Raymond Miller v. Hallie Jones, et al
OPINION filed : We REVERSE the district court's judgment, VACATE its order denying Miller leave to amend his complaint, and REMAND the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, decision not for publication pursuant to local rule 206. Eugene E. Siler , Jr., Circuit Judge; Raymond M. Kethledge, authoring Circuit Judge and James L. Graham, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Ohio, sitting by designation.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 12a0584n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Jun 06, 2012
LEONARD GREEN, Clerk
HALLIE JONES, et al.,
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF
Before: SILER and KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judges; GRAHAM, District Judge.*
KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judge. Raymond Miller is a Kentucky prisoner. He challenges a
prison rule that requires indigent inmates to leave their legal mail unsealed for inspection. The
district court granted summary judgment to the defendants because, it concluded, there is no
evidence that prison staff had in fact inspected Miller’s mail. We reverse.
On December 16, 2008, Miller filed his first pro se complaint in this case. He challenged an
alleged prison policy under which prison staff would read “all legal mail going out” after September
22, 2008. The district court reviewed the allegation under the liberal pleading standard applicable
to pro se litigants and held that Miller had stated a claim under the First Amendment.
The Honorable James L. Graham, United States District Judge for the Southern District of
Ohio, sitting by designation.
Miller v Jones, et al.
After the discovery period ended, Miller filed his first motion to amend the complaint. He
clarified his allegations concerning the prison’s mail policy: According to Miller, the prison staff
would read the outgoing legal mail of indigent prisoners who had obtained a postage subsidy from
the prison. The prison did so to verify that the mail was legal and thus eligible for the subsidy.
The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. They argued that Miller had “failed
to specify a[n]  instance where any of his outgoing mail was actually inspected.” The defendants
therefore insisted that Miller lacked standing to sue.
A month later, Miller filed a second proposed amended complaint. There, Miller alleged that
“interference with [his] legal mail” under the inspection policy had violated his First Amendment
rights. In addition to his original claim for damages, Miller proposed a new claim for injunctive
relief ordering the prison to revise its inspection policy. (Miller also filed a third proposed amended
complaint, which added little.)
The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Miller had failed,
the court said, to assert that the defendants had read his mail under the policy. Thus, the court
concluded that Miller had suffered no injury in fact and lacked standing to sue. It also denied
Miller’s motions to amend his complaint. Finally, the court said that Miller’s amendments
concerning the inspection policy would be futile, since Miller lacked standing.
Miller has since obtained counsel and now appeals.
Miller argues that the inspection policy violates his First Amendment right to confidential
legal mail and that he is therefore entitled to damages. See Miller Br. at 18; Washington v. Davis,
Miller v Jones, et al.
416 F. App’x 563, 564 (6th Cir. 2011). To have standing to pursue that claim, Miller must show that
the prison has enforced the purportedly unconstitutional policy against him. See generally City of
Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 109 (1983). He contends that the district court overlooked
evidence that the prison has done so.
Miller failed to cite the overlooked evidence in his response to the motion for summary
judgment. But courts should consider the allegations in a pro se prisoner’s verified complaints
(which are effectively affidavits) before entering judgment against him, even if the prisoner fails to
cite that evidence in response to a motion for summary judgment. See Williams v. Browman, 981
F.2d 901, 902-04, 905 (6th Cir. 1992); see generally El Bey v. Roop, 530 F.3d 407, 414 (6th Cir.
2008). Miller’s complaint and second proposed amended complaint were both verified. We thus
consider whether the statements in those complaints, and similarly accessible evidence, would permit
a reasonable jury to conclude that prison staff inspected Miller’s mail.
First, Miller submitted evidence that he has been indigent since the effective date of the
policy. In a November 2008 grievance, Miller said that he is unable to work for “medical reasons”
and that he only receives money from friends or relatives “about 2 to 4 times a year.” Miller also
filed, with his motion to proceed in forma pauperis, an affidavit in which a prison official certified
that Miller’s average prison-account balance in June 2008 was eight cents and that Miller received
no deposits between June and November 2008. Under prison regulations, Miller therefore qualified
as indigent for the full sixth months preceding his complaint in this case (which included the policy’s
effective date). Since the inspection policy applied to the mail of indigent inmates, a reasonable jury
could conclude that Miller has been subject to the inspection rule since its beginning.
Miller v Jones, et al.
Second, there is evidence that Miller has sent legal mail since the prison implemented the
policy. Attached to Miller’s first amended complaint is the docket sheet from an earlier case. Those
records say that Miller filed a “pro se response” to a motion for summary judgment on September
17, 2008 and “pro se objections” to the magistrate judge’s report and recommendations on
September 22. Presumably Miller submitted those filings himself from the prison. And in this case,
too, some of the docket entries for Miller’s filings include envelopes marked “Legal Mail” that list
the prison as Miller’s return address. Thus, Miller has sent legal mail from the prison since
September 5, 2008—the date on which the policy actually took effect—and since September 22,
2008—the date on which (according to Miller) the prison began to inspect all indigent legal mail.
Third, there is evidence that the defendants have, since September 22, 2008, been committed
to enforcing the inspection policy categorically. According to Miller’s first verified complaint,
several defendants “stated that they will read all legal mail going out” after September 22. R. 1 at
7-8. Similarly, one of the defendants answered “yes” to an interrogatory question whether “indigent
legal mail should be left open for the mail room clerks to censor and read before mailing the legal
mail.” R. 25, Attach. 2 at 2, 6. Viewing this evidence in the light most favorable to Miller, a
reasonable jury could thus conclude by a preponderance of the evidence that the prison has inspected
Miller’s mail since September of 2008. See Kathrein v. City of Evanston, Illinois, 636 F.3d 906, 914
(7th Cir. 2011) (a plaintiff must demonstrate an injury-in-fact by a preponderance of the evidence).
A genuine dispute of fact therefore remains as to whether Miller has standing to pursue his damages
Miller v Jones, et al.
Miller also sought to amend his complaint to add a claim for injunctive relief that would
require the prison to rewrite its inspection policy. To demonstrate an injury-in-fact sufficient to
pursue that forward-looking claim, Miller must show more than that the prison has enforced the
policy against him in the past or that the policy “subjective[ly] ‘chill[s]’” his mailing practices.
Fieger v. Michigan Supreme Court, 553 F.3d 955, 962-966 (6th Cir. 2009); see also Lyons, 461 U.S.
at 105-106, 108. He must show that the prison is currently inspecting his mail or that there is an
“imminent” threat that the prison will do so. Fieger, 553 F.3d at 962, 967. The district court has
yet to decide this question in the first instance (or even whether Miller may add the claim to his
complaint). We therefore decline, at this stage, to address Miller’s standing to pursue injunctive
We reverse the district court’s judgment, vacate its order denying Miller leave to amend his
complaint, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
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