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The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct

HRDC v. Sherburne County, Minnesota; et al., MN, Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial, Censorship, 2020

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CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 1 of 14

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Human Rights Defense Center,

Civil File No.______________

Plaintiff,
COMPLAINT AND
DEMAND FOR JURY TRIAL

vs.
Sherburne County, Minnesota; Joel Brott,
Sheriff, in his official and individual
capacities; and Does 1–10, in their
individual capacities,
Defendant.

Plaintiff Human Rights Defense Center (“HRDC”), by its undersigned counsel, for
its Complaint against Defendants Sherburne County, Minnesota; Joel Brott, Sherriff, in his
official and individual capacities; and Does 1–10, in their individual capacities
(collectively “Defendants”), state and alleges as follows:
PRELIMINARY STATEMENT
1.

HRDC brings this action to enjoin the Sherburne County Jail (the “Jail”) and

its employees from unconstitutionally censoring HRDC’s magazines sent to incarcerated
persons, and for damages arising from such censorship.
2.

HRDC, a not-for-profit charitable organization, sends books, magazines, and

other correspondence to persons incarcerated in the Jail.

These materials educate

incarcerated persons about their legal and civil rights and their options for accessing
education while incarcerated. In communicating with such persons, HRDC engages in

CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 2 of 14

core protected speech and expressive conduct on matters of public concern, which are
entitled to the highest protection afforded by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
3.

Yet since June 2019, and on an ongoing basis, the Jail and its employees

refuse to deliver HRDC’s magazines to incarcerated persons in violation of HRDC’s First
Amendment right to free speech and communication. Further, Jail staff fail to notify
HRDC when the Jail censored these mailings, violating HRDC’s Fourteenth Amendment
rights to notice and an opportunity to challenge censorship.
4.

Incarcerated persons may spend years in the Jail’s facilities. And yet they

have extremely limited access to information from the outside world to make productive
use of their period of incarceration and successfully prepare for re-entry to the public. In
addition, incarcerated persons at the Jail have even less access to legal materials to inform
them of their rights and assist them in their defense.
5.

Because of their highly limited access to information inside the Jail,

incarcerated persons rely on receiving mailings and books from organizations like HRDC.
When the Jail prohibits incarcerated persons from receiving newspapers and magazines,
these persons are left in the dark—deprived of the ability to defend themselves in the
criminal cases against them or expand their minds through knowledge and education.
Curtailing these basic legal and educational rights serves no legitimate penological interest;
it only exacerbates the public safety problems associated with the criminal justice system
and inadequately preparing persons for re-entry into society.
6.

Accordingly, to ameliorate the injuries that the Defendants have inflicted on

HRDC and its advocacy efforts, HRDC seeks damages for Defendants’ illegal actions and
2

CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 3 of 14

injunctive relief to ensure that Defendants cease their ongoing violations of HRDC’s
constitutional rights.
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
7.

This action is brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as it arises under the

Constitution and laws of the United States, and under 28 U.S.C. § 1343, as it seeks redress
for civil-rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
8.

Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). On information and belief, at

least one Defendant resides within this judicial district, and the events giving rise to the
claims asserted herein occurred within this judicial district.
9.

HRDC’s claims for relief are predicated upon 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which

authorizes actions to redress the deprivation, under color of state law, of rights, privileges,
and immunities secured to Plaintiff by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S.
Constitution and the laws of the United States.
10.

This Court has jurisdiction over claims seeking declaratory and injunctive

relief under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202, as well as claims seeking nominal and
compensatory damages against all Defendants.
11.

HRDC’s request 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 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
PARTIES
12.

HRDC 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
3

CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 4 of 14

principal offices in Lake Worth, Florida. For more than 30 years, HRDC has focused on
public education, advocacy, and outreach on behalf of, and for the purpose of assisting,
incarcerated persons 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.
13.

Defendant Sherburne County, Minnesota is a unit of government organized

and existing under the laws of the State of Minnesota.

Through its Board of

Commissioners, Sherburne County delegates its authority for the operation of the Jail to
Sheriff Brott.
14.

Defendant Joel Brott (“Brott”) is the elected Sheriff of Sherburne County,

Minnesota. Brott is responsible for overseeing the management and operations of the Jail,
and for the hiring, screening, training, retention, supervision, discipline, counseling, and
control of the personnel of the Jail who interpret and apply the mail policy to incarcerated
persons. As Sheriff, Brott is a final policymaker for the Jail with respect its operations,
including for policies governing incoming mail for incarcerated persons. He is sued in his
official and individual capacities.
15.

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

presently unknown to HRDC. Each of DOES 1 through 10 are or were employed by and
are or were agents of the Jail when some or all of the challenged mail policies and practices
at the Jail were adopted and/or implemented. Each of DOES 1 through 10 are or were
personally involved in the adoption and/or implementation of the Jail’s mail policies for
incarcerated persons, and/or are or were responsible for the hiring, screening, training,
4

CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 5 of 14

retention, supervision, discipline, counseling, and/or control of the Jail staff who interpret
and implement these mail policies. DOES 1 through 10 are sued in their individual
capacities. HRDC will seek to amend this Complaint when the true names and identities
of DOES 1 through 10 have been ascertained.
16.

At all times material to this Complaint, the actions of all Defendants as

alleged herein were taken under the authority and color of state law.
FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS
I.

HRDC’s Publications
17.

For more than 30 years, 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.
18.

To accomplish its mission, HRDC publishes and distributes books,

magazines, and other information 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.
19.

HRDC publishes and distributes an award-winning, 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 incarcerated individuals.
5

CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 6 of 14

20.

More recently, HRDC also began publishing a second monthly magazine,

Criminal Legal News. This magazine is 56 pages, and focuses on review and analysis of
individual rights, court rulings, and news concerning criminal justice-related issues.
21.

HRDC has thousands of subscribers to its monthly magazines in the United

States and abroad, including incarcerated persons, attorneys, judges, journalists, libraries,
and members of the public. Since its creation in 1990, HRDC has sent its publications to
prisoners and law librarians in more than 3,000 correctional facilities across the United
States, including death row units and institutions within the Federal Bureau of Prisons,
such as the federal Administrative Maximum Facility (“ADX” or “Supermax”) in Florence,
Colorado—the most secure prison in the United States. Prison Legal News is distributed
to prisons and jails within the correctional systems of all 50 states, including to dozens of
incarcerated persons housed in facilities in Minnesota.
22.

HRDC has attempted to send these important publications to persons

incarcerated at the Jail.

Yet Defendants maintain mail policies or practices that

unconstitutionally prevent individuals incarcerated at the Jail from receiving HRDC’s
materials.
II.

Defendants’ Mail Policies and Practices
23.

According to the Sherburne County Jail mail policy:
“Inmate mail will be checked for contraband prior to distribution.
Examples of items considered to be contraband are:
….

6

CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 7 of 14

• Newspapers/Magazines:
articles”
Sherburne

County

Jail

mail

including small clippings or

policy,

available

https://www.co.sherburne.mn.us/314/Inmate-Phone-Email-Provider-Mail

at
(last

visited Aug. 19, 2020).
24.

The Jail’s mail policy has no provision for giving notice to the sender when

mail is rejected.
25.

According to the Sherburne County Jail Policy and Procedure Manual,

magazines are considered contraband and are not allowed in the facility.
26.

According to the Sherburne County Jail Policy and Procedures Manual,

inmates in general population have access to a daily newspaper. That newspaper, one copy
of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, is shared amongst all inmates. Inmates in segregation do
not have access to the daily newspaper.
27.

Inmates do not have access to electronic reading materials.

28.

Email access is limited and the jail censors incoming email, removing any

articles and prohibiting electronic reading materials.
III.
29.

Defendants’ Censorship of HRDC’s Mail
Beginning in June 2019, Defendants censored monthly issues of Prison

Legal News and Criminal Legal News sent by HRDC to incarcerated persons in the Jail.
Defendants refused, and continue to refuse, to deliver these publications to the incarcerated
persons.

7

CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 8 of 14

30.

In January 2020 an inmate suspended his subscription to Prison Legal News

after the jail refused to deliver it based on the prohibition against magazines. That inmate
expressed his continued interest in receiving the publication.
31.

In July 2020, HRDC attempted to mail six different types of mail to inmates

at the Jail including the following: a copy of Prison Legal News; a copy of Criminal Legal
News; a book titled Protecting Your Health and Safety; a book titled Prisoners Guerrilla
Handbook; an envelope containing HRDC publications; and an envelope with the court
ruling Clement v. California Dept. of Corrections. Three inmates informed HRDC that a
majority of the materials were confiscated and undelivered. One inmate received both
copies of the magazines, but nothing else was delivered.
32.

Such restrictions on written speech sent to persons incarcerated at the Jail are

not rationally related to any legitimate penological interest and violate HRDC’s First
Amendment right to communicate speech to incarcerated persons.
33.

Defendants’ policies, practices, and customs are unconstitutional, both

facially and as applied to HRDC.
34.

Further, Defendants’ censorship policies, practices, and customs have a

chilling effect on HRDC’s future speech and expression directed toward persons
incarcerated at the Jail.
35.

HRDC will continue to mail copies of its magazines to subscribers,

customers, and other individuals imprisoned in the Jail, despite Defendants’
unconstitutional censorship. Plaintiff seeks the protection of this Court to ensure that
Defendants cease their unlawful misconduct, and either deliver HRDC’s written speech or
8

CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 9 of 14

satisfy due process by providing HRDC with the basis for any censorship so that HRDC
may challenge the censorship.
IV.

Defendants’ Failure to Provide Due Process Notice and an Opportunity to
Appeal
36.

Defendants failed to provide HRDC with any notice of the rejection of Prison

Legal News, Criminal Legal News, or any other mailings.
37.

Further, Defendants failed to provide HRDC with an opportunity to appeal

the censorship of its mail.
V.

Defendants’ Unconstitutional Mail Policies and Practices Are Causing
HRDC Ongoing and Irreparable Harm and Damages.
38.

Defendants’ deprivation of HRDC’s constitutional rights, both past and

continuing, constitutes irreparable harm.
39.

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

and will continue to suffer damages, including but not limited to: frustration of its ability
to disseminate its political message, to recruit new subscribers and supporters, and to
advance its mission as a not-for-profit organization; significant diversion and waste of
HRDC resources, including staff time; loss of potential subscribers and customers; and
damage to its reputation.
40.

Defendants’ actions and omissions were and are all committed under color

of law and with reckless indifference to HRDC’s rights.
41.

Defendants and their agents are responsible for—or personally participated

in—creating and implementing these unconstitutional policies, practices, and customs,

9

CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 10 of 14

and/or ratifying or adopting them. Further, Defendant Brott is responsible for training and
supervising employees whose conduct has injured and continues to injure HRDC.
42.

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

and continue to violate HRDC’s constitutional rights—causing irreparable harm.
Defendants’ unconstitutional policies, practices, and customs will continue unless
enjoined. As such, HRDC has no adequate remedy at law.
43.

In addition to damages, HRDC is entitled to injunctive relief prohibiting

Defendants from unconstitutionally censoring and refusing to deliver HRDC’s magazines
and depriving HRDC of due process of law.
CAUSES OF ACTION
FIRST CLAIM FOR RELIEF
Violation of the First Amendment Right to Free Speech
Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
(Brought Against All Defendants)
44.

HRDC repeats and re-alleges each and every allegation set forth above, and

incorporates them herein by reference.
45.

The acts described above constitute violations of HRDC’s rights under the

First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
46.

HRDC has a constitutionally protected liberty interest in communicating

with incarcerated individuals by sending its materials, including the magazines Prison
Legal News and Criminal Legal News, to them via U.S. Mail. Defendants’ unconstitutional
censorship violates HRDC’s clearly established right to communicate with these
individuals.
10

CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 11 of 14

47.

There is no legitimate penological interest justifying Defendants’

unconstitutional censorship of HRDC’s magazines.
48.

Defendants’ conduct is objectively unreasonable and was undertaken

recklessly, intentionally, willfully, with malice, and with deliberate indifference to the
rights of others.
49.

HRDC’s injuries and the violations of its constitutional rights were directly

and proximately caused by Defendants’ policies and practices; and those policies and
practices were the moving force behind the violations.
50.

The acts described above have caused HRDC to suffer damages, and if not

enjoined, will continue to cause HRDC to suffer irreparable harm and damages.
51.

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.
SECOND CLAIM FOR RELIEF
Violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Right to Due Process
Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
(Brought Against All Defendants)
52.

HRDC repeats and re-alleges each and every allegation set forth above, and

incorporates them herein by reference.
53.

The acts described above violate HRDC’s rights and the rights of other

correspondents who have attempted to or intend to correspond with persons incarcerated
in the Jail, under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

11

CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 12 of 14

54.

HRDC has a clearly established right under the Due Process Clause of the

Fourteenth Amendment to receive notice of and an opportunity to object and/or appeal
Defendants’ decisions to prevent Plaintiff’s mail from reaching incarcerated persons held
in the Jail.
55.

Defendants’ policy and practice of censoring HRDC’s magazines fails to

provide Plaintiff with notice of the censorship or an opportunity to be heard. Defendants
did not provide constitutionally adequate notice of the censorship of HRDC’s magazines,
nor did Defendants provide HRDC an opportunity to appeal the censorship decision with
a party not involved in that original decision. Thus, Defendants are violating HRDC’s
clearly established right to due process.
56.

Defendants’ conduct is objectively unreasonable and was undertaken

recklessly, intentionally, willfully, with malice, and with deliberate indifference to the
rights of others.
57.

HRDC’s injuries and the violations of its constitutional rights were directly

and proximately caused by Defendants’ policies and practices; and those policies and
practices were the moving force behind the violations.
58.

The acts described above have caused HRDC to suffer irreparable harm and

damages, and if not enjoined, will continue to cause HRDC to suffer irreparable harm and
damages
59.

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.
12

CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 13 of 14

REQUEST FOR RELIEF
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff respectfully requests relief as follows:
1.

A declaration that Defendants’ policies and practices violate the First
and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution;

2.

Preliminary and permanent injunctions preventing Defendants from
continuing to violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S.
Constitution, and providing other equitable relief;

3.

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

4.

Compensatory damages against Defendants in an amount to be proved
at trial;

5.

Punitive damages against the individual Defendants in their individual
capacities, in an amount to be proved at trial;

6.

An award of costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, under 42
U.S.C. § 1988 and other applicable law; and

7.

Such further and additional relief as this Court may deem just and
equitable.
JURY DEMAND

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

13

CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 14 of 14

Dated: August 20, 2020

DORSEY & WHITNEY LLP
By s/ RJ Zayed
RJ Zayed (#0309849)
zayed.rj@dorsey.com
Alex P. Hontos (#0388355)
hontos.alex@dorsey.com
Donna Reuter (#0400572)
reuter.donna@dorsey.com
50 South Sixth Street, Suite 1500
Minneapolis, MN 55402
Telephone: (612) 340-2600
Facsimile: (612) 340-2868
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENSE CENTER
Daniel Marshall*
dmarshall@humanrightsdefensecenter.org
Eric Taylor*
etaylor@humanrightsdefensecenter.org
P.O. Box 1151
Lake Worth, FL 33460
Telephone: (561) 360-2523
Facsimile: (561) 828-8166
Attorneys for Plaintiff Human Rights Defense
Center
*Pro hac vice applications to be filed

14

CASE 0:20-cv-01817 Document 1-1 Filed 08/20/20 Page 1 of 2

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Declaratory judgment regarding violation of First and Fourteenth Amendments

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