Federal appeals panel revives inmate’s suit over lack of library access

Monday, August 21, 2000

A federal appeals court panel has reinstated part of the First Amendment lawsuit of an Indiana inmate who alleged prison officials retaliated against him by denying him access to the prison's law library.

William K. Zimmerman, an inmate at Wabash Correctional Center, sued various prison officials, alleging several constitutional violations. Among these claims, Zimmerman contended that prison officials violated his First Amendment rights by denying him access to the prison's law library in retaliation for complaining about lack of access to the library and by delaying delivery of his mail.

In his lawsuit, Zimmerman alleged that Margarita Tribble, the law library supervisor, did not allow him enough access to the library. As a result, Zimmerman filed a grievance against Tribble. Zimmerman alleged that after he filed his grievance, Tribble denied him all access to the library.

Zimmerman also claimed that his fiancée mailed an envelope to him on Nov. 7, 1997, and he did not receive it until Dec. 1, 1997.

A federal district court judge dismissed his lawsuit in 1997. Zimmerman then appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Aug. 16, a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit unanimously reinstated part of Zimmerman's suit in Zimmerman v. Tribble.

With respect to Zimmerman's claim that he was retaliated against for complaining about lack of access to the prison's law library, the panel said that his complaint stated enough facts to support a retaliation claim. The panel noted that Zimmerman alleged that he was retaliated against shortly after filing a grievance against Tribble.

However, the appeals court panel rejected Zimmerman's claim with respect to the slow delivery of his mail, saying, “allegations of sporadic and short-term delays in receiving mail are insufficient to state a cause of action grounded upon the First Amendment.”

Calls to attorneys on both sides of the case were not returned.

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