Ronald Washington v. Barry Davis, et al
OPINION filed : VACATED and REMANDED, decision not for publication pursuant to local rule 28(g). Alice M. Batchelder, Chief Circuit Judge; John M. Rogers, Circuit Judge and Raymond M. Kethledge, Circuit Judge.
Case: 09-2080 Document: 006110908582 Filed: 03/28/2011 Page: 1
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 11a0182n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Mar 28, 2011
LEONARD GREEN, Clerk
BARRY DAVIS, Warden; CATHERINE BAUMAN;
UNKNOWN PARTIES, named as “John/Jane Does”,
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF
Before: BATCHELDER, ROGERS, and KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judges.
KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judge. Ronald Washington, a Michigan prisoner proceeding pro se,
appeals a district court order dismissing his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action. We vacate the order
Washington sued Newberry Correctional Facility Warden Barry Davis and Deputy Warden
Catherine Bauman, claiming that they violated his right of access to courts by allowing prison staff
to read his legal mail. Washington sought damages and injunctive relief. The district court screened
the complaint pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) and dismissed it for failure
to state a claim. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The court held that the
prison’s policy of reviewing Washington’s legal mail before providing him with photocopying
Case: 09-2080 Document: 006110908582 Filed: 03/28/2011 Page: 2
Washington v. Davis
services was permissible under Bell-Bey v. Williams, 87 F.3d 832 (6th Cir. 1996). The court did not
address Washington’s other claims.
This appeal followed.
We review the district court’s decision de novo. Grinter v. Knight, 532 F.3d 567, 571-72
(6th Cir. 2008). In reviewing a dismissal for failure to state a claim, we must determine whether the
complaint “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal quotation marks
omitted). To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Washington must allege the violation of a right
secured by the federal Constitution or laws and must show that the violation was committed by a
person acting under color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). The main issue
on appeal is whether Washington alleged the violation of a constitutional right.
Our court “has held that a prisoner has a fundamental interest in preserving the confidentiality
of his legal mail.” Bell-Bey, 87 F.3d at 837. Thus, prison policies that regulate outgoing legal mail
must further “an important or substantial governmental interest unrelated to the suppression of
expression,” and may not limit prisoners’ First Amendment freedoms more than necessary to protect
the governmental interest involved. Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 413-14 (1974); see also
Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 411 (1989) (clarifying that Martinez does not impose a “least
restrictive means” test).
Washington’s complaint broadly alleges that the defendants’ custom is to require prisoners
to leave their legal mail “with [prison] library staff for up to three days to read outside the prisoner’s
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Washington v. Davis
presence when he needs photocopies of legal documents and is indigent.” Thus, taken on its face,
the complaint alleges unrestricted review of legal mail, for a lengthy period of time, outside the
prisoner’s presence. Those facts, if proven, are enough to trigger the scrutiny described in Martinez.
Moreover, because the district court dismissed Washington’s complaint before the defendants were
served, there is nothing in the record to show that their putative custom both furthered an important
government interest and was not more restrictive than generally necessary to protect the
government’s interest. See Martinez, 416 U.S. at 413-14; Bell-Bey, 87 F.3d at 838. At this very
early stage in the proceedings, therefore, Washington’s allegations support a plausible claim that the
policy in question is unconstitutional. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
The district court did not address Washington’s allegations that prison staff refused to
photocopy legal research materials and documents for indigent prisoners. The court should address
those issues on remand. In light of our decision, Washington’s remaining arguments on appeal are
We vacate the district court’s judgment and remand the case for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion.
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