(CN) – An Oregon inmate can’t sue a prison librarian for refusing to let him comb-bind his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the 9th Circuit ruled, after the nation’s high court overturned a $1,500 judgment for the inmate.
Frank Marvin Phillips sued prison librarian Lynn Hust and “library staff,” claiming they violated his First Amendment right of access to the courts by refusing to let him comb-bind his petition for a writ of certiorari.
Phillips had wanted to appeal his second-degree manslaughter conviction, but his petition was turned down by the high court as “out of time” because he wasn’t able to get it bound by the filing deadline.
The 9th Circuit voted 2-1 to uphold a $1,500 judgment for Phillips, and a majority of the San Francisco-based appeals court chose not to rehear the case, despite a 10-judge dissent.
The U.S. Supreme Court then took up the case and vacated the judgment, ordering the lower courts to reconsider in light of Pearson v. Callahan, which jettisoned the rigid two-step process for analyzing a qualified immunity defense.
Applying Pearson, the 9th Circuit panel ruled that Hust had not violated a “clearly established” constitutional right.
“In light of the Supreme Court’s flexible rules for pro se filings, which do not require and perhaps do not even permit comb-binding, we have no difficulty concluding that Hust is entitled to qualified immunity,” Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain concluded.