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Washington Photo Confiscation/Destruction Not Negligent

The Washington State Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's dismissal of a prisoner's negligence claim for the confiscation and destruction of family photographs.

Kurt Engle was convicted of raping and molesting his minor daughter and son. The trial court ordered that Engle was to have "absolutely no contact with any of the victims of this case or their families" or any minor children.

Despite the order, Engle possessed photographs of his victims for about six years. During a 2003 search, guards discovered and confiscated 279 family photographs, including photos of his victims.

Engle was issued a misconduct report for violating the no-contact order and a disciplinary hearings officer determined that contact with photographs constituted indirect contact with the victims and their family members, in violation of the no-contact order.

Pursuant to Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) policy, Engle was given 30-days to mail the photographs to someone outside the prison, at his expense, or they would be destroyed.

On March 17, 2003, Engle had sufficient funds to pay the $4.08 postage due on the photos but then made multiple canteen purchases, leaving him with an April 10, 2003 account balance of $.06. Prison officials destroyed the photographs on April 15, 2003.

Engle brought suit in state court, alleging that prison officials negligently confiscated and destroyed the photographs. The trial court granted prison officials summary judgment and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The appellate court held that Engle could not state a negligence claim because the WDOC did not owe any duty to him in either the confiscation or destruction of his photographs. See: Engle v. State of Washington, 165 Wash.2d 1004, 198 P.3d 511 (Wa. 2008) (Table).

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Related legal case

Engle v. State of Washington