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Vermont Supreme Court Remands Prison Correspondence Claim

by Ed Lyon

Vermont state prisoner Jeffrey-Michael Brandt won a correspondence claim through a Stipulation and Agreement of Dismissal (SAD) in a lawsuit filed in state court against the Vermont Department of Corrections (VDOC). The SAD allowed Brandt to correspond by mail with prisoners in states other than Vermont.

The VDOC later transferred Brandt to a facility in Pennsylvania under the Interstate Corrections Compact (ICC). The Pennsylvania prison did not have to comply with the SAD, as the ICC “allows Pennsylvania to apply its own inmate-correspondence policy.”

Brandt sought an order from the trial court to make the VDOC send him to a non-ICC prison where he could resume his correspondence under the SAD. The trial court denied relief. 

Brandt appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, which accepted the case. During the pendency of the Supreme Court’s review, the VDOC had Brandt transferred to a private prison in Mississippi, which is a non-ICC facility.

Once at the Mississippi private prison, operated by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), Brandt resumed sending letters to his incarcerated out-of-state correspondents. The letters were returned to him. He said he sent numerous written complaints about this to prison officials, who did not respond. 

The Vermont Supreme Court noted that Brandt’s placement at a non-ICC prison where the SAD was enforceable could result in his appeal being rendered moot. However, his claims that officials at the Mississippi private prison were refusing to abide by the SAD needed to be examined, as the VDOC said it was unaware of those problems.

Since appellate courts typically do not hold hearings on disputed facts or investigate claims, the case was remanded to the trial court where the SAD originated. That court was instructed to determine whether the Mississippi prison had violated the SAD and, if so, why. 

Brandt also attempted to argue that the VDOC had initially transferred him to the Pennsylvania prison to deliberately stymie the SAD; however, since he did not raise that issue in the trial court first, the Supreme Court refused to entertain it. See: Brandt v. Menard, 2019 VT 32 (VT 2019). 

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Related legal case

Brandt v. Menard