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Federal Prisoner Wins Right To Marry, Fees Awarded

A federal prisoner has settled his lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for $175 and permission to marry his fiancée. The court also awarded attorney fees of $21,537.50 in a separate proceeding.

On November 2, 2000, while imprisoned at U.S.P. Lewisburg in Pennsylvania, plaintiff Rodney Smith sought permission to marry his fiancée, Linda Weitlich. Smith's request was denied first by the unit warden and then on appeal by the BOP Regional Office. On July 17, 2001, the BOP National Office also denied Smith's request stating that there is no right to marriage," according to Smith's complaint.

On March 5, 2002, Smith filed a civil rights action against the BOP and prison officials pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 91 S.Ct. 1999, (1971) seeking permission to marry Ms. Weitlich.

After he was transferred to U.S.P. Atwater, and while his case was still pending, Smith again sought the BOP's permission to marry in December 2002. The Atwater unit manager noted on Smith's request that the Atwater Unit Team did not believe the marriage constituted a threat to the security or orderly running of the institution.

On January 22, 2003, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania enjoined the BOB from prohibiting Smith's marriage to Weitlich. Nevertheless, Smith's application was again denied in February 2003.

On April 11, 2003, the district court recharacterized Smith's original complaint from a Bivens action to a lawsuit under the Administrative Procedures Act and ordered him to file a second amended complaint. However, in September 2003, without admitting liability, the BOP agreed to settle the case by paying Smith $175 and allowing him to marry his fiancée.
At a separate proceeding, the court held that the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1988) applied to this case and awarded attorney fees of $21,537.50. Smith was represented by David Glassman of the Lewisburg Prison Project in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. See: Smith v. White, USDC MD PA, Case No. I:CV-02-0353.


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Related legal case

Smith v. White