Filed Date: Aug. 9, 2011
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On August 9, 2011, Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), doing business as Prison Legal News (PLN), a publisher that produces a monthly journal concerning criminal justice issues, filed suit in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan against the Livingston County Sheriff and Livingston County under 42 U.S.C. §1983. PLN, represented by private counsel and the Human Rights Defense Center, claimed that defendants had implemented a mail policy at the Livingston County Jail that restricted the right to free expression held by PLN and its subscribers as protected by the First Amendment. PLN sought preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and damages.
Specifically, PLN alleged that Livingston County Jail had, without notice, censored and prevented addressees from receiving mail sent by PLN and did not provide them an opportunity to appeal the censorship decision. Moreover, PLN challenged the jail's postcard-only policy, which restricted correspondence to prisoners via postcards. PLN argued that these actions and policies violated their right to freedom of speech, press, and association protected by the First Amendment and that denying inmates notice of this censorship and an opportunity to appeal the decision to censor mail violated their right to due process protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.
On October 7, 2011, defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. On January 12, 2012, PLN filed a motion for preliminary injunction. On October 12, 2012, the ACLU Fund of Michigan filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiff.
On March 29, 2013, after a number of discovery disputes, District Court Judge Denise Page Hood denied PLN's motion and granted in part and denied in part defendant's motion. The court denied the motion for a preliminary injunction because it found that plaintiff had failed to demonstrate the requisite likelihood of success on the merits, and because the issuance of injunctive relief could have a significant effect on the safety of both inmates and jail personnel alike. Prison Legal News v. Bezotte, No. 11-CV-13460, 2013 WL 1316714, at *1 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 29, 2013). As for the motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court found that plaintiff's First Amendment claims survived except to the extend that the plaintiff had failed to state a constitutional claim for failure to allow visitation of inmates or delivery of "legal mail" that is not personally marked to an individual inmate. The court also found that the plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claim remained. Prison Legal News v. Bezotte, No. 11-CV-13460, 2013 WL 1316732 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 29, 2013).
Over the course of the next year, both PLN and defendants moved for reconsideration of these motions. These motions were denied by District Court Judge Denise Page Hood, though the court did issue an amended order granting in part and denying in part defendant's motion for partial judgment on the pleadings. Prison Legal News v. Bezotte, No. 11-CV-13460, 2014 WL 1405214, at *1 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 11, 2014). This amended order was largely identical to the order issued on March 29, 2013.
The parties continued litigation various discovery disputes. Also during this time, on April 16, 2015, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint to reflect the fact that Human Rights Defense Center was actually the entity that had the capacity to sue, rather than Prison Legal News.
On March 31, 2016, in an order regarding various motions, the court granted the plaintiff's motion for reconsideration of the earlier (March 29, 2013) order denying the plaintiffs preliminary injunctive relief. The court did so because it recognized that the prior order had failed to address Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment due process claim. The court went on to address that claim here.
To start, the court found that the plaintiff did have constitutionally protected interests in: (a) receiving notification from defendants when defendants reject (i.e., do not deliver) mail Plaintiff sends to designated inmates at the Livingston County Jail, and (b) being able to appeal any such rejection to an impartial third party (at least with respect to the initial copies of any publication). Because of this, the court went on to analyze the motion for a preliminary injunction based on this Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim.
In looking at the likelihood of success on the merits of this claim, the court applied the four factor test from Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), that the Supreme Court had identified to determine whether a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights. The court found that the defendant had failed to satisfy the first factor because it had not provided a legitimate penological interest to justify the defendant's practice of not notifying the sender or the designated inmate recipient of the fact that the sender's mail to such intended inmate recipient was rejected (information which necessarily precluded the ability to appeal any such rejection to a third party). Based on this, the court found that the plaintiff's 14th Amendment procedural due process claim was likely to be successful on the merits.
The court also found that the other three factors in the preliminary injunction analysis weighed in plaintiff's favor on this particular claim. The court concluded that plaintiff was entitled to a preliminary injunction as to defendants' failure to provide notice to, and an opportunity to appeal by, plaintiff and designated inmate recipients when defendants reject publications sent by Plaintiffs to such designated inmates at Livingston County Jail. Effectively immediately, in every instance that defendants rejected mail sent by plaintiff to a designated inmate at the Livingston County Jail (at least with respect to the initial copy of any publication), the defendants must: (a) notify Plaintiff of such rejection; (b) notify the designated inmate recipient of such rejection; and (c) notify Plaintiff and the designated inmate recipient of the right to--and afford Plaintiff and the designated inmate recipient the opportunity to--appeal any such rejection to an impartial third party.
In that same March 31, 2016 order regarding various motions, the court also granted both parties’ motions for sanctions against each other regarding various earlier disputes. The court would later issue an order on April 29, 2016, that recognized the parties stipulation to withdraw their respective requests for monetary sanctions.
On another procedural note, on April 4, 2016, the plaintiff filed a second amended complaint, adding the Lieutenant with the office of the Sheriff of Livingston County and bringing claims against him in his individual and official capacity. This amended complaint also added a Fifth Amendment takings clause complaint based on allegations that the defendants improperly exercised control over and converted for their own use property that was entrusted to defendants for delivery to specific prisoners.
The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on July 29, 2016, and in the meantime continued litigating various procedural disputes, including a motion by plaintiff for civil contempt and for enforcement on the preliminary injunction on the Fourteenth Amendment due process claim. Plaintiff alleged that they had sent mail labeled "legal mail" but that it was returned to the sending address unopened.
The court held a hearing on the summary judgment motions on October 6, 2016 and on March 31, 2017, the court granted the defendants motion for summary judgment with regard to the new Fifth Amendment takings clause claim, but denied both parties motions for summary judgment on the remaining claims because the court found genuine disputes of material fact during its application of the four Turner v. Safley factors.
Shortly after this, on May 10, 2017, the court required a settlement conference to be conducted before Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford. That conference was held the following week, and the parties informed the court that they had reached a settlement.
The settlement agreement was attached as an exhibit to the stipulated order of voluntary dismissal that ended the litigation on June 30, 2017. Under the agreement, Livingston County would accept up to 30 subscriptions per month of the Prison Legal News addressed to specific inmates, and the Livingston County Jail would deliver up to 30 books per month to specific inmates. In the event that Human Rights Defense Center sends more than 30 issues of Prison Legal News, and/or more than 30 books per month, Human Rights Defense Center would contact the Jail administrator, who agreed not to unreasonably withhold the delivery of these additional materials. The agreement also required the Jail to give notice of any censorship of these materials to both the HRDC and the inmate to whom it was addressed. Finally, Livingston County would pay plaintiff $295,000. The court retained jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the agreement.
As of April 18, 2019, there does not appear to have been further litigation regarding compliance with the settlement. That said, the docket does contain two pro se hand written document filings (dated in May and August of 2018) where it appears that an inmate is challenging censorship practices at an institution in Texas.
Richard Jolly (10/29/2014)
Chris Pollack (4/18/2019)
For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/5254685/parties/human-rights-defense-center-v-bezotte/
Hood, Denise Page (Michigan)
Loeb, Thomas M. (Michigan)
Kaczmarek, Lindsey A (Michigan)
Lowry, Sara E. (Michigan)
Korobkin, Daniel S. (Michigan)
Hood, Denise Page (Michigan)
Randon, Mark (Michigan)
Stafford, Elizabeth A. (Michigan)
See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/5254685/human-rights-defense-center-v-bezotte/
Last updated Jan. 27, 2024, 3:27 a.m.
State / Territory: Michigan
Filing Date: Aug. 9, 2011
Case Ongoing: Yes
Publisher of a monthly journal of corrections news and analysis about prisoner rights, court rulings, management of prison facilities and prison conditions
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Form of Settlement:
Amount Defendant Pays: 295000
Order Duration: 2017 - None
Content of Injunction:
Type of Facility: