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ACEVEDO v. FORCINITO

May 11, 1993

JORGE ACEVEDO, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES A. FORCINITO, et al., Defendants.


RODRIGUEZ


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSEPH H. RODRIGUEZ

This matter is before the court on defendants' motion for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons set forth below, the court denies the motion in part and grants the motion in part.

 I. BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff, Jorge Acevedo, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that defendants violated his civil rights during his twenty months of incarceration at the Cumberland County Jail. Acevedo, who is not conversant in English, claims that defendants denied him meaningful access to the courts by failing both to maintain an adequate law library and to provide a Spanish-speaking legal assistant. No longer incarcerated at the jail, plaintiff seeks monetary and injunctive relief.

 Defendants Sheriff James A. Forcinito and the County of Cumberland now move for an order granting summary judgment. They assert that they did not violate plaintiff's constitutional rights, as the jail affords prisoners and detainees adequate law library facilities, satisfying the standard the Supreme Court announced in Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 52 L. Ed. 2d 72, 97 S. Ct. 1491 (1977). They further assert that the court should grant summary judgment on claims against the County of Cumberland insofar as Acevedo alleges vicarious liability or respondeat superior, theories unavailable under § 1983.

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. Summary Judgment Standard

 The entry of summary judgment is appropriate only when the court finds "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact" and "the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-26, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). Whether a fact is "material" is determined by the controlling substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). If a disputed fact exists that under the controlling substantive law might affect the outcome of the suit, entry of summary judgment is precluded. Id.

 The moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion, and must identify those portions of the pleadings, discovery papers and affidavits, if any, which demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to present affirmative evidence "from which a jury might return a verdict in his [or her] favor." Summary judgment will not be granted if the nonmoving party shows there is a genuine issue of fact requiring a trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 257. In making its determination, then, the court's function is not to assess the truth of the matter upon its own weighing the evidence, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

 B.

 1. Access to the Courts

 It is well established that prisoners have a fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts. Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 52 L. Ed. 2d 72, 97 S. Ct. 1491 (1977); Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 197 (3d Cir. 1990). As one court has stated, it "is the most fundamental right [a prisoner] holds," DeMallory v. Cullen, 855 F.2d 442, 446 (1988), for all other rights of prisoners are illusory without it. See Adams v. Carlson, 488 F.2d 619, 630 (7th Cir. 1973). Access to the courts encompasses "all the means a defendant or petitioner might require to get a fair hearing from the judiciary on all charges brought against him or grievances alleged by him." Gilmore v. Lynch, 319 F. Supp. 105, 111 (N.D. Cal. 1970), aff'd, Younger v. Gilmore, 404 U.S. 15, 30 L. Ed. 2d 142, 92 S. Ct. 250 (1971) (per curiam). These principles also apply to pre-trail detainees. Martin v. Tyson, 845 F.2d 1451 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 863, 102 L. Ed. 2d 133, 109 S. Ct. 162 (1988).

 The Court's standard in Bounds, however, does not address the adequacy of a law library with respect to illiterate or non-English speaking prisoners. In some instances, even the most comprehensive law library might not, alone, provide meaningful access to the courts. See Valentine v. Beyer, 850 F.2d 951, 956-57 (3d Cir. 1988); Harrington v. Holshouser, 741 F.2d 66, 69 (4th ...


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