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Federal Magistrate Rules on Case Filed by State Prisoner Denied Delivery of Prison Legal News

A United States Magistrate in the State of Oklahoma has issued a Report and Recommendation regarding Oklahoma prison officials' motion for summary judgment seeking to dismiss an Oklahoma prisoner's civil rights and habeas corpus complaint filed based upon the denied delivery of Prison Legal News (PLN) and other publications. The magistrate also reviewed other legal claims founded upon due process grounds regarding conditions of confinement, alleged retaliation, as well as asking for declarative and injunctive relief, judicial notice of documents, and claims against prison officials in their official capacity.

The magistrate recommended that "Defendant's motion, construed as a motion for summary granted in part and denied in part."

Plaintiff was a prisoner in the Davis Correction Facility in Holdenville, Oklahoma serving a life sentence for a first-degree murder conviction. He complained of "consistent delays over a two year period in the delivery of [PLN] ... and the denial of his February 2007 issue of PLN." He also alleged that other publications had been delayed, stating "that prison officials conspired to retaliate against him for exercising his First Amendment right."

The court noted that prisoners "have a First Amendment right to receive information while in prison to the extent the right is not inconsistent with prisoner status or the legitimate penological objectives of the prison." The court applied the standard of Turner v. Safley, 482 US 78, 107, S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed. 2d 64 (1987). The four factors that they reviewed based upon Turner were the following: “(1) whether a valid and rational connection exists between the regulation and the asserted legitimate governmental interest; (2) whether alternative means of exercising the constitutional right remain available to [prisoners]; (3) any effect accommodating the right would have on guards and inmates, and (4) the absence of ready alternatives."

On March 1, 2007, the plaintiff had been notified that he had received an issue of PLN that “violated inmate correspondence guidelines.” Plaintiff then filed a grievance, which was denied, as was the administrative appeal of that denial. This court reversed this decision, stating, "We cannot conclude that [the warden's] actions were justified by security concerns or any other valid penological objectives." Plaintiff's other counts regarding the non-receipt of other subsequent issues of PLN were denied based upon the fact that he could not establish whether or not they had been mailed to him.

The court also found that although it would not dismiss plaintiff's complaint on the grounds of failure to exhaust administrative remedies, it did agree with prison officials that plaintiff did not state a cause of action on his due-process claim regarding conditions of confinement and retaliation.

In normal circumstances, the case would normally be set for trial on the remaining issues, but in this instance the plaintiff passed away and the case was dismissed for want of prosecution. See: Sidney Allen Worthen v. Oklahoma Department of Corrections, et al., No. CIV-07-687-R, 2010 WL 3295010 (W.D. Okla. 2010).

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Related legal case

Sidney Allen Worthen v. Oklahoma Department of Corrections, et al.