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New York Prisoner States Claim Regarding Interference With Legal Mail

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a prisoner
stated a claim under which relief could be granted as to the interference
with, and unauthorized opening of, his legal mail.

Albert Washington, a New York state prisoner, brought pro se 42 U.S.C. §
1983 action against Attica prison officials after they intercepted and
opened his legal mail while supposedly investigating a bomb plot.
(Washington was a Black Liberation Army political prisoner. He died in
prison in 2000.)

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York dismissed for
failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Washington

The Second Circuit reversed and remanded, holding:

1) Since Washington sought declatory relief and punitive damages he
preserved "'a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.'" Therefore, the
case was not rendered moot by his transfer to another prison.

2) Washington sufficiently stated a claim because his pro se complaint
could have been read to allege that (a) prison officials "intentionally
violated his right of reasonable access to the courts [and] his right to
receive and send legal mail," (b) prison officials failed to follow prison
directive 4421 regarding the opening of mail, and (c) the interference with
his legal mail was continuous and not supported by a showing of substantial
governmental interest.

See: Washington v. James, 782 F.2d 1134 (2nd Cir. 1986).

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