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HRDC v Winn, MI DOC censorship suit, complaint 2019

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Case 2:19-cv-12470-MFL-DRG ECF No. 1 filed 08/22/19

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENSE CENTER, )
)
Plaintiff,
)
)
vs.
)
)
O’BELL WINN, in his official capacity, )
HEIDI WASHINGTON Director,
)
in her official and individual capacities, )
BONITA HOFFNER, WILLIE SMITH, )
CARMEN PALMER, in their individual )
capacities, and DOES 1-30,
)
in their individual capacities.
)
)
Defendants.
)
)

Case No. ___________

JURY TRIAL DEMANDED

COMPLAINT
I.
1.

INTRODUCTION

The HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENSE CENTER (“HRDC”) brings this

action to enjoin Defendants’ improper censorship of its monthly journal, Prison
Legal News, and other publications that HRDC sends to prisoners in the Michigan
Department of Corrections (“MDOC”).
2.

Defendants have adopted and implemented mail policies and practices

prohibiting delivery of written speech from HRDC while failing to provide due
process notice of and an opportunity to challenge that censorship. Defendants’
actions violate HRDC’s rights under the First and the Fourteenth Amendments of
the United States Constitution. HRDC thus brings this action, pursuant to 42
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U.S.C. § 1983, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief and damages to be proven
at trial.
II.
3.

JURISDICTION AND VENUE

This action arises under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the

United States Constitution and is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which
authorizes actions to redress the deprivation, under color of state law, of rights,
privileges, and immunities secured to HRDC by the laws of the United States.
4.

This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action under 28

U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. This Court has jurisdiction over claims seeking
declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and
2202 against all Defendants.
5.

Venue is proper in this District pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). On

information and belief, at least one Defendant, O’Bell Winn, resides within this
judicial district, and many of the events giving rise to the claims asserted herein
occurred within this judicial district. On information and belief, all Defendants are
residents of the state of Michigan.
III.
6.

PARTIES

HRDC is a not-for-profit charitable corporation recognized under

§ 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, with its principal place of business in
Lake Worth, Florida. Founded in 1990, HRDC publishes the monthly newsprint
journal Prison Legal News, the longest-running independent newsprint journal
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concerning prisons and detention centers in the United States, along with
publications focusing on prisoner rights issues. HRDC also corresponds regularly
with prisoners on constitutional issues and potential violations of their civil rights.
7.

Defendant O’Bell Winn (“Winn”) is, and on information and belief at

all relevant times herein mentioned was, the Warden of the Saginaw Correctional
Facility (“Saginaw”), a prison under the control of MDOC within the State of
Michigan. Defendant Winn has responsibility for the execution of MDOC policies,
procedures, and practices at Saginaw, including the approval of publication
censorship decisions. As to all claims presented herein against him, Defendant
Winn is being sued in his individual capacity for damages. At all relevant times,
Defendant Winn has acted under color of state law.
8.

Defendant Heidi Washington (“Washington”) is, and at all relevant

times herein mentioned was, the Director of MDOC, the state agency that manages
the correctional facilities within the State of Michigan. Defendant Washington has
ultimate responsibility for the promulgation and implementation of MDOC
policies, procedures, and practices and for the management of MDOC. As to all
claims presented herein against her, Defendant Washington is being sued in her
official and individual capacities for damages, and for injunctive and declaratory
relief. At all relevant times, Defendant Washington has acted under color of state
law.

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9.

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Defendant Bonita Hoffner (“Hoffner”) was the Warden of the

Lakeland Correctional Facility (“Lakeland”) from May 2012 until December 2017.
During her time as Warden, Defendant Hoffner had responsibility for the execution
of MDOC policies, procedures, and practices at Lakeland, including the approval
of publication censorship decisions. As to all claims presented herein against her,
Defendant Hoffner is being sued in her individual capacity for damages. At all
relevant times, Defendant Hoffner acted under color of state law.
10.

Defendant Willie Smith (“Smith”) was the Warden of the Ionia

Correctional Facility (“Ionia”) from October 2002 until May 2018. During his time
as Warden, Defendant Smith had responsibility for the execution of MDOC
policies, procedures, and practices at Ionia, including the approval of publication
censorship decisions. As to all claims presented herein against him, Defendant
Smith is being sued in his individual capacity for damages. At all relevant times,
Defendant Smith acted under color of state law.
11.

Defendant Carmen Palmer (“Palmer”) was the Warden of the

Michigan Reformatory at all relevant times herein mentioned. During her time as
Warden, Defendant Palmer had responsibility for the execution of MDOC policies,
procedures, and practices at the Michigan Reformatory, including the approval of
publication censorship decisions. As to all claims presented herein against her,
Defendant Palmer is being sued in her individual capacity for damages. At all
relevant times, Defendant Palmer acted under color of state law.
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12.

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The true names and identities of Defendants DOES 1 through 30 are

presently unknown to HRDC. Each of Defendants DOES 1 through 30 are or were
employed by and are or were agents of MDOC when some or all of the challenged
inmate mail policies and practices were adopted and/or implemented. Each of
Defendants DOES 1 through 30 were personally involved in the adoption and/or
implementation of the mail policies and practices at the MDOC facilities, and/or
were responsible for the hiring, screening, training, retention, supervision,
discipline, counseling, and/or control of MDOC facilities staff who interpret and
implement these mail policies. HRDC will seek to amend this Complaint as soon
as the true names and identities of Defendants DOES 1 through 30 have been
ascertained.
IV.

FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS
A.

13.

HRDC’S MISSION

For more than 28 years, the focus of HRDC’s mission has been public

education, advocacy, and outreach on behalf of, and for the purpose of assisting,
prisoners who seek legal redress for infringements of their constitutionally
guaranteed and other basic human rights. HRDC engages in core protected speech
and expressive conduct on matters of public concern, such as the operation of
prison facilities, prison conditions, prisoner health and safety, and prisoners’ rights.
HRDC’s mission, if realized, has a salutary effect on public safety.

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In furtherance of its mission, HRDC publishes and distributes a soft-

cover monthly journal titled Prison Legal News, which contains news and analysis
about prisons, jails, and other detention facilities, prisoners’ rights, court rulings,
management of prison facilities, prison conditions, and other matters pertaining to
the rights and/or interests of incarcerated individuals. The monthly journal is
published on newsprint and is 72-pages long.
15.

More recently, HRDC also began publishing a second monthly

magazine, Criminal Legal News. This magazine focuses on review and analysis of
individual rights, court rulings, and news concerning criminal justice-related
issues. This magazine is also published on newsprint, and is 48 pages long.
16.

HRDC also publishes and/or distributes approximately 40 different

softcover books about the criminal justice system, legal reference books, and selfhelp books of interest to prisoners. These books are designed to foster a better
understanding of criminal justice policies and to allow prisoners to educate
themselves about related issues, such as legal research, how to write a business
letter, health care issues, and similar topics. Pertinent to this lawsuit, HRDC
publishes and/or distributes the books 1) Protecting Your Health and Safety, which
describes the rights, protections and legal remedies available to prisoners
concerning their incarceration, 2) the Prisoner Diabetes Handbook, which provides
information on how to manage diabetes in a carceral setting, and 3) the Prisoners’

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Self-Help Litigation Manual, which is a guide for understanding and protecting the
rights of prisoners.
17.

HRDC’s monthly journal and other publications, as described above,

contain political speech and social commentary, which are core First Amendment
rights and are entitled to the highest protection afforded by the U.S. Constitution.
18.

HRDC has thousands of subscribers in the United States and abroad,

including prisoners, attorneys, journalists, public libraries, judges, and members of
the general public. HRDC has distributed its monthly publication to prisoners and
law librarians in more than 3,000 correctional facilities located across all 50 states,
including the Federal Bureau of Prisons and MDOC.
19.

Prison Legal News is popular among inmates in Michigan. Despite

Defendants’ censorship, as of July of 2019 HRDC had 46 subscribers to its
monthly publication within the MDOC, including: 2 at Baraga Correctional
Facility (“Baraga”); 3 at Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility (“Bellamy Creek”); 2
at Carson City Correctional Facility (“Carson City”); 1 at Central Michigan
Correctional Facility (“Central Michigan”); 2 at Chippewa Correctional Facility
(“Chippewa”); 2 at Cooper Street Correctional Facility (“Cooper Street”); 2 at the
Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility (“Brooks”); 4 at the G. Robert Cotton
Correctional Facility (“Cotton”); 1 at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility
(“Handlon”); 6 at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility (“Harrison”); 2 at Ionia; 4
at Lakeland; 2 at Macomb Correctional Facility (“Macomb”); 3 at the Marquette
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Branch Prison (“Marquette”), 1 at the Michigan Reformatory, 2 at Muskegon
Correctional Facility (“Muskegon”); 1 at Oaks Correctional Facility (“Oaks”), 3 at
Saginaw, and 1 at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (“WHV”).
20.

Additionally, in furtherance of its mission and to increase the

dissemination of its message, HRDC sends individually addressed sample copies
of its publications to non-subscriber prisoners within MDOC.
B.
21.

CENSORSHIP AT MDOC FACILITIES

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects

HRDC’s right to communicate with prisoners who are incarcerated within the
MDOC. Regulations, policies, or practices that restrict the receipt of mail by
prisoners are invalid unless they are rationally related to a legitimate penological
interest.
22.

The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires

that publishers receive notice of and be allowed to challenge restrictions on
prisoners’ receipt of mail. Regulations, policies, or practices that do not provide
these minimum procedural safeguards are invalid. Fourteenth Amendment rights
are also violated where procedural safeguards are not followed as applied to a
particular publisher.
23.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that various

prisons within MDOC’s system do not comply with the First and/or Fourteenth
Amendments. HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that
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Defendants’ policies and practices have deprived and will continue to deprive
HRDC of the right to distribute its materials to prisoners, and of notice or
opportunity to appeal when its publications are not delivered to prisoner
subscribers.
24.

As described in further detail below, certain prisons within the state of

Michigan have withheld all or part of issues of Prison Legal News, Criminal Legal
News, and books published and/or distributed by HRDC. HRDC is informed and
thereon believes that at least one officer at each prison (listed by name or as one of
DOES 1-30 above), had direct knowledge of and were directly involved in each
and every instance of censorship complained of below.
25.

Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News pose no threat to any

legitimate penological interests. However, in numerous instances prison officials
erroneously rejected issues of Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News, on the
grounds that content of the magazines’ articles posed a threat to the security, good
order, or discipline of the facility, facilitated or encouraged criminal activity, or
interfered with the rehabilitation of prisoners.
26.

In all, between August 2016 and July 2019, 29 of the 36 monthly

issues of Prison Legal News were censored by at least one MDOC facility.
27.

MDOC officials also rejected books sent by HRDC to prisoners in its

custody, on the grounds that HRDC was not the publisher or authorized vendor.

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28.

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Further, although MDOC’s policies state that when a piece of mail is

rejected a copy of the Notice of Package/Mail Rejection shall be sent to the sender,
a majority of MDOC facilities have a custom and practice of failing to send the
required notice.
29.

Even when notice is sent to a sender, MDOC does not provide a

process to challenge censorship decisions. On several occasions, HRDC appealed
the rejection of its publications. In many cases, the facility that censored the
materials ignored the appeal.
30.

In one instance where HRDC’s appeal was considered, the facility’s

rejection decision was reversed. On March 21, 2018, an official at the Earnest C.
Brooks Correctional Facility informed HRDC that it would allow the delivery of
the Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual.
31.

On June 11, 2018, HRDC sent a letter to Defendant Washington

detailing the censorship of its publications at MDOC facilities, and demanding that
MDOC cease rejecting Prison Legal News, Criminal Legal News, and HRDC’s
books without a legitimate penological interest. Neither Defendant Washington nor
anyone else at MDOC responded to the letter.
32.

HRDC is aware of at least the following specific examples of

improper censorship and/or lack of notice by prisons within MDOC:
1.
33.

CENSORSHIP AT ALGER

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prisoner
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subscribers incarcerated at Alger did not receive issues of Prison Legal News on
multiple occasions.
34.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Alger from receiving the October 2016, March 2017, June
2017, June 2019, and July 2019 issues of Prison Legal News. Each of these issues
of Prison Legal News were individually addressed and mailed to the subscribers
incarcerated at Alger. HRDC is informed and believes that, although each of those
issues was properly delivered to Alger, the issues were withheld from delivery by
staff at the facility.
35.

HRDC has never received any notice from MDOC relating to the

censorship of the October 2016, March 2017, and June 2017 issues of Prison Legal
News at Alger. HRDC also never received any notification of an opportunity to
appeal those censorship decisions.
36.

The Notice of Package/Mail Rejection for the June 2019 issue of

Prison Legal News states the reason for rejection as “PRISON LEGAL NEWS
VOLUME 30 # 6 FOR June 2019 IS REJECTED DUE TO POSING A
SECURITY THREAT.” The Notice failed to specify how or in what manner that
issue was a threat.
37.

The Notice of Package/Mail Rejection for the July 2019 issue of

Prison Legal News states the reason for rejection as “ONE ARTICLE
CONTAINING INFORMATION THAT POSES A SECURITY THREAT.” The
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Notice failed to specify which article was problematic, or how or in what manner
that article was a threat.
38.

This censorship of Prison Legal News and the failure of Defendants to

provide adequate notice and explanation to HRDC violates HRDC’s First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further detailed below.
2.
39.

CENSORSHIP AT BARAGA

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prisoner

subscribers incarcerated at Baraga did not receive issues of Prison Legal News on
multiple occasions.
40.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Baraga from receiving the December 2017, January 2018,
March 2018, March 2019 and other issues of Prison Legal News. Each of these
issues of Prison Legal News were individually addressed and mailed to the
subscribers incarcerated at Baraga. HRDC is informed and believes that, although
each of those issues was properly delivered to Baraga, the issues were withheld
from delivery by staff at the facility.
41.

Additionally, staff at Baraga rejected a copy of the book Protecting

Your Health and Safety sent to a prisoner in December 2018. The Notice of
Package/Mail Rejection form sent to HRDC listed the reasons for rejection as
“mail that may pose a threat to the security, good order, or discipline of the
facility” and “[t]he sender is not the publisher, and is not an authorized vendor.”
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42.

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HRDC has never received any notice from MDOC relating to the

censorship of the March 2019 issue of Prison Legal News at Baraga. HRDC also
never received any notification of an opportunity to appeal that censorship
decision. This censorship of Prison Legal News and the failure of Defendants to
provide adequate notice and explanation to HRDC violates HRDC’s First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further detailed below.
3.
43.

CENSORSHIP AT BELLAMY CREEK

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the

prisoner subscribers incarcerated at Bellamy Creek did not receive issues of Prison
Legal News on multiple occasions.
44.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Bellamy Creek from receiving the July 2017, December
2017, January 2018, March 2018, May 2018, June 2018, and August 2018 issues
of Prison Legal News. Each of these issues of Prison Legal News were
individually addressed and mailed to the subscribers incarcerated at Bellamy
Creek. HRDC is informed and believes that, although each of those issues was
properly delivered to Bellamy Creek, the issues were withheld from delivery by
staff at the facility.
45.

This failure of Defendants to deliver Prison Legal News violates

HRDC’s First Amendment rights, as further detailed below.

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4.
46.

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CENSORSHIP AT BROOKS

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the

prisoner subscribers incarcerated at Chippewa did not receive issues of Prison
Legal News on multiple occasions.
47.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prisoner

subscribers incarcerated at Brooks did not receive the June 2019 and July 2019
issues of Prison Legal News. These issues of Prison Legal News were individually
addressed and mailed to the subscribers incarcerated at Brooks. HRDC is informed
and believes that, although that issue was properly delivered to Brooks, the issue
was withheld from delivery by staff at the facility.
48.

HRDC has never received any notice relating to censorship of any

issues of Prison Legal News at Brooks. HRDC also never received any notification
of an opportunity to appeal any censorship decisions. This censorship of Prison
Legal News and the failure of Defendants to provide adequate notice and
explanation to HRDC violates HRDC’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as
further detailed below.
5.
49.

CENSORSHIP AT CARSON CITY

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prisoner

subscribers incarcerated at Carson City did not receive the January 2018 issue of
Prison Legal News. This issue of Prison Legal News was individually addressed
and mailed to the subscribers incarcerated at Carson City. HRDC is informed and
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believes that, although that issue was properly delivered to Carson City, the issue
was withheld from delivery by staff at the facility.
50.

The Notice of Package/Mail Rejection for this issue states the reason

for rejection as “Article in Prison Legal News Jan 2018 Issue” was “mail that may
pose a threat to the security, good order, or discipline of the facility, may facilitate
or encourage criminal activity, or may interfere with the rehabilitation of the
prisoner.” The Notice failed to specify which article was objectionable, or why it
was a threat.
51.

The Notice provided to HRDC is insufficient, as it fails to provide

sufficient basis to justify the censorship, and does not contain enough information
for HRDC to reasonably challenge the rejection decision. This conduct by
Defendants violates HRDC’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further
detailed below.
6.
52.

CENSORSHIP AT CENTRAL MICHIGAN

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prisoners

incarcerated at Central Michigan are not allowed to receive Prison Legal News. A
prisoner bought a subscription to Prison Legal News in January 2018, but prison
staff told him that he could not receive the magazines.
53.

The issues of Prison Legal News were individually addressed and

mailed to the subscriber incarcerated at Central Michigan. HRDC is informed and

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believes that, although each of those issues were properly delivered to Central
Michigan, they were withheld from delivery by staff at the facility.
54.

HRDC has never received any notice relating to censorship of any

issues of Prison Legal News at Central Michigan. HRDC also never received any
notification of an opportunity to appeal any censorship decisions. This censorship
of Prison Legal News and the failure of Defendants to provide adequate notice and
explanation to HRDC violates HRDC’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as
further detailed below.
7.
55.

CENSORSHIP AT CHIPPEWA

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the

prisoner subscribers incarcerated at Chippewa did not receive issues of Prison
Legal News on multiple occasions.
56.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Chippewa from receiving the February 2017, April 2017,
January 2018, February 2018, March 2018, April 2018, May 2018, June 2018, July
2018, and August 2018 issues of Prison Legal News. Each of these issues of
Prison Legal News were individually addressed and mailed to the subscribers
incarcerated at Chippewa. HRDC is informed and believes that, although each of
those issues was properly delivered to Chippewa, the issues were withheld from
delivery by staff at the facility.

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57.

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Staff at Chippewa sent HRDC Notice of the rejection of the March

2018 and June 2018 issues of Prison Legal News. HRDC did not receive any
notice from MDOC relating to censorship of any other issues of Prison Legal News
at Chippewa, and HRDC also never received any notification of an opportunity to
appeal the decision to censor other issues. This censorship of Prison Legal News
and the failure of Defendants to provide adequate notice and explanation to HRDC
violates HRDC’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further detailed
below.
8.
58.

CENSORSHIP AT COOPER STREET

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the

prisoner subscribers incarcerated at Cooper Street did not receive issues of Prison
Legal News on multiple occasions.
59.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Cooper Street from receiving the December 2016, January
2017, March 2017, March 2018, and other issues of Prison Legal News. Each of
these issues of Prison Legal News were individually addressed and mailed to the
subscribers incarcerated at Cooper Street. HRDC is informed and believes that,
although each of those issues was properly delivered to Cooper Street, the issues
were withheld from delivery by staff at the facility.
60.

HRDC has never received any notice from MDOC relating to

censorship of any issues of Prison Legal News at Cooper Street. HRDC also never
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received any notification of an opportunity to appeal any censorship decisions.
This censorship of Prison Legal News and the failure of Defendants to provide
adequate notice and explanation to HRDC violates HRDC’s First and Fourteenth
Amendment rights, as further detailed below.
9.
61.

CENSORSHIP AT COTTON

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the

prisoner subscribers incarcerated at Cotton did not receive issues of Prison Legal
News on multiple occasions.
62.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Cotton from receiving the September 2016, February 2017,
December 2017, and January 2018 issues of Prison Legal News. Each of these
issues of Prison Legal News were individually addressed and mailed to the
subscribers incarcerated at Cotton. HRDC is informed and believes that, although
each of those issues was properly delivered to Cotton, the issues were withheld
from delivery by staff at the facility.
63.

Staff at Cotton sent HRDC Notice of the rejection of the September

2016 and January 2018 issues of Prison Legal News. HRDC did not receive any
notice from MDOC relating to censorship of any other issues of Prison Legal News
at Cotton, and HRDC also never received any notification of an opportunity to
appeal the decision to censor other issues. This censorship of Prison Legal News
and the failure of Defendants to provide adequate notice and explanation to HRDC
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violates HRDC’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further detailed
below.
10.
64.

CENSORSHIP AT HANDLON

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the

prisoner subscribers incarcerated at Handlon did not receive issues of Prison Legal
News on multiple occasions.
65.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Handlon from receiving the May 2017, June 2017,
December 2017, January 2018, August 2018, September 2018, April 2019, and
May 2019 issues of Prison Legal News. Each of these issues of Prison Legal News
were individually addressed and mailed to the subscribers incarcerated at Handlon.
HRDC is informed and believes that, although each of those issues was properly
delivered to Handlon, the issues were withheld from delivery by staff at the
facility.
66.

HRDC did not receive any notice from MDOC relating to censorship

of the September 2018 issue of Prison Legal News at Handlon, and HRDC also
never received any notification of an opportunity to appeal the decision to censor
that issue. The failure of Defendants to provide adequate notice and explanation to
HRDC violates HRDC’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further
detailed below.

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11.
67.

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CENSORSHIP AT HARRISON

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the

prisoner subscribers incarcerated at Harrison did not receive issues of Prison Legal
News on multiple occasions.
68.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Harrison from receiving the June 2017, January 2018,
February 2018, March 2018, April 2018, May 2018, July 2018, August 2018,
September 2018, December 2018, March 2019, April 2019 and other issues of
Prison Legal News. Staff at Harrison have also rejected issues of Criminal Legal
News. Each of these issues of Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News were
individually addressed and mailed to the subscribers incarcerated at Harrison.
HRDC is informed and believes that, although each of those issues was properly
delivered to Harrison, the issues were withheld from delivery by staff at the
facility.
69.

HRDC has never received any notice from MDOC relating to the

censorship of Prison Legal News or Criminal Legal News at Harrison. HRDC also
never received any notification of an opportunity to appeal any censorship
decisions. This censorship of Prison Legal News and the failure of Defendants to
provide adequate notice and explanation to HRDC violates HRDC’s First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further detailed below.

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12.
70.

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CENSORSHIP AT IONIA

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the

prisoner subscribers incarcerated at Ionia did not receive issues of Prison Legal
News on multiple occasions.
71.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Ionia from receiving the September 2016, October 2016,
November 2016, December 2016, March 2017, May 2017, June 2017, July 2017,
August 2017, December 2017, January 2018, March 2018, April 2018, June 2018,
August 2018, September 2018, December 2018, January 2019, March 2019, April
2019, May 2019, June 2019, July 2019, and other issues of Prison Legal News.
Each of these issues of Prison Legal News were individually addressed and mailed
to the subscribers incarcerated at Ionia. HRDC is informed and believes that,
although each of those issues was properly delivered to Ionia, the issues were
withheld from delivery by staff at the facility.
72.

On February 1, 2017, HRDC sent a letter to the warden of Ionia

appealing the decision to censor the December 2016 issue of Prison Legal News.
HRDC did not receive a response to the letter.
73.

On July 28, 2017, HRDC sent a letter to the warden of Ionia appealing

the decision to censor the June 2017 and July 2017 issues of Prison Legal News.
74.

On August 9, 2017, Ionia upheld the decision to withhold the June

2017 and July 2017 issues of Prison Legal News from the prisoners. The prison
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essentially stated that anything that described an MDOC facility in a negative light
was a threat to security.
75.

This failure of Defendants to deliver HRDC’s publications, and

Smith’s actions personally sanctioning unconstitutional censorship by denying
HRDC’s appeals, violate HRDC’s First Amendment rights, as further detailed
below.
13.
76.

CENSORSHIP AT KINROSS

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the

prisoner subscribers incarcerated at Kinross did not receive issues of Prison Legal
News on multiple occasions.
77.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Kinross from receiving the February 2017, June 2017, and
July 2017 issues of Prison Legal News. Each of these issues of Prison Legal News
were individually addressed and mailed to the subscribers incarcerated at Kinross.
HRDC is informed and believes that, although each of those issues was properly
delivered to Kinross, the issues were withheld from delivery by staff at the facility.
78.

HRDC has never received any notice from MDOC relating to

censorship of any issues at Kinross. HRDC also never received any notification of
an opportunity to appeal any censorship decisions. This censorship of Prison Legal
News and the failure of Defendants to provide adequate notice and explanation to

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HRDC violates HRDC’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further
detailed below.
14.
79.

CENSORSHIP AT LAKELAND

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the

prisoner subscribers incarcerated at Lakeland did not receive issues of Prison
Legal News on multiple occasions.
80.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Lakeland from receiving the April 2017, June 2017, March
2018 and other issues of Prison Legal News. Each of these issues of Prison Legal
News were individually addressed and mailed to the subscribers incarcerated at
Lakeland. HRDC is informed and believes that, although each of those issues was
properly delivered to Lakeland, the issues were withheld from delivery by staff at
the facility.
81.

Additionally, staff at Lakeland rejected a copy of the book Prisoner

Diabetes Handbook sent to a prisoner in January 2017. The Notice of
Package/Mail Rejection form sent to HRDC listed the reasons for rejection as “did
not come from an authorized vendor or the publisher.”
82.

On February 2, 2017, HRDC sent a letter to the warden of Lakeland

appealing the decision to censor the Prisoner Diabetes Handbook. HRDC did not
receive any response to the letter.

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83.

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HRDC has never received any notice from MDOC relating to

censorship of any issues at Lakeland. HRDC also never received any notification
of an opportunity to appeal any censorship decisions. This censorship of Prison
Legal News and the failure of Defendants to provide adequate notice and
explanation

to

HRDC,

and

Hoffner’s

actions

personally

sanctioning

unconstitutional censorship by denying HRDC’s appeal, violate HRDC’s First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further detailed below.
15.
84.

CENSORSHIP AT MACOMB

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the

prisoner subscribers incarcerated at Macomb did not receive issues of Prison Legal
News on multiple occasions.
85.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Macomb from receiving the September 2016, August 2018,
June 2019, and July 2019 issues of Prison Legal News. Each of these issues of
Prison Legal News were individually addressed and mailed to the subscribers
incarcerated at Macomb. HRDC is informed and believes that, although each of
those issues was properly delivered to Macomb, the issues were withheld from
delivery by staff at the facility.
86.

The Notice of Package/Mail Rejection for the July 2019 issue of

Prison Legal News states the reason for rejection as “Contains articles that may

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pose a threat to the order of the facility.” The Notice failed to specify which
articles were problematic, or how or in what manner the articles were a threat.
87.

HRDC has never received any notice from MDOC relating to the

censorship of the June 2019 issue of Prison Legal News at Macomb. HRDC also
never received any notification of an opportunity to appeal that censorship
decision. This censorship of Prison Legal News and the failure of Defendants to
provide adequate notice and explanation to HRDC violates HRDC’s First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further detailed below
88.

This failure of Defendants to deliver HRDC’s publications and the

failure of Defendants to provide adequate notice and explanation to HRDC violates
HRDC’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further detailed below.
16.
89.

CENSORSHIP AT MARQUETTE

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Marquette from receiving the July 2018 and June 2019
issues of Prison Legal News. These issues of Prison Legal News were individually
addressed and mailed to the subscribers incarcerated at Marquette. HRDC is
informed and believes that, although these issues were properly delivered to
Marquette, they were withheld from delivery by staff at the facility.
90.

HRDC has never received any notice from MDOC relating to the

censorship of the June 2019 issue of Prison Legal News at Marquette. HRDC also
never received any notification of an opportunity to appeal that censorship
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decision. This censorship of Prison Legal News and the failure of Defendants to
provide adequate notice and explanation to HRDC violates HRDC’s First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further detailed below.
17.
91.

CENSORSHIP AT THE MICHIGAN REFORMATORY
HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the

prisoner subscribers incarcerated at the Michigan Reformatory did not receive
issues of Prison Legal News on multiple occasions.
92.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at the Michigan Reformatory from receiving the June 2017,
July 2017, November 2017, December 2017, January 2018, April 2018, August
2018, January 2019, and May 2019 issues of Prison Legal News. Each of these
issues of Prison Legal News were individually addressed and mailed to the
subscribers incarcerated at the Michigan Reformatory. HRDC is informed and
believes that, although each of those issues was properly delivered to the Michigan
Reformatory, the issues were withheld from delivery by staff at the facility.
93.

On July 28, 2017, HRDC sent a letter to the warden of the Michigan

Reformatory appealing the decision to censor the June 2017 and July 2017 issues
of Prison Legal News. HRDC did not receive any response to the letter.
94.

HRDC has never received any notice from MDOC relating to the

censorship of the August 2018 and January 2019 issues of Prison Legal News at
the Michigan Reformatory. HRDC also never received any notification of an
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opportunity to appeal those censorship decisions. This censorship of Prison Legal
News and the failure of Defendants to provide adequate notice and explanation to
HRDC, and Palmer’s actions personally sanctioning unconstitutional censorship by
denying HRDC’s appeals, violate HRDC’s First and Fourteenth Amendment
rights, as further detailed below.
18.
95.

CENSORSHIP AT MUSKEGON

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the

prisoner subscribers incarcerated at Muskegon did not receive issues of Prison
Legal News on multiple occasions.
96.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Muskegon from receiving the March 2017 and June 2017
issues of Prison Legal News. Each of these issues of Prison Legal News were
individually addressed and mailed to the subscribers incarcerated at Muskegon.
HRDC is informed and believes that, although each of those issues was properly
delivered to Muskegon, the issues were withheld from delivery by staff at the
facility.
97.

HRDC has never received any notice from MDOC relating to the

censorship of the June 2017 issue of Prison Legal News at Muskegon. HRDC also
never received any notification of an opportunity to appeal that censorship
decision. This censorship of Prison Legal News and the failure of Defendants to

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provide adequate notice and explanation to HRDC violates HRDC’s First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further detailed below.
19.
98.

CENSORSHIP AT OAKS

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the

prisoner subscribers incarcerated at Oaks did not receive issues of Prison Legal
News on multiple occasions.
99.

HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff

prevented prisoners at Oaks from receiving the March 2017, April 2017, June
2017, July 2017, and January 2019 issues of Prison Legal News. Each of these
issues of Prison Legal News were individually addressed and mailed to the
subscribers incarcerated at Oaks. HRDC is informed and believes that, although
each of those issues was properly delivered to Oaks, the issues were withheld from
delivery by staff at the facility.
100. HRDC has never received any notice from MDOC relating to the
censorship of the March 2017, June 2017, and January 2019 issues of Prison Legal
News at Oaks. HRDC also never received any notification of an opportunity to
appeal those censorship decisions. This censorship of Prison Legal News and the
failure of Defendants to provide adequate notice and explanation to HRDC violates
HRDC’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further detailed below.
20.

CENSORSHIP AT SAGINAW

101. HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the
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prisoner subscribers incarcerated at Saginaw did not receive issues of Prison Legal
News on multiple occasions.
102. HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff
prevented prisoners at Saginaw from receiving the June 2017, July 2017, July
2018, and June 2019 issues of Prison Legal News. Each of these issues of Prison
Legal News were individually addressed and mailed to the subscribers incarcerated
at Saginaw. HRDC is informed and believes that, although each of those issues
was properly delivered to Saginaw, the issues were withheld from delivery by staff
at the facility.
103. Additionally, staff at Saginaw rejected a copy of the book Prisoners’
Self-Help Litigation Manual sent to a prisoner in February 2018.
104. HRDC has never received any notice from MDOC relating to
censorship of any publications at Saginaw. HRDC also never received any
notification of an opportunity to appeal any censorship decisions. This censorship
of HRDC’s publications and the failure of Defendants to provide adequate notice
and explanation to HRDC, and Winn’s actions sanctioning unconstitutional
censorship, violates HRDC’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further
detailed below.
21.

CENSORSHIP AT ST. LOUIS

105. HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the
prisoner subscribers incarcerated at St. Louis did not receive issues of Prison Legal
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News on multiple occasions.
106. HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff
prevented prisoners at St. Louis from receiving the December 2016, January 2017,
February 2017, March 2017, April 2017, June 2017, July 2017, November 2017,
and June 2019 issues of Prison Legal News. Each of these issues of Prison Legal
News were individually addressed and mailed to the subscribers incarcerated at St.
Louis. HRDC is informed and believes that, although each of those issues was
properly delivered to St. Louis, the issues were withheld from delivery by staff at
the facility.
107. HRDC has never received any notice from MDOC relating to
censorship of any issues at St. Louis. HRDC also never received any notification of
an opportunity to appeal any censorship decisions. This censorship of Prison Legal
News and the failure of Defendants to provide adequate notice and explanation to
HRDC violates HRDC’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as further
detailed below.
22.

CENSORSHIP AT WHV

108. HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that many of the
prisoner subscribers incarcerated at WHV did not receive issues of Prison Legal
News on multiple occasions.
109. HRDC is informed and believes and thereon alleges that prison staff
prevented prisoners at WHV from receiving the June 2018 and other issues of
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Prison Legal News. Each of these issues of Prison Legal News were individually
addressed and mailed to the subscribers incarcerated at WHV. HRDC is informed
and believes that, although each of those issues was properly delivered to WHV,
the issues were withheld from delivery by staff at the facility.
110. This failure of Defendants to deliver HRDC’s publications violates
HRDC’s First Amendment rights, as further detailed below.
* * * *
111. In adopting and implementing the above censorship policies and
practices, Defendants have knowingly violated, continue to violate, and are
reasonably expected to violate in the future, HRDC’s constitutional rights.
112. Defendants’ unconstitutional policies and practices have caused
HRDC serious and irreparable harm including, but not limited to: suppression of its
political message, frustration of its organizational mission, loss of its ability to
recruit new supporters, subscribers, and writers, loss of subscriptions, loss of
opportunities for purchases and sales of its publications, loss of opportunities for
book sales, and diversion of its resources. Absent intervention by this Court these
actions will continue and HRDC will be subjected to a continuation of the same
irreparable and serious injuries.
113. The above violations of HRDC’s rights and the harms to HRDC were
caused by mail and censorship policies adopted or approved by Defendant
Washington in her capacity as head of MDOC.
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114. The individual Defendants named herein are responsible for, or
personally participated in, creating and implementing these unconstitutional mail
and censorship policies, practices, and customs, for improperly denying the appeals
of the censorship of HRDC’s publications, and for training and supervising the
mail staff at the various MDOC facilities who carry out these policies and whose
conduct has injured and continues to injure HRDC.
115. Defendants’ unconstitutional policy, practices, and customs are
ongoing and continue to violate HRDC’s rights, and as such HRDC has no
adequate remedy at law.
116. HRDC is entitled to injunctive relief requiring Defendant Washington
to prohibit Defendants from refusing to deliver or refusing to allow delivery of
HRDC’s books and magazines, and prohibiting Defendants from censoring mail
without due process of law.
117. As a result of the foregoing, HRDC seeks compensatory and punitive
damages against the individual Defendants.
COUNT I
Violation of the First Amendment (Censorship)
42 U.S.C. § 1983
118. HRDC re-alleges and incorporates by reference herein all of the
allegations contained in the above paragraphs.
119. The acts described above constitute violations of HRDC’s rights
under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
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120. HRDC

has

a

constitutionally

PageID.33

protected

Page 33 of 36

liberty

interest

in

communicating with incarcerated individuals, a right clearly established under
existing case law.
121. The conduct of Defendants was objectively unreasonable and was
undertaken intentionally with malice, willfulness, and reckless indifference.
122. HRDC’s injuries and the violations of its constitutional rights were
directly and proximately caused by the policies and practices of Defendants, which
were and are the moving force of the violations.
123. Defendants’ acts described above have caused damages to HRDC, and
if not enjoined, will continue to cause damage to HRDC.
124. HRDC seeks injunctive relief against Heidi Washington in her official
capacity, and nominal and compensatory damages against all Defendants. HRDC
seeks punitive damages against the individual Defendants in their individual
capacities.
COUNT II
Violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (Due Process)
42 U.S.C. § 1983
125. HRDC re-alleges and incorporates by reference herein all of the
allegations contained in the above paragraphs.
126. The acts described above constitute violations of HRDC’s rights
under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
127. Because HRDC has a liberty interest in communicating with
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prisoners, HRDC has a right under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment to receive notice of and an opportunity to appeal Defendants’
decisions to censor their written speech.
128. Defendants’ policies and practices fail to provide HRDC with
adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard.
129. The conduct of Defendants was objectively unreasonable and was
undertaken intentionally with malice, willfulness, and reckless indifference.
130. HRDC’s injuries and the violations of its constitutional rights were
directly and proximately caused by the policies and practices of Defendants, which
are and were the moving force of the violations.
131. Defendants’ acts described above have caused damages to HRDC, and
if not enjoined, will continue to cause damage to HRDC.
132. HRDC seeks injunctive relief against Heidi Washington in her official
capacity, and nominal and compensatory damages against all Defendants. HRDC
seeks punitive damages against the individual Defendants in their individual
capacities.
V.

RELIEF REQUESTED

WHEREFORE, HRDC respectfully requests judgment against Defendants,
jointly and severally, for the following:
A.

A declaration that Defendants’ policies and practices violate the
Constitution;

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B.

A preliminary and permanent injunction requiring Washington
to prohibit Defendants from continuing to violate the
Constitution, and providing other equitable relief;

C.

An award of compensatory, punitive, and nominal damages;

D.

An award of full costs and attorneys’ fees arising out of this
litigation; and

E.

Any and other further relief this Court may deem just and
appropriate.
VI.

DEMAND FOR JURY

Pursuant to Rule 38(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, HRDC
hereby demands a trial by jury in this action of all issues so triable.

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Respectfully submitted,
Human Rights Defense Center

Honigman LLP

By: /s/ Sabarish Neelakanta
Sabarish Neelakanta, Fla. Bar No.: 26623
Masimba Mutamba, Fla. Bar No.: 102772*
Daniel Marshall, Fla. Bar No.: 617210*
P.O. Box 1151
Lake Worth, FL 33460
(561) 360-2523
sneelakanta@hrdc-law.org
mmutamba@hrdc-law.org
dmarshall@hrdc-law.org
Attorneys for Plaintiff Human Rights Defense
Center

By: /s/ Andrew M. Pauwels
James E. Stewart (P23254)
Andrew M. Pauwels (P79167)
Rian C. Dawson (P81187)
660 Woodward Avenue, Suite 2290
Detroit, MI 48226
(313) 465-7000
jstewart@honigman.com
apauwels@honigman.com
rdawson@honigman.com
Attorneys for Plaintiff Human
Rights Defense Center

Michigan State University College Of Law
By: /s/ Dan Manville
Dan Manville (P39731)
Director, Civil Rights Clinic
610 Abbot Road
East Lansing, MI 48823
(517) 336-8088
daniel.manville@law.msu.edu
Attorney for Plaintiff Human Rights Defense
Center
*Applications for admission to be filed
Dated: August 22, 2019

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