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Ohio County Jail Settles PLN Censorship Suit for $45,000

by Steve Horn

In response to a censorship lawsuit filed in 2017 by Prison Legal News’parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), Greene County, Ohio agreed to settle the case for $45,000.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio’s Western Division, the case settled on October 12, 2018. The lawsuit had raised claims under both the First and Fourteenth Amendments. 

In its October 2017 complaint, HRDC wrote that the Greene County jail had “adopted and implemented mail policies prohibiting delivery of written speech from Plaintiff and other speakers, and failed to provide due process notice of and an opportunity to challenge the censorship as required under the Constitution.”

The reading materials sent to prisoners at the jail included issues of PLN, the Habeas Citebook, informational brochures and court opinions. Many of those were not delivered, but rather sent back to HRDC with “Return to Sender” notations. In total, the Greene County jail censored 44 pieces of mail. 

“Such restrictions on written speech sent to prisoners at the [Greene County Jail] are not rationally related to any legitimate penological interest and violate HRDC’s First Amendment right to communicate its speech with prisoners,” the complaint stated. “In all of the above instances of censorship of HRDC’s communications, Defendants failed to provide any notice to HRDC of their rejection of its mail, violating the Fourteenth Amendment rights of the Plaintiff.”

In the settlement, Greene County did not admit to any liability. 

This case followed on the heels of a $25,000 judgment in federal court in North Carolina in a similar censorship suit filed by HRDC against the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office. [See: PLN, Aug. 2018, p.26].

In the Greene County litigation, HRDC was represented by its general counsel, Sabarish Neelakanta, and staff attorneys Masimba Mutamba and Daniel Marshall. It also retained the law firm of Newman & Meeks as local counsel, as well as Bruce E.H. Johnson with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP to round out its legal team. 

“The First Amendment doesn’t defend itself,” HRDC executive director Paul Wright told the Dayton Daily News following the settlement. “I think this illustrates the importance of federal courts to safeguard our First Amendment rights ... to be able to send and receive ideas and information in this country.” See: Human Rights Defense Center v. Greene County, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ohio), Case No. 3:17-cv-00381-SLO. 


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Related legal case

Human Rights Defense Center v. Greene County