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Michigan DOC Settles Lawsuit Over PLN Book Ban

In April, 1999, the Michigan DOC settled a class action lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News, Common Courage Press, and Michigan prisoners Larry Lynch and Calvin Holmes over the censorship of the PLN anthology, The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the U.S. Prison Industry (TCOA). Michigan Department of Corrections deputy director Dan Bolden had ordered TCOA banned from all Michigan prisons.

The book banning occurred after Larry Lynch ordered the book from PLN and Huron Valley Men's Facility case manager E.M. Ransom decided to censor it, claiming it advocated riots and violence against prison staff. Lynch appealed the matter through the Michigan DOC's grievance system, to no avail. When the appeal reached Bolden he affirmed the censorship of TCOA and added it to the list of books banned in all Michigan prisons.

PLN filed a class action suit contending that the statewide ban on PLN violated its First Amendment rights, those of publisher Common Courage Press and other book vendors, prisoners Larry Lynch and Calvin Holmes that had ordered the book and had it censored. The claims were also asserted on behalf of all Michigan prisoners who might wish to order the book in the future. The suit also claimed that the Michigan DOC's mail censorship system denied due process to the senders of censored mail as they are never afforded notice of the censorship or an opportunity to appeal.

Soon after filing the suit and a motion for a preliminary injunction, the Michigan DOC elected to settle the lawsuit. As part of the settlement the defendant prison officials agreed to pay PLN and Common Courage Press $1,000 in damages each; $10,000 in attorney fees and $600 in costs. The prisoner plaintiffs received copies of TCOA; TCOA was removed from the banned book list; a notice was posted in all Michigan prisons informing prisoners that TCOA was no longer banned and could be obtained from both PLN and Common Courage.

As part of the settlement the Michigan DOC agreed to change its mail censorship process so that whenever an item of mail is censored, the sender is given notice of the censorship and is told of their right to appeal the matter and where to direct the appeal. The settlement is unpublished. The parties settled before the court could rule on the plaintiff's preliminary injunction motion. See: Prison Legal News v. Ransom, USDC ED MI, Case No. CV-99-7052AC.

The plaintiffs were well represented in this action by Ann Arbor attorney Dan Manville. Mr. Manville is also the co-author of The Prisoners' Self Help Litigation Manual.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Ransom

The settlement is in the brief bank.