OCTOBER TERM, 1995
certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit
No. 94-1511. Argued November 29, 1995—Decided June 24, 1996
Respondents, who are inmates of various prisons operated by the Arizona
Department of Corrections (ADOC), brought a class action against petitioners, ADOC officials, alleging that petitioners were furnishing them with inadequate legal research facilities and thereby depriving them of their right of access to the courts, in violation of Bounds v. Smith, 430 U. S. 817. The District Court found petitioners to be in violation of Bounds and issued an injunction mandating detailed, systemwide changes in ADOC's prison law libraries and in its legal assistance programs. The Ninth Circuit affirmed both the finding of a Bounds violation and the injunction's major terms.
Held: The success of respondents' systemic challenge was dependent on their ability to show widespread actual injury, and the District Court's failure to identify anything more than isolated instances of actual injury renders its finding of a systemic Bounds violation invalid. Pp. 348-364. (a) Bounds did not create an abstract, freestanding right to a law library or legal assistance; rather, the right that Bounds acknowledged was the right of access to the courts. E. g., 430 U. S., at 817, 821, 828. Thus, to establish a Bounds violation, the "actual injury" that an inmate must demonstrate is that the alleged shortcomings in the prison library or legal assistance program have hindered, or are presently hindering, his efforts to pursue a nonfrivolous legal claim. This requirement derives ultimately from the doctrine of standing. Although Bounds made no mention of an actual injury requirement, it can hardly be thought to have eliminated that constitutional prerequisite. Pp. 349-353. (b) Statements in Bounds suggesting that prison authorities must also enable the prisoner to discover grievances, and to litigate effectively once in court, 430 U. S., at 825-826, and n. 14, have no antecedent in this Court's pre-Bounds cases, and are now disclaimed. Moreover, Bounds does not guarantee inmates the wherewithal to file any and every type of legal claim, but requires only that they be provided with the tools to attack their sentences, directly or collaterally, and to challenge the conditions of their confinement. Pp. 354-355.
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