On November 27, 2001, Prison Legal News (PLN) and Rollin A. Wright filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. PLN claimed that the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights ...
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On November 27, 2001, Prison Legal News (PLN) and Rollin A. Wright filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. PLN claimed that the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) violated its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights through its mail policy. PLN was a Washington non-profit corporation that published materials of interest to inmates. The DOC prohibited the receipt by inmates of non-subscription bulk mail and catalogs and did not provide notice to inmates when this type of mail was rejected for delivery. The DOC also had a policy related to third-party legal materials, requiring them to consist of judicial opinions or other official court documents and requiring they be stamped "approved third-party legal materials" by correctional staff. In order to receive this stamp, materials needed to comply with a policy prohibiting any information that could create a risk of "violence and/or physical harm."
This was the fourth case since 1996 brought by PLN against the DOC. The previous cases are Miniken v. Walter, 978 F.Supp. 1356 (E.D. Wash. 1997) (PC-WA-011), MacFarlane v. Walter, No. 96-cv-03102-LRS (E.D. Wash. 1997) (PC-WA-012), and Humanists of Washington v. Lehman, No. 97-cv-05499-FDB-JKA (W.D. Wash. 1999) (PC-WA-013).
On June 17, 2003, the district court (Judge Robert S. Lasnick) held that the DOC's policies regarding bulk mail and catalogs violated the First and Fourteenth amendments. The DOC was permanently enjoined from prohibiting delivery of catalogs based only on the fact that they are catalogs and from prohibiting the delivery of bulk mail based only on the fact that the mail was sent at a standard rate. On the damages claim, the court held that the defendants, thirteen prison officials, were entitled to qualified immunity. Prison Legal News v. Lehman, 272 F.Supp.2d 1151 (W.D. Wash. 2003). The court also concluded that summary judgment was not appropriate for the claim regarding third-party legal materials because there were issues of fact appropriate for trial. The court limited its finding of qualified immunity to issues resolved in summary judgment; therefore, defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity regarding the third-party legal materials.
The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Judge Arthur Alarcon) affirmed the district court on all issues on February 1, 2005. Prison Legal News v. Lehman, 397 F.3d 692 (9th Cir. 2005). Judge Lasnick approved a settlement on the damages issues on August 8, 2005. Defendants agreed to pay $390,000 to PLN. The injunction remained in place. Angela Heverling - 04/17/2006