United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW FOLLOWING
William T. Lawrence, Senior Judge
trial was held in this case on May 14, 2019. The Court,
having considered the evidence submitted at trial, hereby
makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of
FINDINGS OF FACT
Phillip Littler is and was incarcerated at Wabash Valley
Correction Facility (“Wabash Valley”) at all
times relevant to this lawsuit. Indiana Department of
Corrections (“IDOC”) Policy 02-01-103
(“Policy”) requires individuals incarcerated at
IDOC facilities to seek prior approval before exchanging
correspondence with certain categories of individuals.
Specifically, offenders must seek prior approval before
exchanging correspondence with individuals who have been
released from an IDOC facility to county probation
March 2015, Jeanne Watkins was the mailroom supervisor at
Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. On or about March 16,
2015, the Wabash Valley mailroom received a letter addressed
to the Plaintiff, from his cousin, Aaron Young. The letter
from Mr. Young stated that he was serving probation in St.
Joseph County, Indiana. Ms. Watkins confiscated Mr.
Young's letter, believing that the Policy applied to it.
On or about March 26, 2015, IDOC officials subsequently
notified the Plaintiff that the letter had been confiscated.
about April 7, 2015, the Plaintiff filed a grievance
protesting the confiscation of the letter. On or about May
11, 2015, the Plaintiff's grievance was denied. On or
about May 28, 2015, the Plaintiff appealed the denial of his
grievance. On or about June 22, 2015, the Plaintiff's
appeal was denied. On or about September 2, 2015, Ms. Watkins
destroyed the confiscated letter. Ms. Watkins is no longer
the mailroom supervisor at Wabash Valley. Amber Wallace
became the new mailroom supervisor at Wabash Valley, and is
therefore substituted as the Defendant in this case pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(d).
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, challenging the constitutionality of the Policy. The
issue before the Court is whether the Plaintiff is entitled
to declaratory relief stating that the Policy violates the
First Amendment, as well as injunctive relief prohibiting the
future application of the Policy. The Plaintiff has the
burden of proving his claims by a preponderance of the
begin this inquiry, the Court must address the
Defendant's sovereign immunity and mootness arguments.
Pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment, private individuals are
generally prohibited from bringing actions against states.
However, the Supreme Court established an exception to this
general rule in Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908),
pursuant to which “private citizens [may] sue state
officials in their official capacities to require them to
comply with federal law on an ongoing basis.”
McDonough Assocs., Inc. v. Grunloh, 722 F.3d 1043,
1049 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing Ex Parte Young).
“‘In determining whether the doctrine of Ex
Parte Young avoids an Eleventh Amendment bar to suit, a
court need only conduct a straightforward inquiry into
whether [the] complaint alleges an ongoing violation of
federal law and seeks relief properly characterized as
prospective.'” Id. at 1051 (quoting
Verizon Md. Inc. v. Public Svc. Comm'n of Md.,
535 U.S. 635, 645 (2002)).
the Defendant argues that the case is moot because there is
no actual case or controversy. The Defendant cites City of
Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95 (1983), for the
proposition that a party seeking prospective relief must
establish a real and immediate threat of harm.
Court finds that the Plaintiff's claims are not subject
to sovereign immunity nor are they moot. The Plaintiff
remains incarcerated at Wabash Valley, and thus faces
exposure to the Policy on a full and continuous basis. Thus
the Policy presents an immediate threat of harm; if the
Plaintiff seeks to mail a letter to a restricted individual,
the Policy will bar him from doing so. Accordingly, his case
is not moot. Similarly, because the Plaintiff seeks to enjoin
a policy that continues to be applied to him, his claims fall
within the Ex Parte Young exception and may proceed.
Court must consider the merits of the Plaintiff's claims
under Section 1983. To prevail under Section 1983, the
Plaintiff must establish that he (1) had a constitutionally
protected right, (2) he was deprived of that right in
violation of the Constitution, (3) the Defendant
intentionally caused that deprivation, and (4) that the
Defendant acted under color of state law. McNabola v.
Chicago Transit Auth., 10 F.3d 501, 513 (7th Cir. 1993).
Regarding the confiscation of the Plaintiff's mail and
the prospective restriction of his communications, the Court
concludes that the Plaintiff has a protected First Amendment
interest in both sending and receiving mail, Turner v.
Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), and that if the Plaintiff
was deprived of his First Amendment rights, it was done
intentionally under the color of state law. Accordingly, the
remaining question before the Court is whether the Plaintiff
was deprived of his First Amendment rights.
a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional
rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related
to legitimate penological interests.” Turner,
482 U.S. at 89. In Turner, the Supreme Court upheld
a restriction on inmate-to-inmate correspondence. While the
Policy is broader than that upheld in Turner,
applying to all those who are held in a correctional
facility, on parole, sentenced to a community corrections
program, held in a county jail, released from a Department
facility to county probations supervisor, participating in a
Community Transition Program, or participating in a work
release program, the Court finds that it is nevertheless
reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest.
Indeed, the Supreme Court has noted that “communication
with other felons is a potential spur to criminal behavior:
this sort of contact frequently is prohibited even after an
inmate has been released on parole.” 482 U.S. at 91-92.
Plaintiff argues that the Policy does not serve a legitimate
penological purpose because the mail would still be inspected
and mail which included a security threat or communications
about illegal activity would still be confiscated even
without the Policy. In Turner, the Supreme Court
noted that in addition to a valid connection between the
regulation and the government interest, the court may
consider whether there are alternative means of exercising a
right, the impact of the accommodation of the right on
guards, other inmates, and prison resources, and the absence
of a ready alternative. 482 U.S. at 89-91. While simply
inspecting all the mail is a ready alternative, the Plaintiff
has an alternative means of exercising his rights by first
seeking approval, and not restricting any mail would likely
increase the amount of ...