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Jailhouse Lawyer's Handbook, Center for Constitutional Rights, 2003

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Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook
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


This Handbook is a resource for prisoners who wish to file a Section 1983 lawsuit in federal
court regarding poor conditions in prison and / or abuse by prison staff. It also contains limited
information about legal research and the American legal system. The Handbook is available for
free to anyone: prisoners, lawyers, families, friends, activists and others.
We hope that you find this Handbook helpful, and that it provides some aid in protecting your
rights behind bars. 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!
In struggle,

Ian Head Rachel Meeropol

How to Bring a Federal Lawsuit to Challenge Violations of Your Rights in Prison

4th Edition, Revised in 2003.
Formerly known as the Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual, published by the National Lawyers Guild.
Original version by Brian Glick and the Prison Law Collective, 1974

The Handbook is available on the internet at


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
1. Prisoners in City or County Jail can use this Handbook .................................................................. 2
2. Prisoners in Federal Prison can use this Handbook ........................................................................ 2
3. Prisoners in Private Prison can use this Handbook ......................................................................... 3
4. Prisoners in Every State can use this Handbook .............................................................................. 3
5. Keeping Up to Date and Learning More Details .............................................................................. 4
D. WHY TO TRY AND GET A LAWYER ............................................................................................. 4
E. MONITORING YOUR LAWYER AND CASE .................................................................................. 5
G. THE USES AND LIMITS OF LEGAL ACTIONS.............................................................................. 6
CHAPTER TWO: PLANNING YOUR SECTION 1983 SUIT ............................................................... 8
EMPLOYEES............................................................................................................................................ 8
1. Violations of Your Federal Rights: Conditions and Treatment in Prison......................................... 8
2. “Under Color of State Law”............................................................................................................. 9
B. THE PRISON LITIGATION REFORM ACT (PLRA)........................................................................ 9
C. YOUR RIGHTS UNDER THE U.S. CONSTITUTION .................................................................... 10
1. Your Right to Freedom of Speech & Expression in Prison............................................................. 11
(a) Access to Reading Materials ......................................................................................................... 12
(b) Free Expression of Political Beliefs .............................................................................................. 13
(c) Limits on Censorship of Mail ........................................................................................................ 14
(d) Your Right to Telephone Access .................................................................................................... 15
2. Your Right to Freedom of Religious Activity .................................................................................. 15
3. Protection from Racial Discrimination........................................................................................... 18
4. Protection from Sexual Discrimination .......................................................................................... 18
5. Due Process Rights Regarding Punishment, Administrative Transfers, and Segregation.............. 20
6. Fourth Amendment Limits on Prison Searches and Seizures.......................................................... 22
7. Eighth Amendment Protection from Physical Brutality .................................................................. 23
8. Your Right to Decent Conditions in Prison..................................................................................... 23
9. Your Right to Medical Care ............................................................................................................ 25
10. The Rights of Pretrial Detainees................................................................................................... 27
D. INJUNCTIONS .................................................................................................................................. 28
1. When You Can Get an Injunction ................................................................................................... 29
2. Preliminary Injunctions .................................................................................................................. 29
3. Termination of an Injunction .......................................................................................................... 30
E. MONEY DAMAGES ......................................................................................................................... 30
F. WHOM YOU CAN SUE .................................................................................................................... 32
1. Whom You Can Get An Injunction Against..................................................................................... 32
2. Whom You Can Get Money Damages From ................................................................................... 33
3. What Happens to Your Money Damages ........................................................................................ 33
G. SETTLEMENTS ................................................................................................................................ 34
H. CLASS ACTIONS.............................................................................................................................. 34
CHAPTER THREE: HOW TO START YOUR LAWSUIT.................................................................. 36
A. WHEN TO FILE YOUR SECTION 1983 SUIT................................................................................ 36

1. Statute of Limitations ...................................................................................................................... 36
2. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies.......................................................................................... 37
B. WHERE TO FILE YOUR SUIT......................................................................................................... 37
C. WHAT LEGAL PAPERS TO FILE TO START YOUR SUIT ......................................................... 38
1. Summons and Complaint ................................................................................................................ 39
2. In Forma Pauperis Papers.............................................................................................................. 43
3. Request for Appointment of Counsel............................................................................................... 46
4. Declarations.................................................................................................................................... 47
D. HOW TO FILE YOUR LEGAL PAPERS ......................................................................................... 48
E. GETTING IMMEDIATE HELP FROM THE COURT ..................................................................... 48
1. When You Can Get Immediate Help ............................................................................................... 48
2. How to Apply for Immediate Help .................................................................................................. 49
CHAPTER FOUR: WHAT HAPPENS AFTER YOU FILE YOUR SUIT .......................................... 51
A. A SUMMARY OF WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT TO HAPPEN ....................................................... 51
C. HOW TO RESPOND TO A MOTION TO DISMISS YOUR COMPLAINT ................................... 52
D. HOW TO RESPOND TO A MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT.......................................... 54
1. The Legal Standard......................................................................................................................... 54
2. What to do if You Have Trouble Getting Affidavits ........................................................................ 55
3. Summary Judgment in Your Favor ................................................................................................. 55
E. THE PROBLEM OF MOOTNESS..................................................................................................... 56
SUMMARY JUDGMENT ...................................................................................................................... 56
1. Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment ......................................................................................... 57
2. How to Appeal the Decision of the District Court .......................................................................... 57
G. PRE-TRIAL DISCOVERY ................................................................................................................ 57
1. Discovery Tools .............................................................................................................................. 58
2. What You Can See and Ask About................................................................................................... 59
3. Some Basic Steps............................................................................................................................. 60
4. Some Practical Considerations....................................................................................................... 61
5. Procedure........................................................................................................................................ 61
6. Their Discovery of Your Information and Material ........................................................................ 62
WORKERS AND THE MEDIA ............................................................................................................. 63
1. Attorney and Legal Worker Visits ................................................................................................... 64
2. Legal Mail....................................................................................................................................... 64
3. Media Mail...................................................................................................................................... 64
4. The Prison Law Library.................................................................................................................. 64
5. Getting Help from a Jailhouse Lawyer ........................................................................................... 65
6. Your Right to be a Jailhouse Lawyer .............................................................................................. 65
B. DEALING WITH RETALIATION .................................................................................................... 66
CHAPTER SIX: THE LEGAL SYSTEM AND LEGAL RESEARCH ................................................ 68
A. THE IMPORTANCE OF PRECEDENT............................................................................................ 68
1. The Federal Court System............................................................................................................... 68
2. How Judges Interpret Laws on the Basis of Precedent................................................................... 68
3. Other Grounds for Court Decisions................................................................................................ 69
1. Court Decisions .............................................................................................................................. 70
2. Legislation and Court Rules ........................................................................................................... 72
3. Books and Articles .......................................................................................................................... 73
4. Research Aids ................................................................................................................................. 73
C. LEGAL WRITING...............................................................................................................................74

APPENDIX A: GLOSSARY OF TERMS................................................................................................ 75
APPENDIX B: MORE LEGAL FORMS & INFORMATION .............................................................. 80
1. MOTION FOR LEAVE TO FILE AN AMENDED COMPLAINT...................................................................... 80
2. DECLARATION FOR ENTRY OF DEFAULT. ............................................................................................. 81
3. MOTION FOR JUDGMENT BY DEFAULT. ................................................................................................ 81
APPENDIX C: IMPORTANT CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS ............................................... 82
APPENDIX D: SOURCES OF SUPPORT & PUBLICITY ................................................................... 82
APPENDIX E: PRISONERS’ RIGHTS BOOKS AND NEWSLETTERS ........................................... 84
APPENDIX F: INFORMATION FOR NON-CITIZENS....................................................................... 85
APPENDIX H: LIST OF DISTRICT COURTS...................................................................................... 88

----------------We would like to thank:

The Center for Constitutional Rights & the National Lawyers Guild National Office.
Student & Lawyer Volunteers: Rebecca Benghiat, Maissa Boulos, Alicia D’Addario,
Anna Liza Gavieres, Debra Greenberger, Renuka Gupta, Sarah Holladay, Alex Katz,
Michele Kilpatrick, Veena Lyer, Anna Roberts, Matthew Scott, Alex Smith, Anna Van
All the Jailhouse Lawyers who wrote in with comments and recommendations for
the Handbook, and continue to fight for justice.
Special thanks to: Heidi Boghosian, John Boston, Equal Justice Works, Jeffrey Fogel,
Bill Goodman, Dori Lewis, Mac Scott, Colin Starger
Brian Glick, the Prison Law Collective, the Jailhouse Manual Collective and Angus
Love, who were the original writers and editors of the Handbook (formerly known
as the “NLG Jailhouse Lawyers Manual”).
NLG Jailhouse Lawyer Vice Presidents: Mumia Abu-Jamal and Paul Wright

Chapter One: Introduction



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:

This Handbook explains how a person in a state prison
can start a lawsuit in the federal court, to fight against
mistreatment and bad conditions. The Handbook does
not assume that a lawsuit is the only way to challenge
poor treatment or that it is always the best way. It only
assumes that a lawsuit can sometimes be one useful
weapon in the ongoing struggle to change prisons and
the society that makes prisons the way they are.


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

The Handbook discusses only one kind of legal
problem which prisoners face – the problem of
conditions inside prison and the way you are treated
by prison staff. The Handbook does not go into 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 disciplinary measures for
something you supposedly did in prison.


The Importance of “Section 1983”

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.

A prisoner can take several different kinds of legal
action about conditions and treatment in prison. This
Handbook is about only one of those kinds of legal
action – a lawsuit in federal court based on a federal
law known as “Section 1983” (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 Two of this Handbook explains in
detail which kinds of problems fit under Section 1983.


2. Exhaust the Prison Grievance System! Use the
prison complaint or grievance system and write up
your concerns in detail. Appeal it all the way and save
your paperwork. It is very important you do this
before filing a suit.


Chapter Three gives the basic procedures for
starting a Section 1983 suit and getting immediate
help from the court – what legal papers to file,
when, where and how.


Chapter Four discusses the first things that
happen after you start your suit. It helps you
respond to a “motion to dismiss” your suit or a
“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. Chapter Four does not go into the
later stages of a Section 1983 suit. If you get to this
point, you will need other books and – if possible –
help from a lawyer or law student.


Chapter Five provides some legal ammunition for
your fight against harassment. Prison officials
frequently try to make it hard for a prisoner to bring
a lawsuit, especially when the suit is against those
officials. Chapter Five summarizes recent
decisions in which the U.S. Supreme Court and
other courts have ruled that a prisoner has the legal
right to prepare and file lawsuits on his or her own
behalf; to get help with those suits from other

The Handbook is organized into six chapters, plus
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 explains who can use Section 1983,
what you can sue about, whom you can sue and
what the court can do if it decides in your favor. It
also summarizes many of your rights in prison.


prisoners; and to have access to an adequate law

Chapter Six 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. The strange way in
which law books are organized and court decisions
are written seems designed to make it very hard for
a non-lawyer to deal with the law. But if you read
Chapter Six carefully and follow it as you work,
you will be able to cut through the maze and
understand what is really happening.

Chapters Five and Six are not specifically about
Section 1983. They give general information which
you may find useful when you prepare your suit. It is a
good idea to read Chapters Five and Six BEFORE
you try to use Chapters Two through Four.

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
contains forms for basic legal papers. You will also
find helpful forms and sample papers within Chapters
Three and Four. Appendix C gives the text of
important constitutional provisions. Appendix D lists
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 too.
Appendix E lists other legal materials you can read to
keep up to date and learn details which are not included
in this manual. Appendix F provides special
information for non-citizens, and Appendix G provides
information about the rights of prisoners under
International Law. Appendix H includes a list of
District Courts for your reference.
This Handbook is meant to be used by state prisoners,
but others may find it helpful too.
1. Prisoners in City or County Jail can use this
If you are in a city or county jail, this Handbook may
still be helpful to you. People serving sentences in jail
have the same rights under Section 1983 and the U.S.
Constitution as people in prison. People in jail waiting
for trial, who are called “pretrial detainees,” sometimes
have even more protections under the Constitution.
Chapter Two, Section C, Part 10 lists some federal
court decisions on the constitutional rights of pretrial
2. Prisoners in Federal Prison can use this
If you are in federal prison, this Handbook will also be
somewhat helpful. You cannot use Section 1983 to sue
about bad conditions and mistreatment in federal prison
but you don’t need it there. In a very important case
called Bivens v. Six Named Agents of Federal Bureau

Private Prisons
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
Prompted by the huge increase in the prison population and the public concern for rising costs, private prisons have increased from just
four in 1988, to 162 in 2000 and now house 6% of the total prison population. That is over 90,000 prisoners. Those in favor of private
prisons argue that private companies can manage prisons more effectively than the government and for less money. Those against
private prisons have argued that incarceration is the responsibility of the government and should not be controlled by private parties
that are only interested in making a profit. Some of those against private prisons also ask whether large corporations are exploiting
prisoners for cheap labor.
Studies have shown that the assumption that private prisons cost less money may be a mistake. These prisons may pay their staff lower
salaries, but make up for this with higher administrative costs. One study found that factors like the age of the prison and the level of
security (minimum, medium or maximum) determine costs no matter who runs the prison. On the other hand, the assumption that
private prisons will be less protective of prisoners' rights may also be mistaken. Studies of the number of escapes, riots, assaults (both
by inmates and by guards), and suicides all found little or no difference between public and private prisons.


of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), 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 have basically the same federal rights as state
prisoners so almost all of this Handbook applies to you
3. Prisoners in Private Prisons can use this
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 B.
In some cases it is actually easier to sue private prison
guards, because they cannot claim “qualified
immunity.” You will learn about “immunity” later in
the Handbook.
Federal prisoners serving sentences in private prisons
can use the Bivens action described above in Section 2,
with some limitations. In a case called Correctional
Services Corporation v. Malesko, 534 U.S. 61 (2001),
the Supreme Court held that a federal prisoner who
suffered a heart attack after a private guard made him
climb up five flights of stairs could not sue the private
half-way house using the Bivens doctrine. However,
someone in this situation may be able to sue the private
prison employees themselves. Another choice for a
prisoner in this situation is to file a claim in state court.
These types of actions are described in Section G of
this chapter.
4. Prisoners in Every State Can Use This
Section 1983 lawsuits provide a way for you to assert
your rights under the United States Constitution. Every
prisoner in the country, no matter what state he or she
is in, has those same rights. However, different courts
interpret these rights differently. For example, a
federal court in New York may come to one conclusion
about an issue, but another federal court in Tennessee
may reach a totally different conclusion about the same
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 box at the end of
this chapter.

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 six 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 it, 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
There is more information on understanding and
writing using cases in Chapter Six.

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 E. 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.
Anyone who wishes can contact us about revising this
Handbook for free distribution in their state. Also, the
Center for Constitutional Rights and the National
Lawyers Guild are working to produce state manuals in
coming years.


5. Keeping Up to Date and Learning More Details
This Handbook was completely revised and updated in
2003. However, one of the exciting but frustrating
things about the law is that it is constantly changing.
We have left out many details, and new decisions and
laws will change the legal landscape significantly in the
So be very careful to check for changes in the law
when you use this printing of the Handbook.
Checking to make sure a case is still “good law,”
known as “Shepardizing,” is very important, and is
explained in Chapter Six. You can also write to
prisoners’ rights and legal organizations listed in
Appendix D for help. Groups which can’t represent you
may still be able to help with some research or advice.

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 cases.
You can also request a Referral Directory, which lists
lawyers in various states, from the National Lawyers
Guild. Their address is in Appendix D.
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.

If you have a good chance of winning a substantial
amount of money (explained in Chapter Two,
Section E), a lawyer might take your case on a
“contingency fee” basis. This means you agree to
pay the lawyer a part of the money 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 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 Section F of this chapter) 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


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 “right to counsel.” 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 Three, Section C, Part 3 of this


The 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

In a Section 1983 suit you have a right to sue without a
lawyer. This is called suing “pro se,” which means “for
himself or herself.” Filing a law suit pro se is very
difficult. Thousands of Section 1983 suits are filed by
prisoners every year, and most of these suits are lost
before they even go to trial. This is not said to
discourage you from turning to the courts. Rather, it is
to encourage you to do everything you can to try to get
a lawyer to help you, before deciding to file pro se.
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
Why so much Latin?
better library and
more familiarity
"Pro Se" is one of several Latin
with legal forms
phrases you will see in this manual.
and procedures.
The use of Latin in the law is
unfortunate, because it makes it
And despite all the
hard for people who aren't trained
legal research and
as lawyers to understand a lot of
time you spend on
important legal procedure. We
your case, many
have avoided Latin phrases
judges are more
whenever possible. When we have
likely to take a
included them, it is because you
lawyer seriously
will see these phrases in the papers
than someone
filed by lawyers for the other side,
filing pro se.
and you may want to use them
If you feel, after
reading Chapter
Two, that you have
a basis for a
Section 1983
lawsuit, try to find

yourself. Also, all Latin phrases are
highlighted in italics, like this.
Check the glossary at Appendix A
for any words, Latin or otherwise,
that you don't understand.


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. This Handbook will help you prepare
your basic legal papers (see Chapters Two and
Three) and respond to the motion to dismiss and the
motion for summary judgment (see Chapter Four).
Even if you have a lawyer from the start, you may still
want to use this Handbook to understand what he or she
is doing. Be sure the 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 anything. 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.
As you read in Section A, this Handbook is all about 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
section 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 …
Chapter Two will explain what this means in detail, but
we will give you some background information here.
Section 1983 is a law that was passed by the U.S.
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 African-Americans 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 prohibited slavery, 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
rights, especially when the rights were 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 violates their federal
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 the liberal
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, two very good Supreme Court cases
named Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961) and
Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546 (1964) reversed this trend
and transformed section 1983 into an extremely
valuable tool for state prisoners. You will learn more
about these cases in Section B of Chapter Two.
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 leave prison officials in charge – 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. So too,
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
extremely anti-prisoner, and designed to limit
prisoners’ access to the federal courts. Why would
Congress pass such a repressive piece of legislation?
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 administration. 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 the prisoner. 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.
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.
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. Favorable 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.

Claims under Section 1983 are federal claims that can be
brought in federal court. You may want to consider suing in
state court instead.
There are pros and cons to bringing a case in state court. In
state court, you may 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 lots of conduct by
prison guards can be considered a “tort” but may not be so
bad as to be a federal violation.
For example, you will learn in Chapter Two that the Eighth
Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment” and
protects prisoners from guard brutality. However, this type
of constitutional claim requires that you prove that you were
injured and that the guard acted maliciously. On the other
hand, you can sue a guard for the tort of “battery” on much
less serious facts. A “battery” is any intentional unwanted
physical touch. If a guard spits on you or shoves you, that is
a battery.
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. You can’t use Section
1983 to sue about an action that only violates state law.
But it is tricky to try this without an experienced lawyer, and
usually it won’t make a very big difference.
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 re-elected.
Unfortunately, as we said before, we don’t have room in this
manual to describe the law of all the states. However, look
for new CCR & NLG state manuals available in 2005. In
the mean time, Appendix E lists some organizations that
may have information about your state.

Still, the value of a Section 1983 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, wellmeaning 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.
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 D for media and
groups that may be able to help you. We have also
provided some pointers on writing to these groups.
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
litigation. Section B of Chapter Five 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.


Chapter Two: Planning Your
Section 1983 Suit
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
different interpretation by judges. In this chapter we
will explore what the words themselves and judge’s
opinions from past law suits tell us about what kind of
suit is allowed under Section 1983 (Section A), the
impact of the PLRA (Section B) what you can sue
about (Section C), what you can ask the courts to do
(Sections D & E), whom to sue (Section F), settlements
(Section G), and class actions (Section H).
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 physically present in the
U.S.. The fact that you are in prison does not take
away your right to sue under section 1983. Cooper v.
Pate, 378 U.S. 546 (1964).

Note: “Civil death laws,” which take away or limit
a prisoner’s right to use state courts for personal
injury suits, contracts, divorce, etc., also do not
affect the right to sue in the federal courts on the
basis of Section 1983. Taylor v. Gibson, 529 F.2d
709 (5th Cir. 1976).

Not every injury you suffer or every violation of your
rights is covered by Section 1983. 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. Section 1983 also says “under
color of any statue, ordinance, regulation, custom or
usage, of any State or Territory.” Courts have
developed a shorthand 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. These two requirements are explained
in detail below.
1. Violations of Your Federal Rights: Conditions
and Treatment in Prison.
Section 1983 won’t help you with all the ways in which
prison officials mistreat prisoners. There are two limits.
First, you need to show that the acts you are suing
about violate 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 Section C
of this chapter.
You can also use
Section 1983 to enforce
rights in federal laws, or
“statutes.” Only a very
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


Chapter Two
Table of Contents
Section A:
You can use Section 1983
to sue about certain
violations of your federal
rights by state employees.
Section B:
The Prison Litigation
Reform Act or “PLRA”
Section C:
Your Constitutional
Section D & E:
What You Can Ask the
Courts to Do
Section F:
Who to Sue
Section G:
Section H:
Class Actions

1983 lawsuit using the ADA.

over you.

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. A
second federal statute protecting the religious rights of
prisoners is the Religious Freedom Reformation Act,
or “RFRA.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(c). Unfortunately,
this act 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
Two, Section C, Part 2 explains the protection provided
by each of these sources.

You can’t use Section 1983 to sue over the actions of
federal employees because they act “under color of
federal law,” not state law. This is OK. As we
explained in Section C of Chapter One, you can sue in
federal court whenever a federal official violates your
constitutional rights. This is called a “Bivens action.” It
takes its name from the very important lawsuit that first
allowed this type of action, called Bivens v. Six Named
Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S.
388 (1971).

Second, as a prisoner, your suit has to be about
conditions or treatment in prison. You cannot use
Section 1983 to challenge the fact or duration of your
imprisonment 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. Some of the resources listed in
Appendix E explain how to do this.
2. “Under Color of State Law”
The second limit is that Section 1983 only applies to
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.
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 very important principle 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 local government at the time of the acts you’re
suing about.
The official you sue must have been acting in “under
color of state law” when he violated your rights. This
just means that the official must have been “on the job”
or otherwise exercising the power that comes from his
position of authority. This is rarely a problem for
prisoners, because any time you come into contact with
a prison official, that official is exercising his power

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 him,
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 could 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.
However, almost all of the lower courts have decided
that you can. For example, in Skelton v. PriCor, Inc.,
963 F.2d 100 (6th Cir. 1991), 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), which involved a section 1983 suit by a woman
who 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 law.”
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 provisions here so
that you keep them in mind as you start to structure
your lawsuit. Remember 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 – This section 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. Injunctive relief and the changes in its
availability under the PLRA are discussed in
Section D of this chapter.
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).
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 may well dismiss
your case unless you have first filed an inmate
grievance or complaint form provided by your
prison, and appealed that grievance all the way up.
You will learn more about exhaustion in Chapter
Three, Section A, Part 2.
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. §
Most courts agree that this means that if you are
suing for money damages, you can not get money
for mental or emotional injury alone. If you are
suing for injunctive relief or to stop a violation of
your constitutional or federal rights, you do not
need to worry. This rule is explained in detail in
Chapter 2, Section E on money damages.

should talk to them and have them explain the
significance of this to you. Keep in mind, though,
that the PLRA does not affect any agreement you
may have made with your lawyer to pay fees
PROVISION – Courts charge everyone fees when
they file a lawsuit. However, poor people who are
not prisoners are not required to pay all these fees
up front. Chapter Three, Section C, Part 2,
describes how to file “in forma pauperis papers”
which allow poor prisoners to pay their fees on an
installment plan. If you have had three prior
lawsuits dismissed as “frivolous, malicious, or
failing to state a claim for relief,” 28 U.S.C.A.
1915, you may not proceed in forma pauperis and
will have to pay your fees up front. However, there
is an exception for prisoners who are “in imminent
danger of serious physical injury.”
REPLY – The PLRA allows for courts to dismiss
prisoners’ cases very soon after filing if the case is
ruled “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. These
provisions are explained in Chapter Four, Section
The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
The Amendments to the Constitution provide
individuals in this country with certain rights. Within
the U.S. Constitution, the main protection against
actions by state officials is found in the Fourteenth
“No State shall…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.”
These guarantees are known as the “Due Process
Clause” and the “Equal Protection Clause.” The courts
have ruled that both clauses protect prisoners.

4. ATTORNEYS’ FEES – As explained in Chapter
One, Section D, the PLRA limits the court’s ability
to make the defendants pay for “attorneys’ fees” if
you win your case. If you do have a lawyer, you

Equal protection means that prison officials are
not supposed to discriminate against you on the
basis of your race or any other arbitrary category,
such as your religion, nationality, sex, income, or
political beliefs.



Due process means prison officials are not
supposed to restrict your access to courts or
lawyers, or punish you (take away your property or
your liberty, even within prison) without fair

The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution are
known as the “Bill of Rights.” Technically, these
amendments apply only to actions by the federal
government, not to actions by state officials. However,
the courts have ruled that the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment “incorporates” most of the Bill
of Rights. This means when a state or local official
does something that is prohibited by one of the first ten
amendments, it is a violation of the Due Process Clause
of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In this way, the Due Process Clause protects a state
prisoner’s rights under the First Amendment, including
free speech, the right to associate with anyone you
choose, and freedom to practice your religion. The Due
Process Clause also incorporates your right under the
Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable
searches or seizure of your property. And it includes
the protection of the
Eighth Amendment
against “cruel and
Chapter Six explains the court
unusual punishment,”
including brutality and system, how cases are used as
grounds for court decisions,
inhumane prison
how legal citations work, and
conditions. Appendix
the basics for legal research.
C gives the full text of
Be sure to read it if you are
these Amendments.
going to do any legal

and expression includes the right to read books and
magazines, the right to call or write to your family and
friends, the right to criticize the government or state
officials you disagree with, 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 assert these
rights. 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, a law that restricts your freedom is ok as long as it
is “reasonably related to a legitimate penological
interest.” A court will decide if a law, prison
regulation, or guard’s action is “reasonably related to a
legitimate penological interest” by asking four

The four questions are as follows:

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
reasonably related to security. “Neutral
government interest” means that the prison’s goal
must not be related to its dislike of a particular idea
or group. The prison can’t pick and chose certain
books or ideas or people unless it has a “neutral”
reason, like security, for doing so.


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 in all ways. 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
438 U.S. 1 (1978)


How does the regulation impact other prisoners,
prisons guards or officials and prison resources?
This is most often about how much any change
would cost, in terms of money and staff time. For
example, one court held that it is constitutional to
prevent prisoners from calling anyone whose

research. Remember that

This section of the
federal courts in one state do
Handbook will discuss not always follow decisions
the major
by federal courts in other
parts of the country.
constitutional rights
that prisoners have
won in the federal
courts. It will indicate the key court decisions in
support of each right. For more details and citations, as
well as legal arguments in favor of additional
constitutional rights for prisoners, check the books and
resources listed in Appendix E. Be sure to keep up with
new decisions by using Shepard’s Citations and other
resources in your law library. There is more
information on Shepard’s Citations in Chapter Six.
1.Your Right to Freedom of Speech & Expression in
The First Amendment protects everybody’s right to
freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of speech


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. 1996). This question is not always
just about money though, 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.

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 obvious and easy way for a prison to achieve
its desired goal. For example, one court held that it
is constitutional to ban correspondence between a
pair of prisoners in two different facilities after one
sent a threatening letter to the other’s
Superintendent, because monitoring their
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
(a) 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 receive and
keep reading material like books and magazines. This
doesn’t mean that you can have any books you want.
Your right is limited by the interest of prison officials
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 before they could violate a
prisoner’s legal rights. This standard, developed in
Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396 (1974), gave
prisoners fairly strong protection of their access to
reading materials. Today, however, 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

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 Six
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 Six also
gives helpful tips on how to get the most out of
reading a case.
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. Abbot, 490
U.S. 401, 404 (1989). If you feel that your right to
have reading materials is being violated, you should try
reading Thornburgh v. Abbot.
While the Turner standard is less favorable to
prisoners, it still guarantees you a number of important
rights. Prison officials still 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 the second question in
Turner, and because the rule wasn’t reasonably related
to the prison’s interested in punishment and cleanliness,
a problem under Turner Question 1. Spellman v.
Hopper, 95 F. Supp. 2d 1267 (M.D. Ala., 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 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). Also, 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 or repugnant content. They can


only censor material if they believe it will incite
disorder or violence, or will hurt a prisoner’s
rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the Thornburgh standard
gives prison wardens broad discretion in applying these
rules, and 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 (2nd 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.
You do not have a right to all kinds of sexually explicit
materials. But most courts have said that you do have a
right to non-obscene, sexually explicit material that is
commercially produced (as opposed to, for example,
nude pictures of spouses or lovers). Thornburgh, 490
U.S. at 405. Recently, however, some 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 homosexually explicit material when
the material depicts individuals of the same sex as the
prison population, arguing that a prisoner might be
identified as homosexual when he receives the material
and attacked by others as a result. Espinoza v. Wilson,
814 F.2d 1093 (6th Cir. 1987). Homosexual material
that is not sexually explicit is allowed in at least some
circuits. Harper v. Wallingford, 877 F.2d 728 (9th Cir.
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 the cost of searching all of these materials would
be too great.

(b) Free Expression of Political Beliefs
The Basics: You can believe whatever you want, but
the prison may be able to stop you from some writing,
talking or organizing.

You also have the right to express your political beliefs.
This means that prison officials may not punish you
simply because of your political beliefs. Sczerbaty v.
Oswald, 341 F. Supp. 571 (S.D.N.Y. 1972). To justify
any restriction on your right to free expression, prison
officials need to satisfy the Turner test by showing that
the restriction is “reasonably related to legitimate
governmental interests.” The Turner test was explained
earlier in this section.
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, one court
found a rule that kept prisoners from carrying on
businesses or professions in prison to be not reasonably
related to legitimate governmental interests when it
kept Mumia Abu-Jamal from continuing his journalism
career. Abu-Jamal v Price, 154 F.3d 128 (3rd 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.
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 ban on
publishing leaflets to be distributed to the general
public on the topic of a new law was constitutional,
because prisoners still had other ways to inform the
public about the issue, such as by individual letters.
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 the proposed prison regulations would lead to
prison riots. The court found that since there was no
security risk, the transfer was unreasonable.
Prison officials are permitted to ban petitions, like those
asking for improvements in prison conditions, as long
as prisoners have other ways to voice their complaints.
Duamutef v. O’Keefe, 98 F.3d 22 (2d Cir. 1996).
Officials can ban a prisoner from forming an
association or union of inmates, because it is reasonable
to conclude that such organizing activity would involve
threats to prison security. Brooks v. Wainwright, 439 F.
Supp. 1335 (M.D. Fl. 1977). In one very important
case, the Supreme Court upheld the 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 communicate complaints to prison officials
and for the union to communicate with prisoners. Jones
v. North Carolina Prisoners’ Labor Union, Inc., 433
U.S. 119 (1977).
(c) 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 look
in your letters, to make sure there is no contraband

The First Amendment also protects your right to send
and receive letters. Until 1989, prison officials were
required to meet a relatively 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 outgoing mail, but allows prison officials more
flexibility in controlling incoming mail.
In order to censor the letters you send to people outside
the 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 means that prisons cannot restrict or censor your
outgoing mail without meeting the “important” and
“necessary” test. 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).
However, courts have usually allowed guards to look in
your outgoing mail, especially for contraband. Courts
explain that looking in a letter is different from
censorship. Altizer v. Deeds, 191 F.3d 540 (4th Cir.
1999); Stow v. Grimaldi, 993 F.2d 1002 (1st Cir. 1993).
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
refuse prisoner correspondence with anyone not on an
approved mailing list, while other courts have not.
Censorship of incoming mail, on the other hand, is
governed by the Turner test, which was explained
earlier in this chapter. As you learned earlier, the
Turner test only requires that the regulation in question
be “reasonably related” to a “legitimate” government
interest, as opposed to “necessary” to meet an
“important interest.” This means that while your rights
are still protected to some extent, prisons can put
restrictions on incoming mail for a variety of reasons.
Courts have allowed restrictions on incoming packages
on the grounds that they can easily hide contraband and
would use up too many prison resources on inspection.
Weiler v. Purkett, 137 F.3d 1047 (8th Cir. 1998).
Courts have also generally upheld 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. The
author of the letter should have a chance to protest the
censorship. The official who responds to a protest
cannot be the person who originally censored the mail
in question. Procunier, 416 U.S. at 419-20.
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. Van Poyck v. Singletary,
106 F.3d 1558 (11th Cir. 1997); Davidson v. Mann, 129


F.3d 700 (2d Cir. 1997).
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” and is protected by your
constitutional right of access to the courts, as well as by
the attorney-client privilege. When this mail is clearly
marked as “privileged,” and is related to your case,
prison officials cannot read it. They can only open it in
your presence to inspect it for contraband. Castillo v.
Cook County Mail Room, 990 F.2d 304 (7th Cir. 1993).
If you wish to protest reading or censorship of your
mail in court, however, you may have to show that the
acts you are complaining about actually affected your
case or injured you in some way. John v. N.Y.C. Dept.
of Corrections, 183 F. Supp. 2d 619 (S.D.N.Y. 2002).
Even if a prison restricts most of your correspondence
with other prisoners, you may be allowed to correspond
by mail with a prisoner serving as a jailhouse lawyer.
A number of courts have decided that 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. In addition, you must have
requested that legal mail be opened only in your
presence, and according to some courts your attorney
must have identified himself 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).

calls. Cook v. Hills, 3 Fed.Appx. 393 (6th Cir. 2001)
(unpublished). Others have held that prisoners who are
told that they are being monitored consent to giving up
their privacy. U.S. v. Footman, 215 F.3d 145, 155 (1st
Cir. 2000); U.S. v. Workman, 80 F.3d 688, 693-694 (2d
Cir. 1996). In other words, if there is a sign under the
phone saying that “all calls are monitored” you can’t
complain about it. 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.
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).
Courts have upheld prison requirements that prisoners
pay for their own telephone calls. This can impose a
serious burden on prisoners, especially when states
enter into private contracts with phone companies that
force prisoners to pay far more for their phone calls
than people using pay phones in the outside world must
pay. Successful challenges to these types of contracts or
excessive telephone charges in general have been rare,
but several organizations are suing over this issue in
hopes of ending this exploitation of prisoners and their
families and friends.

(d) Your Right to Telephone Access
2. Freedom of Religious Activity
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. They can probably also listen in
while you talk.

Your right to talk with friends and family on the
telephone is also protected by 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

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
most important way is 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. You must be able to show the court that


Ways to Protect Your Religious Freedom

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.

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) The Establishment Clause of the First
Amendment keeps the government from
encouraging you to follow a certain religion, or be
religious at all;

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 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 real reason. They have to show that
a restriction is “reasonably related to a penological
interest,” under the Turner test described in Section C,
Part 1 of this chapter. Courts often follow the decisions
of prison officials, but any restriction on the free
exercise of religion is still required to meet the fourpart Turner test before it will be upheld.
The first clause in the First Amendment is called the
Establishment Clause, and it says that the government
can’t encourage people to be religious, or chose one
religion over another. The Circuit Courts currently rely
on two different standards in deciding whether a prison
has violated the Establishment Clause.
For both tests, 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 religion.
The first test was developed in Lemon v. Kurtzman,
403 U.S. 602 (1971). This test that says to be valid
under the Constitution, a regulation or action
1) must be designed for a purpose that is not
2) cannot have a main effect of advancing or setting
back any religion; and

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
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 prisons’ interest in
security and administration.
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.

Note: A claim under the Establishment Clause is
rare in prison, so you should probably try one of
the other four options first.

Another source of protection for religion 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. 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, a
prison cannot treat members of one religious affiliation
differently just because they are few in number or hold
non-traditional beliefs, but they can have better
facilities and services for religions that have more
followers. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972).


The following is a brief description the type of
problems that often come up in cases about prisoners’
constitutional rights 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, O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz,
482 U.S. 342 (1987). The prison can keep you
from visiting a sweat lodge for religious practice at
certain times of day, Thomas v. Gunter, 103 F.3d
700 (8th Cir. 1997). The prison can also require
that all religious services be led by a non-prisoner
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
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). However, courts often agree with whatever
the prison says is a “good reason.” Young v. Lane,
922 F.2d 370 (7th Cir. 1991).


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 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).
Courts will often not require prisons to provide
special diets if they are not absolutely required by a
prisoner’s religion.

Courts have also addressed such issues as religious
name changes, Hakim v. Hicks, 223 F.3d 1244 (11th

Cir. 2000); access to religious literature, Chriceol v.
Phillips, 169 F.3d 313 (5th Cir. 1999); Williams v.
Brimeyer, 116 F.3d 351 (8th Cir. 1997); prison
requirements for medical procedures that violate
religious principles, Shaffer v. Saffle, 148 F.3d 1180
(10th Cir. 1998); and the right to possess religious
objects, Morrison v. Garraghty, 239 F.3d 648 (4th Cir.
In addition to the protections provided by the
constitution, there are two statutes that protect the
religious rights of prisoners. If you look at cases about
your right to religious freedom in prison that were
decided between 1993 and 1997, you may notice
references to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act
The RFRA provided prisoners with substantially more
protection of religious freedom than does the First
Amendment. Specifically, the Act stated 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.” This is a much
stricter test than that upheld in O’Lone v. Estate of
Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342 (1987), where the Supreme
Court said that government restrictions need only be
“reasonably related to legitimate penological interests”
(under the four-part Turner test). Second, the
government must prove that its restriction is the “least
restrictive means of furthering that compelling
interest.” This also provides prisoners with more
protection than Shabazz did, since the Court in Shabazz
allowed certain restrictions on religious practice as long
as prisoners were still offered alternative means of
practicing their religion. For example, if they could
attend worship services on some days but not on others.
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.
You must rely on the four-part Turner test instead.
However, the Supreme Court did not explicitly 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.

HINT: If you are a federal prisoner and you think
your right to practice your religion has been
violated, write a separate claim in your “complaint”
under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Finally, in 2000, Congress passed the Religious Land
Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA),


another law that protects prisoners’ rights to practice
their religion. Like the RFRA, RLUIPA states that a
prison cannot “impose a substantial burden on the
religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to
an institution” unless the burden is: (1) “in furtherance
of a compelling governmental interest” and (2) “the
least restrictive means of furthering that compelling
The RLUIPA is different than the RFRA because 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. So far, several
courts that have considered the RLUIPA have found it
constitutional. Mayweathers v. Newland, 314 F.3d 1062
(9th Cir. 2002); Charles v. Verhagen, -- F.3d ---, No.
02-3572, 2003 WL 22455960 (7th Cir. Oct. 30, 2003).
At least two other courts have found it unconstitutional.
Madison v. Riter, 240 F. Supp. 2d 566 (W.D.Va.2003);
Cutter v. Wilkinson, --F.3d --, 2003 WL 22513973 (6th
Cir. Nov. 7, 2003).
Although some people believe the law will eventually
be held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, just as
the RFRA was, RLUIPA is currently good law in many
jurisdictions. You should therefore consider bringing a
claim under RLUIPA if you believe that your right to
exercise your religion freely has been inappropriately
restricted by authorities at your prison.
3. Freedom from Racial Discrimination
The Basics: Prison officials cannot treat you differently
because of your race and the prison can’t segregate
prisoners by race except in very limited circumstances.
However, proving racial discrimination or segregation is

Racial discrimination and racial 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).
When bringing a racial discrimination claim, it is
important to understand that it is not enough to show
that prison rules had the effect of discriminating against

you; you must show that a discriminatory purpose was
at least part of the reason for the rules. David K. v.
Lane, 839 F.2d 1265 (7th Cir. 1988). One way you can
do this is by showing that discrimination is the only
possible reason for a policy. For example, a federal
court in Alabama decided that the constitution had been
violated because it could not find any nondiscriminatory reason for the fact that AfricanAmericans consistently made up a greater proportion of
those detained in Alabama’s segregation unit than of
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. For example, another court held that prison
officials did not violate the constitution when they
censored certain cassettes, most of which were AfricanAmerican rap music, because there was not enough
evidence that they intended to discriminate against
African-Americans. Betts v. McCaughtry, 827 F. Supp.
1400 (W.D. Wisc. 1993).
Even if you get past this first hurdle, and successfully
prove discriminatory intent, courts may allow racial
segregation or discrimination if prison officials show
that it is essential to prison security and discipline.
Washington v. Lee, 263 F. Supp. 327, 331 (M.D. Ala.
1966). This exception to the general rule is narrow.
Racial segregation must be in response to an obvious
danger to security, discipline, and good order, and it
may only be “limited and isolated.” U.S. v. Wyandotte
County, Kan., 480 F.2d 969 (10th Cir. 1973). A vague
fear of racial violence is not a sufficient justification for
a broad policy of racial segregation. For example, one
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. Sockwell v. Phelps, 20 F.3d 187 (5th Cir.
Most courts have held that racial discrimination in the
form of occasional verbal abuse does not violate the
4. Protection from Sexual 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.

The Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment also prohibits discrimination based on


gender against prisoners and non-prisoners alike. 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. Unlike men, who make up the majority of
prisoners, women will often be lumped together in one
prison with other prisoners from all levels of security
classification because there are so few 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
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 same level of services to such a small
population of women 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 evident that the prison was not following the
Glover court’s orders.
While women in other states have also effectively
challenged gender discrimination under the Equal
Protection clause, relatively few cases by women
prisoners have succeeded. As they do in 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
(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 in
the same situation differently, it is acceptable to treat
prisoners in different situations differently. Courts will
look at a number of factors in determining 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. Department 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
“gender-based.” Judges look very carefully at
gender-based rules. The government must show
that the 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). Note that this is a much stricter standard
than the “reasonable relationship” Turner test that
is used with respect to other constitutional rights,
described in Part 1 of this Section.


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. If the
action challenged is “gender-neutral” then the


courts use a less strict standard of review. The court
must determine whether the action is in fact
gender-neutral, and, if it is, examine whether the
different treatment of men and women that results
is “rationally related to legitimate government
interests” (the Turner test) or whether, instead, it
reflects an intent to discriminate on the basis of
gender. Jackson v. Thornburgh, 907 F. 2d 194
(D.C. Cir. 1990).
In distinguishing between the tests, there are two
important considerations to keep in mind.
First, whether you are looking for an important
governmental objective or just a legitimate
governmental objective, these objectives are not
acceptable if they are proven to be the result of
stereotyping or outdated ideas about proper gender
roles. Pitts v. Thornburgh, 866 F.2d 1450 (D.C. Cir.
1989). For example, the court will not accept an
objective 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 an action is
gender-based or gender-neutral, and courts disagree on
how to read certain types of regulations or policies.
Very often, there will be two regulations at play. The
first 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 instead to be based on characteristics
of the prisons alone. However, they often result in
different treatment of male and female prisoners.
Some courts have taken the requirement that an action
be gender-based to get heightened scrutiny very
literally. These courts have argued that when a statute
or policy does not explicitly distinguish between men
and women in how the prison facility is run, it is
basically gender-neutral. Klinger v. Dep’t 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.
Even where the statute or policy about programming
decisions does not actually mention gender, these

courts will apply the higher standard of scrutiny
detailed above. Pitts v. Thornburgh, 866 F. 2d 1450
(D.C. Cir. 1989).
5. 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 Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment
prohibits a state from depriving “any person of life,
liberty or property without due process of law.”
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.” Procedural due process
defines the amount of protection you get before the
prison can do something that harms your life, liberty, or
property. 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 received.
You have a “liberty interest” when the prison’s
actions interfere with or violate your constitutionally
protected rights.
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 holding of Wolff and sets a higher
standard that you have to meet in order to show that
you have a “liberty interest.” If you don’t have a
“liberty interest,” then the prison doesn’t have to
provide you with any process at all. 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
above, taken from Wolff. “Atypical” means that the
way you were treated has to be much different than
the way most prisoners are treated. “Significant
hardship” means that treatment must be really
awful, not just uncomfortable or annoying.
This means that if you want to argue that you should
have been given the rights laid out in Wolff, you must
show that your punishment 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. On the other hand, 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. 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.
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 (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, the prison must
give the inmate procedures like a hearing and a chance
to present evidence.
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). On the other hand, it is also true
that courts will not require the prison to call witnesses
when calling additional witnesses would be
unnecessary or irrelevant. Kalwasinski v. Morse, 201
F.3d 103 (2d Cir. 1999).
If you are transferred to a different facility or to a

You cannot bring a procedural due process
challenge to a disciplinary proceeding resulting
in the lose of good time credits if winning
would result in the Court necessarily reversing
the judgment you received in the disciplinary
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 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.
different location within a prison, the same standard set
out under Sandin v. Connor applies: you must show
that the transfer resulted in conditions that were a
significant or atypical departure from the ordinary
instances 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 conditions
that gave rise to a claim of due process violation.
However, you may have a case if you are transferred to
a supermaximum security facility without the due
process protections described above, especially if the
conditions there are much harsher than most prisons.
If you are placed in administrative segregation, as
opposed to 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 and that
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 precedent can be found in Wagner v. Hanks, 128
F.3d ll73, ll75 (7th Cir. 1997). One case that provides a
useful argument against this holding is Sealey v.
Giltner, 197 F.3d 578 (2d Cir. 1999).
Although it has become more difficult in recent years
for prisoners to bring claims of due process violations
involving transfers or administrative segregation, there
may be other ways of challenging such decisions. 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).
6. Fourth Amendment Limits on Prison Searches
and Seizures
The Basics: Prison officials can usually search your
cell whenever they want but there are some limits on
when and how they can strip search you.

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
clothing 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 permissible.
If a prison official searches your cell with the purpose
of harassing you or for some other reason that is not
justified by a penological need, this may be a Eighth
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
Some states have passed laws or interpreted their
constitutions to require officers to have a warrant
before searching your cell, or to require that you be
allowed to watch while the search occurs. Check out
the law in your state to learn more about this issue.
Prisoners have more protection from searches of their
bodies. While they 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, courts will balance the need for the search
against the invasion of privacy the search involves.
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 absent the showing of a security
need; 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 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; and in Kent v. Johnson, 821
F.2d 1220, 1226-27 (6th Cir. 1987), the Sixth Circuit
refused to dismiss a complaint stating that 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 the other gender, however,
you may be able to show a Fourth Amendment
violation if there was no reasonable justification for the
invasive search.
There is especially good case law on this issue in some
circuits with respect to searches of pretrial detainees.
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. One case that
explains this issue is Shain v. Ellison, 273 F.3d 56, 66
(2d Cir. 2001).


7. Eighth Amendment Protection from Physical
The Basics: Guards do NOT have the right to beat you
or harm you unless their action is considered
reasonable given the situation.

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
Courts have held that “excessive force” by guards in
prisons constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. In a
very important Supreme Court case called Hudson v.
McMillian, 503 U.S. 1 (1992) the Supreme 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.” In other words, “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. Not all courts agree with this though,
so you should check the law in your circuit. 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).

Remember: Under the PLRA, you cannot recover
compensatory money damages for mental or

emotional injury, unless you can also claim some
physical injury. This rule can be very harsh. It
means that if a guard threatens you, or assaults you
in some way, but does not injure you, you will not
be able to get money damages for the very real
emotional and mental distress that you feel as a
result of this brutality. However, you may be able
to get “punitive damages” or “nominal damages.”
We explain this issue, and the difference between
the three types of damages, in Section E of this
The state of mind of the prison officials is important 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 malicious, 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).
However, 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).
8. Your Right to Decent Conditions in Prison
The Basics: You have a right to safe conditions in

The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and
unusual punishment also protects your right to safe and
somewhat decent conditions in prison. You can
challenge prison conditions 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
extreme and cause more injury than discomfort alone.
To challenge prison conditions using the Eighth
Amendment, you must provide both objective evidence
and subjective evidence. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S.
825 (1994); Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294 (1991).
Objective evidence is factual evidence that you were


deprived of a basic human need. Subjective evidence
is evidence that the prison official you are suing knew
you were being deprived and did not respond
reasonably. You must show how you were injured and
prove that the deprivation of a basic need caused your
When you provide objective evidence, you must show
that the condition(s) 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. Helling v.
McKinney, 509 U.S. 25 (1993).
When you provide subjective evidence, you must
show that the official you are suing acted with
“deliberate indifference.” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S.
294 (1991). This 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 have purposefully
ignored it to not know about 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). Spain v.
Procunier, 600 F.2d 189 (9th Cir. 1979). 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.
As explained in other sections of this Handbook, 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 your
claim for injunctive relief from poor conditions.
However it may be quite 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.

Here are some of the most common Eighth Amendment
challenges to prison conditions:

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). As
long as the prison diet meets nutritional standards,
prisons can serve pretty much whatever they want.
They must, however, provide a special diet for
prisoners whose health requires it and for prisoners
whose religion requires it. See Part 2 of this
section, on religious freedom.


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 has
considered three hours per week adequate, Hosna
v. Groose, 80 F.3d 298, 306 (8th Cir. 1996), while
another has 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. LeMaire
v. Maass, 12 F.3d 1444 (9th Cir. 1993). Prisons
must provide adequate space and equipment for
exercise, but again, there is not 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, Reilly v. Grayson, 310 F.3d
519 (6th Cir. 2002), 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 hot or cold, and
should be given bedding and clothing appropriate
for the temperature. 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, and basic supplies such as
toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, sanitary napkins,
razors, and cleaning products.





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).
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), and 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, either 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, 501 U.S. at 305, but the courts are in
disagreement as to what exactly that means.
9. 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 Eighth Amendment also protects your right to
medical care. The Constitution guarantees prisoners
this right, even though it does not guarantee medical

care to individuals outside of prison because, as one
court explained, “An 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).
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 or bring a medical
malpractice suit in state courts. You might also bring a
claim in federal court under the Federal Tort Claims
Act or a federal statute such as the Americans With
Disabilities Act. This section, however, will focus
exclusively on your rights to medical care under the
U.S. Constitution.
Unfortunately, the Eighth Amendment does not
guarantee you the same level of medical care you might
choose if you were not in prison. To succeed in an
Eighth Amendment challenge to the medical care in
your prison, you must show that:
(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 only entitled to
medical care for “serious medical needs.” Courts do not
all 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.
Some courts have held that a serious medical need is
“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 the medical need must be "one that, if left
unattended, ‘pos[es] a substantial risk of serious
harm.’” Taylor v. Adams, 221 F.3d 1254, 1258 (11th
Cir. 2000). In other words, if a doctor says you need
treatment, or your need is obvious, than it is probably


Courts generally agree that the test for serious medical
need is highly 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. Furthermore, a prisoner may
suffer from a serious underlying medical condition, but
not have a serious medical need for Eighth Amendment
“it's the particular risk of harm faced by a prisoner
due to the challenged deprivation of care, rather
than the severity of the prisoner's underlying
medical condition, considered in the abstract, that
is relevant for Eighth Amendment purposes.” Id.
at 186; Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 702703 (2d Cir. 1998).
In considering whether you have a serious medical
need, the court will consider several factors,

known about your medical need) or because you
disagree with the type of treatment a doctor gave you.
You must bring these 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, they will assume that prison officials knew about
your condition when it was very obvious. Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 842 (1995).
Courts most often find deliberate indifference when:

(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, one good case to read is
Brock v. Wright, 315 F.3d 158 (2d Cir. 2003).
It is important that you keep detailed records of your
condition and inform your prison medical staff of
exactly how you are suffering.
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).
(b) Deliberate Indifference
The standard for “deliberate indifference” in medical
care cases is the same two-part standard used in cases
challenging conditions of confinement in prison,
explained in Part 8 of this chapter. To prove deliberate
indifference, you must show that (1) prison officials
knew about your serious medical need and (2) 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 (just because a doctor should have



a prison doctor fails to respond appropriately or
does not respond at all to your serious medical
prison guards or other non-medical officials
intentionally deny or delay your access to
or when these same non-medical officials interfere
with the treatment that your doctor has ordered.
Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-105; Meloy v. Bachmeier,
302 F.3d 845, 849 (8th Cir. 2002).

Unfortunately, courts do not usually require prison
medical staff to give you the best possible care. For
example, courts have not found a violation when prison
medical staff sent a patient who was severely beaten by
another patient to a doctor and then followed that
doctor’s orders despite the prisoner’s continued
complaints, even though the prisoner’s condition was
more serious than the doctor had recognized. Perkins v.
Lawson, 312 F.3d 872 (7th Cir. 2002). Another court
found that there could not have been 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

Immigration Detainees

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 failed to 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 the wake of September 11, 2001, more and more noncitizens are being held in prisons or jails, even though
they are not convicted criminals or even pretrial
detainees. These people are “immigration detainees.”
Like pretrial detainees, immigration detainees can
challenge the conditions of their confinement under the
Due Process Clause. Some courts have held that such
challenges should be analyzed under the Bell standard.
For an example of this point of view, read Edwards v.
Johnson, 209 F.3d 772 (5th Cir. 2000) or Medina v.
O’Neil, 838 F.2d 800 (5th Cir. 1988).

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 used by prisons, the screening policies or
staffing for prisoners seeking care, and the disease
control policies of prisons, Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S.
678 (1978).
10. The Rights of Pretrial Detainees
The Basics: Pretrial detainees have most of the same
rights as prisoners.

Not everybody who is incarcerated in a prison or jail
has been convicted. Many people are held in jail before
their trial. Special issues arise with respect to these
“pretrial detainees.” As you know from the above
sections, the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and
unusual punishment of people who have already been
convicted. Since detainees are considered innocent
until proven guilty however, they may not be punished
at all. One legal result of this is that conditions for
pretrial detainees are reviewed under the Fifth or
Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause as opposed
to 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 only 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

However, other courts have acknowledged that it is not
yet clear how immigration detainees’ claims should be
treated. In Preval v. Reno, 203 F.3d 821 (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. 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, because you have not gotten the usual
protections that courts give defendants in the criminal
justice system. You may also want to argue that,
because the correct standard is unclear, the court should
appoint an attorney to represent you.
Another important issue for immigration detainees is
whether the PLRA applies to them. While the Supreme
Court has not considered this issue yet, the lower courts
have held that the sections of the PLRA which
specifically apply to “prisoners” do not apply to
immigration detainees. This includes the exhaustion
requirement, the mental & emotional injury requirement,
and the filing fee provision. See Agyeman v. INS, 296
F.3d 871 (9th Cir. 2002). On the other hand, the section
of the PLRA on the requirements for and termination of
injunctive relief apply to “all civil actions with respect
to prison conditions.” This section may apply to
immigration detainees. See Vasquez v. Carver, 18 F.
Supp. 2d 503 (E.D. Penn. 1998).

administrative or security purpose. It held that restraints
that are “reasonably related” to the institution’s interest
in maintaining jail security do not, without more,
constitute unconstitutional punishment, even if they
cause discomfort.
You can prove that poor conditions or restrictive
regulations are really 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, either because it doesn’t
have any purpose, or because it is overly restrictive or
an exaggerated response to a real concern.
As with the Turner standard for convicted prisoners,
courts defer to prison officials in analyzing what is a
“legitimate concern.”
Although the Bell standard for analyzing the claims of
pretrial detainees is well-established, the circuits are
not in agreement as to whether the content of that
standard is any different from the content of the Eighth
Amendment standard explained above. 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 protection available to
prisoners. 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 standard.
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 whom to include as
plaintiffs, what you want the court to do, and whom to
If you bring a lawsuit under Section 1983, you can ask
for one, two, or all of the following: money damages, a
declaratory judgment, and an injunction.

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


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.


A “declaratory judgment” lies somewhere in
between: it 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.

Although a court usually issues a declaratory judgment
and an injunction together, 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 court’s declaratory judgment.
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.
This section talks about injunctions in more detail,
including when you can get an injunction, what it can
cover, and how to enforce it. Section E of this Chapter
explains money damages, Section F explains whom
you can sue (the “defendants”) and Section G explains
If you are part of a group of prisoners who are seeking
a declaratory judgment
and injunctive relief
What is an Injunction?
(and sometimes money
damages) from a court,
An injunction is an order
you can ask the court to
issued by a court that tells the
make the lawsuit a
defendant to do or not do
“class action.” This
something. You can get an
injunction to stop the
kind of lawsuit joins
defendants from harming you.
together all plaintiffs,
Or, you can get an injunction
both present and future,
to make the defendants do
that have been harmed
something to improve
in the same manner as
conditions or care in the
you at the same prison
prison. Sometimes an
or jail. There are very
injunction is referred to as
specific requirements
“prospective relief.” You
for bringing a class
can ask for an injunction if
action lawsuit. These
you are experiencing any of
the following:
requirements will be
discussed in Section H
1. Overcrowded, unsafe, or
of this chapter.
extremely harsh conditions;

When you think about
2. A pattern of guard brutality
what kind of relief you
or harassment;
want, it is important to
keep in mind that in a
3. Inadequate medical care;
Section 1983 suit, a
federal court cannot
4. Continuing violation of any
release you from prison
of your rights.
or reduce your sentence.
Additionally, you
cannot use a Section 1983 suit to request the
reinstatement of good-conduct-time credits that have
been unconstitutionally taken from you. Presier 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 detailed discussion of the
writ of habeas corpus is beyond the scope of this
Handbook. But see
Appendix E for some
Your options
books and resources
when filing a
on habeas corpus.
Section 1983 suit
You may use a Section You can get one, two or all
1983 suit to get money
of the following:
damages to challenge
the unconstitutionality
(1) Money damages,
of disciplinary
sanctions and
(2) An injunction,
convictions, including
the loss of good(3) A declaratory judgment
conduct-time credits.
However, because of a
case called Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641 (1997),
you cannot bring a Section 1983 suit to challenge a
disciplinary proceeding that extends your time in
prison until you have had your disciplinary conviction
or sanction set aside in state court.
1. When You Can Get an Injunction
An injunction is an order issued by a court that tells the
defendant to do or not do some act or acts. It can order
the defendants to stop doing harmful and
unconstitutional things to you or 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 and can be fined or jailed.
In considering whether to ask for an injunction in your
lawsuit, you should think about the harm you have
suffered and figure out if 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.” This
means that you have to show the court that you were
really 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, you must have
been harmed by whatever is wrong.

In this context, “injury” does not have to mean actual
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 wasn’t sent out,
your books were taken away, or you have to live in a
strip cell.
If your suit is about living conditions in prison, you
should ask for an injunction. For instance, if you are
suing about overcrowding, unless your living situation
has changed since you filed the lawsuit, you are still
living in overcrowded conditions, so you are suffering
an “ongoing harm” and you can request an injunction.
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.

Remember: Even if the abuse you suffered does
not fit the standard discussed here, you can still sue
for monetary damages. This is discussed in Part E
of this chapter.

2. Preliminary Injunctions
Most injunctions are called permanent injunctions.
The court can only give you a permanent injunction at
the end of your lawsuit. However, sometimes prisoners
can’t wait a long time, sometimes 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 injunction.
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;
(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;


(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

to focus on preliminary and permanent injunctions.
You will learn more about preliminary injunctions and
TROs in Chapter Three, Section E.

(4) A preliminary injunction will serve the public

3. Termination of an Injunction

The next chapter and legal resources that you can find
in your library will assist you with writing a complaint
that includes all of the necessary information to get a
preliminary injunction.
If you are successful in winning your preliminary
injunction, the battle is unfortunately not over.
Because of 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 that same conditions still exist.
Mayweathers v. Newland, 258 F.3d 930 (9th Cir. 2001).
You must also consider the “exhaustion” requirements
of the PLRA. In Chapter Three, Section A, Part 2 you
will learn that the PLRA requires you to use the prison
grievance system before filing a lawsuit. If you have
an emergency situation, and you do not have time to
use the prison grievance system, you can request a
preliminary injunction. The courts are split on whether
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).
Either way, you will have to show the court that if you
were forced to wait to file after using the prison
grievance system, you would face “irreparable harm.”
“Irreparable harm” is an injury that would cause
permanent harm that can not be fixed.
What all this means is that you need to carefully take a
look at the law in your Circuit. To be safe, you should
use the prison grievance system while are working on
your lawsuit. In your complaint, you should state what
you have done to file a grievance.
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.
However, unless you are working with a lawyer, you
may have trouble getting a TRO. So, it might be best

The PLRA also states that court-ordered injunctions
may be terminated, or ended, after two years, unless the
court finds that an injunction is “necessary to correct a
current or ongoing violation” of your rights and that the
injunction still satisfies the requirements for an
injunction set forth above. After the first two years of
an injunction, it may be challenged every year. To
keep the injunction, you will have to show that without
it, your rights would still be violated. Don’t worry
about this for now. It is very likely that if you are faced
with this issue, you will also have a lawyer to help you.
In a Section 1983 suit the court can order prison
officials to give you money to make up for the harm
you suffered when those officials violated your federal
rights. 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 damages from
others, or both. This section explains when and how to
get damages.
There are three types of money damages. The first type
of damage award that an individual can get in a Section
1983 suit 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
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 purpose of these
damages is to try and get you back to the condition you
were in before you received the injury.
Another 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
‰ You can get nominal
(1983). In this
damages if your rights
case, Mr. Wade
have been violated
had been moved
into protective
‰ You can get compensatory
custody in his
damages to make up for
prison after having
the physical harm you were
been assaulted by
other prisoners. A
‰ You can get punitive
prison guard
damages to punish guards
moved two other
who hurt you on purpose.
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.

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 (these standards are discussed
earlier in the Handbook), it probably makes sense to
ask for punitive damages too. It can’t hurt.
If you have not been physically hurt, the PLRA has
made it much harder to get any kind of award of
monetary damages. The PLRA states that a prisoner
must show “physical injury” in order to file a lawsuit
for “mental or emotional injury”. Different courts have
different standards as to what qualifies as physical
injury. The physical injury has to be greater than “de
minimis” (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.
What is a “mental or emotional injury?”

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 compensatory damages by
proving that she was illegally denied medical treatment,
but she did not win punitive damages. In this 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 the “callous indifference” required for
punitive damages.

Some courts have held a “mental or emotional” injury
is any claim for any constitutional violation that does
not include a physical injury. For a case like this, read
Thompson v, Carter, 284 F.3d 411 (2d Cir. 2002).
However, this section of the PLRA does not apply to
claims for injunctive or declaratory relief or claims for
nominal and punitive damages. Harris v. Garner, 190
F.3d 1279 (11th Cir. 1999) discusses injunctive relief
and Calhoun v. DeTella, 319 F.3d 936 (7th Cir. 2003)
discusses nominal and punitive damages.
It is difficult to know for sure 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 can not 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

Naming Your Defendants:

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


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

In your complaint you will name at least one defendant.
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; there must be a good reason to sue
First, as you learned in Chapter Two, Section A, Part 2,
every defendant you sue must have acted “under color
of state law.” What this means is that each prison
official who was responsible for your injury must have
acted while working at your prison or “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.
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. In this
example, 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 lead to
the violation or your rights. So, let’s say that the
prison warden, 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 can be held
responsible for creating a policy that led to the
beatings. A supervisor can also be sued for ignoring
and 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 should sue the
warden as well as the guards.
There are legal differences between whom 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 still sue for an injunction and money damages
together in one lawsuit.
First, you have to decide whether to sue a prison
official in his or her “individual capacity” or “official
capacity”. If you are suing John Doe, supervising
guard at “X” State Prison, in his individual capacity,

If you want both, sue everybody is their
“individual and official capacities.”
You will learn how to state that you are suing
someone in his or her individual or official
capacity in Chapter Three.
that means you are suing John Doe personally. In
contrast, if you are suing John Doe, supervising guard
at X State 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
happens to be John Doe.
1. Whom You Can Get An Injunction Against
To get an injunction from the court, you will need to
sue prison guards and officers in their “official
capacity.” The purpose of an injunction is to change
your prison by making prison officials take some action
or stop doing something that violates your rights. So,
in this kind of lawsuit you would want to sue the
officials in charge. You cannot sue a state or a state
agency directly, so you can’t sue “X State Department
of Corrections” for either an injunction or for money
damages. Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v.
Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984). The law does allow
you to sue state-employed prison officials in their
official capacity, and this can force the state and its
state agencies respect your rights. So, if you are asking
for an injunction, you want to make sure that you sue
high-ranking officials at your prison, and mention the
titles of the prison officials that you are suing as well as
each of their names.
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 policy
or custom of the city. 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. For example, in Board of County
Commissioners of Bryan County v. Brown, 520 U.S.
397 (1997), Ms. Brown was not able to win her case
against a municipality when she tried to prove that the
municipality was responsible for a police officer’s
illegal use of excessive force in connection with her
arrest. The court stated that the municipality’s decision
to hire one police officer was not “deliberate conduct”
that was the “moving force” behind the violation of Ms.
Brown’s rights.
You will be in a better position to win against a
municipality if you can show that the municipality was
guilty of some pattern of abuse that resulted in the
violation of your rights. You are unlikely to win
against a municipality if your injury happened once or
was caused by one prison or jail official.
2. Whom You Can Get Money Damages From
If you want to sue for money damages in your lawsuit,
you have to sue the prison officials that violated your
rights in their individual capacity (personally). As with
injunctions, you cannot sue your state or its agencies.
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!
To overcome qualified immunity, your complaint
(explained in detail in Chapter Four) must include facts
that show that:

Your rights were violated;
The right that was violated was “clearly
established; and
The defendant was personally responsible for
the violation of your rights.

For a right to be “clearly established,” a prison official
must have warning that his or her actions in a situation
were illegal. Under the law, a prison official is allowed
to make mistakes. Prison officials 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 personal involvement requirement means that
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. This type of
supervisory liability is called “respondeat superior”
and it is not enough not for Section 1983 liability.
However, you can hold supervisors responsible on the
following theories:
(1) The supervisor directly participated;
(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 was grossly negligent in
managing the people he or she was supposed to
For a case explaining this kind of liability, read
Meriweather v. Coughlin, 879 F.2d 1037 (2d Cir.
Some public officials have what is called absolute
immunity. Unlike qualified immunity, absolute
immunity is a complete bar to suit. 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.
You may 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 be paid by their
employers: the prison or the state or state agency that
runs the prison.
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.
3. What Happens to Your Money Damages
If you win money damages, the PLRA contains rules
that may dip into 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.”
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.
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. However,
there have been no rulings regarding these provisions
so far, so it is hard to say whether and how they will
affect suits and prisoners.
Before a judge rules on your case, the defendants may
want to “settle,” which means both parties involved
give in to some of each others’ demands and your suit
will end without a trial. In a settlement, an injunction
can still be issued against the defendant, and damages
can be awarded to you. No one, not even the judge,
can force you to settle.
The PLRA describes some rules on settlements.
Settlements which include any kind of prospective
relief (or injunctions) 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 approve and
make sure PLRA restrictions are enforced. This means
that a court can only approve a settlement or a consent
decree if it is shown evidence or admissions by the
defendants that your rights were violated by the prison
officials that you are suing. This is a pretty hard task,
since you would have to go to court and prove to the
court all of the requirements for an injunction.
Some prisoners have been successful in having their
consent decrees approved by a court when both the
prisoner and the prison officials being sued agree that it
meets all of the requirements of the PLRA. There is no
guarantee that this will work in all cases.
Parties can enter into “private settlement agreements”
that may not meet PLRA standards, but these
agreements cannot be enforced by federal law. These
agreements are very risky if your rights are being
The PLRA does not restrict settlements that only deal
with money, and do not include prospective relief.

One prisoner, or a small group of prisoners, can sue on
behalf of all other prisoners 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
(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.
(4) The people who bring the suit must be able to
“fairly and adequately protect the interests of
the class.”
(5) The defendants “must have acted or refused to
act on grounds generally applicable to the
class,” so that it would be appropriate for a
court to issue one injunction or declaratory
judgment “with respect to the class as a
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.
Second, a class action cannot be dismissed as “moot”
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) (the problem of “mootness” is
discussed in Chapter Four, Section E).
A class action has one very big disadvantage. If you
lose a class action, the judgment binds all the class
members, so individuals cannot successfully challenge
conditions that were upheld in the class action. On the
other hand, 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 Six 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, courts require that classes are
represented by an attorney.
You can 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.

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


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


Chapter Three: How to Start
Your Lawsuit
This chapter explains how to start a lawsuit under
Section 1983. It explains what legal papers to file,
when, where, and how to file them, and it provides
forms to guide your writing. It also explains what to do
in an emergency, when you need immediate help from
the court. The next
chapter, Chapter
TIP: Before you start writing
Four, discusses what
your complaint, request the
happens after a suit
following documents from
is started. Neither
your District Court:
chapter gives all the
rules or procedures
1. The District Court’s Local
for this kind of suit.
These details are in
2. Forms for a Section 1983
the Federal Rules of
pro se action;
Civil Procedure
3. In Forma Pauperis forms;
issued by the U.S.
4. Forms for Appointment of
Supreme Court. The
Federal Rules are
supposed to be in
your prison library as part of Title 28 of the United
States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.). The U.S.C.A. gives
short summaries of important court decisions which
interpret each rule. Chapter Six explains how to use the
U.S.C.A. and other law books.
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. 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 read a book that explains
the Federal Rules and court decisions that interpret the
Rules. If your library has it, a good book to read 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.
In addition to the Federal Rules, each United States
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 H 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.
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.
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
1. Statute Of Limitations
For damage suits 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
you will not be able to bring it. To meet a statute of
limitations, you need to file your suit before 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
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 suit. Also,
some sections of the PLRA do not apply to prisoners
who have been released.
You do not have to worry about the statute of
limitations if you have a suit for an injunction, because


you must be experiencing on-going harm to get an
injunction. If you are still being harmed, than each
harm brings you a new period within which you have a
right to sue. On the other hand, if you want an
injunction you have to start and finish your suit while
you are inside to avoid the problem of “mootness”
explained in Chapter Four, Section E
If you file your suit in time, but then need to file an
amended complaint to add new claims, you should be
fine. However, you may have trouble if you try to add
new defendants after the statute of limitations has run
out. Read Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 15(c)
to learn whether your new complaint will “relate back”
to your first filing.
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).
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 try to sue a prison official about anything he or she
has done to you, the court will almost always dismiss
your case unless you have first filed an inmate
grievance or complaint form provided by your prison.
Not only do you have to file this form, but you also
need to wait for a response, and appeal that response as
far up as possible.
Because of the PLRA, you must use the grievance
system. 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 you filing
a grievance, but you still need to do it. Your case will
be dismissed if you do not follow the rules.
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
protective custody, and not allowed to file a grievance,
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, so you should definitely go
through the grievance process unless you are truly
The exhaustion requirement applies to all type of prison
cases. 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 even have to use the prison’s grievance
system 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 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 monetary
It is not entirely clear yet if you have to exhaust each
separate issue in your case, or name each defendant, or
what will happen if you miss a prison grievance
deadline. For this reason, you should try to be as
detailed as possible in your grievance and try to comply
with all the prison’s grievance rules and deadlines, even
if they don’t make any sense.
If the court does dismiss your case 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. However, if
the statute of limitations has run by the time you are
done exhausting, you will be out of luck.
You will file your lawsuit at the federal trial court,
called a “district court.” This is where all cases start.
There is often more than one district in a state. 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.
What district you should file in is determined by the
law of “venue.” The main venue rule for a suit based
on Section 1983 is section 139(b) of Title 28 of the
United States Code.
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 in which your rights were violated.
To determine what district this is and to get the address
of the district court, locate your state in Appendix H,
and then check to see which district covers the county


these rules in the Local Rules you request from your
district court, described above.

your prison is in.
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, instead of
delivering them to the defendants, 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.
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.
As you will see, a lawsuit requires an amazing amount
of paperwork. There are two basic papers for starting
any federal lawsuit: a “summons” and a “complaint.”
They are described in Part 1, below. If you have very
little or no money, you will want to request that the
court allow you to sue “in forma pauperis,” to give 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. 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.
The courts expect legal papers to be written a certain
way, which is different from how anyone ordinarily
writes. But don’t be intimidated! This does not mean
that you need to use legal jargon, or try to sound
like a lawyer. This chapter will include forms for each
basic document that you will need. 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.
If you need a legal paper that is not covered by this
chapter or Chapter Four, 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

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, that your
rights were violated in your prison, and request 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.
Generally, you should type if you can. Large type is
best. Check with the local court rules or court clerk 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 at the top.
Try to follow the forms in this chapter, and Chapter
Four, and the special 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 papers.
Do not worry about using special phrases or fancy legal
words. These are never necessary. Just write clearly
and simply and try to keep it short.
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 plaintiff
should sign each motion.
The summons and complaint and any other papers you
submit to the court must be served by a marshal or
someone appointed by the court. This is explained
below. Whenever you submit a motion or other legal
paper after the suit is started, mail a copy to the Deputy
Attorney General who represents the prison officials.
His or her name and address will be on the legal papers
submitted by the prison officials.


1. Summons And Complaint
You start a Section 1983 suit by mailing a legal
document called a “complaint” to the appropriate U.S.
District Court.

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.

The Complaint
The complaint is the most important document in
your lawsuit. In it, you officially describe your
lawsuit. You explain who you are (plaintiff), whom
you are suing (defendants), what happened (factual
allegations), what you want the court to do (relief), and
what laws give the court the power to rule in your favor
(legal claims). If your complaint does not meet all the
requirements for a Section 1983 lawsuit, your suit
could be dismissed at the very start.
Getting all the right facts down in your complaint can
be difficult but is very important. The following is a
sample complaint. Yours should be on a full sheet of
paper, not in two columns like it is here. You can copy
the parts of this form that are appropriate for your suit,
and add your own facts to the italicized sections. The
letters (A) through (J) in grey by each section should
not be included in your complaint. They are just there
for your reference. Each section will be explained

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.
Plaintiff, [your full name, and names of other
plaintiffs], 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
Defendant, [full name of head of corrections
department] is the [Director / Commissioner] of the
state of [state]. 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].

The Complaint Form:

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,
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

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 of that
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 law.
State IN DETAIL all the facts that are the basis
for you 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.
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
proper 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.”
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”

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

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
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, usually Eighth or Fourteenth] Amendment to the
United States Constitution.
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.

Any additional relief this court deems just,
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.
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 definitely check your court’s
local rules to see what they want. As you can see, 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 H. 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. Inside the 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 Two, Sections
D and E about whom you can sue, and remember to
include 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 “v” which
stands for “versus” or “against”. Across from the box
is the title of your document. This is a complaint, so
call it that. Each document you file in your case will
have a different title. 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.
Part (B) is a statement of the court’s jurisdiction
(paragraph 1) and venue (paragraph 2). Jurisdiction
really means “power.” Federal courts, unlike most
state courts, are courts of “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. All prisoners bringing Section 1983
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
Two, Section D), 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
Two, Section D) 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

Rules of venue are about physical location. Venue rules
can help you decide which federal district court you
chose in which to file your case. Prisoners will almost
always want to bring their case where the actions
occurred. See Section B, above, and Appendix H.
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, you may also
want to include your race, ethnicity, or gender, if
relevant. If you have more than one plaintiff, you can
list them all in one paragraph, unless there are
differences in their situations that you need to note. 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.
Part (D) is a list of potential defendants and their titles.
This is just an example. You may sue more people or
less people. They may be all guards, or all supervisors.
As explained above, you will need to put careful
thought into whom you are suing, and whether to sue
them in their official or individual capacity. Only sue
people who were actually involved in your violating
your rights! You will also want to include, for each
defendant, a statement of why they are responsible for
what happened to you. Generally, this just means
stating a defendant’s job duties. You must be sure to
include the statement in Paragraph 6: that at all
times, each defendant acted under color of state law.
As you may remember from Chapter Two, Section B,
this is one of the requirements for Section 1983 actions.
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 has 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 Two, Section C, Part 5, 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.
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 facts that you believe
are true but don’t know to be true through personal
knowledge, as long as you write “upon information and
Make sure that you 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
Part (F) is a statement that you have exhausted your
administrative remedies by using the prison grievance
system. While all courts in the country require
exhaustion under the PLRA, only some courts require
you to state the facts about exhaustion in your
complaint. To be safe, it can’t hurt to state all the steps
you have taken to exhaust your complaint, and 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 11 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, then refer
to the defendants individually, by name, in each
paragraph. Here is an example:
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 Nancy Nurse, David 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
Paragraph 14 is only necessary if you are applying for
injunctive relief. You should include that sentence in
any complaint that requests an injunction.
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. Once again, this is
just an example. Do not include paragraph 16,
requesting injunctive relief, unless you are eligible for
injunctive relief. If you request an injunction, you
should spend some time thinking about what it is you
actually want the prison to do or stop doing. Be

creative but also specific. And make sure that the
injunction you request is related to a continuing
violation of your rights. You should review Chapter
Two, Section D on injunctive relief before writing this
section. You should also 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. Review Chapter
Two, Section E on damages before writing this section.
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 if you do, you
can use it as evidence if the defendants file a motion for
summary judgment against you (see Chapter Four,
Section D) 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.

Note: You are expected to tell the truth in an
“unverified” complaint as well.

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. The amended complaint is still about the
same basic events. But you might 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 Four, Section C.
When and how you can amend your complaint is
governed by Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. You have a right to amend once before the
defendants submit an Answer 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
You might also want to change your complaint to cover
events that happened after you filed it. The guards
might have beaten you again, confiscated your books,


or placed you in an isolation cell. Now you need to
submit a “supplemental complaint.” This procedure is
governed by Rule 15(c). 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.
The Summons:
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. All you
need to do is follow this form:

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 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.
Clerk of the Court
Date: ____________

2. In Forma Pauperis Papers
The federal courts charge $150 for filing a lawsuit, and
another $105 if you wish 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 means “as a poor person.” If
you are granted this status, court fees will be taken in
installments from your prison account. If you win your
suit the court will order the defendants to reimburse
you for these expenses. Before the PLRA, the court
could let you proceed without pre-paying for filing or
service. However, this is no longer possible. Now you
must eventually pay the entire filing fee.
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. Each court has a different
application, so you should request this form from the
district court clerk before filing your complaint, and the
clerk will also send you paperwork for you 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
prison account statement, include in your declaration an
explanation of why you could not get the account
statement. You will also need to file a declaration in
support of your motion. The form of this declaration
will probably also be available in the pro se packet, but
in case it is not, use the following example.
Again, only use this declaration if you cannot get a
declaration form from the 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.
In Forma Pauperis Form:
Names of the first
Name of all the first
Defendant, et al.


: Civil Action No.
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 that the responses which I have made below are
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)
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.
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 ___
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 ___
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 ________________.
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)
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. ___________.
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 declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true
and correct.
Signed this _______ day of ________, 20 ___.
(your signature)
Date of Birth
Social Security Number

Explanation of Form:
In section (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
means “and others.” However, be aware that if there is
more than one plaintiff in your lawsuit, each plaintiff
needs to file his or her own declaration and application.
In section (B), if you have never been employed, just
say that. If you have a job in prison, state that.
In section (C), you should include any money you have
in a prison account.
Some of these questions may sound weird, or not apply
to you -- section (D) for example. However, answer
them anyway. Like for question 7, just state that you
do not live in an apartment.
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 some real legal
basis. You do not need to be absolutely broke. Section
1915(b)(1) of Title 28 directs the judge to compare the
monthly deposits and the average balance for your
prison account. He or she will figure that you can
initially pay twenty percent of the larger of these
numbers. If this is less than $150, then Section
1915(b)(2) states that you must pay twenty percent of
the monthly deposits to your account until the $150 is
paid. If the court decides you are not poor or your suit
is entirely “frivolous,” it will return your legal papers
and you will have to find a way to pay the full amount.


Another initial expense in filing your lawsuit is
personal delivery of legal papers to each defendant,
which can be done for a fee by the U.S. Marshal’s
office or a professional process server. Personal
delivery of legal papers, called “service of process,” is
required under most circumstances, according to Rule 4
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 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. There are
other potential 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.
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 “pre-trial discovery” (see
Chapter Four, Part G), though you may be able to
recover these expenses from the defendants if you win.
Appointed counsel recovered such expenses in
Armstrong v. Davis, 318 F.3d 965 (9th Cir. 2003).

Tip: 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 districts grant in forma pauperis status
quickly and routinely, some districts have a reputation
for a great deal of delay. This is a serious problem. If
you discover that your district has long delays, or your
motion to proceed in forma pauperis is denied, you
could try one of the following methods.
(1) If you can raise the money, pay the $150 filing fee
yourself, and have someone outside the prison serve
your papers for free. Rule 4(c)(2) of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure allows service by any person older
than 18 who is not a party to the lawsuit.
(2) Alternatively, you can ask the defendants to waive
service under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(d) 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 copy both the Notice

of Lawsuit and Request for Waiver of Service of
Summons and the actual Waiver of Service of
Summons. You should be 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 of personal service by a professional
process service or a marshal.
The Problem of Three Strikes:
The “three strikes provision” of the PLRA states:
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
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 unless you can
show you are in imminent danger of serious injury.
This means you will have to pay the entire filing fee
up front, or your case will be dismissed.
The PLRA is very specific about what dismissals count
as strikes: dismissals for frivolousness, maliciousness,
or failure to state a claim. 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
What counts as a
withdraw will usually
not be considered a
strike. A dismissal is not
Dismissals for:
a strike if it is
impossible to tell what
‰ frivolousness,
the basis for the
dismissal was. Only
‰ maliciousness,
federal court dismissals
count as strikes and
‰ failure to state a
dismissal in a habeas
corpus action is not a


The courts have not yet determined if a second strike is
counted if a case is re-filed, than dismissed a second
time. Dismissals may be strikes even if they were not
in forma pauperis cases. Cases filed or dismissed
before the PLRA was enacted have also been 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.” To meet this requirement, the injury does not
need to be so serious as to be an Eighth Amendment
violation. The risk of future injury is enough to invoke
the imminent danger exception.
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 really
worth it. Once you are given a third strike, you will
have to pay the entire filing fee of $150 up front before
you can file a new lawsuit.
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
behalf. 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?

These factors are listed in Montgomery v. Pinchak, 294
F.3d 492, 499 (3rd Cir. 2002).
Unfortunately, appointment is usually at the
“discretion” of the judge, which means that if a judge
doesn’t want to appoint you counsel, he or she doesn’t
have to. On the other hand, there have been a few rare
cases in which a court held that a judge abused this
discretion. In Hendricks v. Coughlin, 114 F.3d 390 (2d

Revocation of Earned Release Credit
This is another provision of the PLRA that you
should also consider before deciding to file a
lawsuit. If you are confined in a federal correctional
facility, any civil action you bring may put you at
risk of losing your earned good time credit.
A court can take away your earned good time credit
if they decide that:
a) The claim was filed for a malicious purpose;
b) The claim was filed solely to harass the party
against which it was filed; or
c) You testify falsely or otherwise knowingly
present false evidence or information to the
Cir. 1997), a U.S. Court of Appeals found that the
district court had abused its discretion in refusing to
appoint counsel for a prisoner in a Section 1983 case.
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.
The best procedure is to request appointment of counsel
at the same time you request in forma pauperis status.
If you can get this 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:

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


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:
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)
3. A trial in this case will likely involve conflicting
testimony, and counsel would better enable plaintiff to
present evidence and cross examine witnesses.
4. Plaintiff has made repeated efforts to obtain a
lawyer. Attached to this motion are
____________________________________. (B)
WHEREFORE, plaintiffs request that the court
appoint__________________, a member of the
________ Bar, as counsel in this case. (C)
Signature, print name below

Explanation of Form:
You can include any facts in this motion that you think
will help convince the court that you need a lawyer.
For example, in section (A) 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.
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, should be enough.
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.
If the court denies your request at that time, or simply
ignores it, be sure to renew your request after the court
has denied the prison officials’ motion to dismiss your
complaint and their motion for summary judgement.
These motions are explained in Chapter Four, Sections
B and C. The court may be more willing to appoint
counsel after it has ruled that you have a serious case.
To renew your motion, use the same form as above.
4. Declarations
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. If your suit has several
plaintiffs, each of you should make out a separate
statement of the details of all the facts that plaintiff
knows. 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. The following is an example of what your
declaration should look like:
In the United States District Court
For the _____________________
Name of first plaintiff
in the case, et al.,
: [Name of person
Names of first defendant
: making
in the case, et al.,
: Civil Action No.
[Full name of prisoner or other person making the
statement] hereby declares:




I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing
is true and correct. Executed at (city and state) on

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 in general, and can stop prison officials from
getting a “summary judgment” against you.

The declaration is in the name, 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 Four,
Section D.
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 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.
As explained above, it is very important to request the
Local Rules from the district you plan to file in,
because different courts require different numbers of
copies, and may have different rules about filing. You
should follow the local rules whenever possible. In
general, though, you will need to send the original of
each document and one copy for each defendant to the
Clerk of the Court for the United States District Court
for your district. 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.
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.
Ordinarily a federal lawsuit goes on for months or even
years before the court reaches any decision. But you
may need help from the court long before that. A U.S.
District 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) and / or a
Preliminary Injunction.
1. When You Can Get Immediate Help
Chapter Two, Section D explains when you are eligible
for an injunction. By way of review, to get any kind of
injunction, you must show
1) an ongoing, illegal practice by the defendant,
2) that money damages will not fix your injury.
A “preliminary injunction” is an order from the judge
that addresses your concerns during the period after
you file your complaint, but before you have a trial.
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 65(a) sets out the
requirements for a preliminary injunction.
On top of fulfilling the two requirements above, you
must also show that:
3) Without the court’s help you are likely to suffer
irreparable harm;
4) You are likely to succeed at trial;


5) You will suffer more if the injunction is denied
than the defendant will suffer if it is granted;
6) A preliminary injunction will serve the public
A preliminary injunction requires a hearing, at which
the defendants have a chance to tell their side of the
story to the Judge.
The other option is a “temporary restraining order,”
also called a “TRO.” It is explained in Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure Rule 65(b). A TRO is very difficult to
get, especially for prisoners. It is only available in an
emergency, when you can show that waiting for a
preliminary injunction hearing will cause you
immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage.
If you are confused about whether you are eligible for
any kind of injunction, you should review Chapter
Two, Section D. If you decide to go ahead and try to
get a preliminary injunction or a TRO, you will need to
follow the instructions below.
2. How to Apply for Immediate Help
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.”
This is one legal paper, and looks like this:

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

Explanation of Form:
If you only want a preliminary injunction, and not a
TRO, do not use the parts of this sample order that are
highlighted. 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 all the important information and times
and places.
The most difficult part of the document is where you
have to fill in the actions you want a preliminary
injunction and / or a TRO about. 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.
You will need to give or send a copy of this paper to all
the defendants, along with the following supporting

Prepare a declaration which states how you
tried to notify the defendant that you’re
applying for a TRO and also states 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 “irreparable injury.”
Submit your declaration and your “TRO and
Order to Show Cause” together with your
summons, complaint and in forma pauperis

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 Six. 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 tests for temporary
relief. If possible, show how your situation is
like some other case where a TRO was issued.

Remember: 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. A prisoner has a constitutional right to
correspond and meet with representatives of the
media. See Chapter Five, Section A.
Look for more decisions in your circuit, and cite those
cases in your Memo of Law and ask the court to not
require security from you.

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.
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. The proper
procedure for judicial rulings when prisoners do not
have lawyers is discussed more fully in Chapter Four.
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 a matter
for the judge’s discretion, which means he or she will
look at the circumstances and decide whether or not
you should have to pay. Thus, 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.

Chapter Four: What Happens
After You File Your Suit
Filing your suit is only the beginning. By itself, filing a
summons and complaint does not accomplish anything.
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.
Once you file, 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.
Again, the PLRA has produced more 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.
If the defendants do reply, then within 20 days after he
or she is served with your complaint, each defendant
must submit either 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. 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 and
accepts or states a defense against each legal claim you
make. See Rule 12, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Each side can get more information from the other
through “interrogatories,” “depositions,” and other
forms of “pre-trial discovery.” Each can submit
additional declarations from people who have relevant
information. Each side can file motions which ask the
judge to issue various orders or to decide the case in its
favor without a trial.
If the case goes to trial, there will be witnesses who
will testify in court, and they will be cross-examined.
Both sides may submit exhibits. If you request
damages, you can have that issue decided by a jury.
Whichever side loses in the district court has a legal
right to appeal to a United States Circuit Court of
Appeals. The appeals court may affirm (agree with) or

HINT: Cases Before Magistrate Judges
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.
Your District Court Judge can tell the Magistrate who
he/she works with 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.
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
reverse (disagree with) the district court’s decision or it
may order the district court to hold a new trial. 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 the
case raises a very important legal issue.
The Handbook cannot describe all these procedures in
detail and suggest 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. Moreover, if your case goes to
trial, the judge might appoint a lawyer to assist you.
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 pre-trial
discovery. It will also explain what to do if the court
dismisses your complaint or grants the defendants
summary judgment against you.
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 you
receive notice of entry of default, submit a Motion for
Judgment by Default. Forms for the affidavit and the
motion are in Appendix B. You probably can’t win a
judgment this way, but you can keep the case moving.
The prison officials may just submit an Answer and
then do nothing. If this happens, you should move
ahead with pretrial discovery. Follow Part G of this
chapter. This will probably bother them enough so that
they will try harder to get out of the case. If they still
hold back, move for summary judgment against them
(Part D of this Chapter) or ask the court to set a date for
a trial.
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 write 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.
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:
(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.
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” means “on its own.”
At this point, the court might dismiss your lawsuit
“with leave to amend.” This is ok. It means you can
file an “amended” (or changed) complaint that fixes
whatever problem 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 B) Some courts will allow
this and others won’t. A court should not deny a
chance to amend, especially if the plaintiff is alleging a
civil rights violation. Ricciuti v. N.Y.C. Transit
Authority, 941 F.2d 119, 123 (2d Cir. 1991).

If you can’t amend, you may want to quickly respond
(within ten days if possible) with a Motion for
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 your
complaint was dismissed by a Magistrate Judge, you
can file “objections” to the Magistrate’s
recommendation. If neither of these two approaches
work, you will have to appeal. Procedures for
appealing are laid out in Section F of this chapter.
The other new hurdle created by the PLRA is
something called a “waiver of reply.” A defendant can
file this waiver to get out of having to file an Answer or
any of the other motions described later in this chapter.
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.
If you get through the first hurdles, the next legal paper
you receive from the prison officials will probably be
their Motion to Dismiss your suit. They 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 what you are complaining about
does not violate the law.
The Motion to Dismiss is simply a formal written
request that the judge deny your suit. It will come
together with a Notice of Motion which sets a date,
time, and place for a court hearing at which the
defendants will ask the judge to rule on the motion. The
Notice and the Motion may be combined in one legal
Attached to the Motion and Notice will be a
Memorandum of Law which gives the defendant’s legal
arguments for dismissing your suit. Usually you will
have at least two or three weeks between the date when
you receive the Motion and the Notice and the date of
the hearing. During this time you should prepare and
submit a memorandum of your own which answers the
defendant’s arguments. If you need more time, send the
judge a letter explaining why you need more time. If
you can, you should check the local rules to see if the


court has any specific requirements for time extensions.
If you cannot find any information, just send the letter
and send a copy to the prison officials’ lawyer.
Chapter Six explains in more detail how to research
and write this memo, so be sure to read it before you
start working. After you read the suggestions in
Chapter Six, 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 may also
want to try to find cases the defendants have not used
that may be more supportive of your position.
To support their Motion to Dismiss, the prison officials
will 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
Three, Section A), or that you cannot sue top prison
officials who did not personally abuse you (see Chapter
Two, Section F). They may claim you sued in the
wrong court (“improper venue” – see Chapter Three,
Section B) or that your papers weren’t properly served
on some of the defendants.
The prison officials will also argue against your
constitutional claims. They will say that you failed to
state a proper claim because the actions you describe do
not deny due process or equal protection, are not cruel
and unusual punishment, etc. Your memo has to
respond to whatever arguments the government makes.
Unfortunately, this requires quite a bit of legal research
and writing. One thing you will have going for you is
that in considering this motion the judge must assume
that every fact you stated in your complaint is
absolutely true. He or she must then ask whether,
accepting all those facts, there is any possibility that
you should win your case on any theory. 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.
This is a very helpful standard.
You may want to include in your memo some quotes
from the Supreme Court, to make sure the court
realizes just how good a standard it is. One good quote
to include is from one prisoner’s Section 1983 case
called Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). In that
case, the court stated that a complaint “should not be
dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears
beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts
in support of his claim which would entitle him to
relief.” You may also want to remind the court that in

Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957), the
Supreme Court said that in considering a motion to
dismiss, a pro se complaint should be held to less strict
standards than a motion drafted by a lawyer.
Because of this favorable standard, you should include
in your memo anything the defendants say about the
facts you stated in your complaint that you think is
unfair or wrong. For example, if you stated in your
complaint that you were “beaten severely” by two
guards, and then 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
to be returned to you) 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 notice and motion.
You may receive a Motion for Extension of Time or a
Motion to Relate. An extension (or “enlargement”)
gives the other side more time to turn in 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
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 in opposition to
the motion. 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 confused.
Ordinarily, after the parties exchange memos, they both
appear before the judge to argue for their interpretation
of the law. However, when dealing with a case filed by
a prisoner, most judges decide motions based only on
the papers you send in, not on argument in person. In
the rare case that a judge does want to hear argument,
many federal courts now use telephone and video hookups, 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.”


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. In most jurisdictions, prisoners are
entitled to “an opportunity to amend the complaint to
overcome the deficiency unless it clearly appears from
the complaint that the deficiency cannot be overcome
by amendment.” Potter v. McCall, 433 F.2d 1087, 1088
(9th Cir 1970); Armstrong v. Rushing, 352 F.2d 836,
837 (9th Cir. 1965). Under Rule 15(a), you have an
absolute right to amend your complaint once before the
defendants file an Answer. In the Ninth Circuit,
prisoners also have a right to amend the complaint even
if it is not the first time, to overcome any problems with
it, unless it is absolutely clear that the problems can’t
be fixed. Potter v. McCall, 433 F.2d 1087 (9th Cir.
1970). Part F of this chapter explains what else you
can do if the court dismisses your complaint.

Note: If you defeat the prison officials’ motion to
dismiss your complaint, ask again for appointed
counsel. Follow the procedure in Chapter Three,
Section C. The judge is more likely to appoint a
lawyer for you at this stage of your case.

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 your
case without a trial. Through summary judgment, a
court can throw out part or all of your case. 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.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).
This means 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 should use those facts
to decide him- or herself that the defendant(s) should
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. His or her question is:
could you have a right to 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 all the
legal papers that have been sent in by both sides and
asks: is there is any real disagreement about the
important facts in the case?
The first part of this test 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, 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 Three, Section C for more on
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 (such as
your sworn statement) that those statements are true,
then there is no real dispute about the facts. The judge
will end your case by awarding summary judgment to
the prison officials.
On the other hand, if you do 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 certain 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. Their affidavit would carry more
weight in court than a simple denial of your charges in
their answer to your complaint. 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 denied.
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 law suit that it could determine
whether you win or lose. If the prison officials can
show that there is no genuine dispute as to just one,


single 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.
For example, in the case Boomer v. Lanigan, No. 00
Civ 5540 (DLC), 2002 WL 31413804 (S.D.N.Y. Oct.
25, 2002), a pretrial detainee who suffered from a
medical condition called epilepsy sued the prison
officials and doctors under several legal theories, one of
which was excessive force. The prison officials moved
for summary judgement on all of the claims. As you
know from Chapter Two, Section C, to win on an
excessive force claim, a prisoner has to show that a
prison official (1) caused him a serious harm and (2)
did it maliciously, or without justification. Facts that
could prove or disprove either of these two elements
are material facts. Boomer’s complaint stated that the
prison officials used excessive force when they used a
chemical spray against him, for no reason, while he was
having a seizure. Unfortunately for Boomer, the prison
officials produced, as evidence to support their motion
for summary judgment, a video tape of the interaction,
which showed that the guard only sprayed Boomer
after he had repeatedly failed to follow an order.
Boomer didn’t submit any evidence to show a reason
why he shouldn’t have had to follow the order. If
Boomer was unable to follow the order due to his
condition, than sending the court a declaration stating
this might have helped his motion. Instead, because the
prison officials presented undisputed evidence that the
spray was used with justification, the court held that
Boomer failed to show a genuine dispute as to that
material fact, and granted summary judgment for the
prison officials on that claim.
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). This just
means that as the “opposing party” you are supposed to
be given the benefit of the doubt if the meaning of a
fact could be interpreted in two different ways.
2. What to do if you have trouble getting
When the prison officials move for summary judgment,
check to be sure you have submitted all the declarations
and other materials that support your version of the
facts. It may be difficult for you to get declarations,
especially from prisoners who have been transferred to
other prisons or placed in isolation. Tell the judge why

you can’t get these declarations and indicate what you
think the declarations would say if you could get them.
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. 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. Harris v. Pate, 440 F.2d 315,
318 (7th Cir. 1971).
The judge also has the power under Rule 56(f) to
“make such other order as may be just.” This could
include an order to prison officials to let you interview
witnesses or write to prisoners in other prisons. It could
also include an order that prison officials bring you to
court to let you testify on your own behalf. Hudson v.
Hardy, 412 F.2d 1091, 1095 (D.C. Cir 1968). However,
remember from Section C of this chapter that the PLRA
makes it harder to physically get into court.
Besides getting all your declarations and telling the
judge about the declarations you can’t get, you should
also prepare a memorandum which summarizes your
evidence and explains how it supports each point that
you need to prove. Check Chapter Two for the
requirements of Section 1983. Be sure to repeat the
major cases which support your argument that the
prison officials violated your federal constitutional
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 “test 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 facts are agreed on, the judge should
grant you a 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 want 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 Three, Section C.
The judge is much more likely to appoint a
lawyer for you at this stage of your case.

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 relief, rather than money damages.
A case is moot if after you have filed a suit the prison
stopped doing what you complained about, or released
you on parole or transferred you to a different prison.
The prison officials will try and have your case
dismissed as moot because there is no longer anything
the court can order the prison to do that would affect
you. For example, say you sue the prison for injunctive
relief for failure to provide medical care for your
diabetes, and you ask the court that the prison be
ordered to provide you with adequate medical care in
the future. If, after you file your complaint, the prison
starts to provide you with medical care, than the prison
can argue that your case is moot, because the only
remedy you asked for from the court has already been
given to you by the prison.
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 alleged violations of
your rights will happen again. There are four additional
arguments you can make to defeat the government’s
efforts to get your case dismissed on this theory:
(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
for that type of injury. 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 Two, Section E.
(2) A violation of your rights is not moot just because it
is over if it is “capable of repetition, but evading
review.” In other words, the court will not keep you
from suing in a situation where the illegal action would
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. 1998)
(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. Part H of
Chapter Two discusses class action lawsuits.
Remember that you generally can’t bring a class action
without an attorney.
(4) If any negative entries have been put in your prison
records because of your suit or the actions you are
suing about, you can 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).
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, & D above. 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 chose to keep fighting. You have already
learned how to file an amended complaint, 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 of 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. Follow the form in Appendix B. Include a
legal memorandum that cites the cases from your
Follow the same procedure if the court dismisses your
complaint without giving you an opportunity to amend
it to “overcome the deficiency.” Also follow this
procedure if the court grants a summary judgment to
the defendants before you had enough time to submit
your declarations. Cite the cases discussed in Section D
of this chapter and submit any declarations you have
been able to get since you were notified of the
summary judgment.
2. How to Appeal the Decision of the District Court
If you lose your motion to alter the judgment, 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 district court whose decision you
want to appeal. Follow the form in Appendix B. If you
moved to alter under Rule 59(e), file your notice within
30 days after the court denied your motion. Otherwise
file your notice within 30 days of the day 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 as part of Title 28 of the United
States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A). The U.S.C.A. also
gives summaries of important court decisions which
interpret the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.
(Chapter Six explains how to use the U.S.C.A. and
other law books.) Some of the books listed in Appendix
E 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.
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 3, Section C for requesting counsel
from the district court, 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. 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.
On the other hand, if you have made it past the
defendant’s motions for dismissal and / or summary
judgment, then 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
through the next stage on your own – but what you will
be able to do will be more limited.
The next major
The Importance of
activity in your suit
will be “pre-trial
discovery.” Rules 26• Uncover factual
37 of the Federal
information about the
Rules of Civil
events that gave rise to
Procedure explain
your case.
“discovery” tools that
either party in a
• Learn about how
lawsuit can use to get
prisons in general, and
important information
and materials from the your prison in particular,
operate, as long as it is
other party before the
somehow related to your
case goes to trial.
Discovery is very
important, because it
• Put the defendants on
is a way for you to get
the defensive by making
the information you
them spend time and
will need to win your
case. If you don’t have money answering your
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 guide 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 E.
In most cases, the first step in the discovery process is
called a “Rule 26(f) Meeting.” The Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure require that the plaintiffs and the
defendants get together to talk about the case, the
possibility of settlement (when you come to an
agreement with the defendants that ends your case
before trial), arrange for some exchange of information,
and create a discovery plan or schedule. You need to
read your district court’s rules, however, because many
courts do not require this meeting for pro se inmates. If
you don’t need to have a Rule 26(f) meeting, you can
start right in on discovery requests.
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
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.
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. 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 person who gave the
deposition 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 it involves a lot of people.
“Interrogatories” are written questions which must be
answered in writing under oath. Under Fed.R.Civ.P.
33, you can send up to 25 questions to each of the other
parties to the suit. A person who is just a witness, and
not a party, cannot be made to answer interrogatories,
though 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. You can use the
following example to write interrogatories of your own.

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. __
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
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.
[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, etc.
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


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

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


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, 2003.

At the end of your questions, you should date and sign
the page and type your full name and address below
your signature.
The third discovery tool is “Production.” If you want
to read and copy documents (letters, photos, rules etc.)
that the prison officials have, ask for production of
those items under Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. You can look at Form 24 in the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure Appendix of Forms, or you
can use the following form:

You can also get inspection of tangible things
(clothing, weapons, etc.) and a chance to “inspect and
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.
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. And, of course, 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
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.
2. What You Can See and Ask About

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
[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, 2003, made by
prison and civilian employees or the Department of
Corrections and prisoner 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.
Dated: ______________

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 Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) you
have a legal right to anything which is in any way
“relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending
action,” including anything relevant to any defense
offered by the prison officials, so long as your requests
do not impose “undue burden or expense.” “Relevant
to the subject matter” means somehow related to what
you are suing about. “Undue burden or expense”
means that your request would cost the prison a lot of
money, and wouldn’t be very helpful to you.
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. You have
a right to know “the existence, description, nature,
custody, condition and location of any books,
documents or other tangible things and the identity of
persons having knowledge of any discoverable
material.” Rule 26(b)(1).
The people you are suing must give you all the
information that is available to them. 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). Defendants may try to get out of
having to comply with your requests by arguing that
they are “unduly burdensome or expensive.” 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.
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
“undue” because the information was essential to the
suit and could not be obtained any other way.
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, the husband-wife privilege, etc. 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). Instead, a party who asserts a legal
privilege against disclosing information has the burden
of identifying the specific privilege at issue, and
proving that the particular information is in fact
privileged. 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 purposes other than your suit.

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 (Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 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.
3. Some Basic Steps
Usually, in a prison suit, you start with 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 signs a written release), and incident reports filed by
prison staff.
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 Rule 45(d) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure.
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.

The prison officials may also refuse to answer
questions or requests which are not covered by a
protective order. 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:

4. 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 them 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” (Fed. R. Civ. P.
Rule 31). You submit your questions in advance, as
with interrogatories, but the witness does not send back
written answers. He has to answer in his own words,
under oath, before a stenographer who writes down his
answers. Although the witness will still have time to
prepare in advance, at least he won’t be able to submit
answers written for him by a Deputy Attorney General.
5. Procedure
The procedure for getting interrogatories and
production is fairly simple. Just send your questions
and your requests for production to the Deputy
Attorney General who is the lawyer for the prison
officials. 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 which then
proceeds like the motion to dismiss, with opportunity
for legal memos and a court hearing. See Part C of this

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


6. Their Discovery of Your Information and
Prison officials can use discovery against you. They
will try to intimidate and scare you and get you to say
things they can use against you. You must answer the
questions unless the answers are privileged. If you
don’t have an attorney, then the privilege that it 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 charges.
In general, try to keep cool and say as little as you can.
If they ask to depose you, then ask the judge to put off
the deposition until after he or she reconsiders your
request for appointed counsel. 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. Under Rule
30(a), a prisoner can be deposed “only by leave of the
court on such terms as the court prescribes.”
Warn your witnesses 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
and also to refuse to talk about your suit outside the
deposition with anyone from the prison or the Attorney
General’s office.


Chapter Five: How to Protect
Your Freedom to Take Legal
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.
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 from knowing 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 a standard
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.
This Chapter explains your rights regarding access to
the courts. This includes your right to:
(1) File legal papers, and to communicate freely
about legal matters with courts, lawyers, and
(2) 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.
In 1977, the Supreme Court held in a case called
Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977), that prisoners
have a fundamental constitutional right of access to the
courts. This right of access requires prison authorities
to help prisoners prepare and file meaningful legal
papers in one of two ways. They can give you access
to a decent law library OR they can hire people to help
you with your cases. The prison gets to choose which
way they want to do it. However, that ruling was
changed by a later Supreme Court case, Lewis v. Casey,
518 US. 343 (1996), which held that prisoners have to
show an “actual injury” and the existence of a “nonfrivolous legal claim” to win an access to the courts
case. 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, you would also have to show that you have a
real case that you lost or had problems with because of
your lack of access to the law library or legal
assistance. Courts do not agree on exactly what
constitutes “actual injury” and it is not yet clear
whether you need to show actual injury if prison
officials have actively interfered with your right of
access, like by stopping you from mailing a complaint.


For a few different takes on these questions, compare
Benjamin v. Fraser, 264 F.3d 175 (2d Cir. 2001) and
Tourscher v. McCollough, 184 F.3d 236, 242 (3d Cir.
The “actual injury” requirement in Lewis v. Casey also
applies if you are seeking damages for a past injury. In
another recent Supreme Court case, Christopher v.
Harbury, 536 U.S. 403 (2002), a woman who wasn’t a
prisoner claimed that she had been denied access to the
court because the U.S. government had withheld
information from her about her husband’s torture by
Guatemalan military officers in the pay of the CIA. The
Court dismissed her claim because she still had a way
to get damages. The Court explained that to get
damages for a past denial of court access the plaintiff
must identify a remedy that is presently unavailable.

IMPORTANT: Keep the Lewis v. Casey “actual
injury” requirement in mind as you read the rest of
this chapter. It may or may not apply to all of the
following rights related to access to the courts, and
it means that many of the cases cited in this chapter
from before 1996 are of somewhat limited
usefulness. For this reason, it is very important for
you to find out how the courts in your circuit
interpret Lewis v. Casey.

1. Attorney and Legal Worker Visits
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.
However, even prisoners without pending criminal
cases have a due process right to meet with a lawyer.
In a case called Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396
(1974), the Supreme Court explained that not only do
you have a right to meet with your attorney, but you
also have a right to meet with law students or legal
paraprofessionals who work for your attorney.
However, 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. Most courts have held that you do have
the right to a contact visit with your attorney. On the
other hand, other courts have held that a prison may be
able to keep you from getting a contact visit if there is a
legitimate security reason. For more about contact
visits with attorneys, compare: Ching v. Lewis, 895
F.2d 608 (9th Cir. 1990) and Casey v. Lewis, 4 F.3d
1516 (9th Cir. 1993).

2. Legal Mail
Mail that is sent to you from attorneys, courts, and
government officials is protected by the First and Sixth
Amendments. This means that prison officials are not
allowed to read or censor this type of incoming mail.
However, they can open it and inspect it for contraband
as long as they do it in front of you. Wolff v.
McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974).
Mail you send to attorneys and courts is also privileged
and may not be opened unless prison officials have a
special security interest that must meet certain Fourth
Amendment requirements. Washington v. James, 782
F.2d 1134 (2d Cir. 1986); Taylor v. Sterrett, 532 F.2d
462 (5th Cir. 1976).
3. Media Mail
Mail to and from reporters is treated much the same
way. Mail you send to reporters usually may not be
opened or read. Incoming mail from the press can be
inspected for contraband, but only in front of you.
Taylor v. Sterrett, 532 F.2d 462 (5th Cir. 1976).
However, requests from news media for face-to-face
interviews can be denied, since the press does not have
a special constitutional right of access to jails and
prisons any more than the average person does. Pell v.
Procunier, 417 U.S. 817 (1974).
4. The Prison Law Library
If your prison decides to have a law library to fulfill
their 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,
but remember, under Lewis v. Casey, you probably
can’t sue over an inadequate law library unless it has
hurt your non-frivolous lawsuit. The lower courts have
established some guidelines as to what books should be
in the library.
Books Required to 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


For more detailed information on what must be
available, you may want to read some of the following
cases: Johnson v. Moore, 948 F.2d 517 (9th Cir. 1991);
Corgain v. Miller, 708 F.2d 1241 (7th Cir. 1983); Cruz
v. Hauck, 627 F.2d 710 (5th Cir. 1980) or take a look at
the American Association of Law Libraries list of
recommended books for prison libraries. This list is
reprinted in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review
Jailhouse Lawyers’ Manual. Ordering information for
the Columbia Manual is in Appendix E. However, you
need to keep in mind the fact that these cases and lists
have limited value today, and must be understood in
connection to Lewis v. Casey.
Federal courts have also required that prisons 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. Some cases that
explore these issues are: Shango v. Jurich, 965 F.2d
289 (7th Cir. 1992); Lindquist v. Idaho State Bd. of
Corrections, 776 F.2d 851 (9th Cir. 1985); Cepulonis v.
Fair, 732 F.2d 1 (1st Cir. 1984).
Inmates who cannot visit the law library because they
are in disciplinary segregation or other extra-restrictive
conditions must have meaningful access 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
What if I don’t have a
held that, without
law library?
additional measures,
such systems violate a
Many prisons have either
prisoner’s right to
access the courts. See, closed their law library or
not re-stocked it with new
for example, Marange
material in years. If this is
v. Fontenot, 879 F.
the case in your law library
Supp. 679 (E.D. Tex.
and you or someone you
know on the outside has
access to a lawyer, you can
5. Getting Help from
try and bring suit against the
a Jailhouse Lawyer
prison for not complying
with Bounds. If not, you
You have a limited
could try publicizing the fact
constitutional right to
that your prison is failing to
talk with other
comply with a Supreme
prisoners about legal
Court ruling by sending
concerns. You have a
press releases to various
right to get legal help
media outlets, like
from other prisoners
newspapers, television, and
unless the prison
the internet.
“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). 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 is 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
6. Your Right to Be a Jailhouse Lawyer
The right to counsel 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 whom he wants


as a lawyer. Gometz v. Henman, 807 F.2d 113, 116 (7th
Cir. 1986).
Some courts require a jailhouse lawyer to get
permission from prison officials before helping another
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).

Wakinekona, 103 S.Ct. 1741 (1983). However, you
cannot be put into administrative segregation solely to
punish you for filing suit, Cleggett v. Pate, 229 F.
Supp. 818 (N.D. Ill. 1964). Nor can you be transferred
to punish you for filing a lawsuit. 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.” Bart v. Telford, 677 F.2d 622 (7th Cir.
To prove that the warden or a correctional officer has
illegally retaliated against you for filing a lawsuit, you
must show three things:
(1) You were doing something you had a
constitutional right to do, which is called “protected
conduct.” Filing a Section 1983 claim is an
example of “protected conduct.”

Do Other Prisoners Have a Right to Have
You as Their Jailhouse Lawyer?
In some parts of the country, jailhouse lawyers
do not have a “right” to help others. However,
if the other prisoner can’t possibly file a claim
without you, the he or she may have a right to
your assistance, Gibbs v. Hopkins, 10 F.3d 373,
378 (6th Cir. 1993). Prisoners are guaranteed
“meaningful” access to the courts, so if the
person you are helping can’t file their claim
because he or she doesn’t speak English or is
locked in administrative segregation without
access to the law library, their rights may be
being violated.

(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.

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 for any or no reason at all. Olim v.

Example: 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

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). 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.
REMEMBER! Even when you think it would be
pointless for you to try to talk to a guard’s superior 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 procedures before the court will consider your
Section 1983 claim. Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 740



Chapter Six: The Legal System
and Legal Research
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 and other groups are engaged
in a political struggle to make the law accessible to the
This chapter of the Handbook gives the basic
information you need to use the rest of the Handbook.
The chapter is only a general introduction to legal
research for a Section 1983 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 suit.
If you plan to do a lot of research, you will probably
want to read some
more books. A good
Important Books
detailed explanation of
You Can Order
all types of legal
research is a book
Cohen and Olson’s Legal
called “Cohen and
Research in a Nutshell,
Olson's Legal
8th Edition
Research in a
West Publishing
Nutshell,” which
610 Opperman Drive
might be in your
Eagan, MN 55123
prison library. If not,
you can order a copy
The Bluebook: A Uniform
for $25.50 (plus tax).
System of Citation
Technical legal terms
Attn Business Office,
are defined in
Bluebook Orders
Ballantine’s Law
Harvard Law Review
Dictionary and
Black’s Law
Gannett House
Dictionary, one of
1511 Massachusetts Ave.
which is supposed to
Cambridge, MA 02138
be in your prison
library. The detailed
More order information
rules for every kind of
available in Appendix E.
legal citation are in a
paperback called The
Bluebook: A Uniform
System of Citation, which you can get for $16.

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
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.”
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. For instance, the “First
Circuit” includes all the districts in Maine, New
Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Puerto
Rico. D.C. however, is just known as the “D.C.
Circuit;” it does not have a number.
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
To sue on the basis of Section 1983, you must show
that an official of the state or local government, or
someone acting with authority from the state or local
government, has violated your rights under the U.S.
Constitution or federal law. (See Chapter Two). Most
Section 1983 cases are based on one of the
Constitutional Amendments. The amendments that are
most useful for a suit based on Section 1983 are
reprinted in Appendix C 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


Order of Precedents:

Supreme Court. The most important
precedents are decisions by the U.S. Supreme
Court. Every court is supposed to follow these


Appeals Court. The next best precedent is a
decision of the appeals court for the circuit in
which your district court is located. Every
U.S. District Court in your circuit is supposed
to follow the decisions of the Circuit Court,
unless those decisions have been overruled by
the Supreme Court.


District Court. 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.

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 precedents, 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 precedents are decisions by the
U.S. Supreme Court. Every court is supposed to follow
these precedents. 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
what is known as “persuasive authority.”
Federal courts use the same method to enforce laws
passed by the U.S. Congress, like Section 1983. 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 interpretation. Still, the meaning of a key word
or phrase is often unclear until a court has to apply it in
specific situations.
3. Other Grounds for Court Decisions
Sometimes no precedent will be very close to your
case, or you will find conflicting precedents from
equally important courts. Other times there may be
weak precedents 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.”
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
forth his views about a whole area of law which is
relevant to that decision. Although the judge’s general
views do not count as precedent (precedent is limited to
the questions the court actually decides in a particular
case), 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.



How to Read a Case

When you make a legal argument, you should always
back it up by citing the names of the cases you are
referring to. 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

When a judge decides a case, he or she writes a short
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.

1. Court Decisions

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 case.

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.
All decisions of the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal are
in the Federal Reporter. There are two series of the
Federal Reporter: the second series abbreviated F.2d,
and the third series, abbreviated F.3d. All new cases are
in the third series.
Most U.S. District Court decisions are in the Federal
Supplement, abbreviated “F. Supp.” or the Federal
Supplement Second series, abbreviated “F.Supp. 2d.”
Others are in the Federal Rules of Decisions, cited as
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:

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 capitol
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
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.

Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483 (1969)

“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.


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


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


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



“1969” is the year in which the decision was

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.”
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. 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 out its U.S. citation. 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 Supreme Court Reporter and the Lawyer’s Edition,
which are supposed to be in your prison library, usually
give the “U.S.” cite for each decision.
A typical Circuit Court citation is:

U.S. v. Footman, 215 F.3d 145 (1st Cir. 2000)
This decision starts on page 145 of volume 215 of the
Federal Reporter, third series. The information in
parentheses tells you that this decision is from the First
Circuit, and that it was decided in the year 2000.

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
rules. If the local rules allow you to use unpublished
cases, look to see if they require the side that uses them
to give copies to the other parties. This is probably the
case, and it means that you should demand copies of all
unpublished cases cited in your opponent’s briefs.
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).
Sometimes you may learn about a helpful decision
which has not appeared in a Reporter or in U.S. Law
Week. Either the decision has not yet been published or
it is a district court decision which will not be
published. In either situation, you can still give a
citation for the decision. You list the official case
number on the court docket and give the exact date of
the decision. For example:

Boothe v. Procunier, No. C-70-1990-ACW
(N.D. Cal. Sept. 29, 1970).
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.

A typical District Court citation is:

Bracewell v. Lobmiller, 938 F. Supp. 1571
(M.D. Ala. 1996)
This decision starts on page 1571 of volume 938 of the
Federal Supplement. 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.

This may sound confusing at first, but it is not.
Throughout this handbook, there are many examples
that can help you see how this works. For instance, on
page – in Chapter Two, we wrote:
“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).”
We “cited” the case Bressman v. Farrier because it
supports our statement about censorship of mail. 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.
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

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.
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:

Jones v. Gibson, 206 F.3d 946 (10th Cir.
2000), cert. denied 531 U.S. 998 (2000).
“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 the Gibson case, 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 also 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 section 1983 of title 42 of the United States
Code. 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.
The “U.S.C.A.” also includes the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure and the Federal Rules of Appellate
Procedure. These rules are published as an appendix to
Title 42. The 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:

Jason Sanabria, Farmer v. Brennan: Do
Prisoners Have Any Rights Left Under the
Eighth Amendment? 16 Whittier L. Rev.
1113 (1995).
You can tell from this citation that Jason Sanabria
wrote an article that appeared in volume 16 of the
Whittier Law Review, on page 1113, and that it came
out in 1995. You should always give the author’s full
name and italicize the name of the article.
Citing a book is relatively easy:

Deborah L. Rhode, Justice and Gender 56

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
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
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.

4. Research Aids

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.

Prison law libraries should include books which help
you do legal research. The most important books for
legal research are Shepard’s Citations.

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.

Shepard’s Citations

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.

You write the author’s full name, the name of the book,
the page you are citing too, and the year it was

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.
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


Here is where you put it all together, and learn how to
write a brief. 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 simply.
There is a simple formula for writing clearly about
legal issues that you can remember by thinking of the
abbreviation: IRAC. IRAC stands for:

First, start with the idea that you plan to support
through your argument. For example:
Warden Wally violated the Eighth
Amendment by putting me in a cell with a
prisoner who smokes cigarettes.
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, in the section below, we first state the full
rule, then we explain, in two separate sentences, the
two clauses in the rule.

other words, you should show the court how and why
the rule applies to the facts of your specific case. Be
detailed and specific, but also 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, 2003 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’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.
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). 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. Reilly v. Grayson,
310 F.3d 519 (6th Cir. 2002).
Third is Application. For this step, you want to state
the facts that show how your rights were violated. In

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.

Admissible: Evidence that can be used at a trial is
known as “admissible” evidence. “Inadmissible”
evidence can’t be used at a trial.
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 public.”
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.
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.”
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
Annotation: A remark, note, or comment on a
section of writing which is included to help you
understand the passage.
Answer: A formal, written statement by the
defendant in a lawsuit which responds to each
allegation in the complaint
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.
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

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.
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.
“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.”
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.
Circuit Court of Appeals: The United States is
divided into federal judicial circuits. Each “circuit”
covers a geographical area, and has a court of
appeals. This court is called the U.S. Court of
Appeals for that particular circuit.
Citation: A written reference to a book, a case, a
section of the constitution, or any other source of
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.
Claim: A legal demand made about a violation of
one’s rights.
Class Action: A lawsuit in which the plaintiffs
represent and sue on behalf of all the people who are
in the same situation and have the same legal claims
as the plaintiffs.
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 action.


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.
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.
Constitution: The supreme law of the land. The U.S.
Constitution applies to everyone in this country, and
each state also has a constitution.
Constitutional law: Law set forth in the Constitution
of the United States or a state constitution.
Counsel: A lawyer.
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.

Defense: A reason, stated by the defendant, why the
plaintiff should lose a claim.
Deliberate Indifference: The level of intent that you
must show the defendants’ had 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.
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 minimis.
Denial: When the court rejects an application or
petition. Or, when someone claims that a statement
offered is untrue.
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”

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 witnesses.

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.

Damages: Money awarded by a court to a person
who has suffered some sort of loss, injury, or harm.

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

Declaration: A statement made by a witness under
penalty of perjury.

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

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.
Default judgment: A judgment entered against a
party who fails to appear in court or respond to the
Defendant: The person against whom a lawsuit is

Disposition: The result of a case; how it was decided.
Document Request: One of the tools of discovery,
allows one party to a lawsuit to get papers or other
evidence from the other party.
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.


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 presented
orally by witnesses, through documents or physical
objects or any other way that will help prove a point.
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
Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies: the
requirement that a prisoner use the prison grievance
system to make (and appeal) a complaint before
filing a 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.
File: When you officially send or give papers to the
court in a certain way, it is called “filing” the papers.
Finding: Formal conclusion by a judge or jury on a
issue of fact or law.
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.”

“habeas writ” can be sought in both state and federal
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.
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.”
Holding: The decision of a court in a case and the
accompanying explanation.
Immunity: When a person or governmental body
cannot be sued, they are “immune” from suit.
Impartial: Even-handed or objective; favoring
neither side.
Impeach: When one party presents evidence to show
that a witness may be lying or unreliable.
Inadmissible evidence: Evidence that cannot legally
be introduced at a trial. Opposite of “admissible”
Injunction: An order by a court that a person or
persons should stop doing something, or should begin
to do something.
Injury: A harm or wrong done by one person to
another person.

Frivolous: Something that is groundless, an
obviously losing argument or unbelievable claim.

Interrogatories: A set of questions in writing. One
of the tools of discovery.

Grant: To allow or permit. For example, when the
court “grants a motion,” it allows what the motion
was asking for.

Judge: A court officer who is elected or appointed to
hear cases and make decisions about them.

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

Judgment: The final decision or holding of a court
that resolves a case and determines the parties’ rights
and obligations.
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
Lawsuit: A legal action that involves at least one
plaintiff, making one or more claims, against at least
one defendant.

in order to verify that a particular person signed the
papers. This is known as “notarizing the papers.”
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 something.

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 court.

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

Material evidence: Evidence that is relevant and
important to the legal issues being decided in a

Opinion: When a court decides a case, a judge writes
an explanation of how the court reached its decision.
This is an “opinion.”

Memorandum of law: A written document that
includes a legal argument, also called a “brief.”

Order: The decision by a court to prohibit or require
a particular thing.

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.”

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.

Moot: A legal claim that is no longer relevant is
“moot” and must be dismissed.

Overrule: To reverse or reject.

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.”

Motion: A request made by a party to a judge for an
order or some other action.

Party: A plaintiff or defendant or some other person
who is directly involved in the lawsuit.
Per se: A Latin phrase meaning “by itself” or “in

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.

Perjury: The criminal offense of making a false
statement under oath.

Notary or Notary Public: A person who is
authorized to stamp his or her seal on certain papers

Plaintiff: The person who brings a lawsuit.

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.”


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.
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 facts.
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.
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 consent.
Proceeding: A hearing or other occurrence in court
that takes place during the course of a dispute or
Pro se: A Latin phrase meaning “for oneself.”
Someone who appears in court “pro se” is
representing him or herself without a lawyer.
Question of fact: A dispute as to what actually
happened. It can be contrasted to a “question of
Qualified Immunity: a doctrine that protects
government officials from liability for acts they
couldn’t have reasonably known were illegal.
Reckless: To act despite the fact that one is aware of
a substantial and unjustifiable risk.
Record (as in the record of the trial): A written
account of all the proceedings of a trial, as
transcribed by the court reporter.
Regulation: A rule or order that manages or governs
a situation. One example is a “prison regulation.”
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.”
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.
Remand: When a case is sent back from the
appellate court to the trial court for further action or
Remedy: Same as “relief”.
Removal: When a defendant transfers a case from
state court to federal court.
Respondent: The person against whom a lawsuit or
appeal is brought.
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 “reversed.”
Right: A legal entitlement that one possesses. For
example, as a prisoner, you have the “right” to be
free from cruel and unusual punishment.
Sanction: A penalty the court can impose when a
party disobeys a rule or order.
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 person.
Settlement: when both parties agree to end the case
without a trial.
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.
Statute: A law passed by the U.S. Congress or a state


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.
Stipulation: An agreement between the plaintiff and
the defendant as to a particular fact.
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 Inmate 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.
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.
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
Witness: a person who knows something which is
relevant to your lawsuit and testifies at trial or in a
deposition about it.
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

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
that may be helpful in this appendix. Keep in mind
that these forms are only examples, and they may not
be appropriate for some individual 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]

2. Declaration for Entry of Default.
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.,
[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

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

The Defendants have failed to answer or
otherwise defend as to Plaintiffs’ complaint, or serve a

APPENDIX C: Important
Constitutional Amendments

APPENDIX D: Sources of
Support & Publicity

In this section you will find the text of the
Constitutional Amendments which we refer to
throughout this handbook.

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

The First Amendment
“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.”
The Fourth Amendment
“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.”
The Fifth Amendment
“No person shall be held to answer for a capital or
other 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 offense 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
The Eighth Amendment
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive
fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments
The Fourteenth Amendment
“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 law.”




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.

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 Prison Project, and also have chapters in each
of the 50 states. Write them for information about
individual chapters.
American Friends Service Committee Criminal Justice
Program – National
1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia PA, 19102
Human and civil rights issues, research/analysis, women
prisoners, prisoner support.
American People Human Rights Review Committee
1316 Perry Ave., Bremerton, WA, 98310
Research/analysis, prisoners rights, legal resources
Books Through Bars
4722 Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia, PA, 19143
Sends books to prisoners for free / very low cost.
California Prison Focus
2940 16th St. #307, San Francisco, CA, 94103
A general resource center in California. Produces
publications, legal resources, information on prisoners'
rights, health care and medical issues, AIDS.
Community Justice Center
103 E 125th. St., Rm 604, New York, NY, 10035
Does work around prisoners' rights.

PLEASE NOTE: There is more to the Fourteenth
Amendment that we have not included.

Criminal Justice Policy Coalition
99 Chauncy St Room 310, Boston, MA, 02111
Involved in work and outreach around numerous prison

Prison Law Offfice - San Quentin
General Delivery San Quentin CA 94964
Legal resources in California.

Florida Institutional Legal Services, Inc.
1110-B NW 8th Ave Gainesville, FL, 32601
Provides legal resources, prisoner support.

Prison Law Office – Davis
UC Davis PO Box 4745 Davis CA 95617
Legal resources in California.

Freedom House Immigrant Justice Project
2630 W Lafayette, Detroit, MI, 48216-2019
Legal resources, especially Latino/a, Chicano/a issues.

Prison Legal Aid Network
1521 Alton Rd. #366 Miami Beach FL 33139
Legal resources in Florida, the South.

Friends and Families of Incarcerated Persons
PO Box 93601, Las Vegas, NV, 89193
Legal resources for friends and families of prisoners.

Prison Reform Advocacy Center
617 Vine St #1428 Cincinnati OH 45202
Center for research and analysis of prison issues; legal
resources, medical information, etc.

Southern Center for Human Rights
c/o 83 Poplar St. NW Atlanta, GA, 30303-2122
Civil rights organization doing lots of work around prison
issues, anti-racism. Legal resources are available.
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.
Legal Publications in Spanish, Inc. Publicaciones
Legales en Espanol, Inc.
PO Box 623 Palisades Park NJ 07650
Publications, legal resources in Spanish.
Inmates Legal Assistance Program
78 Oak Street, PO Box 260237, Hartford, CT
Legal Assistance in civil matters.
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
1540 Market St. Suite 490 San Francisco CA 94102
Legal resources and issues around women in prison.
National Association of Legislative Review (NALR)
PO Box 3064 Russellville AR 72801-9998
Legal resources.
National Lawyers Guild
National Office
143 Madison Avenue, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10016
Membership organization of progressive lawyers. Copublishers of this Handbook.
Prison Activist Resource Center
PO Box 339 Berkeley CA 94701
Clearinghouse for information and resources on organizing
for prisoners rights, prison issues, anti-racism.
Prison Book Project
PO Box 396 Amherst MA 01004-0396
Sends free books to prisoners.

Prisoner Litigation Support, Inc.
PO Box 83 Lonoke AR 72086
Legal and other resources. Focus on prisoners rights,
especially prisoners from communities of color.
Prisoner Self Help Legal Clinic
35 Halsey St. Suite 4B Newark NJ 07102
Very good self-help legal kits on a variety of issues.
Southern Poverty Law Center
P.O. Box 548 Montgomery AL 36101
Legal resources and publications. Also files class-action
suits around prison conditions.
Western Prison Project
PO Box 40085 Portland OR 97240
Resources and publications around prison issues, focusing
on the northwestern United States.

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 Programming
2390 Champlain St., NW
Second Floor
Washington, D.C. 20009
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.
Suite 473
93 Old York Road
Jenkintown PA 19046
Weekly internet publication focusing on AfricanAmerican issues and radical politics. Best contacted
by internet at if you have
a friend on the outside.

If convicted of a federal crime, you can request the
Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure for $4.25 and
the Federal Rules of Evidence for $2.50. These
books will not assist state prisoners.
All prices include postage. Write to:
Superindendent of Documents
PO Box 371954
Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954
Please note that prices may change on many of the

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


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.
Another excellent jailhouse lawyer resource.
Send $10 and your request to: Southern Poverty
Law Center, Protecting Your Health and Safety,
P. O. Box 548, Montgomery, Alabama 361010548. Prison law libraries can receive copies for
free upon request.


The Nation
33 Irving Place
New York, New York 10003
Highly acclaimed national progressive publication.

APPENDIX E: Prisoners’
Rights Books & Newsletters


Cohen and Olson’s Legal Research in a
Nutshell, 8th Edition. West Publishing, 610
Opperman Drive, Eagan, MN 55123


The Prisoners’ Guide to Survival. A
comprehensive legal assitance manual for postconviction relief and prisoners’ civil rights. For
prisoners, send $54.95 to: PSI Publishing, Inc.,
413-B 19th Street, #168, Lynden, WA 98264


The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation.
Write to: Attn Business Office, Bluebook Orders,
Harvard Law Review Association, Gannett

A list of printed publications and books that you can
order for further assistance.
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure - $7.50
Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure - $3.75

Constitutional Rights of Prisoners, 7th edition.
Send order and check to: Lexis-Nexis Matthew
Bender, 1275 Broadway, Albany, NY 12204.
Cost is $70.00. Please make checks payable to
LexisNexis Matthew Bender.


House, 1511 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge,
MA 02138


Prison Legal News. A monthly newsletter.
Highly recommended. The best source of the
latest prison-related legal news. A 6 month
subscription is $9, sample newsletter available
for $1. Send check and order to: 2400 NW 80th
Street #148, Seattle, WA 98117.
Fortune News. Newsletter from the Fortune
Society, specifically for prisoners. The majority
of the writers are prisoners / ex-prisoners. Free.
Write to: Fortune News, 39 W. 19th Street, 7th
Floor, New York, NY 10011.


Law Offices of Alan Ellis, PC. Attorney Alan
Ellis has a number of publications available.,
including the Federal Prison Guidebook for
$21.00. Write to him for a full list, or to order the
Guidebook: Alan Ellis, P.C., PO Box 2178,
Sausalito, CA, 94966.


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, ex-offenders 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 published in Dec.
2001. Copies are available for $30, prepaid. Send
a check or money order to National Prison
Project Publications, 733 15th St., NW,
Washington, DC 20005.



Prisoners Self-Help Litigation Manual, 3rd
Edition. Includes an outline of Federal and State
legal systems and relevant terminology, with
expert research from John Boston and Daniel
Manville. Send $32.95 and order to: Oceana
Publications, 75 Main Street, Dobbs Ferry, NY
Introduction to the Legal System of the United
States. This publication will help you understand
the principles of the U.S. legal system. Required
reading at many law schools. Send $29.50 and
order to: Oceana Publications, 75 Main Street,
Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522.


Brief Writing and Oral Argument, 8th edition.
Guidance on preparing effective oral and written
arguments, especially relating to the Courts of
Appeals. Send $35.00 and order to: Oceana
Publications, 75 Main Street, Dobbs Ferry, NY

Also Available Upon Request from CCR or NLG:
1. Special Issues for Women in Prison

APPENDIX F: Information for
Some people assume that the U.S. Constitution and
other U.S. laws only protect the rights of U.S.
citizens. This is not true. Non-U.S. citizens share
many of the same fundamental legal protections that
U.S. citizens enjoy. This section will outline some of
the legal rights that non-citizens possess, which
include the Constitutional right to “due process,”
under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment and the
right under the Eighth Amendment to be free from
cruel and unusual punishment.
The second part of this section is a brief introduction
to the current immigration laws that may subject noncitizen prisoners to deportation after serving their
sentences if they have been convicted of certain kinds
of crimes. Please keep in mind that this section is
only a very brief introduction to this complex and
changeable area of immigration law, and is not
meant to be a complete source of information. For
more detailed information on post-conviction
removal or deportation, you may wish to read
Chapters 29 & 30 of A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual,
5th Edition (2000), produced by the Columbia Law
School Human Rights Law Review. If you do not
have access to one in your facility, you may be able
to request a copy by writing to the Human Rights
Law Review at 435 W. 116th Street, New York, NY
10027. Or, you may want to contact an immigration
Non-citizens may bring Section 1983 challenges
against governmental authorities for violations of
civil rights. As a non-citizen prisoner, you have
many of the same rights as citizen prisoners.
The Fourteenth Amendment is universal and applies
to everyone within the territorial jurisdiction of the


United States “without regard to any differences of
race, of color, or nationality.” Wong Wing v. United
States, 163 U.S. 228 (1896); Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S.
202 (1982). This means that all persons within the
territory of the United States are entitled to the
protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
In Chapter Two, Section C, Parts 3, 4, and 5 of this
handbook, you learned that the Fourteenth
Amendment protects your right to due process in
disciplinary proceedings and administrative
segregation, and your right to equal protection, which
prohibits race, gender, and other forms of
discrimination. Since non-citizens are also protected
by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, you can
raise violations of due process and equal protection in
the same ways that citizens can, through Section
1983 actions.
Non-citizens who are serving prison sentences are
also protected by the Eighth Amendment right to be
free from cruel and unusual punishment. As you
learned in Chapter Two, Section C, Parts 7, 8 and 9,
the Eighth Amendment protects you from guard
brutality in prison, as well as guaranteeing you safe
prison conditions and some level of medical care.

One of the most important things to be aware of as a noncitizen prisoner is that if you have been convicted of a
certain kind of crime (as defined by the relevant statute,
described below), you may be deportable after you have
served your sentence. If you are determined to be
deportable, 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.
Your rights in this area may depend on your
immigration status at the time you were prosecuted,
but both admitted and inadmissible non-citizens can
still be removed for criminal convictions under
certain circumstances. The category of crimes for
which a convicted non-citizen may be removed
differs depending on what law was in effect when
your criminal proceeding began.
There are currently three laws under which a noncitizen’s potential for removal can be evaluated.

If your case began prior to 1996, it is governed
by “old law.”


If your case began between April 24, 1996 and
April 1, 1997, it is governed by the AntiTerrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of
1996, often referred to as “AEDPA.”


If your case was began after April 1, 1997, it is
governed by the Illegal Immigration Reform and
Immigrant Responsibility Act, referred to as

These laws will almost certainly change in the
future, so if you are researching this area, it is
important to make sure you have the most up-to-date
materials available. If you think that you might be
deportable on criminal grounds, you may be able to
challenge your deportation, so it is important to
understand this area fully and figure out which law
applies to your case. You should try to contact an
immigration attorney to learn more about your status
and your rights.

Appendix G: Protection of
Prisoners Under International
Along with the U.S. Constitution, your state
Constitution, and federal and state laws, another
potential source of protection for prisoners is
international law. However, using international law
in United States courts is very difficult and
controversial so you may not want to attempt it
without a lawyer. This appendix will outline some
basic facts about international law, and provide you
with resources should you want to explore the area
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.
Customary and treaty-based international law are
supposed to be enforceable in the United States, but
sometimes it is difficult to get courts here to follow
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). U.S. courts have recognized that
some of these practices violate customary
international law. For example, in Filartiga v. PenaIrala, the court established that torture violates
customary international law. 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir.
However, American courts have often acted
threatened when people argue that a certain U.S.
practice violates customary international law. As a
result, many American courts have ruled that even if
most other nations oppose a specific practice, that
practice does not violate customary international law.
Most significantly, American courts continue to rule
that the death penalty does not violate customary
international law. Hain v. Gibson, 287 F.3d 1224,
1242-44 (10th Cir. 2002); Buell v. Mitchell, 274 F.3d
337, 370-76 (6th Cir. 2001). It is very hard to get a
US court to recognize that any specific practice is
outlawed under customary international law.
The U.S. government 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 abide by its general
principles. But only by ratifying a treaty does a
nation incorporate the treaty’s standards into
domestic law. The U.S. has ratified three human
rights treaties that address the rights of prisoners: the
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel,
Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment; the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
and the International Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
However, the U.S. has limited the ability of
individuals to invoke the rights created by these
treaties. First, when ratifying these treaties, Congress
has specifically stated that the U.S. government is not
bound by certain provisions and that the U.S.
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).
It is very difficult to bring a successful case based on
the fact that your rights under customary international
law or treaty-based international law have been
violated. However, you may want to use these

international standards to bolster suits based on more
established domestic law. For example, one 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 violated their rights under the Eighth
Amendment. Sterling v. Cupp, 625 P.2d 123, 131
n.21 (Or. 1981).
To learn more about this interesting subject, check
out the following resources:
General Sources
Martin Geer, Human Rights and Wrongs in Our Own
Backyard: Incorporating International Human Rights
Protections under Domestic Civil Rights Law— A Case
Study of Women in United States Prisons, 13 HARV. HUM.
RTS. J. 71 (2000).
Stephen Karlson, International Human Rights Law: United
States’ Inmates and Domestic Prisons, 22 NEW. ENG. J. ON
CRIM. & CIV. CONFINEMENT 439 (1996).
Nigel S. Rodley, The Treatment of Prisoners Under
International Law, (2d ed. 2002)

Selected International Human Rights Documents
These documents are probably not available in your prison
law library. However, if you know someone outside of
prison who has access to the Internet, they can obtain these
documents at the University of Minnesota Human Rights
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or
Degrading Treatment or Punishment
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and
the International Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Racial Discrimination
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms
of Racial Discrimination
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners
Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under
Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment
United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles
Deprived of their Liberty
United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the
Administration of Juvenile Justice


You may also want to try writing to Human Rights
Watch, an organization that constantly 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

List of District Courts
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
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 District Court where you should send your
complaint. All special instructions are in italics.
ALABAMA (11th Circuit)
Northern District of Alabama: Counties: 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

Southern District of Alabama: Baldwin, Choctaw,
Clarke, Conceuh, Dallas, Escambia, Hale, Marengo,
Mobile, Monroe, Perry, Washington, Wilcox.
U.S. Courthouse
143 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
101 12th Avenue
Room 332
Fairbanks, AK 99701

U.S. District Court
PO Box 020349
709 W. 9th Ave, R 979
Juneau, AK 99802

U.S. District Court
648 Mission Street
Room 507
Ketchikan, AK 99901

U.S. District Court
Front Street
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

United States District Court
Hugo L. Black U. S. Courthouse
1729 Fifth Avenue North
Birmingham, AL 35203
Middle District of Alabama
The United States District Court for 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
One Church Street
Montgomery, AL 36104

Tucson Division: Pima, Cochise, Santa Cruz, Graham,
Send all documents for cases in the Tucson Division to
Tucson, at:
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


Pine Bluff Division 5: Arkansas, Chicot, Cleveland, Dallas
Desha, Drew, Grant, Jefferson and Lincoln
Send documents for cases that arise in any of these four
divisions to:
U.S. District Court Clerk's Office
U.S. Post Office & Courthouse
600 West Capitol, #402
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
P.O. Box 7080
Jonesboro, AR 72403
Western District of Arkansas – Has six divisions. You
should send documents to the division where the case
El Dorado Division 1: Ashley, Bradley, Calhoun,
Columbia, Ouachita and Union
U.S. District Court Clerk's Office
205 United States Courthouse & Post Office
P.O. Box 1566
El Dorado, AR 71730-1566

P.O. Box 6420
Fayetteville, AR 72702-6420
Hot Springs Division 6: Clark, Garland, Hot Spring,
Montgomery and Pike
U.S. District Court Clerk's Office
347 U.S. Post Office and Courthouse
Reserve and Broadway Streets
P.O. Drawer 1
Hot Springs, AR 72902-4143
CALIFORNIA (9th Circuit)
Northern District of California: Alameda, Contra Costa,
Del Norte, Humbolt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey,
Napa, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara,
Santa Cruz, Sonoma
There are actually three divisions in the Northern District
of California, and there are courthouses in San Francisco,
San Jose and Oakland, but all prisoners’ civil rights cases
should be filed in San Francisco:
U.S. District Courthouse
Clerk’s Office
450 Golden Gate Ave., 16th floor
San Francisco, CA 94102

Fort Smith Division 2: Crawford, Franklin, Johnson,
Logan, Polk, Scott and Sebastian

Eastern District of California – has two divisions. Send
you documents to the division where your case arose.
Fresno Division: Calaveras, Fresno, Inyo, Kern, Kings,
Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus, Tulare and

U.S. District Court Clerk's Office
1038 Isaac C. Parker Federal Building P.O. Box 1547
Fort Smith, AR 72902-1547

U.S. District Court
1130 O Street
Fresno, CA 93721

Harrison Division 3: Baxter, Boone, Carroll, Marion,
Newton and Searcy

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

U.S. District Court Clerk's Office
523 Federal Building
35 East Mountain Street
P.O. Box 6420
Fayetteville, AR 72702-6420

U.S. District Court
501 I Street, Suite. 4-401
Sacramento, CA 95814

Texarkana Division 4: Hempstead, Howard, Lafayette,
Little River, Miller, Nevada and Sevier
U.S. District Court Clerk's Office
302 U.S. Post Office and Courthouse
500 State Line Blvd.
P.O. Box 2746
Texarkana, AR 75504-2746

Central District of California: Los Angeles, Orange
County, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo,
Santa Barbara, Ventura
U.S. Courthouse
312 N. Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Fayetteville Division 5: Benton, Madison and Washington

Southern District of California: Imperial, San Diego

U.S. District Court Clerk's Office
523 Federal Building
35 East Mountain Street

Office of the Clerk
U.S. District Court
Southern District of California

880 Front Street, Suite 4290
San Diego, CA 92101-8900

Tallahassee Division: Leon, Gadsden, Liberty, Franklin,
Wakulla, Jefferson, Taylor and Madison.

COLORADO (10th Circuit)
District of Colorado – Send all documents to:

U.S. Federal Courthouse
111 N. Adams Street
Tallahassee, FL 32301

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 different U.S.
District Courthouses in the District of Connecticut. You
can file your complaint in any of the following locations.
U.S. Courthouse
141 Church Street
New Haven, CT 06510

U.S. Courthouse
450 Main Street
Hartford, CT 06103

U.S. Courthouse
U.S. Courthouse
915 Lafayette Boulevard 14 Cottage Place
Bridgeport, CT 06604
Waterbury, CT 06702
DELAWARE (3d Circuit)
District of Delaware

U.S. Federal Courthouse
401 S.E. First Ave. Rm. 243
Gainesville, FL 32601
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.
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, Rm. 218
Tampa, Florida 33602-3800
Ft. Myers Division: Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades,
Hendry, Lee

U.S. District Court
844 N. King Street
Lockbox 18
Wilmington, DE 19801
District for the District of Columbia

Clerk’s Office, United States District Court
US Courthouse & Federal Building
2110 First Street, Rm. 2-194
Fort Myers, FL 33901-3083
Orlando Division: Brevard, Orange, Osceola, Seminole,

United States District Court
for the District of Columbia
333 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001
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

Clerk’s Office, United States District Court
George C. Young US Courthouse
80 N. Hughey Avenue, Rm. 300
Orlando, FL 32801-9975
Jacksonville Division: Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia,
Duval, Flagler, Hamilton, Nassau, Putnam, St. Johns,
Suwanne, Union
Clerk’s Office, United States District Court
US Courthouse
Suite 9-150
Jacksonville, FL 32202-4271
Ocala Division: Citrus, Lake, Marion, Sumter
Clerk’s Office

Panama City Division: Jackson, Holmes, Washington,
Bay, Calhoun, and Gulf.
U.S. Federal Courthouse
30 W. Government St.
Panama City, FL 32401

Gainesville Division: Alachua, Lafayette, Dixie, Gilchrist,
and Levy.

United States District Court
Golden-Collum Memorial Federal Building and US
207 N.W. Second Street, Rm. 337
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.
United States District Court Clerks Office
299 East Broward Boulevard Room 108
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
United States District Court Clerks Office
300 South Sixth Street
Fort Pierce, FL 34950
United States District Court Clerks Office
301 Simonton Street
Key West, FL 33040
United States District Court Clerks Office
301 North Miami Avenue Room 150
Miami, FL 33128
United States District Court Clerks Office
701 Clematis Street Room 402
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
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, Whitfield
There are four different Divisions in the Northern District
of Georgia, but all prisoners should file their 1983 cases at
the following main location:
U.S. Federal Courthouse
111 N. Adams Street
Tallahassee, FL 32301
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
U.S. District Court
Clerk’s Office
P.O. Box 1906
Albany, GA 31702

Athens Division: Clarke, Elbert, Franklin, Greene, Hart,
Madison, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Walton
U.S. District Court
Clerk’s Office
P.O. Box 1106
Athens, GA 30603
Columbus Division: Chattahoochee, Clay, Harris, Marion,
Muscogee, Quitman, Randolph, Stewart, Talbot, Taylor
U.S. District Court
Clerk’s Office
P.O. Box 124
Columbus, GA 31902
Macon Division: Baldwin, Bibb, Bleckley, Butts,
Crawford, Dooly, Hancock, Houston, Jasper, Jones,
Lamar, Macon, Monroe, Peach, Putnam, Twiggs, Upson,
Washington, Wilcox, Wilkinson
U.S. District Court
Clerk’s Office
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
U.S. District Court
Clerk’s Office
P.O. Box 68
Valdosta, GA 31601
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
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 at:
Clerk’s Office, U.S. Courthouse
500 East Ford Street
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:

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
125 Bull Street, Room 304
Savannah, GA 31401
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

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
Western Division: Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Davies,
Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside, Winnebago

GUAM (9th Circuit)
District of Guam

United States Courthouse
211 South Court Street
Rockford, Illinois 61101

U.S. Courthouse, 4th floor
520 West Soledad Avenue
Hagåtña, Guam 96910

Eastern Division: Cook, Dupage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall,
Lake, Lasalle, Will

HAWAII (9th Circuit)
District of Hawaii

Everett McKinley Dirksen Building
219 South Dearborn Street
Chicago, Illinois 60604

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 and United States
550 W. Fort St.
Boise, ID 83724
Northern Division: Benewah, Bonner, Boundary,
Kootenai, Shoshone
U.S. Courthouse
205 N 4th St - Rm 202
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814
Central Division: Clearwater, Idaho, Latah, Lewis, Nez

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

U.S. Courthouse
220 E 5th St - Rm 304
Moscow, ID 83843
Eastern Division: Bannock, Bear Lake, Bingham, Blaine,
Bonneville, Butte, Camas,Caribou, Cassia, Clark, Custer,

Urbana Division: Champaign, Coles, Douglas, Edgar,
Ford, Iroquois, Kankakee, Macon, Moultrie, Piatt


218 U.S. Courthouse
201 S. Vine Street
Urbana IL 61802

Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Henry, Howard, Johnson,
Madison, Marion, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan,
Randolph, Rush, Shelby, Tipton, Union, Wayne

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

Birch Bay Federal Building and United States Courthouse
46 East Ohio Street, Room 105
Indianapolis, IN 46204

There are two courthouse locations in the Southern
District of Illinois, but prisoners can file cases in either
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 can 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

Terre Haute Division: Clay, Greene, Knox, Owen, Parke,
Putnam, Sullivan, Vermillion, Vigo
207 Federal building
30 North Seventh Street
Terre Haute IN 47808
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 different
divisions in the Northern District of Iowa, and two
different locations to file papers.
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
PO Box 74710
Cedar Rapids, IA 52407-4710
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,
Cases arising in the Western or Central Division should be
filed in Sioux City:

Indianapolis Division: Bartholomew, Boone, Brown,
Clinton, Decatur, Delaware, Fayette, Fountain, Franklin,

US District Court for the Northern District of Iowa
320 Sixth Street
Sioux City, IA 51101
Southern District of Iowa – There are three different
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
123 E. Walnut St., Room 300
P. O. Box 9344
Des Moines, IA 50306-9344
Western Division: Audubon, Cass, Freemont, Harrison,
Mills, Montgomery, Page, Pottawattamie, Shelby

Davenport Division: Clinton, Des Moines, Henry,
Johnson, Lee, Louisa, Muscatine, Scott, Van Buren,

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,
Clerks Office
241 East Main Street, Suite 120
Bowling Green, KY 42101-2175

Clerks Office
601 W. Broadway, Rm 106
Gene Snyder Courthouse
Louisville, KY 40202
Owensboro Division: Daviess, Grayson, Hancock,
Henderson, Hopkins, McLean, Muhlenberg, Ohio, Union,

Clerk, U. S. District Court
211 19th Street
Rock Island, IL 61201
KANSAS (10th Circuit)
District of Kansas – You can file your case at any of the
following courthouses.
444 S.E. Quincy
490 U.S. Courthouse
Topeka, Kansas 66683

Clerks Office
423 Frederica Street, Suite 126
Owensboro, KY 42301-3013
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

401 N. Market
204 U.S. Courthouse
Wichita, Kansas 67202

Leslie G. Whitmer, Clerk
101 Barr St. Room 206
P.O. Drawer 3074
Lexington, KY 40588

Louisville Division: Breckinridge, Bullitt, Hardin,
Jefferson, Larue, Marion, Meade, Nelson, Oldham,
Spencer, Washington

Clerk, U. S. District Court
6th & Broadway, Room 313
P. O. Box 307
Council Bluffs, IA 51502

500 State Ave
259 U.S. Courthouse
Kansas City, Kansas 66101

Robertson, Rockcastle, Rowan, Scott, Shelby, Trimble,
Wayne, Whitley, Wolfe, Woodford.

KENTUCKY (6 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, Montgomery, Morgan, Nicholas,
Owen, Owsley, Pendleton, Perry, Pike, Powell, Pulaski,

LOUISIANA (5th Circuit)
Eastern District of Louisiana – This district has several
divisions, but all documents may be filed in New Orleans
or Houma. 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, Washington.
U.S. District Court
500 Camp Street, Room C-151
New Orleans, LA 70130

U.S. District Court
8046 Main St.
Houma, LA 70360

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

Central Division: Worcester County

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,
Robert H. Shemwell, Clerk
300 Fannin St., Ste. 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:
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,
Clerk, U.S. District Court
156 Federal Street
Portland, Maine 04101
MARYLAND (4th Circuit)
District of Maryland – There are two divisions in the
District of Maryland, and you can file in either location.
U.S. Courthouse
101 W. Lombard Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

John Joseph Moakley
United States Courthouse
1 Courthouse Way – Suite 2300
Boston, MA 02210

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

Harold D. Donohue Federal Building & Courthouse
595 Main Street – Rm 502
Worcester, MA 01608
Western Division: Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden,
Federal Building & Courthouse
1550 Main Street
Springfield, MA 01103
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 U.S. District Courthouse
200 E. Liberty Street
1000 Washington Ave., R. 304
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
P.O. Box 913
Bay City, Michigan 48707
Theodore Levin
U.S. District Courthouse
U.S. Courthouse
600 Church Street
231 W. Lafayette Blvd. Flint, Michigan 48502
Detroit, Michigan 48226
United States District Courthouse
526 Water Street
Port Huron, Michigan 48060
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.
United States District Court
Western District of Michigan


Smith, Stone, Walthall, Warren, Wayne, Wilkinson,

399 Federal Building
110 Michigan St NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
MINNESOTA (8th Circuit)
District of Minnesota – There are several different
courthouses in the District of Minnesota, and you can file
in whichever one you want.
202 U.S. Courthouse
700 Federal Building
300 S. 4th Street
316 North Robert St.
Minneapolis, MN 55415 St. Paul, MN 55101
417 Federal Building
205 USPO Building
515 W. 1st Street
118 S. Mill Street
Duluth, MN 55802-1397 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. In these counties, file at:

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 3.300
St. Louis, MO 63102
Southeastern Division: Bollinger, Butler, Cape Girardeau,
Carter, Dunklin, Madison, Mississippi, New Madrid,
Pemiscot, Perry, Reynolds, Ripley, Scott, Shannon,
Stoddard, Wayne

Room 310 Federal Building
301 West Commerce Street
P.O. Box 704
Aberdeen, Mississippi 39730
Greenville Division: Carroll, Humphreys, Leflore,
Sunflower, Washington. In these counties, file at:
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,

U.S. Courthouse
339 Broadway
Cape Girardeau, MO 63701
Western District of Missouri – There are several division
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, Missouri 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
Persons in 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
PO Box 83468
Lincoln, NE 68501-3468
Persons in 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

Persons in Carson City, Churchill, Douglas, Elko, Eureka,
Humboldt, Lander, Lyon, Mineral, Pershing, Storey,
Washoe and White Pine Counties should file at the
following address:

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
33 Lomas N.W.
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 counties should file at the
following address:

Southern District of New York: Bronx, Dutchess, New
York, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, and
Westchester counties should file at the following address:
United States District Court for the
Southern District of New York
Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse
500 Pearl Street
New York, NY 10007-1312

Clerk of the Court
U.S. District Court of Nevada,
Northern Division
400 S. Virginia St.
Reno, NV 89501
Persons in Clark, Esmeralda, Lincoln and Nye Counties
should file at the following address:

NEW HAMPSHIRE (1st Circuit)
District of New Hampshire

NEW JERSEY (3d Circuit)
District of New Jersey

United States District Court for the
Northern District of New York
U.S. Courthouse & Federal Bldg.
P.O. Box 7367
100 South Clinton Street
Syracuse, NY 13261-7367

NEVADA (9th Circuit)
District of Nevada

Clerk of the Court
U.S. District Court of Nevada,
Southern Division
333 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89101

Clerk of the Court
U.S. District Court – New Hampshire
Warren B. Rudman U.S. Courthouse
55 Pleasant Street, Room 110
Concord, NH 03301-3941

Eastern District of New York: Kings, Nassau, Queens,
Richmond, and Suffolk counties should file at the
following address:
U. S. District Court
Eastern District of New York
225 Cadman Plaza East
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Western District of New York:


Buffalo Division: Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua,
Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties
should file at the following address:

Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon and Swain
counties in the Western District of North Carolina should
file at the following address:

United States District Court for the
Western Division of New York
Office of the Clerk
304 United States Courthouse
68 Court Street
Buffalo, New York 14202

U.S. District Court
100 Otis St.
Asheville, NC 28801
Charlotte Division Persons in Gaston, Mecklenburg,
Union, and Anson should file their cases at the following

Rochester Division: Persons in Chemung, Livingston,
Monroe, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and
Yates counties should file at the following address:
United States District Court for the
Western Division of New York
Office of the Clerk
2120 United States Courthouse
100 State Street
Rochester, New York 14614-1387

U.S. District Court
Room 212
401 W. Trade St.
Charlotte, NC 28202
Statesville Division: Persons in Watauga, Ashe,
Alleghany, Caldwell, Wilkes, Alexander, Iredell, Catawba,
and Lincoln counties should file at the following address:

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 in North Carolina should file at the
following address:
Clerk of the Court
United States District Court for the
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 counties should file at the
following address:
Office of the Clerk,
U.S. District Court,
Middle District of North Carolina,
P.O. Box 2708,
Greensboro, NC 27402-2708

U.S. District Court
200 W. Broad St.
Statesville, NC 28677
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
Eastern Division: Ashland, Ashtabula, Carroll, Clumbiana,
Crawford, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Holmes, Lake, Lorain,
Mahoning, Medina, Portage, Richland, Stark, Summit,
Trumbull, Tuscarawas, and Wayne counties
File in one of the following three locations:
U.S. District Court for the
Northern District of Ohio
2 South Main Street
Akron, OH 44308

Western District of North Carolina
Asheville Division: Persons in Haywood Madison,
Yancey, Watuaga, Avery, Buncombe, McDowell, Burke,
Transylvania, Henderson, Polk, Rutherford, Cleveland,

U.S. District Court for the
Northern District of Ohio
801 West Superior Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113

United States District Court for the
Northern District of Ohio
125 Market Street
Youngstown, OH 44503


Western Division: For persons in Allen, Auglaize,
Defiance, Erie, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Huron,
Lucas, Marion, Mercer, Ottawa, Paulding, Putnam,
Sandusky, Seneca, Van Wert, Williams, Wood, and
United States District Court for the
Northern District of Ohio
1716 Spielbusch Avenue
Toledo, OH 43624
Southern District of Ohio
Persons in 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 file in:
United Stated District Court for the
Southern District of Ohio
Joseph P. Kinneary U.S. Courthouse, Room 260
85 Marconi Boulevard
Columbus, OH 43215
Persons in Adams, Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton,
Hamilton, Highland, Lawrence, Scioto, and Warren
counties, file in:
United Stated District Court for the
Southern District of Ohio
Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse, Room 324
100 East Fifth Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202
Persons in Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami,
Montgomery, Preble, and Shelby counties, file in:
United Stated District Court for the
Southern District of Ohio
Federal Building, Room 712
200 West Second Street
Dayton, OH 45402

Pittsburg, Ponotoc, Pushmataha, Seminole, Sequoyah,
Wagoner counties:
United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Ohio
101 N. 5th Street
P.O. Box 607
Muskogee, OK 74402-0607
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
United States District Court for the
Western District of Oklahoma
200 NW 4th Street, Room 1210
Oklahoma City, OK 73102
OREGON (9th Circuit)
District of Oregon
Portland Division: Persons in 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:
United States District Court for the District of Oregon
Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, Room 740
1000 S.W. Third Avenue
Portland, OR 97204
Eugene Division: Persons in Benton, Coos, Deschutes,
Douglas, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, and Marion counties:
United States District Court for the District of Oregon,
United States Courthouse, Room 100
211 E. Seventh Avenue
Eugene, OR 97401

OKLAHOMA (10th Circuit)
Northern District of Oklahoma: Craig, Creek, Delaware,
Mayes, Nowata, Osage, Ottawa, Pawnee, Rogers, Tulsa
and Washington counties:
United States District Court for the
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, Murray, Muskogee, Okfuskee, Okmulgee,

Medford Division: Persons in Curry, Jackson, Josephine,
Klamath, Lake counties:
United States District Court for the District of Oregon,
James A. Redden U.S. Courthouse, Room 213
310 W. Sixth Avenue
Medford, OR 97501
Eastern District of Pennsylvania: Persons in Berks,
Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh,
Montgomery, Northampton, and Philadelphia counties:
United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Pennsylvania


U.S. Courthouse
601 Market Street, Room 2609
Philadelphia, PA 19106-1797

One Exchange Terrace
Federal Building and Courthouse
Providence, RI 02903

Middle District of Pennsylvania: Persons in 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:

SOUTH CAROLINA (4th Circuit)
District of South Carolina

United States District Court for the
Middle District of Pennsylvania
William J. Nealon Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse
235 N. Washington Ave.
P.O. Box 1148
Scranton, PA 18501
Western District of Pennsylvania
Persons in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Clarion,
Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson Lawrence, Mercer,
Washington, and Westmoreland counties:
United States District Court for the
Western District of Pennsylvania
P. O. Box 1805
Pittsburgh, PA 15230

Persons in Aiken, Barnwell, Allendale, Kershaw, Lee,
Sumter, Richland, Lexington, Aiken, Barnwell, Allendale,
York, Chester, Lancaster, and Fairfield counties
United States District Court for the
District of South Carolina
Matthew J. Perry, Jr. Courthouse
901 Richland Street
Columbia, South Carolina 29201
Persons in Oconee, Pickens, Anderson, Greenville,
Laurens, Abbeville, Greenwood, Newberry, McCormick,
Edgefield, Saluda, Spartanburg, Union, and Cherokee
United States District Court for the
District of South Carolina
Clement F. Haynsworth Federal Building
300 East Washington Street
Greenville, South Carolina 29601
Persons in Chesterfield, Marlboro, Darlington, Dillon,
Florence, Marion, Horry, and Williamsburg counties

Persons in Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, McKean, Venango,
and Warren counties:
United States District Court for the
Western District of Pennsylvania
P.O. Box 1820
Erie, PA 16507

United States District Court for the
District of South Carolina
McMillan Federal Building
401 West Evans Street
Florence, South Carolina 29501

Persons in Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Clearfield, and
Somerset counties:

Persons in Jasper, Hampton, Beaufort Clarendon,
Georgetown, Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester, and
Colleton counties

United States District Court for the
Western District of Pennsylvania
Penn Traffic Building
3l9 Washington Street
Johnstown, PA l590l

United States District Court for the
District of South Carolina
Hollings Judicial Center
Meeting Street at Broad
Charleston, South Carolina 29401

PUERTO RICO (1st Circuit)
District of Puerto Rico

SOUTH DAKOTA (8th Circuit)
District of South Dakota

Clemente Ruiz-Nazario U.S. Courthouse
& Federico Degetau Federal Building
150 Carlos Chardon Street
Hato Rey, PR 00918

United States District Court for the
District of South Dakota
Rm 128 United States Courthouse
400 So. Phillips Avenue
Sioux Falls, SD 57104

RHODE ISLAND (1st Circuit)
District of Rhode Island

TENNESSEE (6th Circuit)
Eastern District of Tennessee

United States District Court for the
District of Rhode Island

Greeneville Division: Persons in Carter, Cocke, Greene,
Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi
and Washington counties:

Room 242, Federal Building
167 North Main Street
Memphis, TN 38103

United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Tennessee
220 West Depot Street, Suite 200
Greeneville, TN 37743

Persons in Benton, Carroll, Chester, Crockett, Decatur,
Gibson, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson, Henry,
Lake, McNairy, Madison, Obion, Perry and Weakley.

Knoxville Division: Persons in Anderson, Blount,
Campbell, Claiborne, Grainger, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon,
Monroe, Morgan, Roane, Scott, Sevier and Union

TEXAS (5th Circuit)
Northern District of Texas

United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Tennessee
800 Market Street, Suite 130
Knoxville, TN 37902
Chattanooga Division: Persons in Bledsoe, Bradley,
Hamilton, McMinn, Marion, Meigs, Polk, Rhea and
Sequatchie counties:

Abilene Division: Persons in Jones, Nolan, Stephens,
Throckmorton, Fisher, Haskell, Howard, Shackelford,
Stonewall, Taylor, Callahan, Eastland, and Mitchell
United States District Court for the
Northern District of Texas
341 Pine Street, 2008
Abilene, TX 79601

United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Tennessee
900 Georgia Avenue
Chattanooga, TN 37402
Winchester Division: Persons in Bedford, Coffee,
Franklin, Grundy, Lincoln, Moore, Warren and Van Buren
United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Tennessee
200 South Jefferson Street
Winchester, TN 37398
Middle District of Tennessee: Persons in 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:
United States District Court for the
Middle District of Tennessee
Nashville Clerk's Office
801 Broadway, Room 800
Nashville, TN 37203

Amarillo Division: Persons in 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
United States District Court for the
Northern District of Texas
205 E. Fifth Street, 133
Amarillo, TX 79101-1559
Dallas Division: Persons in Ellis, Kaufman, Dallas,
Rockwall, Hunt, Johnson, and Navarro counties:
United States District Court for the
Northern District of Texas
1100 Commerce St., 1452
Dallas, TX 75242
Fort Worth Division: Persons in Commanche, Perker,
Erath, Hood, Tarrant, Wise, Jack, and Palo Pinto counties:

Western District of Tennessee
Persons in Dyer, Fayette, Lauderdale, Shelby, and Tipton
United States District Court for the
Western District of Tennessee

United States District Court for the
Western District of Tennessee
Room 262, U. S. Courthouse
111 South Highland Avenue
Jackson, TN 38301

United States District Court for the
Northern District of Texas
501 West 10th Street, 310
Fort Worth, TX 76102-3673
Lubbock Division: Persons in Borden, Cochran, Crosby,
Hockley, Lynn, Dickens, Gaines, Hale, Lamb, Scurry,
Bailey, Garza, Kent, Motley, Yoakum, Dawson, Floyd,
Lubbock, and Terry counties:


Texarkana, TX 75501

United States District Court for the
Northern District of Texas
1205 Texas Avenue, C-221
Lubbock, TX 79401-4091

Tyler Division: Persons in Anderson, Cherokee, Gregg,
Henderson, Panola, Rains, Rusk, Smith, Van Zandt and
Wood counties:

San Angelo Division: Persons in Reagan, Schleicher,
Coke, Concho, Irion, Menard, Sterling, Tom Green,
Brown, Coleman, Mills, Crockett, Glasscock, Runnels, and
Sutton counties:
United States District Court for the
Northern District of Texas
33 E. Twohig Street, 202
San Angelo, TX 76903-6451

United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Texas
211 W. Ferguson Room 106
Tyler, TX 75702
Lufkin Division: Persons in Angelina, Houston,
Nacogdoches, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby,
Trinity and Tyler counties:

Wichita Falls Division: Persons in Archer, Hardeman,
Knox, Montague, Wilbarger, Cottle, Baylor, Clay, King,
Wichita, and Young counties:
United States District Court for the
Northern District of Texas
1000 Lamar Street, 203
Wichita Falls, TX 76301

United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Texas
104 N. Third Street
Lufkin, TX 75901
Southern District of Texas
Brownsville Division: Persons in Cameron and Willacy

Eastern District of Texas
Beaumont Division: Persons in Hardin, Jasper, Jefferson,
Liberty, Newton and Orange counties:
United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Texas
300 Willow Street
Beaumont, TX 77701

United States District Court for the
Southern District of Texas
600 East Harrison Street, Room 101
Brownsville, TX 78520
Corpus Christi Division: Persons in Aransas, Bee, Brooks,
Duval, Jim Wells, Kenedy, Kleberg, Live Oak, Nueces,
and San Patricio counties:

Marshall Division: Persons in Camp, Cass, Harrison,
Marion, Morris and Upshur counties:
United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk
100 E. Houston, Room 125
Marshall, TX 75670

United States District Court for the
Southern District of Texas
1133 North Shoreline Blvd.
Corpus Christi, TX 78401
Galveston Division: Persons in Brazoria, Chambers,
Galveston, and Matagorda counties:

Sherman Division: Persons in Collin, Cooke, Denton,
Grayson, Delta, Fannin, Hopkins and Lamar counties:

United States District Court for the
Southern District of Texas
P.O. Box 2300
Galveston, TX 77550

United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk
101 E. Pecan St. Room 112
Sherman, TX 75090

Houston Division: Persons in Austin, Brazos, Colorado,
Fayette, Fort Bend, Grimes, Harris Madison, Montgomery,
San Jacinto, Walker, Waller, and Wharton counties:

Texarkana Division: Persons in Bowie, Franklin, Titus and
Red River counties:

United States District Court for the
Southern District of Texas
P.O. Box 61010
Houston, TX 77002

United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk
301 U.S. Courthouse
500 Stateline Avenue

Laredo Division: Persons in Jim Hogg, LaSalle,
McMullen, Webb, and Zapata counties:
United States District Court for the

Southern District of Texas
P.O. Box 597
Laredo, TX 78042

Persons in Brewster, Culberson, Jeff Davis, Hudspeth,
Loving, Pecos, Presidio, Reeves, Ward and Winkler

McAllen Division: Persons in Hidalgo and Starr counties:

United States District Court for the
Western District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk's Office
410 South Cedar
Pecos, Texas 79772

United States District Court for the
Southern District of Texas
1701 West Business Highway 83
Suite 1011
McAllen, TX 78501
Victoria Division: Persons in Calhoun, De Witt, Goliad,
Jackson, Lavaca, Refugio, and Victoria counties

United States District Court for the
Western District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk's Office
655 East Durango Blvd., Room G65
San Antonio, Texas 78206

United States District Court for the
Southern District of Texas
P.O. Pox 1638
Victoria, TX 77902
Western District of Texas
Persons in Bastrop, Blanco, Burleson, Burnet, Caldwell,
Gillespie, Hays, Kimble, Lampasas, Lee, Llano, Mason,
McCulloch, San Saba, Travis, Washington and Williamson
United States District Court for the
Western District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk's Office
200 West 8th St., Room 130
Austin, Texas 78701

Persons in Bell, Bosque, Coryell, Falls, Freestone,
Hamilton, Hill, Leon, Limestone, McLennan, Milam,
Robertson and Somervell counties:
United States District Court for the
Western District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk's Office
800 Franklin Ave.
Waco, Texas 76701
UTAH (10th Circuit)
District of Utah

Persons in Edwards, Kinney, Maverick, Terrell, Uvalde,
Val Verde and Zavala counties:
United States District Court for the
Western District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk's Office
111 East Broadway, Room L100
Del Rio, Texas 78840

United States District Court for the
District of Utah
350 South Main Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
VERMONT (2d Circuit)
District of Vermont

Persons in El Paso County:
United States District Court for the
Western District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk's Office
511 East San Antonio Ave., Room 350
El Paso, Texas 79901
Persons in Andrews, Crane, Ector, Martin, Midland and
Upton counties
United States District Court for the
Western District of Texas
U.S. District Clerk's Office
200 East Wall, Room 107
Midland, Texas 79701

Persons in Atascosa, Bandera, Bexar, Comal, Dimmit,
Frio, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Karnes, Kendall, Kerr,
Medina, Real and Wilson counties:

United States District Court for the
District of Vermont
P.O. Box 945
Burlington, VT 05402-0945
District of the Virgin Islands
United States District Court for the
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 Stafford:


P.O. Box 490
Big Stone Gap, VA 24219

United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Virginia
Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse
401 Courthouse Square
Alexandria, VA 22314

Persons in the city of Charlottesville or the counties or
Albemarle, Culpeper, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Madison,
Nelson, Orange, Rappahonnock:

Persons in the Cities of Newport News, Hampton and
Williamsburg, and the Counties of York, James City,
Gloucester, Mathews:
United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Virginia
U.S. Postal Office & Courthouse Building
101 25th Street
P.O. Box 494
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 Southampton:
United States District Court for the
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, Westmoreland:
United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Virginia
Lewis F. Powell Jr., U.S. Courthouse
1000 E. Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219
Western District of Virginia
Persons in the city of Bristol or the counties of Buchanan,
Russel, Smyth, Tazewell, and Washington:
United States District Court for the
Western District of Virginia
P.O. Box 398
Abingdon, VA 24212
Persons in the city of Norton or the counties of Dickenson,
Lee, Scott, and Wise:
United States District Court for the
Western District of Virginia

United States District Court for the
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 Pittsylvania:
United States District Court for the
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 Warren:
United States District Court for the
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
United States District Court for the
Western District of Virginia
P.O. Box 744
Lynchburg, VA 24505
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:
United States District Court for the
Western District of Virginia
P.O. Box 1234
Roanoke, VA 24006
WASHINGTON (9th Circuit)
Eastern District of Washington: Persons in Adams,
Asotin, Benton, Chelan, Columbia, Douglas, Ferry,
Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln,
Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla,
Whitman, and Yakima counties:
United States District Court for the


Eastern District of Washington
Clerk of the Court
P.O. Box 1493
Spokane, WA 99210

United States District Court for the
Northern District of West Virginia
217 W. King Street, Room 207
Martinsburg, WV 25401

Western District of Washington

Southern District of West Virginia

Persons in Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor,
Jefferson, Kitsap, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, Pierce,
Skamania, Thurston and Wahkiakum counties:

Beckley Division: Persons in Fayette, Greenbrier,
Summers, Raleigh, and Wyoming counties:

United States District Court for the
Western District of Washington
1717 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98402

United States District Court for the
Southern District of West Virginia
Federal Building and Courthouse
P. O. Drawer 5009
Beckley, WV 25801

Persons in Island, King, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, and
Whatcom counties:

Bluefield Division: Persons in Mercer, Monroe, McDowell

United States District Court for the
Western District of Washington
William Kenzo Nakamura
US Courthouse
1010 Fifth Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104

United States District Court for the
Southern District of West Virginia
Federal Station, P.O. Box 4128
Bluefield, WV 24702

WEST VIRGINIA (4th Circuit)
Northern District of West Virginia
Persons in Brooke, Hancock, Marshall, Ohio, and Wetzel
United States District Court for the
Northern District of West Virginia
12th & Chapline Streets
P.O. Box 471
Wheeling, WV 26003

Charleston Division: Persons in Boone, Clay, Jackson,
Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Mingo, Nicholas, Putnam and
Roane counties:
United States District Court for the
Southern District of West Virginia
United States Courthouse
P. O. Box 2546
Charleston, WV 25329
Huntington Division: Persons in Cabell, Mason and
Wayne counties:

Persons in Braxton, Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer,
Harrison, Lewis, Marion, Monongalia, Pleasants, Ritchie,
Taylor, Tyler counties:
United States District Court for the
Northern District of West Virginia
500 West Pike Street, Room 301
P.O. Box 2857
Clarksburg, WV 26302

United States District Court for the
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:

Persons in Barbour, Grant, Hardy, Mineral, Pendleton,
Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Tucker, Webster counties:
United States District Court for the
Northern District of West Virginia
P.O. Box 1518
300 Third Street
Elkins, WV 26241
Persons in Berkeley, Hampshire, Jefferson, and Morgan

United States District Court for the
Southern District of West Virginia
Federal Building and Courthouse
P.O. Box 1526
Parkersburg, WV 26102
WISCONSIN (7th Circuit)
Eastern District of Wisconsin: Persons in 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:


United States District Court for the
Eastern District of Wisconsin
362 United States Courthouse
517 East Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Western District of Wisconsin: Persons in 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
U.S. District Court for the
Western District of Wisconsin
120 North Henry Street, Room 320
P. O. Box 432
Madison, WI 53701-0432
WYOMING (10th Circuit)
District of Wyoming
United States District Court for the
District of Wyoming
2120 Capitol Avenue, 2nd Floor
Cheyenne, WY 82001-3658



212-854-1601/ 212-854-7946 (FAX)

& 2002 Supplement to the Fifth Edition
What is it?
A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual Fifth Edition (the "JLM Fifth Edition"), ISBN 0-9729094-0-0,
explains the legal rights of prisoners, and how to navigate through the justice process to secure
those rights. It contains information on how to address legal issues on both the federal level and
the state level, with an emphasis on New York State law. The JLM does NOT have information
on substantive law (for example, the elements of crimes or degrees of a crime). It is a softcover,
1007-page book. It is mailed stamped “direct from publisher,” “authorized material,” and “legal
Also available is the 2002 Supplement to the Fifth Edition of the JLM, ISBN 0-9729094-1-9.
The 2002 Supplement updates the JLM Fifth Edition chapters on parole, right to communicate
with the outside world, Article 440, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), assault, Section
1983, torts, disciplinary proceedings, federal habeas corpus, and criminal appeals, has an index
and table of authorities for the JLM, and has new chapters on post-conviction DNA testing,
classifications and solitary confinement, infectious diseases in prison, ineffective assistance of
counsel, plea bargaining, the rights of prisoners with disabilities, gay and lesbian rights, juvenile
rights, right to an interpreter, rights upon release, and special concerns of sex offenders. The
2002 Supplement is 586 pages and comes in softcover.

How much does it cost?
For inmates: The JLM Fifth Edition and 2002 Supplement package is $43. We highly
recommend that both books be used together. However, because inmates’ finances may be
limited, you may purchase them separately. If you already have purchased a Fifth Edition, you
can buy the 2002 Supplement for $12. If you have not bought the JLM, you can get the
Supplement for $18. A Fifth Edition without the 2002 Supplement is $31. See the pricing chart
on the reverse side. Prices and availability may be subject to change.
For non-inmates, organizations, or institutions: The JLM Fifth Edition and 2002 Supplement
package is $90. The cost of the 2002 Supplement is $25 for those who have already purchased
the Fifth Edition. Non-inmates, organizations and institutions may not purchase the Fifth Edition
and 2002 Supplement separately. If you are ordering for an inmate, follow the instructions for
inmate pricing. See the pricing chart on the reverse side. Prices and availability may be subject to
Regrettably, the law prohibits us from providing any legal advice to prisoners.
As an organization with limited funds, we cannot offer any further discounts nor
make any billing arrangements other than listed above. We also do not have
used copies to distribute. If you would like to use the JLM but are unable to
purchase one, please inquire with your prison library to see if they will order one.
We apologize for any inconvenience.

How do I place an order?
Complete and send the order form below with a check or money order, payable to Columbia Human
Rights Law Review to Columbia Human Rights Law Review, Attn: JLM Order, 435 W. 116th St., New
York, NY 10027. If you send a money order, keep the receipt in case there is a problem with your order.
We are no longer accepting postage stamps as payment and also do not accept credit cards. Due to the
nature of the institutional mail systems, we request that you allow up to eight weeks from the date of your
order. Because our office is student run, your order may not be processed as quickly over school breaks,
such as late December or late March. If you are sending a rush order, you might want to call our office to
be sure someone will be there to process your order. We do not accept collect calls. Orders to be sent to
facilities in Michigan must be sent first class. Also, please inform us on this form of any restrictions on
incoming mail that your facility may have (for example, no padded envelopes or first class mail only).

ID NUMBER (If applicable):
ORDER (Please circle the price):
Combined 5th
Edition +



2002 Supplement
Alone (already
purchased 5th

2002 Supplement
Alone (no
previous purchase
of 5th Edition)
Not Available

5th Edition
Not Available


4 Class (4-6 weeks)
No additional cost

1st Class (1-2 weeks)
Add $5 per book
(If you are ordering the 5th Edition + Supplement
1st Class shipping is $10 total)



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