener-(i) 2 years after the date the court granted or approved the
prospective relief; (ii) 1 year after the date the court has
entered an order denying termination of prospective relief
under this paragraph; or (iii) in the case of an order issued
on or before the date of enactment of the Prison Litigation
Reform Act, 2 years after such date of enactment.
(B) Nothing in this section shall prevent the parties from
agreeing to terminate or modify relief before the relief is
terminated under subparagraph (A).
(2) Immediate termination of prospective relief.--In any
civil action with respect to prison conditions, a defendant
or intervener shall be entitled to the immediate termination
of any prospective relief if the relief was approved or
granted in the absence of a finding by the court that the
relief is narrowly drawn, extends no further than necessary
to correct the violation of the Federal right, and is the least
intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the
Federal right.
(3) Limitation.--Prospective relief shall not terminate if
the court makes written findings based on the record that
prospective relief remains necessary to correct a current
and ongoing violation of the Federal right, extends no
further than necessary to correct the violation of the
Federal right, and that the prospective relief is narrowly
drawn and the least intrusive means to correct the
(4) Termination or modification of relief.--Nothing in
this section shall prevent any party or intervener from
seeking modification or termination before the relief is
terminable under paragraph (1) or (2), to the extent that
modification or termination would otherwise be legally
(c) Settlements.-(1) Consent decrees.--In any civil action with respect to
prison conditions, the court shall not enter or approve a
consent decree unless it complies with the limitations on
relief set forth in subsection (a).
(2) Private settlement agreements.--(A) Nothing in this
section shall preclude parties from entering into a private
settlement agreement that does not comply with the
limitations on relief set forth in subsection (a), if the terms
of that agreement are not subject to court enforcement


other than the reinstatement of the civil proceeding that the
agreement settled. (B) Nothing in this section shall
preclude any party claiming that a private settlement
agreement has been breached from seeking in State court
any remedy available under State law.
(d) State law remedies.--The limitations on remedies in
this section shall not apply to relief entered by a State court
based solely upon claims arising under State law.
(e) Procedure for motions affecting prospective relief.-(1) Generally.--The court shall promptly rule on any
motion to modify or terminate prospective relief in a civil
action with respect to prison conditions. Mandamus shall
lie to remedy any failure to issue a prompt ruling on such a
(2) Automatic stay.--Any motion to modify or terminate
prospective relief made under subsection (b) shall operate
as a stay during the period-- (A)(i) beginning on the 30th
day after such motion is filed, in the case of a motion made
under paragraph (1) or (2) of subsection (b); or (ii)
beginning on the 180th day after such motion is filed, in
the case of a motion made under any other law; and (B)
ending on the date the court enters a final order ruling on
the motion.
(3) Postponement of automatic stay.--The court may
postpone the effective date of an automatic stay specified
in subsection (e)(2)(A) for not more than 60 days for good
cause. No postponement shall be permissible because of
general congestion of the court's calendar.
(4) Order blocking the automatic stay.--Any order
staying, suspending, delaying, or barring the operation of
the automatic stay described in paragraph (2) (other than
an order to postpone the effective date of the automatic
stay under paragraph (3)) shall be treated as an order
refusing to dissolve or modify an injunction and shall be
appealable pursuant to section 1292(a)(1) of title 28,
United States Code, regardless of how the order is styled
or whether the order is termed a preliminary or a final
(f) Special masters.-(1) In general.--(A) In any civil action in a Federal court
with respect to prison conditions, the court may appoint a
special master who shall be disinterested and objective and
who will give due regard to the public safety, to conduct
hearings on the record and prepare proposed findings of
fact. (B) The court shall appoint a special master under this
subsection during the remedial phase of the action only
upon a finding that the remedial phase will be sufficiently
complex to warrant the appointment.
(2) Appointment.--(A) If the court determines that the
appointment of a special master is necessary, the court
shall request that the defendant institution and the plaintiff
each submit a list of not more than 5 persons to serve as a
special master. (B) Each party shall have the opportunity
to remove up to 3 persons from the opposing party's list.
(C) The court shall select the master from the persons
remaining on the list after the operation of subparagraph
(3) Interlocutory appeal.--Any party shall have the right
to an interlocutory appeal of the judge's selection of the

special master under this subsection, on the ground of
(4) Compensation.--The compensation to be allowed to a
special master under this section shall be based on an
hourly rate not greater than the hourly rate established
under section 3006A for payment of court-appointed
counsel, plus costs reasonably incurred by the special
master. Such compensation and costs shall be paid with
funds appropriated to the Judiciary.
(5) Regular review of appointment.--In any civil action
with respect to prison conditions in which a special master
is appointed under this subsection, the court shall review
the appointment of the special master every 6 months to
determine whether the services of the special master
continue to be required under paragraph (1). In no event
shall the appointment of a special master extend beyond
the termination of the relief.
(6) Limitations on powers and duties.--A special master
appointed under this subsection-- (A) may be authorized
by a court to conduct hearings and prepare proposed
findings of fact, which shall be made on the record; (B)
shall not make any findings or communications ex parte;
(C) may be authorized by a court to assist in the
development of remedial plans; and (D) may be removed
at any time, but shall be relieved of the appointment upon
the termination of relief.
(g) Definitions.--As used in this section-- (1) the term
"consent decree" means any relief entered by the court that
is based in whole or in part upon the consent or
acquiescence of the parties but does not include private
settlements; (2) the term "civil action with respect to
prison conditions" means any civil proceeding arising
under Federal law with respect to the conditions of
confinement or the effects of actions by government
officials on the lives of persons confined in prison, but
does not include habeas corpus proceedings challenging
the fact or duration of confinement in prison; (3) the term
"prisoner" means any person subject to incarceration,
detention, or admission to any facility who is accused of,
convicted of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for,
violations of criminal law or the terms and conditions of
parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary program;
(4) the term "prisoner release order" includes any order,
including a temporary restraining order or preliminary
injunctive relief, that has the purpose or effect of reducing
or limiting the prison population, or that directs the release
from or nonadmission of prisoners to a prison; (5) the term
"prison" means any Federal, State, or local facility that
incarcerates or detains juveniles or adults accused of,
convicted of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for,
violations of criminal law; (6) the term "private settlement
agreement" means an agreement entered into among the
parties that is not subject to judicial enforcement other than
the reinstatement of the civil proceeding that the
agreement settled; (7) the term "prospective relief" means
all relief other than compensatory monetary damages; (8)
the term "special master" means any person appointed by a
Federal court pursuant to Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure or pursuant to any inherent power of the
court to exercise the powers of a master, regardless of the


title or description given by the court; and (9) the term
"relief" means all relief in any form that may be granted or
approved by the court, and includes consent decrees but
does not include private settlement agreements.

42 U.S.C. § 1997e
(a). Applicability of administrative remedies.
No action shall be brought with respect to prison
conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other
Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or
other correctional facility until such administrative
remedies as are available are exhausted.
(b) Failure of State to adopt or adhere to
administrative grievance procedure
The failure of a State to adopt or adhere to an
administrative grievance procedure shall not constitute the
basis for an action under section 1997a or 1997c of this
(c) Dismissal.
(1) The court shall on its own motion or on the motion of
a party dismiss any action brought with respect to prison
conditions under section 1979 of the Revised Statutes of
the United States (42 U.S.C. 1983), or any other Federal
law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other
correctional facility if the court is satisfied that the action
is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from such relief.
(2) In the event that a claim is, on its face, frivolous,
malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is
immune from such relief, the court may dismiss the
underlying claim without first requiring the exhaustion of
administrative remedies.
(d) Attorney's fees.
(1) In any action brought by a prisoner who is confined
to any jail, prison, or other correctional facility, in which
attorney's fees are authorized under section 2 of the
Revised Statutes of the United States (42 U.S.C. 1988),
such fees shall not be awarded, except to the extent that-(A) the fee was directly and reasonably incurred in
proving an actual violation of the plaintiff's rights
protected by a statute pursuant to which a fee may be
awarded under section 2 [722] of the Revised Statutes; and
(i) the amount of the fee is proportionately related to
the court ordered relief for the violation; or
(ii) the fee was directly and reasonably incurred in
enforcing the relief ordered for the violation.
(2) Whenever a monetary judgment is awarded in an
action described in paragraph (1), a portion of the
judgment (not to exceed 25 percent) shall be applied to
satisfy the amount of attorney's fees awarded against the
defendant. If the award of attorney's fees is not greater than
150 percent of the judgment, the excess shall be paid by
the defendant.

(3) No award of attorney's fees in an action described in
paragraph (1) shall be based on an hourly rate greater than
150 percent of the hourly rate established under section
3006A of title 18, United States Code, for payment of
court-appointed counsel.
(4) Nothing in this subsection shall prohibit a prisoner
from entering into an agreement to pay an attorney's fee in
an amount greater than the amount authorized under this
subsection, if the fee is paid by the individual rather than
by the defendant pursuant to section 2 [722] of the Revised
Statutes of the United States (42 U.S.C. 1988).
(e) Limitation on recovery. No Federal civil action may
be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison, or other
correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury
suffered while in custody without a prior showing of
physical injury.

Universal Declaration of
Human Rights
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the
equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human
family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in
the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have
resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the
conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which
human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and
freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the
highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to
have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny
and oppression, that human rights should be protected by
the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of
friendly relations between nations,
Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the
Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights,
in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the
equal rights of men and women and have determined to
promote social progress and better standards of life in
larger freedom,
Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to
achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the
promotion of universal respect for and observance of
human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Whereas a common understanding of these rights and
freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full
realization of this pledge,


Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims
RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all
peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual
and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration
constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education
to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by
progressive measures, national and international, to secure
their universal and effective recognition and observance,
both among the peoples of Member States themselves and
among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and
rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and
should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 2.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth
in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as
race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other
opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other
status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the
basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status
of the country or territory to which a person belongs,
whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or
under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Article 3.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of
Article 4.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and
the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
Article 5.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 6.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a
person before the law.
Article 7.
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any
discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are
entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in
violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to
such discrimination.
Article 8.
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the
competent national tribunals for acts violating the
fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by
Article 9.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or

Article 10.
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public
hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the
determination of his rights and obligations and of any
criminal charge against him.
Article 11.
(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to
be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law
in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees
necessary for his defence.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on
account of any act or omission which did not constitute a
penal offence, under national or international law, at the
time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty
be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the
penal offence was committed.
Article 12.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his
privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks
upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to
the protection of the law against such interference or
Article 13.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and
residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including
his own, and to return to his country.
Article 14.
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other
countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of
prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes
or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the
United Nations.
Article 15.
(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality
nor denied the right to change his nationality.
Article 16.
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due
to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and
to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to
marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and
full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of
society and is entitled to protection by society and the
Article 17.
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as
in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.


Article 18.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience
and religion; this right includes freedom to change his
religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in
community with others and in public or private, to
manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice,
worship and observance.
Article 19.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and
expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions
without interference and to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas through any media and regardless of
Article 20.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly
and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
Article 21.
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government
of his country, directly or through freely chosen
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service
in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority
of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and
genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal
suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent
free voting procedures.
Article 22.
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social
security and is entitled to realization, through national
effort and international co-operation and in accordance
with the organization and resources of each State, of the
economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his
dignity and the free development of his personality.
Article 23.
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of
employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and
to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to
equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and
favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his
family an existence worthy of human dignity, and
supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions
for the protection of his interests.
Article 24.
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including
reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic
holidays with pay.

Article 25.
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate
for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,
including food, clothing, housing and medical care and
necessary social services, and the right to security in the
event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood,
old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond
his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care
and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of
wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
Article 26.
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be
free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.
Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and
professional education shall be made generally available
and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on
the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of
the human personality and to the strengthening of respect
for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall
promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all
nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the
activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of
education that shall be given to their children.
Article 27.
(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the
cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to
share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral
and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary
or artistic production of which he is the author.
Article 28.
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in
which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration
can be fully realized.
Article 29.
(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone
the free and full development of his personality is possible.
(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone
shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined
by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition
and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of
meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and
the general welfare in a democratic society.
(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised
contrary to the purposes and principles of the United
Article 30.
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying
for any State, group or person any right to engage in any
activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of
any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.


Legal organization that brings impact cases around prison
conditions, co-publisher of this handbook.

Sources of Legal Support
Below is a short list of other organizations working
on prison issues, mainly with a legal focus. When
writing to these groups, please remember a few



Write simply and specifically, but don’t try and
write like you think a lawyer would. Be direct in
explaining yourself and what you are looking for.
It is best not to send any legal documents unless
they are requested. If or when you do send legal
documents, only send copies. Hold on to your
original paperwork.
Because of rulings like the PLRA and limited
funding, many organizations are small, have
limited resources and volunteer staff. It may take
some time for them to answer your letters. But
always keep writing.

Please note: The contact information for these
resources is current as of the printing of this
Handbook in 2011.
Do not send money for publications unless you
have verified the address of the organization first.
Aid to Children of Imprisoned Mothers, Inc.
906 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. SW
Atlanta, GA 30310
Information for incarcerated mothers.
American Civil Liberties Union National Office
125 Broad Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004
The biggest civil liberties organization in the country.
They have a National Prison Project and a Reproductive
Freedom Project, which might be helpful to women
prisoners. Write them for information about individual
chapters. See Appendix J for some of their publications for
people in prison.
American Friends Service Committee Criminal Justice
Program – National
1501 Cherry Street, Philadelphia PA, 19102
Human and civil rights issues, research/analysis, women
prisoners, prisoner support.
California Prison Focus
1904 Franklin St., Suite 507, Oakland, CA 94612
Publish a quarterly magazine, Prison Focus, and other
publications. Focuses organizing efforts on CA and on
SHU conditions.
Center for Constitutional Rights
666 Broadway, 7th floor, New York, NY 10012

Criminal Justice Policy Coalition
15 Barbara St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Involved in policy work around numerous prison issues.
Critical Resistance, National Office
1904 Franklin St., Suite 504, Oakland, CA 94612
Uniting people in prison, former prisoners, and family
members to lead a movement to abolish prisons, policing,
surveillance, and other forms of control.
Family and Corrections Network
32 Oak Grove Road, Palmyra, VA 22963
Federal Resource Center for Children of Prisoners
Child Welfare League of America
1726 M St. NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC, 20036
Friends and Families of Incarcerated Persons
PO Box 93601, Las Vegas, NV, 89193
Legal resources for friends and families of prisoners.
Human Rights Watch Prison Project
350 5th Ave. 34th Floor New York NY 10118-3299
National organization dedicated to research, analysis, and
publicizing human rights violations, and working towards
stopping them.
Immigration Equality, Inc. (only for lesbian, gay,
bisexual, transgender, and HIV + immigrants)
40 Exchange Place, 17th Floor, New York, NY 10005
Lambda Legal (only for gay, lesbian, bisexual,
transgender, & HIV+ people)
120 Wall Street, Suite 1500, New York, NY 10005-3904
English, Spanish
Legal Publications in Spanish, Inc.
Publicaciones Legales en Espanol, Inc.
PO Box 623, Palisades Park, NJ 07650
Legal resources in Spanish, focusing mostly on criminal
defense and federal courts.
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
1540 Market St., Suite 490, San Francisco, CA 94102
Legal resources and issues around women in prison,
including guides and manuals for people in prison with
National Center for Lesbian Rights (only for gay,
lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people)
870 Market St. Ste. 370, San Francisco, CA 94102
English, Spanish
National Clearinghouse for the
Defense of Battered Women
125 South 9th Street #302, Philadelphia PA 19107
Legal and other assistance for battered women.


National Lawyers Guild, National Office
132 Nassau Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10038
Membership organization of progressive lawyers. Copublisher of this Handbook.
Partnership for Safety and Justice – Prison Program
825 N.E. 20th Ave., #250, Portland, OR 97232
Produces a Prisoner Support Directory, advocates for
programs for prisoners, visitors’ rights, and against
legislation that erodes the human rights of people in
Peter Cicchino Youth Project of the Urban Justice
Center (only for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
youth age 24 or under)
123 William Street 16th Floor, New York, NY, 10038
English, Spanish
Prison Activist Resource Center
PO Box 70447, Oakland, CA 94612
Clearinghouse for information and resources on organizing
for prisoners rights, prison issues, anti-racism. Produce a
free directory / resource packet for people in prison.
Prison Law Office - San Quentin
General Delivery, San Quentin CA 94964
Legal services and resources in California for individual
prisoners and class actions. Publishers of The California
State Prisoners Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to
Prison and Parole Law
Prisoner Self Help Legal Clinic
Very good self-help legal kits on a variety of issues,
available only electronically at
Southern Center for Human Rights
83 Poplar St. NW Atlanta, GA, 30303-2122
Provides legal representation to people facing the death
penalty, challenges human rights violations in prisons and
jails. Legal resources are available.
Southern Poverty Law Center
P.O. Box 548 Montgomery AL 36101
Legal resources and publications, including Prisoner
Diabetes Handbook and Protecting Your Health and
Safety: Prisoners Rights. Also files class-action suits
around prison conditions.
Sylvia Rivera Law Project (only for low income people
and people of color who are trans, intersex, or gender
322 8th Ave., 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10001
English, Spanish, Hindi
TGI Justice Project (only for transgender, gender
variant, and intersex people)
c/o Alexander Lee, Attorney at Law
342 9th St., 202B, San Francisco, CA 94103

Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois (only for
trans and gender variant people)
2040 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60647

Sources of Publicity
The best way to publicize your case is to have a
contact, like a family member or a friend, who is on
the outside do the work for you. They will have much
more access to the media, the internet, and
communications in general.
Make sure it is someone you trust, who also has time
to dedicate to the work, and who will be honest about
what they can and cannot do. Provide them with
detailed and specific information regarding your case,
but remember to keep any original paperwork you
may have.
If you decide to go about publicizing your case
yourself, we have provided a short list of places you
can write to, besides the support organizations
already mentioned. Again, when writing, be specific
and focus on what you believe are the main points of
your case. You will also want to always include a
cover letter, briefly introducing yourself and telling
the publication why you are writing them.
Z Magazine
18 Millfield Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543
A progressive, national magazine that is always looking
for writing submissions.
Pacifica Radio, National Office
1925 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94704
Progressive radio, often covering stories on prisoners and
prison issues.
PO Box 228, Petrolia, CA 95558
Alternative media magazine, covering issues not addressed
by mainstream media.
The Progressive
409 East Main Street, Madison, WI 53703
Excellent leftist magazine.
157-B Bridgetown Pike #254, Mullica Hill, NJ 08062
Weekly internet publication focusing on African-American
issues and radical politics. Best contacted by internet at if you have a friend on the


The Nation
33 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003
Highly acclaimed national progressive publication. Best if
contacted through if you have a friend
on the outside. Send poetry submissions to the address


Cohen and Olson’s Legal Research in a Nutshell, 8th
Edition. West Publishing, 610 Opperman Drive,
Eagan, MN 55123. Cost is $33.00.


Fortune News. Newsletter from the Fortune Society,
specifically for prisoners. The majority of the writers
are prisoners / ex-prisoners. Free. Write to: The
Fortune Societies, Attn: Fortune News Subscriptions,
29-76 Northern Blvd, Long Island City, NY 11101.


Introduction to the Legal System of the United
States. This publication will help you understand the
principles of the U.S. legal system. Send $33.00 and
order to: Oxford University Press, 2001 Evans Road,
Cary, NC 27513


Law Offices of Alan Ellis, PC. Attorney Alan Ellis
has a number of publications available., including the
Federal Prison Guidebook for $85.98 (CA residents
add $6.52 sales tax). To order the Guidebook, write to:
James Publishing, Inc., P.O. Box 25202, Santa Ana,
CA 92799-5202. Many free resources available online
at, if you have a friend on the
outside to help.


Osborne Association – publishes Parenting from
Inside/Out: The Voices of Mothers in Prison, $12.00.
809 Westchester Ave., Bronx, NY 10455


The Prisoners’ Guide to Survival. A comprehensive
legal assitance manual for post-conviction relief and
prisoners’ civil rights. For prisoners, send $54.95 to:
PSI Publishing, Inc., 413-B 19th Street, #168, Lynden,
WA 98264


Prison Legal News. A monthly newsletter.
Highly recommended. The best source of the
latest prison-related legal news. A 12 month
subscription is $24. Send check and order to:
P.O. Box 2420, West Battleboro, VT 05303.


The Prisoners’ Assistance Directory is published by
the American Civil Liberties Union Prison Project. It
includes contact information and services descriptions
for over 300 national, state, local and international
organizations that provide assistance to prisoners, exoffenders and families of prisoners. It also includes a
bibliography of informative books, reports, manuals
and newsletters of interest to prisoners and their
advocates. Latest edition was updated in 2007. It can
be downloaded for free at . They also
publish a newsletter twice a year that is $2 for
prisoners. Send a check or money order to National
Prison Project Publications, 915 15th St., NW, 7th
Floor Washington, DC 20005.

Prisoners’ Rights Books and
A list of printed publications and books that you can
order for further assistance. Please note that prices
may change on many of the publications. Before you
send money, please verify the address and price
with the organization.
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure with forms - $21.00
Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure with forms - $8.00
If convicted of a federal crime, you can request the
Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure for $11.00 and the
Federal Rules of Evidence for $8.00. These books will
not assist state prisoners.
All prices include postage. Write to:
U.S. Government Printing Office
P.O. Box 979050, St. Louis, MO 63197-9000
(Check or money order payable to “Superintendent of


The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. Write
to: Attn Business Office, Bluebook Orders, Harvard
Law Review Association, Gannett House, 1511
Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138. Cost is
$32.00 plus shipping.


Brief Writing and Oral Argument, 9th edition.
Guidance on preparing effective oral and written
arguments, especially relating to the Courts of
Appeals. Send $50.50 and order to: Oxford University
Press, 2001 Evans Road, Cary, NC 27513


Columbia University Jailhouse Lawyers Manual is
an excellent resource, updated every two years.
Highly recommended, especially if you are
incarcerated in New York state. Please refer to the full
page order form at the end of this handbook.


Constitutional Rights of Prisoners, 9th edition.
Unfortunately, this is no longer available directly from
the publisher, but family members can order through
bookstores like


Prisoners Self-Help Litigation Manual, 4th
Edition. Highly recommended. The Fourth
Edition of this well-respected resource was
published in 2010. It is a very detailed book on
prisoners’ constitutional and federal rights, as
well as information on how to file and proceed
with a lawsuit. It includes lots of citations to
relevant cases. Send $39.95 and order to: Oxford
University Press, 2001 Evans Road, Cary, NC

Portland Books to Prisoners
P.O. Box 11222, Portland, OR 97211
Prison Books Collective c/o Internationalist Books
405 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Ships books mostly to prisoners in MS, AL, and NC,
maintains an extensive radical ‘zine catalog, and publishes
prisoners’ art and writing.
Books to Prisoners c/o Left Bank Books
92 Pike St., Box A, Seattle, WA 98101

‰ Protecting Your Health & Safety is a publication of
the Southern Poverty Law Center, and explains the
legal rights inmates have regarding health and safety –
including the right to medical care and to be free from
inhumane treatment. Send $16 and your request to:
Protecting Your Health and Safety, Prison Legal
News, P. O. Box 2420, West Battleboro, VT 05303.

Prison Book Program c/o Lucy Parsons Bookstore
1306 Hancock St., Suite 100, Hancock, MA 02169

‰ Women in Prison Health Packet. A health manual
free for women prisoners. Send requests to: Oberlin
Action Against Prisons, P.O. Box 285 Oberlin, OH

UC Books to Prisoners
Box 515, Urbana, IL 61803
Ships books only in IL.

Free Book Programs

Midwest Pages to Prisoners c/o Boxcar Books
408 E. 6th St., Bloomington, IN 47408
Ships books to AZ, AR, FL, IA, IN, KS, KY, MN, MO,

Books 2 Prisoners c/o Iron Rail
1631 Elysian Fields #117, New Orleans, LA 70117
Ships books only in LA.
Olympia Books to Prisoners
P.O. Box 912, Olympia, WA 98507

Books Through Bars & Free Book Programs
There are many unaffiliated chapters that send books to
prisoners for free or low cost. Most places request that you
let them know which category of books you are interested
in, so if they don’t have a specific book you are asking for,
they can send you something similar. Be aware that it may
take several months to receive books, due to the volume of
requests. Unless otherwise noted, the programs ship books
to prisoners anywhere in the U.S. The addresses and
information were current as of this printing.

Books to Prisoners c/o Quixote Center
P.O. Box 5206, Hyattsville, MD 20782
Appalachian Prison Book Project
P.O. Box 601, Morgantown, WV 26507
Ships books to WV, VA, MD, OH, KY, and TN.
Inside Books Project c/o 12th Street Books
827 W. 12th St., Austin, TX 78701
Ships books only in TX.

Books Through Bars
4722 Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia, PA, 19143
Will only send books to prisoners in: PA, NJ, NY, DE,
MD, VA, and WV.

Prison Book Project
P.O. Box 396, Amherst, MA 01004
Ships books only in New England and TX.

Books Through Bars, c/o Bluestockings Bookstore
172 Allen Street, New York, NY 10002

Prisoners Literature Project c/o
Bound Together Bookstore
1369 Haight St., San Francisco, CA 94117

Providence Books Through Bars c/o Myopic Books
5 S. Angell Street, Providence, RI 02906
Chicago Books to Women in Prison c/o BeyondMedia
4001 N. Ravenswood Ave., #204C, Chicago, IL 60613
Ship books to women in prison only.
Midwest Books to Prisoners c/o Quimby’s Bookstore
1321 N. Milwaukee Ave., PMB #460, Chicago, IL 60622
Ships books to IL, WI, MN, MO, IA, KS, IN, and NE

Prison Library Project
P.M.B. 128, 915-C W. Foothill Blvd.,
Claremont, CA 91711
Asheville Prison Books Program
67 N. Lexington Ave., Asheville, NC 28801
Ships books only in NC, SC, GA, and TN.


Cleveland Books 2 Prisoners
4241 Lorain Ave., Cleveland, OH 44113
Ships books only in OH.
Women’s Prison Book Project c/o Arise Bookstore
2441 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55405
Ships to women and transgender people in prison only.

District Court Addresses
You have already learned that the Federal judiciary is
broken into districts. Some states have more than one
district, and, confusingly, some districts also have
more than one division, or more than one courthouse.
We have compiled the following list of United States
District Courts to help you figure out where to send
your complaint. Find your state in the following list,
and then look for the county your prison is in. Under
the name of your county, you will find the address of
the U.S. District Court where you should send your
complaint. All special instructions are in italics.
ALABAMA (11th Circuit)
Northern District of Alabama: Bibb, Blount, Calhoun,
Cherokee, Clay, Cleburne, Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb,
Etowah, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Jackson, Lamar,
Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marion,
Marshall, Morgan, Pickens, Randolph, Saint Clair, Shelby,
Sumter, Talladega, Tuscaloosa, Walker, Winston
United States District Court
Hugo L. Black U. S. Courthouse
1729 Fifth Avenue North, Birmingham, AL 35203
Middle District of Alabama
The Middle District of Alabama has three divisions:
The Northern Division: Autauga, Barbour, Bullock, Butler,
Chilton, Coosa, Covington, Crenshaw, Elmore, Lowndes,
Montgomery, and Pike.
The Southern Division: Coffee, Dale, Geneva, Henry, and
The Eastern Division: Chambers, Lee, Macon, Randolph,
Russell, and Tallapoosa.
All official papers for all the divisions should be sent to:
Ms. Debra Hackett
Clerk of the Court, U.S.D.C.
P.O. Box 711, Montgomery, AL 36101-0711
Southern District of Alabama: Baldwin, Choctaw, Clarke,
Conceuh, Dallas, Escambia, Hale, Marengo, Mobile, Monroe,
Perry, Washington, Wilcox.
U.S.D.C. Southern District of Alabama
113 St. Joseph Street, Mobile, AL 36602

ALASKA (9th Circuit)
District of Alaska
Documents for cases in any county in Alaska may be filed in
Anchorage, or in the divisional office where the case is
located (addresses below).
U.S. District Court Clerk’s Office
U.S. District Court
222 W. 7th Avenue, #4
101 12th Ave, Rm332
Anchorage, AK 99513
Fairbanks, AK 99701
U.S. District Court
PO Box 020349
Juneau, AK 99802
U.S. District Court
648 Mission Street
Room 507
Ketchikan, AK 99901

U.S. District Court
PO Box 130
Nome, AK 99762

ARIZONA (9th Circuit)
District of Arizona – The District of Arizona covers the
entire state, but it is divided into three divisions with the
following counties:
Phoenix Division: Maricopa, Pinal, Yuma, La Paz, Gila
Prescott Division: Apache, Navajo, Coconino, Mohave,
You should send all documents for cases in the Phoenix OR
the Prescott division to the Phoenix Courthouse, at:
Sandra Day O’Connor U.S. Courthouse
401 West Washington Street, Suite 130, SPC 1
Phoenix, AZ 85003-2118
Tucson Division: Pima, Cochise, Santa Cruz, Graham,
Send all documents for cases in the Tucson Division to:
Evo A. DeConcim U.S. Courthouse
405 West Congress Street, Suite 1500
Tucson AZ 85701
ARKANSAS (8th Circuit)
Eastern District of Arkansas – has five divisions.
Northern Division 1: Cleburne, Fulton, Independence Izard,
Jackson, Sharp, Stone
Eastern Division 2: Cross, Lee, Monroe, Phillips, St. Francis
and Woodruff
Western Division 4: Conway, Faulkner, Lonoke, Perry, Pope,
Prairie, Pulaski, Saline, Van Buren, White, Yell
Send documents for cases that arise in any of these three
divisions to:
U.S. District Court Clerk's Office
U.S. Post Office & Courthouse
600 West Capitol, #A149, Little Rock, AR 72201-3325
Jonesboro Division 3: Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Greene,
Lawrence, Mississippi, Poinsett, Randolph
Send documents for cases in this division to:
U.S. District Court Clerk's Office
615 S. Main Street, Rm. 312, Jonesboro, AR 72401


Pine Bluff Division 5: Arkansas, Chicot, Cleveland, Dallas
Desha, Drew, Grant, Jefferson and Lincoln
Send documents for cases in this division to:
U.S. District Court Clerk's Office
100 E. 8th Ave., Rm. 3103, Pine Bluff, AR 71601
Western District of Arkansas – Has six divisions. You
should send documents to the division where the case arose.
El Dorado Division 1: Ashley, Bradley, Calhoun, Columbia,
Ouachita and Union
205 United States Courthouse & Post Office
101 S. Jackson Ave.,El Dorado, AR 71730-6133
Fort Smith Division 2: Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Logan,
Polk, Scott and Sebastian
U.S. District Court Clerk's Office
Judge Isaac C. Parker Federal Building
P.O. Box 1547, Fort Smith, AR 72902-1547
Harrison Division 3: Baxter, Boone, Carroll, Marion, Newton
and Searcy
Fayetteville Division 5: Benton, Madison and Washington
Send documents for cases in these two divisions to:
U.S. District Court Clerk's Office
John Paul Hammerschmidt Federal Building
35 E. Mountain Street, Room 510,
Fayetteville, AR 72701-5354
Texarkana Division 4: Hempstead, Howard, Lafayette, Little
River, Miller, Nevada and Sevier
U.S. District Court Clerk's Office
U.S. Post Office and Courthouse
500 N. State Line Ave., Room 302,
Texarkana, AR 71854-5961
Hot Springs Division 6: Clark, Garland, Hot Spring,
Montgomery and Pike
U.S. District Court Clerk's Office
U.S. Courthouse
100 Reserve St., Room 347, Hot Springs, AR 71901-4141
CALIFORNIA (9th Circuit)
Northern District of California:
San Jose Branch: Monterey, San Benito,
Santa Clara, Santa Cruz
Send documents for cases in this branch to:

Eastern District of California – has two divisions. Send your
documents to the division where your case arose.
Fresno Division: Calaveras, Fresno, Inyo, Kern, Kings,
Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus, Tulare and Tuolumne.
U.S. District Court
1130 O Street, Fresno, CA 93721
Sacramento Division: Alpine, Amador, Butte, Colusa, El
Dorado, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Nevada, Placer,
Plumas, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou,
Solano, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo, and Yuba.
U.S. District Court
501 I Street, Suite. 4-401, Sacramento, CA 95814
Central District of California: Los Angeles, Orange County,
Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara,
U.S. Courthouse
312 N. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Southern District of California: Imperial, San Diego
U.S. District Court, Office of the Clerk
Southern District of California
880 Front Street, Suite 4290, San Diego, CA 92101-8900
COLORADO (10th Circuit)
District of Colorado – Send all documents to:
Clerk's Office
Alfred A. Arraj United States Courthouse Room A-105
901 19th Street. Denver, Colorado 80294-3589
CONNECTICUT (2d Circuit)
District of Connecticut – there are four U.S. District
Courthouses in the District of Connecticut. You can file your
complaint in any of the following locations.
U.S. Courthouse
U.S. Courthouse
141 Church Street 450 Main Street
New Haven, CT 06510
Hartford, CT 06103
U.S. Courthouse
915 Lafayette Boulevard
Bridgeport, CT 06604

U.S. Courthouse
14 Cottage Place
Waterbury, CT 06702

DELAWARE (3d Circuit)
District of Delaware

U.S. District Courthouse
280 South 1st Street, San Jose, CA 95113

U.S. District Court
844 N. King Street, Lockbox 18, Wilmington, DE 19801

Oakland Branch: Alameda, Contra Costa
San Francisco Office: Del Norte, Humbolt, Lake, Marin,
Mendocino, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Sonoma
Send documents for cases in these two branches to:

District for the District of Columbia
United States District Court for the District of Columbia
333 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001

U.S. District Courthouse,
Clerk’s Office
450 Golden Gate Ave., 16th Fl., San Francisco, CA 94102


Northern District of Florida
There are four divisions in the Northern District of Florida,
and you must file your complaint in the division in which your
case arose:
Pensacola Division: Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and
U.S. Federal Courthouse
1 North Palafox St., Pensacola, FL 32502
Panama City Division: Jackson, Holmes, Washington, Bay,
Calhoun, and Gulf.

Ocala Division: Citrus, Lake, Marion, Sumter
Clerk’s Office
United States District Court
Golden-Collum Memorial Federal Building
207 N.W. Second Street, Ocala, FL 34475-6666
Southern District of Florida - the Southern District of
Florida covers the following counties: Broward, Collier,
Dade, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Indian River, Martin,
Monroe, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie. There are five
divisions in the Southern District of Florida. You can file your
case in any one of them.

U.S. Federal Courthouse
30 W. Government St., Panama City, FL 32401

United States District Court Clerks Office
299 East Broward Boulevard, Room 108
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

Tallahassee Division: Leon, Gadsden, Liberty, Franklin,
Wakulla, Jefferson, Taylor and Madison.

United States District Court Clerks Office
300 South Sixth Street, Fort Pierce, FL 34950

U.S. Federal Courthouse
111 N. Adams Street, Tallahassee, FL 32301

United States District Court Clerks Office
301 Simonton Street, Key West, FL 33040

Gainesville Division: Alachua, Lafayette, Dixie, Gilchrist,
and Levy.

United States District Court Clerks Office
301 North Miami Avenue, Room 150, Miami, FL 33128

U.S. Federal Courthouse
401 S.E. First Ave. Rm. 243, Gainesville, FL 32601

United States District Court Clerks Office
701 Clematis St., Room 402, West Palm Beach, FL 33401

Middle District of Florida - There are five divisions in the
Middle District of Florida; you should file your case in the
division in which your case arose.

GEORGIA (11th Circuit)
Northern District of Georgia - covers the following
counties: Banks, Barrow, Bartow, Carroll, Catoosa,
Chattooga, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, Dade, Dawson,
DeKalb, Douglas, Fannin, Fayette, Floyd, Forsyth, Fulton,
Gilmer, Gordon, Gwinnett, Habersham, Hall, Haralson,
Heard, Henry, Jackson, Lumpkin, Meriwether, Murray,
Newton, Paulding, Pickens, Pike, Polk, Rabun, Rockdale,
Spalding, Stephens, Towns, Troup, Union, Walker, White,

Tampa Division: Hardee, Hemando, Hillsborough, Manatee,
Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota
Clerk’s Office, United States District Court
Sam M. Gibbons US Courthouse
801 N. Florida Avenue
Tampa, Florida 33602-3800
Ft. Myers Division: Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades,
Hendry, Lee
Clerk’s Office, United States District Court
US Courthouse & Federal Building
2110 First Street Fort Myers, FL 33901-3083
Orlando Division: Brevard, Orange, Osceola, Seminole,
U.S. Courthouse
401 West Central Boulevard, Suite 1200
Orlando, Florida 32801-0120
Jacksonville Division: Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia,
Duval, Flagler, Hamilton, Nassau, Putnam, St. Johns,
Suwanne, Union
United States Courthouse
300 North Hogan Street
Jacksonville, FL 32202

There are four Divisions in the Northern District of Georgia,
but all prisoners should file their 1983 cases at the following
main location:
U.S. District Court
Northern District of Georgia
2211 U.S. Courthouse
75 Spring Street S.W.
Atlanta, GA 30303-3361
Middle District of Georgia - The Middle District of Georgia
is divided into six divisions. You can file your case in any
division where you are, where the defendant is, or where the
claim arose.
Albany Division: Baker, Ben Hill, Calhoun, Crisp,
Dougherty, Early, Lee, Miller, Mitchell, Schley, Sumter,
Terrell, Turner, Worth, Webster
C. B. King U.S. Courthouse
201 West Broad Avenue
Albany, Georgia 31701


Athens Division: Clarke, Elbert, Franklin, Greene, Hart,
Madison, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Walton
U.S. Post Office and Courthouse
P.O. Box 1106
Athens, GA 30601

Brunswick Division: Appling, Glynn, Jeff Davis, Long,
McIntosh, Wayne
All cases in the Brunswick Division should be filed in:
Clerk’s Office, U.S. Courthouse
801 Gloucester Street, Suite 220, Brunswick, GA 31520

Columbus Division: Chattahoochee, Clay, Harris, Marion,
Muscogee, Quitman, Randolph, Stewart, Talbot, Taylor
GUAM (9th Circuit)
District of Guam

U.S. Post Office and Court House
P.O. Box 124
Columbus, GA 31902

U.S. Courthouse, 4th floor
520 West Soledad Avenue, Hagåtña, Guam 96910

Macon Division: Baldwin, Bibb, Bleckley, Butts, Crawford,
Dooly, Hancock, Houston, Jasper, Jones, Lamar, Macon,
Monroe, Peach, Putnam, Twiggs, Upson, Washington,
Wilcox, Wilkinson
William A. Bootle Federal Building
and U.S. Courthouse
P.O. Box 128
Macon, GA 31202
Thomasville Division: Brooks, Colquitt, Decatur, Grady,
Seminole, Thomas.
Thomasville is not staffed, so file all complaints for the
Thomasville Division in the Valdosta Courthouse, address
Valdosta Division: Berrien, Clinch, Cook, Echols, Irwin,
Lanier, Lowndes, Tift

HAWAII (9th Circuit)
District of Hawaii
U.S. Courthouse
300 Ala Moana Blvd., Room C338, Honolulu, HI 96813
IDAHO (9th Circuit)
District of Idaho - There are four divisions in the District of
Idaho, but you can file your case in any of the following
Southern Division: Ada, Adams, Boise, Canyon, Elmore,
Gem, Owyhee, Payette, Valley, Washington
James A. McClure Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse
550 W. Fort St., Boise, ID 83724
Northern Division: Benewah, Bonner, Boundary,
Kootenai, Shoshone

U.S. Courthouse and Post Office
401 N. Patterson Street, Suite 212
P.O. Box 68
Valdosta, GA 31601

U.S. Courthouse
6450 N. Mineral Dr. Coeur d'Alene, ID 83815

Southern District of Georgia - The Southern District of
Georgia consists of six divisions. You can bring your case in
the division where the defendant lives or the actions occurred.
Augusta Division: Burke, Columbia, Glascock, Jefferson,
Lincoln, McDuffie, Richmond, Tauaferro, Warren, Wilkes
Dublin Division: Dodge, Johnson, Laurens, Montgomery,
Telfair, Treutlen, Wheeler
All cases in the Augusta and Dublin divisions should be filed

Central Division: Clearwater, Idaho, Latah, Lewis, Nez Perce
U.S. Courthouse
220 E 5th Street, Room 304, Moscow, ID 83843
Eastern Division: Bannock, Bear Lake, Bingham, Blaine,
Bonneville, Butte, Camas,Caribou, Cassia, Clark, Custer,
Franklin, Fremont, Gooding, Jefferson, Jerome, Lincoln,
Lemhi, Madison, Minidoka, Oneida, Power, Teton, Twin
U.S. Courthouse
801 E Sherman St., Pocatello, ID 83201

Clerk’s Office, U.S. Courthouse
600 James Brown Blvd.
Augusta, GA 30901

Savannah Division: Bryan, Chatham, Effingham, Liberty
Waycross Division: Atkinson, Bacon, Brantley, Charlton,
Coffee, Pierce, Ware
Statesboro Division: Bulloch, Candler, Emanuel, Evans,
Jenkins, Screven, Toombs, Tatnall
All cases in Savannah, Waycross and Statesboro divisions
should be filed in:
Clerk’s Office, U.S. Courthouse
125 Bull Street, Room 304, Savannah, GA 31401

ILLINOIS (7th Circuit)
Northern District of Illinois - There are two divisions in the
Northern District of Illinois. You can send your complaint to
either division, but you should write on the complaint the
name of the division in which your case arose.
Western Division: Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Davies, Lee,
McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside, Winnebago
United States Courthouse
211 South Court Street, Rockford, IL 61101


Eastern Division: Cook, Dupage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall,
Lake, Lasalle, Will
Everett McKinley Dirksen Building
219 South Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL 60604
Central District of Illinois – There are four divisions in the
Central District of Illinois. You must file your case in the
division in which the claim arose.
Peoria Division: Bureau, Fulton, Hancock, Knox, Livingston,
Marshall, McDonough, McLean, Pedria, Putnam, Stark,
Tazewell, Woodford
309 U.S. Courthouse
100 N.E. Monroe Street, Peoria, IL 61602
Rock Island Division: Henderson, Henry, Mercer, Rock
Island, Warren
40 U.S. Courthouse
211 19th Street, Rock Island IL 61201
Springfield Division: Adams, Brown, Cass, Christian,
DeWitt, Greene, Logan, Macoupin, Mason, Menard,
Montgomery, Pike Calhoun, Sangamon, Schuyler, Scott,
151 U.S. Courthouse
600 E. Monroe Street, Springfield IL 62701
Urbana Division: Champaign, Coles, Douglas, Edgar, Ford,
Iroquois, Kankakee, Macon, Moultrie, Piatt
218 U.S. Courthouse
201 S. Vine Street, Urbana IL 61802
Southern District of Illinois: Alexander, Bond, Calhoun,
Clark, Clay, Clinton, Crawford, Cumberland, Edwards,
Effingham, Fayette, Franklin, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin,
Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jersey, Johnson, Lawrence,
Madison, Marion, Marshall, Massac, Monroe, Perry, Pope,
Pulaski, Randolph, Richland, St. Clair, Saline, Union,
Wabash, Washington, Wayne, White, Williamson
There are two courthouse locations in the Southern District of
Illinois, but prisoners can file cases in either one.
U.S. Courthouse
301 West Main Street
Benton, IL 62812

U.S. Courthouse
750 Missouri Avenue
East St. Louis, IL 62201

INDIANA (7th Circuit)
Northern District of Indiana – There are four divisions in
the Northern District of Indiana. You should file in the
division where your claim arose.
Fort Wayne Division: Adams, Allen, Blackford, DeKalb,
Grant, Huntington, Jay, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wells and
Whitley counties.
U.S. Courthouse
1300 S. Harrison St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802

Hammond Division: Lake and Porter counties
U.S. Courthouse
5400 Federal Plaza, Hammond, IN 46320
Lafayette Division: Benton, Carroll, Jasper, Newton,
Tippecanoe, Warren and White counties
U.S. Courthouse
230 N. Fourth St., Lafayette, IN 47901
South Bend Division: Cass, Elkhart, Fulton, Kosciusko,
LaPorte, Marshall, Miami, Pulaski, St. Joseph, Starke and
Wabash Counties
U.S. Courthouse
204 S Main St., South Bend, IN 46601
Southern District of Indiana – There are four divisions in
the Southern District of Indiana. File where your claim arose.
Indianapolis Division: Bartholomew, Boone, Brown, Clinton,
Decatur, Delaware, Fayette, Fountain, Franklin, Hamilton,
Hancock, Hendricks, Henry, Howard, Johnson, Madison,
Marion, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Randolph, Rush,
Shelby, Tipton, Union, Wayne
Birch Bay Federal Building and United States Courthouse
46 East Ohio Street, Room 105, Indianapolis, IN 46204
Terre Haute Division: Clay, Greene, Knox, Owen, Parke,
Putnam, Sullivan, Vermillion, Vigo
U.S. District Court
921 Ohio Street Terre Haute, IN 47807
Evansville Division: Daviess, Dubois, Gibson, Martin, Perry,
Pike, Posey, Spencer, Vanderburgh, Warrick
304 Federal Building
101 Northwest MLK Boulevard, Evansville, IN 47708
New Albany Division: Clark, Crawford, Dearborn, Floyd,
Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Lawrence, Ohio,
Orange, Ripley, Scott, Switzerland, Washington
210 Federal Building
121 West Spring Street, New Albany, IN 47150
IOWA (8th Circuit)
Northern District of Iowa – There are four divisions in the
Northern District of Iowa, and two different locations to file
Cedar Rapids Division: Benton, Cedar, Grundy, Hardin, Iowa,
Jones, Linn, Tama,
Eastern Division: Allamakee, Blackhawk, Bremer, Buchanan,
Chickasaw, Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque, Fayette, Floyd,
Howard, Jackson, Mitchell, Winneshiek
Cases arising in either the Cedar Rapids or the Eastern
Division should be filed with the clerk of the court at the
Cedar Rapids location:


U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa
4200 C Street SW Cedar Rapids, IA 52404
Western Division: Buena Vista, Cherokee, Clay, Crawford,
Dickinson, Ida, Lyon, Monona, O’Brien, Osceola, Plymouth,
Sac, Sioux, Woodbury
Central Division: Butler, Calhoun, Carroll, Cerro Gordo,
Emmet, Franklin, Hamilton, Hancock, Humboldt, Kossuth,
Palo Alto, Pocahontas, Webster, Winnebago, Worth, Wright,
Cases arising in the Western or Central Division should be
filed in Sioux City:
US District Court for the Northern District of Iowa
320 Sixth Street, Sioux City, IA 51101
Southern District of Iowa – There are three divisions in the
Southern District of Iowa, and you should file your case at the
division in which your claims arose.
Central Division: Adaire, Adams, Appanoose, Boone, Clarke,
Dallas, Davis, Decatur, Greene, Guthri, Jasper, Jefferson,
Keokuk, Lucas, Madison, Mahaska, Marion, Marshall,
Monroe, Polk, Poweshiek, Ringgold, Story, Taylor, Union,
Wapello, Warren, Wayne
U.S. Courthouse
P. O. Box 9344, Des Moines, IA 50306-9344
Western Division: Audubon, Cass, Freemont, Harrison, Mills,
Montgomery, Page, Pottawattamie, Shelby
Clerk, U. S. District Court
8 South 6th Street, Room 313
Council Bluffs, IA 51502

Montgomery, Morgan, Nicholas, Owen, Owsley, Pendleton,
Perry, Pike, Powell, Pulaski, Robertson, Rockcastle, Rowan,
Scott, Shelby, Trimble, Wayne, Whitley, Wolfe, Woodford.
Leslie G. Whitmer, Clerk
101 Barr St. Suite 206
P.O. Drawer 3074, Lexington, KY 40507
Western District of Kentucky – The Western District of
Kentucky has several divisions, but you can file at any of the
following locations.
Bowling Green Division: Adair, Allen, Barren, Butler, Casey,
Clinton, Cumberland, Edmonson, Green, Hart, Logan,
Metcalf, Monroe, Russell, Simpson, Taylor, Todd, Warren
Clerks Office
241 East Main Street, Suite 120
Bowling Green, KY 42101-2175
Louisville Division: Breckinridge, Bullitt, Hardin, Jefferson,
Larue, Marion, Meade, Nelson, Oldham, Spencer,
Gene Snyder Courthouse, Clerks Office
601 W. Broadway, Rm. 106, Louisville, KY 40202
Owensboro Division: Daviess, Grayson, Hancock,
Henderson, Hopkins, McLean, Muhlenberg, Ohio, Union,
Clerks Office
423 Frederica St., Suite 126, Owensboro, KY 42301-3013

Eastern Division: Clinton, Des Moines, Henry, Johnson, Lee,
Louisa, Muscatine, Scott, Van Buren, Washington
Clerk, U. S. District Court
131 East 4th Street, Suite 150
Davenport, IA 52801

Paducah Division: Ballard, Caldwell, Calloway, Carlisle,
Christian, Crittenden, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Livingston,
Lyon, McCracken, Marshall, Trigg
Clerks Office
501 Broadway, Suite 127, Paducah, KY 42001-6801

KANSAS (10th Circuit)
District of Kansas – You can file your case at any of the
following courthouses.
500 State Ave
444 S.E. Quincy
259 U.S. Courthouse
490 U.S. Courthouse
Kansas City, Kansas 66101 Topeka, Kansas 66683
401 N. Market
204 U.S. Courthouse, Wichita, Kansas 67202
KENTUCKY (6th Circuit)
Eastern District of Kentucky – The Eastern District of
Kentucky has several divisions, but you can file all pleadings
in the main office. The District includes the following
counties: Anderson, Bath, Bell, Boone, Bourbon, Boyd,
Boyle, Bracken, Breathitt, Campbell, Carroll, Carter, Clark,
Clay, Elliott, Estill, Fayette, Fleming, Floyd, Franklin,
Gallatin, Garrard, Grant, Greenup, Harlan, Harrison, Henry,
Jackson, Jessamine, Johnson, Kenton, Knott, Knox, Laurel,
Lawrence, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Lewis, Lincoln, McCreary,
Madison, Magoffin, Martin, Mason, Menifee, Mercer,

LOUISIANA (5th Circuit)
Eastern District of Louisiana – This district has several
divisions, but all documents may be filed in New Orleans. The
Eastern District of Louisiana includes the following counties:
Assumption, Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines,
Saint Bernard, Saint Charles, Saint James, Saint John the
Baptist, Saint Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne,
U.S. District Court
500 Poydras Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
Middle District of Louisiana – There is only one courthouse
in the Middle District of Louisiana, and it covers the
following counties: Ascension, East Baton Rouge, East
Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, Saint Helena,
West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana.
U.S. District Court
777 Florida Street, Suite 139, Baton Rouge, LA 70801


Western District of Louisiana – There are several divisions
in the Western District, but all pleadings should be filed at the
below address. The district includes the following counties:
Acadia, Allen, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Bienville, Bossier,
Caddo, Calcasieu, Caldwell, Cameron, Catahoula, Claiborne,
Concordia, Jefferson Davis, De Soto, East Carroll,
Evangeline, Franklin, Grant, Iberia, Jackson, Lafayette, La
Salle, Lincoln, Madison, Morehouse, Natchitoches, Ouachita,
Rapides, Red River, Richland, Sabine, Saint Landry, Saint
Martin, Saint Mary, Tensas, Union, Vermilion, Vernon,
Webster, West Carroll, Winn.
Robert H. Shemwell, Clerk
300 Fannin Street, Suite 1167, Shreveport, LA 71101-3083
MAINE (1st Circuit)
District of Maine – There are two divisions in Maine, you
should file in the appropriate division, as explained below.
Bangor Division: Arronstrook, Franklin, Hancock, Kennebec,
Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset, Waldo, Washington. Cases
from one of these counties, file at:

MICHIGAN (6th Circuit)
Eastern District of Michigan – There are several divisions
in this district, but you can file in whichever courthouse you
want. The Eastern District of Michigan includes the following
counties: Alcona, Alpena, Arenac, Bay, Cheboygan, Clare,
Crawford, Genesee, Gladwin, Gratiot, Huron, Iosco, Isabella,
Jackson, Lapeer, Lenawee, Livingston, Macomb, Midland,
Monroe, Montmorency, Oakland, Ogemaw, Oscodo, Otsego,
Presque Isle, Roscommon, Saginaw, Saint Clair, Sanilac,
Shiawassee, Tuscola, Washtenaw, Wayne.
U.S. District Courthouse
P.O. Box 8199
Ann Arbor, MI 48107
Theodore Levin
U.S. Courthouse
231 W. Lafayette Blvd.
Detroit, Michigan 48226

U.S. District Courthouse
P.O. Box 913
Bay City, Michigan 48707
U.S. District Courthouse
600 Church Street, Room 140
Flint, Michigan 48502

Clerk, U.S. District Court
156 Federal Street, Portland, Maine 04101

Western District of Michigan – there is a Northern and a
Southern Division in the Western District of Michigan, but
you can file your complaint at the headquarters in Grand
Rapids. The Western District includes the following counties:
Alger, Allegan, Antrim, Baraga, Barry, Benzie, Berrien,
Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Charlevioux, Chippewa, Clinton,
Delta, Dickinson, Eaton, Emmet, Gogebic, Grand Traverse,
Hillsdale, Houghton, Ingham, Ionia, Iron, Kalamazoo,
Kalkaska, Kent, Keweenaw, Lake, Leelanau, Luce, Mackinac,
Manistee, Marquette, Mason, Mecosta, Menominee,
Missaukee, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana,
Ontonagon, Osceola, Ottawa, Saint Joseph, Schoolcraft, Van
Buren, Wexford.

MARYLAND (4th Circuit)
District of Maryland – There are two divisions in the
District of Maryland, and you can file in either location.

United States District Court, Western District of Michigan
399 Federal Building
110 Michigan St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

U.S. Courthouse
101 W. Lombard Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

MINNESOTA (8th Circuit)
District of Minnesota – There are several courthouses in the
District of Minnesota, and you can file in whichever one you

Clerk, U.S. District Court
202 Harlow Street, Room 357
P.O. Box 1007, Bangor, Maine 04330
Portland Division: Androscoggin, Cumberland, Knox,
Lincoln, Oxford, Sagadahoc, York. Cases that arise in these
counties should be filed at the Portland Courthouse, except if
you are in prison at Thomaston or Warren, in which case you
should file at the above Bangor location,

U.S. Courthouse
6500 Cherrywood Lane
Greenbelt, MD 20770

District of Massachusetts – There are three divisions in the
District of Massachusetts.
Eastern Division: Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Essex,
Middlesex, Nantucket, Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk
John Joseph Moakley, U.S. Courthouse
1 Courthouse Way – Suite 2300, Boston, MA 02210
Central Division: Worcester County
Harold D. Donohue Federal Building & Courthouse
595 Main Street, Room 502, Worcester, MA 01608
Western Division: Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire
Federal Building & Courthouse
1550 Main Street, Springfield, MA 01105

202 U.S. Courthouse
300 S. 4th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55415

700 Federal Building
316 North Robert St.
St. Paul, MN 55101

417 Federal Building
515 W. 1st Street
Duluth, MN 55802-1397

205 USPO Building
118 S. Mill Street
Fergus Falls, MN 56537

MISSISSIPPI (5th Circuit)
Northern District of Mississippi – There are four divisions
in the Northern District of Mississippi, and three courthouses
where you can file papers.
Aberdeen Division: Alcorn, Attala, Chickasaw, Choctaw,
Clay, Itawamba, Lee, Lowndes, Monroe, Oktibbeha, Prentiss,
Tismomingo, Winston.
US District Court
P.O. Box 704, Aberdeen, Mississippi 39730


Greenville Division: Carroll, Humphreys, Leflore, Sunflower,
U.S. District Court
305 Main Street, Room 329
Greenville, Mississippi 38701-4006
Delta Division: Bolivar, Coahoma, DeSoto, Panola, Quitman,
Tallahatchie, Tate, Tunica
Western Division: Benton, Calhoun, Grenada, Lafayette,
Marshall, Montgomery, Pontotoc, Tippah, Union, Webster,
Yalobusha. Prisoners in the Delta OR Western Division, file
at: Room 369 Federal Building, 911 Jackson Avenue, Oxford,
MS 38655
Southern District of Mississippi – There are three court
locations in the Southern District of Mississippi, but you can
file your case in the Jackson Courthouse. The District covers
the following counties: Adams, Amite, Claiborne, Clarke,
Copiah, Covington, Forrest, Franklin, George, Greene,
Hancock, Harrison, Hinds, Holmes, Issaquena, Jackson,
Jasper, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Jones, Kemper, Lamar,
Lauderdale, Lawrence, Leake, Lincoln, Madison, Marion,
Nashoba, Newton, Noxubee, Pearl River, Perry, Pike, Rankin,
Scott, Sharkey, Simpson, Smith, Stone, Walthall, Warren,
Wayne, Wilkinson, Yazoo.
U. S. District Court
245 East Capitol Street, Suite 316, Jackson, MS 39201
MISSOURI (8th Circuit)
Eastern District of Missouri – There are three divisions in
the Eastern District of Missouri, and you should file based on
what county your prison is in.
Eastern Division: Crawford, Dent, Franklin, Gasconade, Iron,
Jefferson, Lincoln, Maries, Phelps, Saint Charles, Saint
Francois, Sanit Genevieve, Saint Louis, Warren, Washington,
City of St. Louis
Northern Division: Adair, Audrain, Chariton, Clark, Knox,
Lewis, Linn, Marion, Monroe, Montgomery, Pike, Ralls,
Randolph, Schuyler, Scotland, Shelby
Eastern or Northern Division, file at:
Thomas F. Eagleton Courthouse
111 South 10th Street, Suite 3300, St. Louis, MO 63102
Southeastern Division: Bollinger, Butler, Cape Girardeau,
Carter, Dunklin, Madison, Mississippi, New Madrid,
Pemiscot, Perry, Reynolds, Ripley, Scott, Shannon, Stoddard,
U.S. Courthouse
555 Independence Street, Cape Girardeau, MO 63701
Western District of Missouri – There are several divisions
in the Western District of Missouri, but prisoners from all
counties in the district can file their complaint in Kansas City.
The District covers the following counties: Andrew, Atchison,
Barry, Barton, Bates, Benton, Boone, Buchanan, Caldwell,
Callaway, Camden, Carroll, Cass, Cedar, Christian, Clay,
Clinton, Cole, Cooper, Dade, Dallas, Daviess, DeKalb,
Douglas, Gentry, Greene, Grundy, Harrison, Henry, Hickory,
Holt, Howard, Howell, Jackson, Jasper, Johnson, Laclede,
Lafayette, Lawrence, Livingston, McDonald, Mercer, Miller,

Moniteau, Morgan, Newton, Nodaway, Oregon, Osage,
Ozark, Pettis, Platte, Polk, Pulaski, Putnam, Ray, Saint Clair,
Saline, Stone, Sullivan, Taney, Texas, Vernon, Webster,
Worth, Wright.
Charles Evans Whittaker Courthouse
400 E. 9th Street, Kansas City, MO 64106
MONTANA (9th Circuit)
District of Montana – There are several divisions in the
District of Montana, but all prisoners can send their
complaint to the Billings Courthouse.
Federal Building, Room 5405
316 North 26th Street, Billings, MT 59101
NEBRASKA (8th Circuit)
District of Nebraska
Adams, Antelope, Arthur, Banner, Blaine, Boone, Box Butte,
Boyd, Brown, Buffalo Burt, Butler, Cass, Cedar, Chase,
Cherry, Cheyenne, Clay, Colfax, Cuming, Custer, Dakota,
Dawes, Dawson, Deuel, Dixon, Dundy, Fillmore, Franklin,
Frontier, Furnas, Gage, Garden, Garfield, Gosper, Greeley,
Hall, Hamilton, Harlan, Hayes, Hitchcock, Holt, Hooker,
Howard, Jefferson, Johnson, Kearney, Keith, Keya Paha,
Kimball, Knox, Lancaster, Lincoln, Logan, Loup, Madison,
McPherson, Merrick, Morrill, Nance, Nemaha, Nuckolls,
Otoe, Pawnee, Phelps, Pierce, Platte, Polk, Red Willow,
Richardson, Rock, Saline, Saunders, Scotts Bluff, Seward,
Sheridan, Sherman, Sioux, Stanton, Thayer, Thomas,
Thurston, Valley, Wayne, Webster, Wheeler, York counties
should file at the following address:
Clerk of the Court, U.S. District Court – Nebraska
593 Federal Building -100 Centennial Mall North,
Lincoln, NE 68508-3803
Dodge, Douglas, Sarpy, and Washington counties should file
at the following address:
Clerk of the Court, U.S. District Court – Nebraska
111 South 18th Plaza, Suite 1152, Omaha, NE 68102
NEVADA (9th Circuit)
District of Nevada
Carson City, Churchill, Douglas, Elko, Eureka, Humboldt,
Lander, Lyon, Mineral, Pershing, Storey, Washoe and White
Pine counties:
Clerk of the Court
U.S. District Court of Nevada, Northern Division
400 S. Virginia St., Reno, NV 89501
Clark, Esmeralda, Lincoln and Nye Counties:
Clerk of the Court
U.S. District Court of Nevada, Southern Division
333 S. Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, NV 89101


NEW HAMPSHIRE (1st Circuit)
District of New Hampshire
Clerk of the Court, U.S. District Court
Warren B. Rudman U.S. Courthouse
55 Pleasant Street, Room 110, Concord, NH 03301-3941
NEW JERSEY (3d Circuit)
District of New Jersey
Martin Luther King U.S. Courthouse
50 Walnut Street, Rm. 4015, Newark, NJ 07101
NEW MEXICO (10th Circuit)
District of New Mexico
U.S. District Courthouse
333 Lomas N.W., Ste 270 Albuquerque, NM 87102
NEW YORK (2d Circuit)
Northern District of New York: Albany, Broome, Cayuga,
Chenango, Clinton, Columbia, Cortland, Delaware, Essex,
Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson,
Lewis, Madison, Montgomery, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego,
Otesgo, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, St.
Lawrence, Tioga, Tompkins, Ulster, Warren, and Washington

NORTH CAROLINA (4th Circuit)
Eastern District of North Carolina: Beaufort, Betrie,
Bladen, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Columbus,
Craven, Cumberland, Currituck, Dare, Duplin, Edgecombe,
Franklin, Gates, Granville, Greene, Halifax, Harnett,
Hertford, Hyde, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Nash, New
Hanover, Northampton, Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank,
Pender, Perquimans, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Tyrell, Vance,
Wake, Warren, Washington, Wayne, and Wilson counties:
Clerk of the Court
U.S. District Court Eastern District of North Carolina
Terry Sanford Federal Building and Courthouse
310 New Bern Avenue, Raleigh, North Carolina 27601
Middle District of North Carolina: Alamance, Alleghany,
Ashe, Cabarrus, Caswell, Chatham, Davidson, Davie,
Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Hoke, Lee, Montgomery, Moore,
Orange, Person, Randolph, Richmond, Rockingham, Rowan,
Scotland, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Watauga, and Yadkin
Office of the Clerk
U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina,
P.O. Box 2708, Greensboro, NC 27402-2708
Western District of North Carolina

U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York
U.S. Courthouse & Federal Building
P.O. Box 7367, 100 South Clinton Street
Syracuse, NY 13261-7367

Asheville Division: Haywood Madison, Yancey, Watuaga,
Avery, Buncombe, McDowell, Burke, Transylvania,
Henderson, Polk, Rutherford, Cleveland, Cherokee, Clay,
Graham, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties:

Southern District of New York: Bronx, Dutchess, New
York, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, and Westchester

U.S. District Court
100 Otis St., Asheville, NC 28801

U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York
Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse
500 Pearl Street, New York, NY 10007-1312
Eastern District of New York: Kings, Nassau, Queens,
Richmond, and Suffolk counties:
U. S. District Court, Eastern District of New York
225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, New York 11201

Charlotte Division:Gaston, Mecklenburg, Union, and Anson
U.S. District Court
401 W. Trade St., Room 212, Charlotte, NC 28202
Statesville Division: Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany, Caldwell,
Wilkes, Alexander, Iredell, Catawba, and Lincoln counties:
U.S. District Court
200 W. Broad St., Statesville, NC 28677

Western District of New York:
Buffalo Division: Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie,
Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties:
U.S. District Court, Western Division of New York
Office of the Clerk
304 United States Courthouse
68 Court Street, Buffalo, New York 14202
Rochester Division: Chemung, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario,
Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates counties:
U.S. District Court, Western Division of New York
Office of the Clerk
2120 United States Courthouse
100 State Street, Rochester, New York 14614-1387

NORTH DAKOTA (8th Circuit)
District of North Dakota
U.S. District Court
220 East Rosse Avenue, PO Box 1193
Bismarck, ND 58502
District for the Northern Marina Islands
U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands
2nd Floor, Horiguchi Building, Garapan
P.O. Box 500687, Saipan, MP 96950 USA


OHIO (6th Circuit)
Northern District of Ohio

Murray, Muskogee, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Pittsburg, Ponotoc,
Pushmataha, Seminole, Sequoyah, Wagoner counties:

Eastern Division: Ashland, Ashtabula, Carroll, Clumbiana,
Crawford, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Holmes, Lake, Lorain,
Mahoning, Medina, Portage, Richland, Stark, Summit,
Trumbull, Tuscarawas, and Wayne countie:

U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Ohio
101 N. 5th Street, P.O. Box 607
Muskogee, OK 74402-0607

U.S. District Court
Northern District of Ohio
2 South Main Street
Akron, OH 44308

U.S. District Court
Northern District of Ohio
801 West Superior Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113

U.S. District Court
Northern District of Ohio
125 Market Street, Youngstown, OH 44503

Western District of Oklahoma: Alfalfa, Beaver, Beckham,
Blaine, Caddo, Canadian, Cimarron, Cleveland, Comanche,
Cotton, Custer, Dewey, Ellis, Garfield, Garvin, Grady, Grant,
Greer, Harmon, Harper, Jackson, Jefferson, Kay, Kingfisher,
Kiowa, Lincoln, Logan, Major, McClain, Noble, Oklahoma,
Payne, Pottawatomie, Roger Mills, Stephens, Texas, Tillman,
Washita, Woods, Woodward counties:
U.S. District Court, Western District of Oklahoma
200 NW 4th St., Room 1210, Oklahoma City, OK 73102

Western Division: Allen, Auglaize, Defiance, Erie, Fulton,
Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Huron, Lucas, Marion, Mercer,
Ottawa, Paulding, Putnam, Sandusky, Seneca, Van Wert,
Williams, Wood, and Wyandot:

OREGON (9th Circuit)
District of Oregon

U.S. District Court
Northern District of Ohio
1716 Spielbusch Avenue, Toledo, OH 43604

Portland Division: Baker, Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia,
Crook, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Hood River, Jefferson,
Malheur, Morrow, Multnomah, Polk, Sherman, Tillamook,
Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Wasco, Washington, Wheeler, and
Yamhill counties:

Southern District of Ohio
U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon
Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, Room 740
1000 S.W. Third Avenue, Portland, OR 97204

Athens, Belmont, Coschocton, Delaware, Fairfield, Fayette,
Franklin, Gallia, Guernsey, Harrison, Hocking, Jackson,
Jefferson, Knox, Licking, Logan, Madison, Meigs, Monroe,
Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Noble, Perry, Pickaway, Pike,
Ross, Union, Vinton, and Washington counties:

Eugene Division: Benton, Coos, Deschutes, Douglas, Lane,
Lincoln, Linn, and Marion counties:

U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio
Joseph P. Kinneary U.S. Courthouse, Room 260
85 Marconi Boulevard, Columbus, OH 43215

U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon,
405 East Eighth Avenue, Suite 2100
Eugene, Oregon 97401-2712

Adams, Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton,
Highland, Lawrence, Scioto, and Warren counties:

Medford Division: Curry, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lake

U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio
Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse, Room 324
100 East Fifth Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202

U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon,
James A. Redden U.S. Courthouse, Room 213
310 W. Sixth Avenue, Medford, OR 97501

Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, Montgomery,
Preble, and Shelby counties:

Eastern District of Pennsylvania: Berks, Bucks, Chester,
Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton,
and Philadelphia counties:

U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio
Federal Building, Room 712
200 West Second Street, Dayton, OH 45402
OKLAHOMA (10th Circuit)
Northern District of Oklahoma: Craig, Creek, Delaware,
Mayes, Nowata, Osage, Ottawa, Pawnee, Rogers, Tulsa and
Washington counties:
U.S. District Court, Northern District of Oklahoma
333 W. 4th St., Room 411, Tulsa, OK 74103
Eastern District of Oklahoma: Adair, Atoka, Bryan, Carter,
Cherokee, Choctaw, Coal, Haskell, Hughes, Johnston,
Latimer, Le Flore, Love, Marshall, McCurtain, McIntosh,

U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania
U.S. Courthouse
601 Market St., Room 2609, Philadelphia, PA 19106-1797
Middle District of Pennsylvania: Adams, Bradford,
Cameron, Carbon, Centre, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland,
Dauphin, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Lackawanna,
Lebanon, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mifflin, Monroe, Montour,
Northumberland, Perry, Pike, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder,
Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Wayne, Wyoming,
York counties:


U.S. District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania
William J. Nealon Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse
235 N. Washington Ave., P.O. Box 1148
Scranton, PA 18501

McMillan Federal Building
401 West Evans Street, Florence, South Carolina 29501
Jasper, Hampton, Beaufort Clarendon, Georgetown,
Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester, and Colleton counties:

Western District of Pennsylvania
Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Clarion, Fayette,
Greene, Indiana, Jefferson Lawrence, Mercer, Washington,
and Westmoreland counties:
U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania
P. O. Box 1805, Pittsburgh, PA 15230

U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina
Hollings Judicial Center
83 Broad Street, Charleston, South Carolina 29401
SOUTH DAKOTA (8th Circuit)
District of South Dakota

Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, McKean, Venango, and Warren

U.S. District Court, District of South Dakota
U.S. Courthouse , Room 128
400 S. Phillips Avenue, Sioux Falls, SD 57104

U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania
P.O. Box 1820, Erie, PA 16507

TENNESSEE (6th Circuit)
Eastern District of Tennessee

Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Clearfield, and Somerset counties:

Greeneville Division: Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen,
Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and
Washington counties:

U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania
Penn Traffic Building
3l9 Washington Street, Johnstown, PA l590l
PUERTO RICO (1st Circuit)
District of Puerto Rico
Clemente Ruiz-Nazario U.S. Courthouse
& Federico Degetau Federal Building
150 Carlos Chardon Street, Hato Rey, PR 00918
RHODE ISLAND (1st Circuit)
District of Rhode Island

U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee
220 West Depot Street, Suite 200, Greeneville, TN 37743
Knoxville Division: Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Claiborne,
Grainger, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon, Monroe, Morgan, Roane,
Scott, Sevier and Union counties:
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee
800 Market Street, Suite 130, Knoxville, TN 37902
Chattanooga Division: Bledsoe, Bradley, Hamilton, McMinn,
Marion, Meigs, Polk, Rhea and Sequatchie counties:

U.S. District Court, District of Rhode Island
Federal Building and Courthouse
One Exchange Terrace, Providence, RI 02903

U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee
900 Georgia Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 37402

SOUTH CAROLINA (4th Circuit)
District of South Carolina

Winchester Division: Bedford, Coffee, Franklin, Grundy,
Lincoln, Moore, Warren and Van Buren counties:

Aiken, Barnwell, Allendale, Kershaw, Lee, Sumter, Richland,
Lexington, Aiken, Barnwell, Allendale, York, Chester,
Lancaster, and Fairfield counties:

U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee
200 South Jefferson Street, Winchester, TN 37398

U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina
Matthew J. Perry, Jr. Courthouse
901 Richland Street, Columbia, South Carolina 29201
Oconee, Pickens, Anderson, Greenville, Laurens, Abbeville,
Greenwood, Newberry, McCormick, Edgefield, Saluda,
Spartanburg, Union, and Cherokee counties:
U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina
Clement F. Haynsworth Federal Building
300 E. Washington St., Greenville, South Carolina 29601
Chesterfield, Marlboro, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Marion,
Horry, and Williamsburg counties:
U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina

Middle District of Tennessee: Cannon, Cheatham, Clay,
Cumberland, Davidson, De Kalb, Dickson, Fentress, Giles,
Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Jackson, Lawrence, Lewis,
Macon, Marshall, Maury, Montgomery, Overton, Pickett,
Putnam, Robertson, Rutherford, Smith, Stewart, Sumner,
Trousdale, Wayne, White, Williamson, Wilson counties:
U.S. District Court, Middle District of Tennessee
Nashville Clerk's Office
801 Broadway, Room 800, Nashville, TN 37203
Western District of Tennessee
Dyer, Fayette, Lauderdale, Shelby, and Tipton counties:
U.S. District Court, Western District of Tennessee
Federal Building, Room 242
167 North Main Street, Memphis, TN 38103


Eastern District of Texas
Benton, Carroll, Chester, Crockett, Decatur, Gibson,
Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson, Henry, Lake,
McNairy, Madison, Obion, Perry and Weakley counties:
U.S. District Court, Western District of Tennessee
U. S. Courthouse, Room 262
111 South Highland Avenue, Jackson, TN 38301

Beaumont Division: Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty,
Newton and Orange counties:
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas
300 Willow Street, Beaumont, TX 77701
Marshall Division: Camp, Cass, Harrison, Marion, Morris and
Upshur counties:

TEXAS (5th Circuit)
Northern District of Texas
Abilene Division: Jones, Nolan, Stephens, Throckmorton,
Fisher, Haskell, Howard, Shackelford, Stonewall, Taylor,
Callahan, Eastland, and Mitchell counties:
U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas
341 Pine Street, Rm. 2008, Abilene, TX 79601
Amarillo Division: Carson, Deaf Smith, Gray, Hutchinson,
Swisher, Armstrong, Brisco, Castro, Dallam, Hartley, Moore,
Ochiltree, Parmer, Roberts, Childress, Donley, Hall,
Lipscomb, Oldham, Potter, Wheeler, Collingsworth,
Hansford, Hemphill, Randall, and Sherman counties:
U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas
205 E. Fifth Street, Rm. 133, Amarillo, TX 79101-1559
Dallas Division: Ellis, Kaufman, Dallas, Rockwall, Hunt,
Johnson, and Navarro counties:
U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas
1100 Commerce St., Rm. 1452, Dallas, TX 75242
Fort Worth Division: Commanche, Perker, Erath, Hood,
Tarrant, Wise, Jack, and Palo Pinto counties:
U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas
501 West 10th Street, 310, Fort Worth, TX 76102-3673
Lubbock Division: Borden, Cochran, Crosby, Hockley, Lynn,
Dickens, Gaines, Hale, Lamb, Scurry, Bailey, Garza, Kent,
Motley, Yoakum, Dawson, Floyd, Lubbock, and Terry

U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk
100 E. Houston, Room 125, Marshall, TX 75670
Sherman Division: Collin, Cooke, Denton, Grayson, Delta,
Fannin, Hopkins and Lamar counties:
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk
101 E. Pecan St. Room 216, Sherman, TX 75090
Texarkana Division: Bowie, Franklin, Titus and Red River
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk
500 Stateline Avenue, Texarkana, TX 75501
Tyler Division: Anderson, Cherokee, Gregg, Henderson,
Panola, Rains, Rusk, Smith, Van Zandt and Wood counties:
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas
211 W. Ferguson Room 106, Tyler, TX 75702
Lufkin Division: Angelina, Houston, Nacogdoches, Polk,
Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby, Trinity and Tyler counties:
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas
104 N. Third Street, Lufkin, TX 75901
Southern District of Texas
Brownsville Division: Cameron and Willacy counties:

U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas
1205 Texas Avenue, C-221, Lubbock, TX 79401-4091

U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas
600 East Harrison St., Room 101, Brownsville, TX 78520

San Angelo Division: Reagan, Schleicher, Coke, Concho,
Irion, Menard, Sterling, Tom Green, Brown, Coleman, Mills,
Crockett, Glasscock, Runnels, and Sutton counties:

Corpus Christi Division: Aransas, Bee, Brooks, Duval, Jim
Wells, Kenedy, Kleberg, Live Oak, Nueces, and San Patricio

U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas
33 E. Twohig Street, 202, San Angelo, TX 76903-6451

U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas
1133 North Shoreline Blvd., Corpus Christi, TX 78401

Wichita Falls Division: Archer, Hardeman, Knox, Montague,
Wilbarger, Cottle, Baylor, Clay, King, Wichita, and Young

Galveston Division: Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, and
Matagorda counties:

U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas
1000 Lamar Street, 203, Wichita Falls, TX 76301

U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas
P.O. Box 2300, Galveston, TX 77553
Houston Division: Austin, Brazos, Colorado, Fayette, Fort
Bend, Grimes, Harris Madison, Montgomery, San Jacinto,
Walker, Waller, and Wharton counties:


U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas
P.O. Box 61010, Houston, TX 77208
Laredo Division: Jim Hogg, LaSalle, McMullen, Webb, and
Zapata counties:
U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas
1300 Victoria Street, Ste. 1131
Laredo, TX 78040

U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk's Office
655 East Durango Blvd., Room G65
San Antonio, Texas 78206
Bell, Bosque, Coryell, Falls, Freestone, Hamilton, Hill, Leon,
Limestone, McLennan, Milam, Robertson and Somervell

McAllen Division: Hidalgo and Starr counties:

U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk's Office
800 Franklin Ave., Waco, Texas 76701

U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas
P.O. Box 5059 McAllen, TX 78501

UTAH (10th Circuit)
District of Utah

Victoria Division: Calhoun, De Witt, Goliad, Jackson,
Lavaca, Refugio, and Victoria counties:

U.S. District Court, District of Utah
350 South Main Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84101

U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas
P.O. Pox 1638, Victoria, TX 77902

VERMONT (2d Circuit)
District of Vermont

Western District of Texas

U.S. District Court, District of Vermont
P.O. Box 945, Burlington, VT 05402-0945

Bastrop, Blanco, Burleson, Burnet, Caldwell, Gillespie, Hays,
Kimble, Lampasas, Lee, Llano, Mason, McCulloch, San Saba,
Travis, Washington and Williamson counties:
U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk's Office
200 West 8th St., Room 130, Austin, Texas 78701
Edwards, Kinney, Maverick, Terrell, Uvalde, Val Verde and
Zavala counties:
U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk's Office
111 East Broadway, Room L100, Del Rio, Texas 78840

District of the Virgin Islands
U.S. District Court, District of the Virgin Islands
5500 Veterans Drive, Rm 310, St. Thomas, VI 00802
VIRGINIA (4th Circuit)
Eastern District of Virginia
Persons in the city of Alexandria and the counties of
Loudoun, Fairfax, Fauquier, Arlington, Prince William, and
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia
Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse
401 Courthouse Square, Alexandria, VA 22314

El Paso County:
U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk's Office
525 Magoffin Avenue, Suite 105, El Paso, Texas 79901

Persons in the Cities of Newport News, Hampton and
Williamsburg, and the Counties of York, James City,
Gloucester, Mathews:

Andrews, Crane, Ector, Martin, Midland and Upton counties:
U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk's Office
200 East Wall, Room 107, Midland, Texas 79701
Brewster, Culberson, Jeff Davis, Hudspeth, Loving, Pecos,
Presidio, Reeves, Ward and Winkler counties:
U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk's Office
410 South Cedar, Pecos, Texas 79772
Atascosa, Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Dimmit, Frio, Gonzales,
Guadalupe, Karnes, Kendall, Kerr, Medina, Real and Wilson

U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia
U.S. Postal Office & Courthouse Building
2400 West Avenue, Newport News, VA 23607
Persons in the Cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk,
Franklin, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Cape Charles, and
the counties of Accomack, Northampton, Isle of Wight, and
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia
Walter E. Hoffman, U.S. Courthouse
600 Granby Street, Norfolk, VA 23510
Persons in the Cities of Richmond, Petersburg, Hopewell,
Colonial Heights and Fredericksburg, and the Counties of
Amelia, Brunswick, Caroline, Charles City, Chesterfield,
Dinwiddie, Essex, Goochland, Greensville, Hanover, Henrico,
King and Queen, King George, King William, Lancaster,


Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Middlesex, New Kent,
Northumberland, Nottoway, Powhatan, Prince Edward, Prince
George, Richmond, Spotsylvania, Surry, Sussex,
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia
Lewis F. Powell Jr., U.S. Courthouse
701 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219
Western District of Virginia
Persons in the city of Bristol or the counties of Buchanan,
Russel, Smyth, Tazewell, and Washington:
U.S. District Court, Western District of Virginia
180 W. Main Street, Room 104, Abingdon, VA 24210
Persons in the city of Norton or the counties of Dickenson,
Lee, Scott, and Wise:
U.S. District Court, Western District of Virginia
P.O. Box 490, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219
Persons in the city of Charlottesville or the counties or
Albemarle, Culpeper, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Madison,
Nelson, Orange, Rappahonnock:

Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane,
Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman, and Yakima counties:
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Washington
Clerk of the Court
P.O. Box 1493, Spokane, WA 99210
Western District of Washington
Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kitsap,
Lewis, Mason, Pacific, Pierce, Skamania, Thurston and
Wahkiakum counties:
U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington
1717 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, WA 98402
Island, King, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom
U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington
William Kenzo Nakamura U.S. Courthouse
700 Stewart Street Suite 2310, Seattle, WA 98101
WEST VIRGINIA (4th Circuit)
Northern District of West Virginia
Brooke, Hancock, Marshall, Ohio, and Wetzel counties:

U.S. District Court, Western District of Virginia
255 W. Main Street, Room 304, Charlottesville, VA 22902
Persons in the cities of Danville, Martinsville, South Boston
or the counties of Charlotte, Halifax, Henry, Patrick, and
U.S. District Court. Western District of Virginia
P.O. Box 1400, Danville, VA 24543
Persons in the cities of Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro,
and Winchester or the counties of Augusta, Bath, Clarke,
Frederick, Highland, Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and
U.S. District Court, Western District of Virginia
116 N. Main Street, Room 314, Harrisonburg, VA 22802
Persons in the cities of Bedford, Buena Vista, Lexington, and
Lynchburg or the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford,
Buckingham, Campbell, Cumberland and Rockbridge:
U.S. District Court, Western District of Virginia
1101 Court Street, Suite A66, Lynchburg, VA 24504

U.S. District Court, Northern District of West Virginia
1125 Chapline Street
Wheeling, WV 26003
Braxton, Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Harrison, Lewis,
Marion, Monongalia, Pleasants, Ritchie, Taylor, Tyler
U.S. District Court, Northern District of West Virginia
500 West Pike Street, Room 301
P.O. Box 2857, Clarksburg, WV 26301
Barbour, Grant, Hardy, Mineral, Pendleton, Pocahontas,
Preston, Randolph, Tucker, Webster counties:
U.S. District Court, Northern District of West Virginia
P.O. Box 1518, 300 Third Street, Elkins, WV 26241
Berkeley, Hampshire, Jefferson, and Morgan counties:
U.S. District Court, Northern District of West Virginia
217 W. King Street, Room 207, Martinsburg, WV 25401
Southern District of West Virginia

Persons in the cities of Clifton Forge, Covington, Galax,
Radford, Roanoke, and Salem or the counties of Alleghany,
Bland, Botetourt, Carroll, Craig, Floyd, Franklin, Giles,
Grayson, Montgomery, Pulaski, Roanoke, and Wythe:
U.S. District Court, Western District of Virginia
P.O. Box 1234, Roanoke, VA 24006
WASHINGTON (9th Circuit)
Eastern District of Washington: Adams, Asotin, Benton,
Chelan, Columbia, Douglas, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant,

Beckley Division: Fayette, Greenbrier, Summers, Raleigh,
and Wyoming counties:
U.S. District Court, Southern District of West Virginia
Federal Building and Courthouse
P. O. Drawer 5009, Beckley, WV 25801
Bluefield Division: Mercer, Monroe, McDowell counties:
U.S. District Court, Southern District of West Virginia
P.O. Box 4128, Bluefield, WV 24701


Charleston Division: Boone, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha,
Lincoln, Logan, Mingo, Nicholas, Putnam and Roane
U.S. District Court, Southern District of West Virginia
U.S. Courthouse
P. O. Box 2546, Charleston, WV 25329
Huntington Division: Cabell, Mason and Wayne counties:
U.S. District Court, Southern District of West Virginia
Sidney L. Christie Federal Building
P. O. Box 1570, Huntington, WV 25716
Parkersburg Division: Persons in Wirt and Wood counties:
U.S. District Court, Southern District of West Virginia
Federal Building and Courthouse
425 Juliana Street, Room 5102, Parkersburg, WV 26102
WISCONSIN (7th Circuit)
Eastern District of Wisconsin: Brown, Calumet, Dodge,
Door, Florence, Fond du Lac, Forest, Green Lake, Kenosha,
Kewaunee, Langlade, Manitowoc, Marinette, Marquette,
Menominee, Milwaukee, Oconto, Outagamie, Ozaukee,
Racine, Shawano, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington,
Waukesha, Waupaca, Waushara, and Winnebago counties:
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin
362 U.S. Courthouse
517 East Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Western District of Wisconsin: Adams, Ashland, Barron,
Bayfield, Buffalo, Burnett, Chippewa, Clark, Columbia,
Crawford, Dane, Douglas, Dunn, Eau Claire, Grant, Green,
Iowa, Iron, Jackson, Jefferson, Juneau, La Crosse, Lafayette,
Lincoln, Marathon, Monroe, Oneida, Pepin, Pierce, Polk,
Portage, Price, Richland, Rock, Rusk, Sauk, St. Croix,
Sawyer, Taylor, Trempealeau, Vernon, Vilas, Washburn, and
Wood counties:
U.S. District Court,Western District of Wisconsin
120 North Henry Street, Room 320
P. O. Box 432, Madison, WI 53701-0432
WYOMING (10th Circuit)
District of Wyoming
U.S. District Court, District of Wyoming
2120 Capitol Ave., 2nd Floor, Cheyenne, WY 82001-3658




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