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BOP Must Let Prisoners Control Their Outside Assets; Pays $10,500 To Settle Grievances

by John E. Dannenberg

In a convoluted pro per suit, two federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) prisoners, who had been retaliated against after they grieved the BOP's having infracted them for controlling their legitimately-acquired outside assets from inside the walls [running a business], won a damage settlement totaling $10,500 and an agreement that they will be permitted in future decisions to make arrangements to have others care for their assets.

BOP prisoners Keith Maydak and Paul Lee sued the U.S. Attorney, U.S. Secret Service, Grand Jury foreperson and BOP officials regarding what amounted to aggravated harassment in an investigation into their in-prison commodities trading activities. They complained both of violation of their rights to control their assets from within prison as well as Security Housing Unit (SHU) disciplinary mistreatment in retaliation for grieving their complaints.

In a 74-page Magistrates Findings and Recommendations, the United States District Court (N.D. New York) dealt with 23 causes of action in 336 numbered paragraphs in the amended complaint. The bulk of the legal scrum was over procedural issues regarding motions to dismiss, to file a supplemental complaint, to take judicial notice, and motions/cross-motions for summary judgment.

The BOP's angst was that Maydak was intercepted by BOP investigators on the telephone trading commodities, while using another prisoners telephone account to do so. In his subsequent punishment for the resulting disciplinary infraction, Maydak complained of loss of property, being housed in filthy conditions, being given spoiled food, having dysfunctional cell plumbing and being denied recreation and adequate law library access. Co-plaintiff Lee, who had sought services of a commodity broker through the mail, was similarly infracted for running a business and misuse of mail in violation of federal prison rules.

The Secret Service was called in to investigate Maydak and Lee, and became defendants in the ensuing suit for violation of plaintiffs rights to financial privacy, protected under 12 U.S.C. §§ 3401-22. However, these counts were dismissed because the court ruled that commodities brokerage accounts did not qualify as financial institutions, within the literal meaning of the protective statute.

Plaintiffs were more successful in going after Warden Wiley regarding their complaints of unconstitutional conditions of SHU confinement. The court found genuine issues of fact and denied Wiley qualified immunity.
Plaintiffs Tort Claims Act for damages was not dismissed on summary judgment. Significantly, the court denied plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, which had alleged that preclusion from commodities trading violated their First Amendment rights. But Lee, whose $22,000 in personal assets was seized by the BOP, was permitted to continue to seek recovery on Fourteenth Amendment claims of unlawful seizure of property without due process of law. The court concluded by permitting an amended complaint consistent with its findings.

Subsequently, the parties entered into a settlement agreement which paid Maydak $9,500 and Lee $1,000 to dispose of all claims in the action, past and future. The BOP agreed to make every reasonable effort to consistently and correctly apply to the Plaintiffs the agencies regulations and program statements as they relate to an inmate controlling and managing his legally and legitimately acquired assets while incarcerated. Specifically, the Plaintiffs will be permitted, on an occasion where a decision must be made which will substantially affect the inmate's assets, to make arrangements to handle the matter. It was not reported if Lee got his seized money back. See: Maydak v. Christine, U.S. District Court (N.D. New York), Case No. 9:98-CV-1186 (DNH/DEP).

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Related legal case

Maydak v. Christine