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PLN Awarded $58,059 in Attorneys' Fees in Oregon Bulk Mail Suit; PLRA Doesn't Apply, Injunction Entered

In the April 2001, issue of PLN we reported Prison Legal News v. Cook , 238 F.3d 1145 (9th Cir. 2001), where the Court struck down as unconstitutional the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) ban on third class non-profit mail. The Court also held that the plaintiffs ( PLN and Oregon prisoners Mark Wilson, Michel Tucker and Le hung) were entitled to their attorney fees, to be determined by the district court on remand. The district court was also instructed to enter appropriate injunctive relief.

On August 7, 2001, U.S. district court judge Malcolm Marsh in Portland, Oregon, awarded PLN $58,059.47 in attorneys' fees and expenses in the case. The court rejected numerous objections by the defendants to reduce the requested fees.

The court held that the fees requested by the plaintiffs' attorneys were reasonable. Alison Hardy, a Portland attorney who did the bulk of the trial level work, billed at $175 an hour; Marc Blackman, a Portland attorney who assisted Ms. Hardy billed his time at $200 an hour, and Sam Stiltner, the Seattle attorney who did PLN 's appeal to the Ninth Circuit, charged $175 an hour for his time and $35 an hour for the time of his legal assistant, Janet Stanton. The court held that no reductions were required in the total amounts requested since the claims were novel, the plaintiffs prevailed on their two claims and the rates charged by the attorneys were reasonable.

Most significantly, the court rejected the defendants' argument that 42 U.S.C. § 1997(e)(d) limits the attorneys' fees available in this case. The court agreed with Turner v. Wilkinson , 92 F. Supp.2d 697 (SD OH 1999) and held that the fee cap did not apply in a case such as this one where the claim was jointly brought by prisoners and non-prisoners. This is an important issue for censorship suits as it allows the sender and intended recipient of censored mail to jointly file suit and seek attorneys' fees uncapped by the Prison Litigation Reform Act if they prevail.

The court also entered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The injunction reads: "It is hereby ordered, adjudged and declared that Oregon Administrative Rule (OAR) 2911310025(8) (1998), pursuant to which the Oregon Department of Corrections prohibits all incoming mail at institutions under its management except express mail, priority mail, first class mail or periodicals mail, is unconstitutional as applied to subscription non profit mail.

"It is further ordered and adjudged that defendants are permanently enjoined from enforcing OAR 2911310025(8)(1998) or any other rule that prohibits inmates at institutions under the management of the Oregon DOC from receiving subscription non profit organization mail mailed at standard mail rates.

"It is further ordered and adjudged that upon rejection of any item of subscription non profit organization mail mailed at standard mail rates, defendants shall afford the sender and the intended recipient notice and an opportunity to contest the rejection.

"It is further ordered and adjudged that plaintiffs are entitled to an award of attorney fees and expenses in the amount of $58,059.47."

The defendants did not appeal the injunction or the fee award. The fee ruling and injunction are unpublished. See: Prison Legal News v. Cook , USDC D ORS, Case No. 981344MA.

Since the injunction was entered the Oregon DOC officials are haphazardly delivering PLN magazine. However, they still refuse to deliver books sent via fourth-class book rate and mailings other than the magazine mailed at standard non-profit rates. PLN is in the process of initiating further litigation against the Oregon DOC to resolve this matter. We will inform readers as this situation unfolds.

Once again PLN would like to thank our attorneys who won PLN v. Cook and made it possible for Oregon prisoners to receive PLN for the first time in ten years, as well as other non profit publications. Alison Hardy and Marc Blackman of Portland argued the case at the trial level; Sam Stiltner and Janet Stanton of Seattle filed the appeal on plaintiffs' behalf. Joseph Bringman of the Seattle firm of Perkins Coie filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Washington ACLU and other amice supporting the plaintiffs.

This case serves as further testimony of the extreme lengths to which prison officials will go in order to keep PLN out of their prison systems.

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Related legal case

Prison Legal News v. Cook

The complaint, fee ruling and injunction in the case are available in the briefbank.