Ruffin v. Arnone
Allegations that a prisoner lacked enough funds to purchase paper, pen and envelopes may be insufficient to allege that the prisoner was unable to pursue a nonfrivolous, direct criminal appeal, habeas corpus or civil-rights challenge to his conditions of confinement, as required to allege a violation of his constitutional right to meaningful access to the courts. Allegedly, the plaintiff's mother purchased life insurance, and when she passed away the plaintiff received $14,448 in life insurance benefits. The State of Connecticut sued the plaintiff inmate, to recoup the life insurance benefits and to use them toward costs of prison, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes §18-85a. The plaintiff reached a settlement with the State of Connecticut, then sued the defendant commissioner of the Department of Correction. The plaintiff's complaint alleged that because the plaintiff did not qualify as an indigent, because he had more than $5 in his prison bank account, he was required to choose between his constitutional right to purchase medical items and his constitutional right of access to courts, which requires the purchase of paper, pens and envelopes. "[T]o establish the objective element of an Eighth Amendment claim, a prisoner must prove that the conditions of his confinement violate contemporary standards of decency," pursuant to Phelps v. Kapnolas, a 2002 decision of the 2nd Circuit. The plaintiff possesses both an Eighth Amendment right to humane conditions of confinement and the right of access to the courts, to attack his criminal conviction or to challenge conditions of confinement. The court found that the plaintiff's complaint did not adequately allege that the plaintiff was unable to pursue a nonfrivolous direct criminal appeal, habeas corpus or civil-rights challenge to his conditions of confinement, as required to allege a violation of his right to meaningful access to the courts. The plaintiff has not adequately alleged that he has been forced to choose between constitutionally protected rights. He also failed to adequately allege that the State of Connecticut's policy about indigent prisoners is not constitutional, because it forces the plaintiff and other inmates to choose among constitutional rights. The court granted the defendant's motion to strike.