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PLN Sues Utah Jail Over Publication Ban; Suit Settled

The Box Elder county jail in Brigham City, Utah, had a policy prohibiting its prisoners from receiving books and magazines from any sources outside the jail. Eric Piper, a Utah state prisoner and PLN subscriber, was transferred to the Jail due to overcrowding in the state prison system and told he could not receive PLN or any other publications under this policy. Piper exhausted his administrative remedies without obtaining relief.

On November 6, 1998, Prison Legal News , Piper and Catalyst , a Utah magazine, sued Box Elder County, Leon Jensen, the county sheriff, Sgt. Curtis Hansen, the jail commander and ten John Doe jail guards. The plaintiffs claimed that the total ban on all publications violated the First and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. constitution and Article I, § 15 of the Utah constitution

Within a few days of receiving the complaint, the county's attorney was prepared to settle the lawsuit. On December 11, 1998, the suit was settled. Under the terms of the settlement the plaintiffs each received $100 in damages and $1,900 in attorney fees and costs. The jail agreed to change its mail policy to allow prisoners to receive publications from vendors and publishers, subject only to legitimate security needs. The defendants denied any wrongdoing. The plaintiffs dismissed the case voluntarily but retained the right to file suit again if the new policies are unconstitutional. Readers should note this is an unpublished settlement. See: Catalyst et al. v. Box Elder County, Utah, et al., USDC D UT, Case Number 1-98CV-00130K.

PLN and the other plaintiffs in this case were well represented by Brian Barnard and James Hansen of the Utah Legal Clinic. Messrs. Barnard and Hansen also represent PLN in its suit challenging the Utah DOC's ban on third and fourth class mail (AKA bulk mail). We would also like to note that the citizens of Box Elder county were well represented in this case by Jon Bunderson, the county attorney. Rather than squander the county's resources on a case they were sure to lose Mr. Bunderson promptly and inexpensively settled the suit.

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Related legal case

Catalyst, et al v. Box Elder County, Utah, et al

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.