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HRDC v. Lincoln Co, Sheriff Schneider, et. al, WI, Complaint, Censorship, 2021

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Case: 3:21-cv-00453 Document #: 1 Filed: 07/19/21 Page 1 of 11

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENSE CENTER,
a not-for-profit corporation,

Case No.: 3:21-cv-00453

Plaintiff,
v.

JURY TRIAL DEMANDED

LINCOLN COUNTY, WISCONSIN;
KEN SCHNEIDER, Sheriff,
individually and in his official capacity; and
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
about their legal and civil rights, as well as options for accessing education while incarcerated.
Defendants’ policies and practices, however, frustrate that mission by unconstitutionally
prohibiting delivery of Plaintiff’s publications to prisoners housed in the Lincoln County Jail
(“Jail”), in violation of the First Amendment. Defendants’ policies and practices also deny due
process of law to senders, such as Plaintiff, whose mail is censored by failing to provide notice of
and an opportunity to challenge each instance of censorship as required by the Fourteenth
Amendment.

HRDC brings this action to enjoin Defendants’ censorship of its books and

Case: 3:21-cv-00453 Document #: 1 Filed: 07/19/21 Page 2 of 11

magazines 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 under 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 here 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 this 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 under
42 U.S.C. § 1983.
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

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Case: 3:21-cv-00453 Document #: 1 Filed: 07/19/21 Page 3 of 11

to society. HRDC accomplishes its mission through advocacy, litigation, and the publication and
distribution of books, magazines, and other information concerning prisons and prisoner rights.
8.

Defendant Lincoln County, Wisconsin (“County”) is a unit of government organized

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

Defendant Ken Schneider is the elected Sheriff of Lincoln County, Wisconsin. He has

held that position since January 2018. Defendant Schneider is employed by and is an agent of the
County, and is responsible for the overall management of the Jail. He has ultimate responsibility
for the promulgation and enforcement of all Jail policies, practices, and procedures, including the
policies, practices, and procedures relating to mail and the reading material that is available to
prisoners. He is sued in his individual and official capacities.
10.

The true names and identities of Defendants DOES 1 through 10 are unknown to HRDC.

Each of Defendants DOES 1 through 10 is or was employed by or were agents of the County
and/or Defendant Schneider. DOES 1 through 10 were personally involved in the adoption and/or
implementation of the publications and mail policies at the Jail.
11.

At all times material to this action, the actions of all Defendants as alleged here 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 the County.

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IV.
A.
13.

FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

HRDC’s Mission and Outreach to Detention Facilities
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.
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 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 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 Wisconsin, such as FCI Oxford, the Taylor County Jail, and
numerous prisons run by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
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 interests of incarcerated
individuals. In 2013, Prison Legal News received the First Amendment Award from the Society
of Professional Journalists.

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17.

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 about criminal justice-related issues.
18.

HRDC also publishes and/or distributes dozens of different softcover books 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 distributes
the Prisoners’ Guerilla Handbook: A Guide to Correspondence Programs in the United States
and Canada (“Prisoners’ Guerilla Handbook”), which provides prisoners information on
enrolling at accredited higher educational, vocational and training schools. HRDC also the sole
national distributor of Protecting Your Health and Safety (“PYHS”), which describes the rights,
protections, and legal remedies available to prisoners concerning their incarceration.
B.
19.

Defendants’ Unconstitutional Policies and Practices
Defendants’ online mail policy states the following:
MAIL
Mailing address for inmates: 1104 East First Street, Merrill, WI 54452
The inmates first and last name must be clearly indicated on the front of the
envelope.
The sender’s first and last name must be in the return section of the envelope along
with their complete address. Any mail received not meeting these requirements will
be returned to the sender or placed in the inmates property until their release.
Inmates are able to receive letters, money orders, and simple cards. (No glitter,
stickers, tape, ties, or other embellishments) Personal checks will not be accepted.
All correspondence must be sent through the US Postal Service. No items will be
accepted at the Lobby window.
Magazines, books, Polaroid pictures, pictures containing nudity of any kind, stamps,
blank or lined paper, envelopes, food, hygiene, and clothing will not be accepted.
They will be returned to the sender.

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All mail is subject to inspection excluding mail from a legitimate attorney or judge and
marked as legal or confidential. Any mail item deemed inappropriate, threatening, or
seen as a safety or security issue will be denied.

This

policy

is

posted

on

the

Lincoln

County,

Wisconsin,

webpage

at

https://co.lincoln.wi.us/sheriffs-office/page/inmate-property-mail-and-telephones (accessed July
16, 2021). The policy is both unconstitutional on its face and as applied.
20.

The Defendants ban books and magazines sent by HRDC to prisoners at the Jail.

Accordingly, Defendants’ publications policies and practices violate HRDC’s rights under the Free
Speech Clause of the First Amendment.
21.

Furthermore, Defendants engage in policies and practices that fail to provide senders of

censored mail notice and an opportunity to appeal the censorship of the mail to the intended
prisoner. Thus, such policies and practices violate HRDC’s Fourteenth Amendment rights to due
process.
22.

In January 2021 a Criminal Legal News subscriber reported to HRDC that staff at the

Jail would not let him receive the magazine. The subscriber attached a grievance form on which
staff stated that the facility does not allow vendors to send magazines or other publications.
23.

In February and April 2021 HRDC sent the items listed in paragraphs 16-18 above to

prisoners held at the Jail. Each of these items were individually addressed and separately mailed.
24.

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

intended prisoner-recipients at the Jail. Plaintiff can identify at least thirty-three (33) items rejected
by Defendants, including ten (10) copies of Prison Legal News, twelve (12) copies of Criminal
Legal News, six (6) copies of PYHS, and five (5) copies of the Prisoners’ Guerilla Handbook.

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Case: 3:21-cv-00453 Document #: 1 Filed: 07/19/21 Page 7 of 11

25.

Many of the rejected items were returned to HRDC’s offices marked “RETURN TO

SENDER.” Others were not returned, and HRDC received no notice from the Jail that they had
been rejected.
26.

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

censorship decisions.
27.

Because of 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 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.
28.

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.
29.

Defendants’ actions and inactions were and are impermissibly motivated, and were and

are all committed under color of law with deliberate indifference to HRDC’s rights.
30.

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

other individuals imprisoned at the Jail.
31.

Defendants’ unconstitutional policy, practices, and customs continue to violate HRDC’s

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

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32.

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
Plaintiff and the public interest will be served by granting injunctive and declaratory relief.
33.

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.
34.

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

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

CLAIMS

Count I – 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Violation of the First Amendment (Free Speech)
35.

HRDC re-alleges and incorporates the allegations of Paragraphs 1 through 34 of the

Complaint as if fully set forth herein.
36.

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

incarcerated individuals under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.
37.

Defendants’ conduct was objectively unreasonable and undertaken recklessly,

intentionally, willfully, with malice, and with deliberate indifference to the rights of others.
38.

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.
39.

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

will continue to damage HRDC.

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40.

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. § 1983
Violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (Due Process)
41.

HRDC re-alleges and incorporates the allegations of Paragraphs 1 through 40 of the

Complaint as if fully set forth herein.
42.

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.
43.

Defendants’ policies and practices fail to provide HRDC and other senders with

adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard.
44.

Defendants’ conduct was objectively unreasonable and was undertaken recklessly,

intentionally, willfully, with malice, and with deliberate indifference to the rights of others.
45.

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.
46.

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

will continue to cause damage to HRDC.
47.

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.

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Count III - 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (Vagueness)
48.

HRDC re-alleges and incorporates the allegations of Paragraphs 1 through 47 of the

Complaint as if fully set forth herein.
49.

Defendants’ mail policy fails to provide a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice of

what is prohibited or permitted.
50.

Defendants have enforced, or caused the enforcement of, the Jail’s impermissibly

vague and overbroad mail policy to reject HRDC’s publications.
51.

Defendants’ enforcement of the mail policy has caused harm to HRDC by, among other

things, preventing HRDC from sending its publications to prisoners held in the Jail.
52.

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, Plaintiff respectfully requests relief as follows:
53.

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

54.

A preliminary and permanent injunction preventing Defendants from continuing to

violate the Constitution, and providing other equitable relief.
55.

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

56.

Compensatory damages in an amount to be proved at trial.

57.

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

58.

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

applicable law.

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59.

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.
Dated: July 19, 2021
Respectfully Submitted,
s/ Brady C. Williamson
Brady C. Williamson
GODFREY & KAHN, S.C.
One East Main Street, Suite 500
Madison, WI 53703
Telephone: (608) 257-3911
Facsimile: (608) 257-0609
Email: bwilliam@gklaw.com
Daniel Marshall, Fla. Bar No.: 617210*
dmarshall@humanrightsdefensecenter.org
Jesse W. Isom, Fla. Bar No.: 98588*
jwisom@humanrightsdefensecenter.org
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENSE CENTER
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
25639229.1

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