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PLN Sues Oregon DOC Over Mail Censorship, Again

On April 2, 2002 Prison Legal News filed suit in federal court in Portland, Oregon, challenging the Oregon prison system's ongoing attempts to prevent Oregon prisoners from subscribing to PLN and receiving their subscriptions or book orders if they did subscribe. PLN had previously sued the Oregon DOC in 1998 over their policy of censoring publications based on the postage rate that the publisher paid. At that time they banned all mail sent by third or fourth-class mail, now called "standard mail." In 2001 the Ninth circuit ruled in PLN 's favor, holding that the policy was unconstitutional. See: Prison Legal News v. Cook , 238 F.3d 1145 (9 th Cir. 2001). On remand, the district court awarded PLN over $58,000 in attorney fees and costs and entered an injunction prohibiting the censorship of mail based on its postal classification and ordering due process when mail is censored.

Rather than follow the injunction, the Oregon DOC enacted new mail rules that still censored mail and denied due process based on its postal classification, singling out non profit publications such as PLN for censorship. The Oregon DOC continued to refuse to deliver PLN to its Oregon subscribers. They also enacted bans on "catalogs" (i.e., PLN subscription and book order forms). They also enacted a rule requiring prisoners to pay for subscriptions to non profit magazines sent via standard mail from their prison trust accounts, while for profit magazines sent at different postage rates were not subjected to these requirements. Book orders sent to Oregon prisoners via fourth-class book rate mail were also censored. In addition, PLN wasn't always afforded an opportunity to contest the censorship of its materials, in spite of the Ninth circuit's ruling explicitly stating that PLN had a due process right to notice of any censorship and an opportunity to administratively contest it.

PLN 's lawsuit contends that the new Oregon DOC postal rules and the actual censorship of PLN constitute a willful and wanton violation of its rights to free speech and due process of law. PLN is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive and declaratory relief and its attorney fees and costs for having to file yet another suit on an issue it has previously litigated and won against the same defendants. PLN is represented by Portland attorney Marc Blackman of the firm Ransom and Blackman and Michael Gendler of the Seattle law firm Bricklin and Gendler. See: Prison Legal News v. Schumacher, USDC Case No. CV02-

A few days before PLN filed suit the Oregon DOC modified some of its mail rules, eliminating the ban on standard mail and gift subscriptions. Other issues, relating to "catalogs" and due process when mail is censored remain, as does the matter of PLN 's damages for the censorship it endured in the period when the Ninth circuit issued its ruling in PLN v. Cook and the March 25, 2002, change in mail rules. PLN will report developments in the case as they occur.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Schumacher

The complaint and settlement in the case are available in the briefbank.