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Prison Legal News v. Sullivan County, Complaint 2013

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
GREENEVILLE DIVISION
PRISON LEGAL NEWS, a project of the
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENSE CENTER,
Plaintiff,
v.
SULLIVAN COUNTY, TENNESSEE,
SULLIVAN COUNTY SHERIFF’S
OFFICE; and J. WAYNE ANDERSON, in
his official and individual capacity,
Defendants.

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CIVIL ACTION NO. _________

JURY DEMAND

COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY, INJUNCTIVE RELIEF, AND DAMAGES

NATURE OF THE CASE
1.

Plaintiff, Prison Legal News, a project of the Human Rights Defense Center,

brings this action to enjoin Defendants’ censorship of Prison Legal News’ monthly publication
and correspondence mailed to prisoners who are held in custody at the Sullivan County Jail, in
violation of the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.
Defendants have adopted and implemented written mail policies and practices that violate the
First Amendment by unconstitutionally restricting correspondence to prisoners to postcards only,
and that prohibit delivery of book catalogs and magazines to prisoners. Further, Defendants’
policies and practices do not afford Prison Legal News due process, including notice and an
opportunity to challenge the censorship, as required by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United
States Constitution.
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JURISDICTION AND VENUE
2.

This action arises under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United

States Constitution. This Court has jurisdiction over this action under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331and
1343, and additionally under 28 U.S.C. § 2201, and 2202.
3.

Venue is proper in the Eastern District of Tennessee under 28 U.S.C. § 1391

(b)(2) because a substantial part of the events complained of occurred in this District, and
because the Defendants reside in this District.
PARTIES
4.

Plaintiff Prison Legal News (“PLN”) is a project of the Human Rights Defense

Center (“HRDC”), a Washington Non-Profit Corporation. The core of HRDC’s mission is public
education, prisoner education, advocacy, and outreach in support of the rights of prisoners and in
furtherance of basic human rights. PLN publishes and distributes a monthly journal of
corrections news and analysis and certain books about the criminal justice system and legal
issues affecting prisoners to prisoners, lawyers, courts, libraries, and the public throughout the
Country. PLN also maintains a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) and operates an email list.
Prisoners of all types, family and friends of prisoners, and prisoner advocates are among the
intended beneficiaries of PLN’s activities.
5.

Defendant Sullivan County is a municipality formed under the laws of the State of

Tennessee. The official jail prisoner mail policies at issue in this case were the moving force
behind the constitutional violations alleged herein. The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office is a
department of Sullivan County and operates the Sullivan County Jail located in Blountville,
Tennessee. The Sullivan County Jail facility houses convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees.

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6.

Defendant J. Wayne Anderson is the Sheriff of Sullivan County. Sheriff Anderson

is employed by and is an agent of Sullivan County and the Sheriff’s Office. He is responsible for
the operations of the Sullivan County Jail, and the training and supervision of the Jail staff who
interpret and implement the Jail’s mail policy for prisoners. He is the policymaker for the Jail
policy governing mail for prisoners.
7.

Each of the acts and omissions of the persons alleged herein were taken under

color of state law and within the scope of their official duties as employees and officers of
Sullivan County and the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office.
FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS
PRISON LEGAL NEWS
8.

PLN publishes and distributes a soft-cover monthly journal and publishes and

distributes paperback books about the criminal justice system and legal issues affecting
prisoners.
9.

Prison Legal News has approximately 7,000 subscribers in the United States and

abroad, including prisoners, attorneys, journalists, public libraries, judges, and other members of
the public. PLN distributes its publication to prisoners and law libraries in approximately 2,200
correctional facilities across the United States, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the
Tennessee Department of Corrections.
10.

Prison Legal News engages in core protected speech and expressive conduct on

matters of public concern, such as operations of prison facilities, prison conditions, prisoner
health and safety, and prisoners’ rights.

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CENSORSHIP AND LACK OF DUE PROCESS
11.

Defendants have rejected PLN’s monthly publications, books, book catalogs,

book offers, informational brochures, subscription forms, subscription renewal letters,
fundraising letters, and online articles mailed to prisoners held in custody at the Sullivan County
Jail. The mail items rejected by Defendants include, but are not limited to, the items identified
below.
Monthly Publications and Books
12.

From on or about February 15, 2012 to the present, Prison Legal News sent its

monthly journal to certain prisoners at the Sullivan County Jail by U.S. Mail on or about the 15th
day of each month. PLN’s monthly journal is a 64-page publication titled Prison Legal News. It
contains various articles on corrections news and analysis, about prisoner rights, court rulings,
management of prison facilities and prison conditions
13.

Similarly, since February 2012 to May 2013, PLN has mailed 46 copies of the

book Protecting Your Health & Safety: A Litigation Guide for Inmates to 46 separate prisoners
in custody at the Sullivan County Jail by U.S. Mail.
14.

On information and belief, Defendants censoreded and refused to deliver the

Prison Legal News journals and the books that PLN sent to prisoner-addressees, and continues to
censor these monthly journals and books to this day. For example, on or about February 15,
2012, PLN personally addressed and mailed a copy of the book Protecting Your Health & Safety
to prisoner Clovis Jones at the Sullivan County Jail. Mr. Jones was a prisoner at the Sullivan
County Jail at the time that the Jail received the book from PLN. The Jail refused to deliver the
book to Mr. Jones and returned the book to PLN.

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15.

On or about February 15, 2012, PLN mailed a sample copy of the monthly journal

Prison Legal News addressed individually to prisoner Christopher Hooker at the Sullivan
County Jail. Mr. Hooker was a prisoner at the Sullivan County Jail at the time that the Jail
received the copy of Prison Legal News in the mail from PLN. The Jail refused to deliver the
journal to Mr. Hooker returned it to PLN.
16.

On or about February 15, 2012, PLN mailed a sample copy of the journal Prison

Legal News individually addressed to prisoner Constance Gilbert at the Sullivan County Jail.
Gilbert was a prisoner at the Sullivan County Jail at the time that the Jail received the March
Prison Legal News publication from PLN. The envelope was returned to PLN with the markings
“Post cards only! Can not [sic] have.” The envelope arrived at PLN with those words struck
through and replaced with writing that reads, “not here.”
17.

On or about February 15, 2012, PLN mailed a sample copy of the journal Prison

Legal News individually addressed to prisoner John Puckett at the Sullivan County Jail. Mr.
Puckett was a prisoner at the Sullivan County Jail at the time that the Jail received the March
Prison Legal News publication from PLN. On information and belief, Jail employees marked the
envelope “Can not [sic] have [sic] post cards only!” The envelope returned to PLN had those
words struck through and replaced with the words, “Not here!”
18.

On or about March 15, 2012, PLN mailed the March 2012 issue of the journal

Prison Legal News addressed individually to prisoner Jeffery Gragg at the Sullivan County Jail.
Mr. Gragg was a prisoner at the Sullivan County Jail at the time that the Jail received the April
Prison Legal News publication from PLN. The Jail returned the publication to PLN.
19.

Including the items listed above, from on or about February 15, 2012 through on

or about September 15, 2012, PLN mailed approximately 200 individually addressed copies of

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its monthly journal, Prison Legal News to 33 separate prisoners at the Sullivan County jail. Each
one of the 33 prisoners had also been mailed a copy of the book Protecting Your Health & Safety
from PLN’s offices.
20.

On October 10, 2012, former Sullivan County inmate Joseph Samples notified

Plaintiff that the Jail’s major had refused to deliver the vast majority of the books PLN sent to
prisoners and that the major kept approximately thirty copies of Protecting Your Health and
Safety and approximately ninety copies of Prison Legal News on his desk, undelivered to the
inmate-addressees.
21.

Each month from October 2012 to the present PLN has mailed approximately ten

copies of its monthly journal Prison Legal News individually addressed to approximately ten
separate prisoners at the Sullivan County Jail, each of whom was a prisoner of the Jail at the time
the Jail received the Prison Legal News publication from PLN. On information and belief, none
of these monthly journals were delivered to the intended recipients, but these journals were
instead censored by jail staff persons.
22.

Additionally, PLN mailed 12 copies of the book Protecting Your Health & Safety

to 12 separate prisoners at the Sullivan County Jail from on or about October 18, 2012 to the
present. On information and belief, none of these books were delivered by Jail staff persons to
the prisoners who were the intended recipients of the same, but said mail was censored by jail
staff.
23.

PLN also mailed individually addressed letters from PLN Editor Paul Wright to

14 separate prisoners at the Sullivan County Jail on or about October 18, 2012. On information
and belief, none of the letters were delivered to the prisoners who were the intended recipients of
the same, but said mail was censored by jail staff.

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24.

On or about October 22, 2012, PLN mailed its annual fundraiser letter to 14

separate prisoners at the Sullivan County jail. On information and belief, none of these 14 letters
were delivered to their intended recipients who were prisoners at the jail but were instead
censored by jail staff persons.
25.

Defendants did not provide PLN notice or an opportunity to appeal any of the

aforementioned censorship decisions.
26.

Defendants did not provide the prisoner-addressees due process, including notice

or an opportunity to appeal any of the aforementioned censorship decisions.
27.

PLN intends to continue its mission to promote public safety through educational

and journalistic avenues by sending its monthly journal, copies of books, and letters to prisoners
at the Sullivan County Jail in the future.
Informational Brochures, Subscription Order Forms, Book Catalogs
28.

Prison Legal News sent informational brochures about PLN and subscription

order forms, book catalogs, and book offers to prisoners at the Sullivan County Jail in white
standard #10 envelopes via first-class mail.
29.

Prison Legal News Brochure and Subscription Order Form: Prison Legal

News sent certain prisoners at the Sullivan County Jail an informational brochure about its
organization and publications. The double-sided, single-page brochure includes: a description of
the topics covered in PLN’s monthly journal, subscription rates, special subscription offers, and
an order form; a description of three books available for purchase or included with a subscription
to Prison Legal News – Protecting Your Health & Safety, With Liberty for Some: 500 Years of
Imprisonment in America, and Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration;
and other information about PLN’s bookstore.

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30.

Book Catalog: Prison Legal News sent certain prisoners at the Sullivan County

Jail its PLN Book List. The double-sided single page book list includes a description of 43
books, dictionaries, and resources materials available for purchase. The books available for
purchase include information about a variety of topics, including but not limited to: the basic
rights of prisoners regarding health and safety; the American criminal justice system; selfrepresentation in court; finding the right lawyer; DNA testing; issues related to imprisoned
women; developing a successful re-entry plan upon release from prison; searching for a job;
crime and poverty; and the mental health crisis in U.S. prisons and jails.
31.

Book Offers: Prison Legal News sent certain prisoners at the Sullivan County Jail

a double-sided single-page informational brochure about two books for sale: The Habeas
Citebook: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, a handbook containing case citations, pleadings, and
forms designed to help a prisoner seek habeas corpus relief; and Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook
to Correspondence Programs in the United States and Canada, a handbook on high school,
vocational, paralegal, undergraduate, and graduate courses available through correspondence
study.
32.

Collectively, the PLN Brochure, Book List, and Book Offer described above in

paragraphs 29 through 31 are referred to as “Informational Brochure Packs” below.
33.

From on or about February 15, 2012 to May 15, 2013, Prison Legal News mailed

46 individually addressed Informational Brochure Packs to 46 separate prisoners at the Sullivan
County Jail, each of whom was a prisoner in the Sullivan County Jail at the time the Jail received
the Informational Brochure Packs.
34.

On information and belief, Defendants rejected each Informational Brochure Pack

sent by PLN and did not deliver them to the prisoner-addressees.

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35.

For the Informational Brochure Packs that Defendants returned to Prison Legal

News, Defendants simply wrote “RTS” or sometimes “not here.”
36.

For example, PLN sent Ahmad Abdul-Khaaliq such a brochure pack in a

standard, white envelope on December 19, 2012, but Jail employees marked “not here” and
“RTS” and caused the brochures to be returned to PLN. Mr. Abdul-Khaaliq never received his
mail from PLN even though he was a prisoner at the Sullivan County Jail at the time that the
mail arrived at the jail.
37.

On or about February 16, 2012, PLN mailed an Informational Brochure Packet

addressed to prisoner Donald Wilcox at the Sullivan County Jail. Mr. Wilcox was a prisoner at
the Sullivan County Jail at the time that the Jail received the packet from PLN. The Jail returned
the mail to PLN without separate notification.
38.

Inmate Nicholas Hillis requested PLN’s materials in January 2013. PLN sent Mr.

Hillis an initial mailing including Protecting Your Health and Safety and other sample and
informational materials in April 2013. Mr. Hillis’s copy of Protecting Your Health and Safety
never reached him.
39.

Inmate Ryan Davis requested materials from PLN on or about April 30, 2012.

40.

PLN mailed an Informational Brochure Packet to Mr. Davis, along with a sample

copy of Prison Legal News, in June 2012. Mr. Davis received some materials, but he has not
received his monthly gift subscription to Prison Legal News.
41.

Defendants did not provide PLN due process notice or an opportunity to appeal

the censorship decisions for any of the censored mail described in this complaint.
42.

Likewise, Defendants did not provide the prisoner-addressees notice or an

opportunity to appeal the censorship decisions for any of the mail described in this complaint.

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43.

The Defendants failed to provide due process, including notice and an opportunity

to be heard, to PLN and the prisoner-addressees.
44.

Prison Legal News intends to continue sending Informational Brochure Packs to

prisoners at the Sullivan County Jail in the future.
JAIL POLICIES
45.

On October 14, 2011 the Sullivan County Jail, on the orders of Defendant J.

Wayne Anderson, promulgated and implemented a new policy governing mail to prisoners. A
true copy of the policy is attached to this Complaint as Exhibit A.
46.

The Jail’s Postcard-Only Mail Policy states, in pertinent part:
As a general rule, incoming mail shall be limited to the Following:
1. Standard postcard, of which the minimum size is 3.5 x 4.25, and maximum size
8.5 x 11.
2. Postcards must be white in color front and back.

47.

The Postcard-Only Mail Policy also states, “If any items are received in the mail

other than postcards, (ex. Stamps. envelopes) the mail will be returned to sender.”
48.

Defendants have used their Postcard-Only Mail Policy to censor Plaintiff’s Prison

Legal News journal, Informational Brochure Packs, Renewal Brochure Packs, Fundraising Packs,
online articles, and other correspondence.
49.

Defendants’ Postcard-Only Mail Policy and their practice of enforcing this policy

unconstitutionally burdens Plaintiff’s First Amendment rights, the First Amendment rights of
other correspondents who send mail to prisoners confined at the Sullivan County Jail, the First
Amendment rights of the intended recipients of outgoing mail from prisoners confined at the
Sullivan County Jail, and the First Amendment rights of prisoners at the Sullivan County Jail.
50.

Additionally, Defendants maintain a policy and practice of permitting other

magazines into the Jail.
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Specifically, Defendants allow inmates access to O Magazine, Men’s Journal,

51.

Glamour, Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, Hot Rod, Us, and Star magazines. (Exhibit A at 8).
52.

Defendant Anderson and other agents of Sullivan County are responsible for or

personally participated in creating and implementing these unconstitutional policies, practices,
and customs, and for training and supervising the mail staff members whose conduct also has
injured and continue to injure Plaintiff and others, or ratified or adopted the policies or actions
described herein.
CLAIMS FOR RELIEF
COUNT I
VIOLATION OF THE FIRST AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES
CONSTITUTION
(42 U.S.C. § 1983)
53.

Plaintiff realleges and incorporates by reference the preceding paragraphs.

54.

The acts described above constitute violations of Plaintiff’s rights, the rights of

other correspondents who have attempted to or intend to correspond with prisoners at the
Sullivan County Jail, and the rights of prisoners confined at the Sullivan County Jail, under the
First Amendment to the United States Constitution, through 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
55.

The acts described above have caused damages to Plaintiff, and will continue to

cause damage.
56.

Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and nominal and compensatory

damages against all Defendants.
COUNT II
VIOLATION OF THE DUE PROCESS CLAUSE
FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION
(42 U.S.C. § 1983)
57.

Plaintiff realleges and incorporates by reference the preceding paragraphs.

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58.

The acts described above constitute violations of Plaintiff’s rights, and rights of

other correspondents who have attempted to or intend to correspond with prisoners at the
Sullivan County Jail, and the rights of prisoners confined at the Sullivan County Jail, under the
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution through 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
59.

The acts described above have caused damages to Plaintiff, and will continue to

cause damage.
60.

Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and nominal and compensatory

damages against all Defendants. Plaintiff seeks punitive damages solely against Defendant
Anderson in his individual capacity.
COUNT III
CONTENT-BASED DISCRIMINATION
FIRST AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION
(42 U.S.C. § 1983)
61.

Plaintiff re-alleges and incorporates by reference the preceding paragraphs.

62.

The Jail permits inmates to have access to eight other periodical publications

without interference.
63.

The magazines accessible to inmates are on a range of entertainment, gossip,

lifestyle, and sports topics. By permitting access to periodicals such as O Magazine, Field and
Stream, and Outdoor Life, while banning access to core political speech such as PLN’s monthly
magazine, Defendants engaged in unlawful discrimination based on content.
64.

The actions described above have caused PLN damage, and will continue to cause

damage.
65.

PLN is entitled to punitive, compensatory, and nominal damages, as well as

injunctive and declaratory relief, for Defendants’ continued content-based discrimination.

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INJUNCTION ALLEGATIONS
66.

Defendants’ unconstitutional policy, practices, and customs are ongoing and

continue to violate Plaintiff’s constitutional rights and the rights of other correspondents and
prisoners, and as such there is no adequate remedy at law.
67.

Plaintiff is entitled to injunctive relief prohibiting Defendants from: refusing to

deliver or allow delivery of publications, books, informational brochures and subscription forms,
book catalogs, book offers, renewal letters, fundraising letters, online articles, and other
correspondence from Prison Legal News or other correspondents; censoring or rejecting mail on
the ground that it is not in the form of a postcard; censoring or rejecting a catalog on the ground
that it is a catalog or not a postcard; censoring or rejecting mail on the ground that it is a
magazine; prohibiting Defendants from censoring mail without due process of law; and engaging
in content-based discrimination.
DEMAND FOR JURY TRIAL
Plaintiff hereby demands trial by jury on all issues so triable.
REQUEST FOR RELIEF
WHEREFORE, the Plaintiff requests relief as follows:
1.

Enter an order granting a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction

preventing Defendants from continuing to violate the Constitution, and providing other equitable
relief.
2.

A declaration that Defendants’ policies, practices, and customs violate the

Constitution.

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3.

An award of nominal, punitive, compensatory, and presumed damages for each

violation of its First Amendment rights to free speech and expression in an amount to be proved
at trial.
4.

An award of nominal, punitive, and compensatory damages for each violation of

its Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process in an amount to be proved at trial.
5.

Costs, including reasonable attorney’s and expert fees, under 42 U.S.C. § 1988,

and under other applicable law.
6.

Pre-judgment and post-judgment interest.

7.

The right to conform the pleadings to the proof and evidence presented at trial.

8.

Such other relief as the Court deems just and equitable.

DATED this 10th day of October, 2013.
OZMENT LAW
By: __s/Tricia R. Herfzeld_______
Tricia Herzfeld (BPR No. 026014)
Senior Counsel
Elliott Ozment (BPR No. 004331)
OZMENT LAW
1214 Murfreesboro Pike
Nashville, TN 37217
(615) 321-8888
tricia@ozmentlaw.com
Lance Weber
Human Rights Defense Center
PO Box 1151
Lake Worth, FL 33460
(561) 360-2523
lweber@hrdc-law.org
Pro Hac Vice application to be filed
Attorneys for Plaintiffs

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