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$10,000 Awarded in Colorado Magazine Confiscation

A Denver Federal Judge has awarded $10,000 plus costs and attorney fees to a state prisoner whose sexually explicit magazines were confiscated for content reasons.

Michael Milligan, a prisoner in the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC), was transferred without warning from the medium security Fremont Correctional Facility (FCF) to the close security Centennial Correctional Facility (CCF) on November 18, 1997. He was strip searched and his property searched both before transfer and after arrival at CCF. After receiving his property he was locked down in A Unit. The next day he was escorted to G Unit where his property was again searched while he was locked down. This time, Lt. Brian Matthews opened and searched sealed outgoing legal mail addressed to the Denver federal district court and also confiscated sexually explicit magazines.

When questioned by Milligan, Matthews claimed administrative regulations allowed him to open outgoing legal mail. Matthews also claimed the sexually explicit magazines were not allowed at CCF. Milligan was forced to mail out the legal mail and the magazines. Matthews assured Milligan that the matter ended there without any disciplinary action since it was not Milligan's fault that CCF allowed in the magazines.

That same day, Milligan filed a written complaint with the warden concerning opening outgoing legal mail. In retaliation, Matthews filed disciplinary charges against Milligan for unauthorized possession of the magazines. According to his complaint, Milligan asked Matthews at his disciplinary hearing why he retaliated with the disciplinary charges. Matthews said "I filed the charges because you would not drop my opening your legal mail. I felt threatened with you pursuing legal actions against me so I filed the charges against you." Milligan was convicted and received 20 days segregation and 30 days loss of good time.

Over the next five years, Milligan filed a § 1983 complaint claiming retaliation and a First Amendment violation for confiscating and thus censuring the magazines. The retaliation claim was dismissed but reinstated after the disciplinary conviction was overturned in a separate state court action. A two-day bench trial was held between September 15 and 17, 2003. The Court ruled that Milligan had "failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that but for (Matthew's) retaliatory motives the adverse consequences would not have occurred." But on the censorship claim the Court found that "the magazines were confiscated for content reasons in violation of (Milligan's) rights because the motivation was not reasonably related to legitimate penological purpose."

Milligan was awarded $100 in compensatory damages, $10,000 in punitive damages and was instructed to file a motion for attorney's fees and costs. See: Milligan v. Matthews, USDC D CO, Case No. 99-WM-2030(BMB).

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Related legal case

Milligan v. Matthews