University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Johnson v. Avery PC-TN-0014
Docket / Court Civ. No. 4170 ( M.D. Tenn. )
State/Territory Tennessee
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
In July 1965, a prisoner housed at Tennessee's State Penitentiary, Nashville, submitted a motion to the United States District Court, Middle District of Tennessee, seeking law books, a typewriter, and release from solitary confinement. The plaintiff alleged that his ongoing solitary confinement, as ... read more >
In July 1965, a prisoner housed at Tennessee's State Penitentiary, Nashville, submitted a motion to the United States District Court, Middle District of Tennessee, seeking law books, a typewriter, and release from solitary confinement. The plaintiff alleged that his ongoing solitary confinement, as punishment for helping other inmates prepare habeas petitions, violated his 14th Amendment right to due process; he sought injunctive relief. The Court treated the motion as a petition for habeas corpus.

On January 21, 1966, the district court (Chief Judge William E. Miller) granted the writ, holding that defendants' regulation banning prisoners from giving each other legal assistance was void because it effectively withheld access to federal habeas corpus from illiterate prisoners and conflicted with 28 U.S.C. §2242. The Court ordered defendants to release plaintiff from solitary confinement and restored to ordinary prisoner status. Johnson v. Avery, 252 F.Supp 783 (M.D. Tenn. 1966).

By the time the district court order was entered, plaintiff had been transferred out of the maximum security building into a disciplinary cell block that still had fewer privileges than ordinary prisoners. He was released into regular prison conditions only after he promised to not assist other inmates with their legal issues.

In March 1966, the district court held another hearing on defendants' compliance with its earlier order. The Court reaffirmed its earlier order and the state appealed.

On August 31, 1967, the Court of Appeals (Chief Justice Weick) reversed, holding that defendants' regulation was justified by the state's interest in preserving prison discipline and limiting the practice of law to licensed attorneys. Johnson v. Avery, 383 F.2d 353 (6th Cir. 1967).

On February 24, 1969, the Supreme Court (Justice Fortas) reversed the appellate court, invalidating the regulation as incompatible with inmates' federal habeas corpus rights. Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483 (1969).

Timothy Shoffner - 05/01/2013

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Conditions of confinement
Disciplinary segregation
Law library access
Unconstitutional conditions of confinement
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action Habeas Corpus, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241-2253; 2254; 2255
42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) State of Tennessee
Plaintiff Description a prisoner housed at Tennessee's State Penitentiary who had given legal assistance to other prisoners
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year 1966
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University)
Citation: 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 550 (2006)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

  Stateville: The Penitentiary in Mass Society
By: James B. Jacobs (New York University School of Law)
Citation: (1977)
[ Detail ]

Links Cruel Confinement: Abuse, Discrimination and Death Within Alabama's Prisons
Written: Jun. 04, 2014
(Southern Poverty Law Center )
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Supplemental Reply Brief
PC-TN-0014-0007.pdf | Detail
Opinion [district ct] (252 F.Supp. 783) (M.D. Tenn.)
PC-TN-0014-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 01/21/1966
Source: Westlaw
Opinion [reversing district ct] (382 F.2d 353)
PC-TN-0014-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 08/31/1967
Source: Westlaw
Opinion [granting motion to proceed in forma pauperis] (390 U.S. 943)
PC-TN-0014-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 03/04/1968
Source: Westlaw
Brief for the People of the State of California, Amicus Curiae in Support of Respondents
PC-TN-0014-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/17/1968
Brief for the Petitioner
PC-TN-0014-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/29/1968
Brief for the Respondents
PC-TN-0014-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/09/1968
Motion for Leave to File Brief, and Brief Amici Curiae of the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee
PC-TN-0014-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/21/1968
Opinion [reversing appellate ct] (393 U.S. 483)
PC-TN-0014-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/24/1969
Source: Westlaw
Judges Black, Hugo Lafayette (SCOTUS)
Cecil, Lester LeFevre (Sixth Circuit, S.D. Ohio)
Miller, William Ernest (Sixth Circuit, M.D. Tenn.)
Peck, John Weld II (Sixth Circuit, S.D. Ohio)
Weick, Paul Charles (Sixth Circuit, N.D. Ohio)
White, Byron Raymond (SCOTUS)
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Warden, Karl P. (Tennessee)
Winningham, Pierce (Tennessee)
Defendant's Lawyers Fox, Thomas E (Tennessee)
PC-TN-0014-0005 | PC-TN-0014-0007
McCanless, George F (Tennessee)
McMackin, David W. (Tennessee)
Other Lawyers Glen, Kristin (New York)
Granucci, Robert R. (California)
Harris, Albert W Jr (California)
Lynch, Thomas C. (California)
Nock, George (California)
Wulf, Melvin L. (New York)

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