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Bell v. Phillips

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division

July 28, 2015

ROBERT J. BELL, Appellant,
v.
PAULA PHILLIPS, et al., Respondents

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County. The Honorable Daniel R. Green, Judge.

Robert J. Bell, Jr., Appellant, Pro se.

For respondents: Andrew W. Blackwell and Emily A. Wales, Jefferson City, MO.

Before Division Four: Alok Ahuja, C.J., and Lisa White Hardwick and Mark D. Pfeiffer, JJ.

OPINION

Alok Ahuja, J.

Robert Bell, an inmate in the custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections, appeals the dismissal of his petition, which asserted a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for denial of access to the courts. We reverse, and remand to the circuit court for further proceedings.

Factual Background

In his second amended petition, filed pro se, Bell alleged a host of civil rights violations by employees at the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston. Only Bell's allegations against defendant Paula Phillips, identified as a " Functioning Unit Manager," are relevant to this appeal. Bell's second amended petition alleged that he " had to go to Phillip's [sic] office because that was the only way that I could get a law library pass or get legal supplies." In the same paragraph, Bell's petition alleged that " I was denied access to the law library and legal supplies like copies of my legal work and postage to mail my habeas corpus applications and to file this instant civil rights complaint."

Bell's petition continued by alleging that

MS. PAULA PHILLIPS, she did everything she could do to deny me access to the law library and . . . she also refused me any type of legal resources, like pens and envelopes for my legal documents and the other officers followed her lead. [A]lthough they all knew that I was an indigent prisoner, Phillips, she even went so far as to demand her officers to not allow me anything and to put me in the hole if I asked for anything. So I filed a grievance against her because legal access for indigents (like myself) constitutionally are suppose[d] to be supplied with legal materials like postage, pens and paper should be given to me " FREE OF CHARGE." Ms. Phillips retaliated by forcing me to work in the chow hall on February 17 thru [sic] the 20th[, 2010,] against my doctor's orders. See, the Grievance Appeal Tracking No. SECC10-305, 305, 2115 and SECC-11-570.

Bell's petition alleged that, in the grievance proceeding, " the officers said, 'they will not provide me with the needed legal materials, (free or otherwise)."

Bell's petition also alleged that, as a result of the denial of necessary postage, he had been unable to timely file his federal habeas corpus petition:

[T]he dept. of corrections refuse[s] to provide indigent inmates like myself reasonable access to legal materials like photocopies and postage " FREE OF CHARGE," which is part of receiving reasonable access to the courts. . . . Due to the fact that I did not have the $5.10 to mail my Federal Writ of Habeas Corpus and the accompanying exhibits during the early months of 2010 the Court ruled that my petition was untimely. . . . [T]he Dept's policy denies me the first amendment right to have reasonable access to the courts. ...

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