Hale v. Cooper et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER..IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendants motion for summary judgment (ECF #44) is GRANTED. A separate judgment shall accompany this Memorandum and Order. Signed by District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr on 2/18/15. (MRS)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
BILLIE R. HALE,
Case No. 1:12CV188 SNLJ
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
Plaintiff has not filed a response and the time for doing so has expired. The motion is
ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion.
Plaintiff Billie Hale filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against defendant Jackie
Cooper who was a caseworker at Southeast Correctional Center (SECC) in Charleston,
Missouri, when plaintiff was incarcerated at that facility. Plaintiff alleges that defendant
read plaintiff’s legal mail in violation of his First Amendment right. Defendant has filed
a motion for summary judgment arguing he did not violate plaintiff’s constitutional rights
when he inspected plaintiff’s legal mail to verify its source and check for contraband.
Summary Judgment Standard
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), a district court may grant a
motion for summary judgment if all of the information before the court demonstrates that
“there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The
burden is on the moving party. City of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa v. Associated Elec. Co-op.
Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir. 1988). After the moving party discharges this burden,
the nonmoving party must do more than show that there is some doubt as to the facts.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead,
the nonmoving party bears the burden of setting forth affirmative evidence and specific
facts by affidavit and other evidence showing that there is a genuine dispute of a material
fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Celotex, 477 U.S. at
The movant’s statement of facts are deemed admitted if not specifically
controverted by the opposing party. E.D. Mo. L.R. 4.01 (E). Even where all of movant’s
facts are deemed admitted, the Court must look at the entire record to determine whether
summary judgment is warranted. “The Eighth Circuit has determined that when a
plaintiff fails to respond adequately to a motion for summary judgment, a district court
should not treat such a non-response as sufficient to dispose of the motion.” Lowry v.
Powerscreen USB, Inc., 72 F.Supp.2d 1061, 1064 (E.D. Mo. 1999) (citing Canada v.
Union Electric Co., 135 F.3d 1211, 1213 (8th Cir. 1997). “Courts should proceed to
examine those portions of the record properly before them and decide for themselves
whether the motion is well taken.” Id. “In so ruling, even on an unopposed motion for
summary judgment, the court should review the facts in a light most favorable to the
party who would be opposing the motion.” Id.
Plaintiff failed to specifically controvert defendant’s statement of facts and,
therefore, those facts are deemed admitted for this motion. O’Connell v. Accurate
Plumbing, LLC, 4:04CV1368 FRB, 2005 WL 2176926, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 8, 2005)
(citing Northwest Bank & Trust Co. v. First Ill. Nat’l Bank, 354 F.3d 721, 724-25 (8th
Cir. 2003); Harris v. Interstate Brands Corp., 348 F.3d 761, 762-63 (8th Cir. 2003)).
The undisputed facts, as supported by the record, are set forth below.
Plaintiff Billie Hale is an inmate in the custody of the Missouri Department of
Corrections. At all relevant times, he was housed at the Southeast Correctional Center in
Charleston, Missouri. Defendant Jackie Cooper was a caseworker at Southeast
Correctional Center until September, 2012. Defendant no longer works for the Missouri
Department of Corrections.
On November 14, 2011, defendant notified plaintiff that he had received legal
mail. This legal mail was sent by plaintiff’s attorney for his criminal appeal, Timothy
Forneris. Plaintiff went to defendant’s office to retrieve the letter on November 15, 2011.
Defendant opened the letter in plaintiff’s presence. Defendant inspected the letter to
verify that it did, in fact, come from a legal source. Defendant further inspected the letter
for contraband. The inspection did not exceed twenty seconds.
When plaintiff was asked what harm he suffered, plaintiff responded “physical
harm. It was emotional . . . It was – it was stressful. The man threw it at me . . . . There
was information I didn’t want him seeing. It was – it consists of individual names and
phone numbers.” This is the totality of the harm alleged by plaintiff. In his complaint,
plaintiff seeks injunctive relief. Specifically, he seeks an order securing defendant’s
termination from the Missouri Department of Corrections. Plaintiff also seeks court
Defendant moves for summary judgment arguing that he did not violate plaintiff’s
constitutional rights when he inspected plaintiff’s mail to ensure that it was legal mail and
that it did not contain contraband. Defendant further argues that this isolated incident
does not give rise to a constitutional violation. Finally, defendant contends that
plaintiff’s claim fails because plaintiff has not shown that he was prejudiced resulting
from the opening of the mail.1 This Court agrees and will, therefore, grant summary
judgment in favor of defendant.
Plaintiff complains of the opening of his legal mail on one occasion by defendant
in plaintiff’s presence. The undisputed evidence before this Court is that defendant
opened the legal mail in plaintiff’s presence to verify that it came from a legal source and
to ensure that it did not contain contraband. Legal mail may be opened for inspection for
contraband in the presence of the prisoner. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 577
(1974); Jensen v. Klecker, 648 F.2d 1179, 1182 (1981). Further, “an isolated incident [of
opening legal mail], without any evidence of improper motive or resulting interference
with [the inmate’s] right to counsel or to access to the courts, does not give rise to a
Defendant also argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity and that plaintiff’s claim
for injunctive relief has been rendered moot because defendant no longer works for the
Department of Corrections. The Court does not reach these issues because it finds that
there is no constitutional violation.
constitutional violation.” Gardner v. Howard, 109 F.3d 427, 431 (8th Cir. 1997).
Plaintiff has not provided any evidence of improper motive or that the opening of his
legal mail interfered with this right to counsel, his access to the courts, or resulted in
actual prejudice. This isolated incident, with no evidence of improper motive or
prejudice, does not give rise to a constitutional violation.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendant’s motion for summary judgment
(ECF #44) is GRANTED. A separate judgment shall accompany this Memorandum and
Dated this 18th day of February, 2015.
STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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