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Texas Prisoner Writers Retaliation Lawsuit Proceeds

Texas Prisoner Writers Retaliation Lawsuit Proceeds

by David M. Reutter

A Texas federal district court has granted in part and denied in part prison officials motion to dismiss Texas prisoners lawsuit alleging he was retaliated against for having articles published criticizing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Correctional Institutions Division (TCDJ).
Prior to his February 21, 2005, release on mandatory supervision, William Bryan Sorens spent most of his 21 years in prison writing and selling articles for publications without interference from prison officials. That changed after Sorens published the first in a series of two articles critical of TCDJ.

The first article was to appear in the March 2003 edition of Playboy Magazine. The second article, titled Locked down and Locked out: An Inside View of Prison Censorship, was purchased by Penthouse Magazine for its April 2003 issue.

Prison officials charged Sorens with disciplinary infractions for having established an unauthorized business within TDCJ. After a sham disciplinary hearing on March 18, 2003, Sorens was found guilty, receiving 30 days of commissary and cell restriction, 180 days loss of good time, and reduction in class from state approved Trusty III to Line I.

Sorens then received several retaliatory job changes that did not comport to his medical classification and restrictions, which were only changed after his family complained, culminating in a transfer to a maximum security prison that houses death row prisoners.

When a May 11, 2003, Associated Press article questioned the propriety of Sorens disciplinary case, TCDJs Director restored Sorens lost gain time. Nonetheless, Sorens release date was still extended 40 days due to the line change. After release, Sorens brought the civil rights action at issue.

Sorens alleged that the application of TDCJs rule to him violated his rights to due process and free expression, caused him to lose good-time credits, which delayed his release from TDCJ, and caused him to suffer money damages because TDCJ wrongfully prohibited him from writing for pay. The defendants moved to dismiss.

First, the district court held the PLRA does not apply because Sorens was not imprisoned when he filed his complaint. The Court then held that it could not conclude that Sorens would be unable to prove a set of facts the Warden Gary Mohr, Assistant Warden Robert Chance, and Kelli Ward had retaliated against him for publishing articles critical of TDCJ. Director Janie Cockrell, however, took no action that could be found to be retaliatory.

The Court, moreover, held that the filing of retaliatory disciplinary charges can give rise to an independent § 1983 action or can be part of a procedural due process review of a disciplinary action, and it violates due process to punish prisoners for acts that they could not have known were prohibited. Sorens stated sufficient facts to state such a claim.
The Court, additionally, found Sorens complaint to be insufficient to make a determination of defendants qualified immunity claim. As such, the Court granted Cockrells motion to dismiss, denied all other defendants motion, and ordered Sorens to file an amended complaint within 30 days detailing how each defendant infringed his rights. See: Sorens v. Estate of Warden Gary Mohr, USDC, SD TX, Case No: H-05-1195. PLN will report the outcome of the case. This ruling is available on PLNs website.

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Related legal case

Sorens v. Estate of Warden Gary Mohr