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$200 Damages in Kansas Postcard-Only Policy

by Mark Wilson

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed a lower court's judgment that a Kansas jail's postcard-only policy violated the First Amendment.

Nicholas Cox was detained in the Johnson County Adult Detention Center awaiting trial on Kansas domestic violence criminal charges.

The jail instituted a postcard-only policy banning all non-legal mail, except postcards. Pursuant to that policy, jail officials rejected four letters that were sent to Cox.

Cox brought federal suit challenging the rejection of his mail pursuant to the postcard-only policy, and several other issues. The district court denied Defendants summary judgment on the postcard-only claim, concluding that the jail's postcard-only policy violated Cox's First Amendment rights.

The court then held a bench trial to determine Cox's damages. The court ultimately awarded him $200 ($50 for his expenses in tracking down each of the rejected letters).

The Tenth Circuit rejected Cox's argument on appeal that the $200 damage award was inadequate and the district court should have awarded him "a nominal per diem award for the" 735 days he was subjected to the postcard-only policy.

"Mr. Cox's actual injuries concerned only four returned letters," the court observed. He "cites no evidence that the $200 awarded by the district court failed to compensate him for his actual injuries. In short, the district court's damages calculation is not based on an erroneous

interpretation of the law or a clearly erroneous view of the facts."

See: Cox v. Denning, Fed. Appx. (10th Cir. 2016).

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Related legal case

Cox v. Denning