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Seventh Circuit Remands Lawsuit Over Book Confiscation at Cook County Jail

by Derek Gilna

In an August 23, 2018 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed in part and remanded a district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a former Cook County, Illinois prisoner who alleged jail officials had confiscated books and magazines sent to him by a friend.

Gregory Koger, who was held at the Cook County jail for 300 days in 2013, and his friend, Barbara Lyons, alleged that jail officials had “violated the First Amendment ... by limiting inmates to three pieces of reading matter (plus religious material) at a time,” and by confiscating more than 30 books from Koger. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.40].

The jail argued – and the district court agreed – that Lyons lacked standing to sue, that her donations of books all ended up in Koger’s hands (even though they were later confiscated) and that the jail’s policy did not affect any of her legal interests. The jail also argued that since Koger had been released, he lacked justiciable claims for an injunction; further, he could not raise a damages claim due to the rulings in Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981) and Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517 (1984).

The Seventh Circuit was troubled by the fact that the books sent to Koger were allowed by the jail’s policy, especially since that policy did not specify what happens to books that are confiscated. Koger claimed the books were not returned to him once he was released. The Court of Appeals further noted Parratt and Hudson did not prevent a challenge to such policies, and were not applicable in this case.

As a result of factual disputes, the appellate court wrote, “it remains unclear just what policy the Jail has adopted for dealing with confiscated reading matter.... It is best to return all merits-related questions to the district court, which can determine exactly what policy the Jail is employing, how (if at all) it affects Koger,” and whether damages are appropriate. The dismissal of Lyons’ claim was affirmed, but the lower court’s order as to Koger’s damages claim was vacated.

Koger and Lyons were represented on appeal by attorneys Mark G. Weinberg and Adele D. Nicholas. See: Lyons v. Dart, 901 F.3d 828 (7th Cir. 2018). 


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Related legal case

Lyons v. Dart