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HRDC v. Prince George's County, MD, Complaint, Mail Policies, 2020

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Case 8:20-cv-00379-PX Document 1 Filed 02/12/20 Page 1 of 11

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENSE CENTER,
Case No.:

a not-for-profit corporation,
Plaintiff,

JURY TRIAL DEMANDED

v.
(1) PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, MARYLAND
1301 McCormick Drive, Suite 4000
Largo, MD 20774;
(2) MARY LOU MCDONOUGH, Director,
13400 Dille Drive
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772,
individually and in her official capacity; and
(3) JOHN AND JANE DOES 1-10, Staff,
individually and in their official capacities,
Defendants.
COMPLAINT

I.
1.

Introduction

For decades, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that the freedom to

read and correspond with the outside world while incarcerated carries important benefits to both
prisoners and society as a whole. To this end, Plaintiff, the Human Rights Defense Center
(“HRDC” or “Plaintiff’), provides incarcerated persons across the United States with
publications regarding their legal and civil rights, as well as options for accessing education
while incarcerated. However, Defendants’ mail policies and practices unconstitutionally prohibit
delivery of Plaintiffs publications and mail to prisoners housed in the Prince George’s County
Correctional Center (the “Jail”), in violation of the First Amendment to the United States
Constitution, Defendants’ policies and practices also deny due process of law to senders whose

Case 8:20-cv-00379-PX Document 1 Filed 02/12/20 Page 2 of 11

mail is censored, such as Plaintiff, by failing to provide notice of and an opportunity to challenge
each instance of censorship as required by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution. HRDC brings this action to enjoin Defendants’ censorship of its books, magazines,
and other mail sent to prisoners held in the Jail, and to require Defendants to provide due process
when they reject items sent to prisoners at that facility.
II.

Jurisdiction and Venue

2. This suit is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question), as this action arises
under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343 (civil
rights), as this action seeks redress for civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
3. Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). At least one Defendant resides within this
judicial district and the events giving rise to the claims asserted herein all occurred within this
judicial district.
4. HRDC’s claims for relief are 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 by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution and laws of the United
States.
5. This Court has jurisdiction over claims seeking declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202, and the Court also has jurisdiction to award damages against all
Defendants.
6. HRDC’s claim for attorneys’ fees and costs is predicated upon 42 U.S.C. § 1988, which
authorizes the award of attorneys’ fees and costs to prevailing plaintiffs in actions brought
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

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Case 8:20-cv-00379-PX Document 1 Filed 02/12/20 Page 3 of 11

III.

Parties

7. The Human Rights Defense Center is a not-for-profit charitable organization recognized
under § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, incorporated in the state of Washington and
with principal offices in Lake Worth, Florida. The purpose of HRDC is to educate prisoners and
the public about the destructive nature of racism, sexism, and the economic and social costs of
prisons to society.

HRDC accomplishes its mission through advocacy, litigation, and the

publication and/or distribution of books, magazines, and other information concerning prisons
and prisoner rights.
8.

Defendant Prince George’s County, Maryland (the “County”) is a unit of government

organized and existing under the laws of the State of Maryland. The County operates the Jail,
and is and was responsible for adopting and implementing policies governing incoming mail and
publications for prisoners at that facility.
9.

Defendant Mary Lou McDonough is the Director of the Prince George’s County

Department of Corrections.

Defendant McDonough is employed by and is an agent of

Defendant County, and has ultimate responsibility for the promulgation and enforcement of all
Jail policies, practices, and procedures and is responsible for the overall management of the Jail,
including the policies, practices, and procedures relating to mail and the reading material that is
available to prisoners. She is sued in her individual and official capacities.
10.

The true names and identities of Defendants DOES 1 through 10 are presently

unknown to HRDC. Each of Defendants DOES 1 through 10 are or were employed by and are
or were agents of Defendants and were personally involved in the adoption and/or
implementation of the publications and mail policies at the Jail.

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11.

At all times material to this action, the actions of all Defendants as alleged herein were

taken under the authority and color of state law.
12.

At all times material to this action, all Defendants were acting within the course and

scope of their employment as agents and/or employees of Defendant County.
IV.
A.
13.

Factual Allegations

HRDC’s Mission and Outreach to Detention Facilities
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’s mission, if realized, has a salutary effect on public safety.
14.

To accomplish its mission, HRDC publishes and distributes books, magazines, and

other materials containing 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.
15.

HRDC has thousands of customers in the United States and abroad, including

prisoners, attorneys, journalists, public libraries, judges, and members of the general public.
Since its creation in 1990, HRDC has sent its publications to prisoners and law librarians in more
than 3,000 correctional facilities located across all fifty states, including the Federal Bureau of
Prisons and various facilities within the State of Maryland.
16.

HRDC publishes and distributes a 72-page monthly magazine titled Prison Legal

News: Dedicated to Protecting Human Rights, which contains news and analysis about prisons,
jails, and other detention facilities, prisoners’ rights, court opinions, management of prison
facilities, prison conditions, and other matters pertaining to the rights and/or interests of

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incarcerated individuals.

In 2013, Prison Legal News received the First Amendment Award

from the Society of Professional Journalists.
More recently, HRDC also began publishing a second monthly magazine, Criminal

17.

Legal News. This magazine focuses on review and analysis of individual rights, court rulings,
and news concerning criminal justice-related issues.
Additionally, HRDC publishes and/or distributes dozens of different softcover books

18.

about the criminal justice system, legal reference books, and self-help 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 case, HRDC
publishes and/or distributes the Prisoners’ Guerilla Handbook: A Guide to Correspondence
Programs in the United States and Canada (“Prisoners ’ Handbook”), which provides prisoners
information on enrolling at accredited higher educational, vocational and training schools, and
Protecting Your Health and Safety (“PYHS”), which describes the rights, protections and legal
remedies available to prisoners concerning their incarceration.
19.

In addition to monthly journal issues and books, HRDC also sends prisoners: (a)

informational brochure packets - the packet contains a brochure and subscription order form, a
book list, and a published books brochure (each of which is a single page); (b) copies of judicial
opinions of import to prisoners; and (c) letters that provide other pertinent information to
incarcerated people, including letters reminding prisoners to renew their subscriptions to Prison
Legal News and Criminal Legal News.
B.
20.

Defendants’ Unconstitutional Publications and Mail Policies and Practices
The Defendants’ online policy pertinent to this matter states the following:

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Case 8:20-cv-00379-PX

Document 1

Filed 02/12/20

Page 6 of 11

Inmates may use the U.S. Postal Service to send and receive correspondence. The
address is:
(Inmate’s Name)
Prince George’s County Correctional Center
13400 Dille Drive, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
All inmate mail must be properly addressed with both the sender and receivers first
and last names. Any usage of street names, nicknames, or names other than the
inmate's legal or committed name, will be rejected and not processed.
All personal incoming inmate mail, to include greeting cards, must be in
a white envelope ONLY. In addition, all correspondence must be drafted on either
plain white or standard white lined paper. Any usage of colored stationary paper or
stationary paper with images on it will be rejected.
Inmate to inmate mail from other correctional facilities will no longer be accepted
unless a written request has been approved by the Director or her designee. This
also applies to inmate to inmate mail within our correctional facility. Any photographs
must be 4x6 or smaller and only five photos will be allowed per envelope. You may
only send correspondence. Packages, books and magazines will not be accepted.

(This policy is posted on the Prince George’s CountyCorrections webpage at
https://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/195/Mail (accessed January 14, 2020).) The policy is
both unconstitutional on its face and as applied.
21.

Pursuant to their mail policy, the Defendants ban books, magazines, and mail sent by

HRDC to prisoners at the Jail. Accordingly, Defendants’ publications and mail policies and
practices violate HRDC’s rights under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.
22.

Furthermore, Defendants engage in a policy or practice that fails to provide senders of

censored mail notice and an opportunity to appeal the censorship of the mail to the intended
prisoner.

Accordingly, such policy violates FIRDC’s Fourteenth Amendment rights to due

process.
23.

In February, March, and July 2019 HRDC sent the items listed in paragraphs 17-20

above to prisoners held at the Jail.

Each of these items were individually addressed and

separately mailed.

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Case 8:20-cv-00379-PX Document 1 Filed 02/12/20 Page 7 of 11

24.

Defendants censored the HRDC’s publications and mail by failing to deliver them to

the intended prisoner-recipients at the Jail. Plaintiff can identify at least one hundred forty-two
(142) items that were rejected by Defendants, including twenty-nine (29) copies of Prison Legal
News, seventeen (17) copies of Criminal Legal News, twelve (12) copies of PYHS, twelve (12)
copies of the Prisoners’ Handbook, twelve (12) informational brochure packs, eleven (11) court
rulings, seven (7) copies of HRDC’s annual fundraiser, and forty-two (42) letters. These items
were returned to HRDC’s offices marked “RTS”, “Unauthorized Item”, or with no markings at
all.
25.

Further, Defendants failed to provide HRDC any notice or opportunity to appeal these

censorship decisions.
26.

Due to Defendants’ actions as described above, HRDC has suffered damages, and will

continue to suffer damages, including, but not limited to: the suppression of HRDC’s speech;
the impediment of HRDC’s ability to disseminate its political message; frustration of HRDC’s
non-profit organizational mission; the loss of potential subscribers and customers; and the
inability to recruit new subscribers and supporters, among other damages.
27.

Defendants, and other agents of the Jail, are responsible for or personally participated

in creating and implementing these unconstitutional policies, practices, and customs, or for
ratifying or adopting them. Further, Defendants are responsible for training and supervising the
staff persons whose conduct has injured and continues to injure HRDC.
28.

Defendants’ actions and inactions were and are motivated by ill motive and intent, and

were and are all committed under color of law with deliberate indifference to HRDC’s rights.
29.

Plaintiff will continue to send its books, magazines, and mail to subscribers,

customers, and other individuals imprisoned at the Jail.

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Case 8:20-cv-00379-PX Document 1 Filed 02/12/20 Page 8 of 11

30.

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

violate HRDC’s rights, and were and are the moving force behind the injuries HRDC suffered as
a direct result of the constitutional violations. As such, HRDC has no adequate remedy at law.
31.

Without relief from this Court HRDC will suffer irreparable injury, since its

fundamental free speech and due process rights are being denied. The balance of hardships
favors the Plaintiff and the public interest will be served by granting injunctive and declaratory
relief.
32.

The accommodation of the free speech and due process rights of HRDC with respect

to written speech protected by the Constitution will not have any significant impact on the Jail,
its staff or prisoners.
33.

HRDC is entitled to declaratory relief as well as injunctive relief prohibiting

Defendants from refusing to deliver publications and correspondence from HRDC and other
senders without any legal justification, and prohibiting Defendants from censoring mail without
due process of law.
V.

Claims

Count I - 42 U.S.C. S 1983
Violation of the First Amendment (Free Speech)
34.

HRDC re-alleges and incorporates the allegations of Paragraphs 1 through 33 of the

Complaint as if fully set forth herein.
35.

The acts described above constitute violations of HRDC’s right to communicate with

incarcerated individuals under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.
36.

The conduct of Defendants was objectively unreasonable and was undertaken

recklessly, intentionally, willfully, with malice, and with deliberate indifference to the rights of
others.

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Case 8:20-cv-00379-PX Document 1 Filed 02/12/20 Page 9 of 11

37.

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.
38.

Defendants’ acts described above have caused damages to HRDC, and if not

enjoined, will continue to cause damage to HRDC.
39.

HRDC seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, and nominal and compensatory

damages against all Defendants.

HRDC seeks punitive damages against the individual

Defendants in their individual capacities.
Count II - 42 U.S.C. S 1983
Violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (Due Process)
40.

HRDC re-alleges and incorporates the allegations of Paragraphs 1 through 39 of the

Complaint as if fully set forth herein.
41.

Because HRDC has a liberty interest in communicating with 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.
42.

Defendants’ policy and practice fail to provide HRDC and other senders with

adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard.
43.

The conduct of Defendants was objectively unreasonable and was undertaken

recklessly, intentionally, willfully, with malice, and with deliberate indifference to the rights of
others.
44.

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.

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Case 8:20-cv-00379-PX Document 1 Filed 02/12/20 Page 10 of 11

45.

Defendants’ acts described above have caused damages to HRDC, and if not

enjoined, will continue to cause damage to HRDC.
46.

HRDC seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, and nominal and compensatory

damages against all Defendants.

HRDC seeks punitive damages against the individual

Defendants in their individual capacities.
VI.

Request for Relief

WHEREFORE, the Plaintiff respectfully requests relief as follows:
47.

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

48.

A preliminary and permanent injunction preventing Defendants from continuing to

violate the Constitution, and providing other equitable relief.
49.

Nominal damages for each violation of HRDC’s rights by the Defendants.

50.

Compensatory damages in an amount to be proved at trial.

51.

Punitive damages against the individual Defendants in an amount to be proved at

52.

Costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, and under other

trial.

applicable law.
53.

Any other such relief that this Court deems just and equitable.
VII.

Jury Demand

Plaintiff, Human Rights Defense Center, by and through its attorneys, hereby demands a
trial by jury pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 38(b) on all issues so triable.

Respectfully Submitted,
/s/ Ronald G. London

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Case 8:20-cv-00379-PX Document 1 Filed 02/12/20 Page 11 of 11

Ronald G. London, D. Md. Bar No. 16846
DAVIS WRIGHT TREMAINE LLP
1919 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20006
Telephone: (202) 973-4235
Facsimile: (202) 973-4435
ronnielondon@dwt.com
Daniel Marshall, Fla. Bar No.: 617210*
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENSE CENTER
P.O.Box 1151
Lake Worth, FL 33460
Telephone: (561) 360-2523
Facsimile: (866) 735-7136
dmarshall@hrdc-law.org
*Pro hac vice application to be filed
Dated: February 12, 2020

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