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Case Name Prison Legal News v. Sullivan County JC-TN-0011
Docket / Court 2:13-cv-00266 ( E.D. Tenn )
State/Territory Tennessee
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Special Collection Prison Legal News
Case Summary
On October 10, 2013, Prison Legal News (“PLN”) filed this lawsuit on behalf of itself and Sullivan County Jail prisoners in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. The plaintiff sued Sullivan County under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff, represented by both ... read more >
On October 10, 2013, Prison Legal News (“PLN”) filed this lawsuit on behalf of itself and Sullivan County Jail prisoners in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. The plaintiff sued Sullivan County under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff, represented by both private and public interest legal counsel, sought declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief, claiming violations of the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The plaintiff claimed that Sullivan County and its sheriff implemented unconstitutional policies that censored prisoner’s access to PLN’s monthly publication and correspondence mailed to prisoners. The policy (Policy I), established in October 2011, required that all mail communication fit on a standard postcard. Any mail the Jail received that did not fit the permitted standard was returned to the sender. The plaintiff also argued that the jail’s current policies were a form of content-based discrimination because the defendants maintained and permitted other magazines inside the jail and prohibited the plaintiff’s materials.

On October 30, 2013, plaintiff filed a motion for preliminary injunction, enjoining the defendants from implementing their policy prohibiting non-postcard mail communication to prisoners as a violation of both sender and recipients’ First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights. District Judge J Ronnie Greer ordered for defendants to provide a response to plaintiff’s motion by November 22, 2013. On November 21, 2013, the defendants filed a motion requesting a time extension to submit their response to the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction, claiming that it was unaware of the previously provided deadline. Judge Greer granted that request and the defendants filed their response on December 9, 2013. The defendants argued that the preliminary injunction request was inappropriate and unnecessary given jail safety concerns, permittance of plaintiff’s content to prisoners if properly addressed to an individual, and the October 24, 2013, policy that abandoned the previous postcard-only policy. During 2014, both parties filed subsequent supplement briefs in support and opposition of the preliminary motion under local rule 7.1(d).

On March 26, 2015, Judge Greer submitted an order denying the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction because the issue of due process was not properly before the Court. Judge Greer permitted the plaintiff’s ten days to amend its complaint and allege claims based on Sullivan County Jail’s new policy. The plaintiff filed a new motion for preliminary injunction on the same day. On March 27, 2015, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint, in compliance with the District Court’s order. Plaintiff argued that the new jail policy (Policy II) did not go into effect until November 4, 2013, after receiving the plaintiff’s first complaint. Further, the policy provided no clear procedure regarding magazines, the “mail rejection” section remained identical to Policy I and violated senders’ due process rights, and the “mail collection and delivery” section violates both sender and recipient due process rights. Defendants filed their answer and response to the motion for preliminary injunction on April 10, 2015. In the answer and response, the defendants argued that the new policy that went into effect on April 9, 2015 (Policy III), addressed the plaintiff’s remaining concerns and rendered the plaintiff’s argument moot. The plaintiff filed another response and supplemental brief on June 4, 2015.

The plaintiff renewed its motion for preliminary injunction on June 19, 2015. On June 24, 2015, the defendants filed a motion to strike, on grounds that the renewed preliminary injunction did not fairly comply with local rules and unfairly imposed on the time and resources of the defendants. Additionally, the defendants argued the plaintiff lacked standing to sue on behalf of prisoners. On March 16, 2016, Judge Greer granted the defendant’s motion to strike and granted the plaintiff motion for preliminary injunction filed on March 26, 2015. The Court determined that the plaintiff did have standing to sue on behalf of prisoners because they both shared common constitutional interests. A jury trial was set for August 15, 2017, however, both parties reached an agreement on July 18, 2016. Both parties agreed to settle the case on grounds that the defendants pay $50,000.00 in damages and attorney’s fees. On July 21, 2016, the Court Clerk filed an offer of judgment in favor of the plaintiff. On August 11, 2016, the plaintiff filed a satisfaction of judgment notice. The case is closed.

Kimberly Goshey - 06/04/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Freedom of speech/association
Content of Injunction
Preliminary relief granted
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Mail
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Sullivan County
Plaintiff Description The project of Washington Non-Profit Corporation, Human Rights Defense Center. Prison Legal News publishes and distributes a monthly journal of corrections news and legal issues affecting prisoners to prisoners, lawyers, courts, libraries, and the public.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Damages
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Confession of Judgment
Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Filing Year 2013
Case Closing Year 2016
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  Prison Legal News Homepage
Prison Legal News
By: Prison Legal News
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
2:13−cv−00266 (E.D. Tenn)
JC-TN-0011-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/11/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
JC-TN-0011-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/10/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying Motion for Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 24] (E.D. Tenn)
JC-TN-0011-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/26/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amended Complaint [ECF# 29]
JC-TN-0011-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/26/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting Motion for Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 40] (E.D. Tenn)
JC-TN-0011-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/16/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judgment in Civil Action [ECF# 49]
JC-TN-0011-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/21/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Corker, Clifton L. Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
JC-TN-0011-9000
Greer, J. Ronnie (E.D. Tenn) show/hide docs
JC-TN-0011-0003 | JC-TN-0011-0004 | JC-TN-0011-0005 | JC-TN-0011-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Herzfeld, Tricia (Tennessee) show/hide docs
JC-TN-0011-0001 | JC-TN-0011-0002 | JC-TN-0011-9000
Ozment, Harry Elliot (Tennessee) show/hide docs
JC-TN-0011-0001 | JC-TN-0011-0002 | JC-TN-0011-9000
Weber, Lance Theodore (Florida) show/hide docs
JC-TN-0011-0001 | JC-TN-0011-0002 | JC-TN-0011-9000
York, William Patrick II (Tennessee) show/hide docs
JC-TN-0011-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Street, Daniel P. (Tennessee) show/hide docs
JC-TN-0011-9000

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