Simpson v. Cape Girardeau, Missouri, County of
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendant's motion for summary judgment [Doc. #28] is denied. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [Doc. #31] is denied. Signed by District Judge Carol E. Jackson on 4/16/2015. (JMC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
COUNTY OF CAPE GIRARDEAU,
No. 1:14-CV-13 (CEJ)
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on the parties’ cross-motions for summary
judgment. All issues are fully briefed.
On January 1, 2014, the Cape Girardeau County jail imposed a “postcard
only” policy for nonprivileged correspondence mailed to its inmates. Plaintiff Cheryl
Simpson alleges that the policy impermissibly restricts the ability of outside
correspondents to communicate with inmates, in violation of the First and
Fourteenth Amendments. She brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against defendant Cape Girardeau County.
Plaintiff’s son was an inmate at the Cape Girardeau County jail from August
2013 to February 2014. Plaintiff regularly corresponded with her son during his
incarceration. Declaration of Cheryl Simpson at ¶¶4-5.
Before January 2014, the jail did not limit the number of letters an inmate
could receive, and excluded only hardbound books and items that were available to
inmates through the commissary. See Pl. Ex. 7 [Doc. #33-2 at 241]. In October
2013, Lieutenant Todd Stevens proposed changing the policy regarding incoming
mail to limit nonprivileged correspondence to postcards. Deposition of Todd Stevens
at 27. He identified the following benefits of such a policy: (1) “a higher level of
safety and security” at the jail; (2) “possibly less mail coming into the facility;” (3)
“less contraband introduced” into the jail; (4) “less manpower spent opening and
searching mail;” and (5) reduced liability for “missing property that is mailed into
the facility and cannot be given to the inmate.” Proposal [Doc. #30-3]. He identified
possible disadvantages as well: (1) complaints from inmates and their families; (2)
“Most postcards are thick and could be used for picking locks and making other
forms of contraband;” and (3) legal challenges to the policy. Id. He noted that the
policy had been adopted by “several” Missouri sheriffs’ offices. Id. Sheriff John
Jordan adopted the policy as proposed, and it went into effect on January 1, 2014.
Stevens Dep. at 27-28.
The policy states that its purpose is to “expand the safety and security” for
“inmates and Staff.” All nonprivileged correspondence entering the jail must be
written on “standard white postcards,” no larger than 5” by 7”, with a legible return
address. Policy at § I [Doc. #30-3]. “Unacceptable” postcards — i.e., index cards,
photographs, and postcards that are defaced or altered, or have labels, stickers,
stains, watermarks, or “biohazards, including lipsticks or perfumes” — are returned
to the sender. All stamps are removed and discarded before the cards are given to
the inmate. While an inmate may receive an unlimited number of postcards, only
ten postcards may be kept in an inmate’s cell. Id. According to the policy, incoming
postcards are monitored “to ascertain any attempt at escape, security violations, or
conspiracy to introduce contraband.” Policy at § III(a)(4). In the event that such
information is found, the inmate is “given written notice of the reasons the
correspondence is being denied.” Id. at § III(a)(5). Photographs are accepted
through the mail only with the approval of a jail administrator. Id. at § III(a)(8).
Before the postcard-only policy went into effect on January 1, 2014, plaintiff
routinely sent multi-page letters and photographs to her son. Simpson Decl. at ¶¶9,
13. Other family members also corresponded with him. Id. at ¶15. After the policy
was in place, she was unable to send photographs, financial documents, and news
clippings. Id. at ¶ 20. Plaintiff felt unable to correspond with her son about private
matters on postcards because they could be read by anyone who handled them
during delivery, including postal carriers, other inmates, and other jail employees
not assigned to review the mail. Id. at ¶¶12, 24, 28. Her son’s reintegration after
release was affected by plaintiff’s inability to communicate with him about private
matters during the last two months of his incarceration. Id. at ¶19. The policy also
placed a logistical and financial burden on plaintiff because she had to go to
multiple post offices to obtain sufficient postcards.
Id. at ¶14.
Plaintiff visited her son at the jail on a weekly basis. Id. at ¶22. Visits were
limited to 15 minutes in duration. The jail did not permit contact visits and plaintiff
communicated with her son over a telephone system. Plaintiff asserts, and
defendant disputes, that the telephones often did not work properly. Conversations
using the telephone system could be overheard by other visitors and inmates.
Between 2009 and 2014, the number of inmates at the Cape Girardeau
County jail ranged between 168 and 241 inmates, with an average daily count of
207 inmates. In 2014, the jail had 23 full-time employees, including 19 deputies or
corrections officers. Stevens Dep. at pp. 11-12. The jail does not keep records of
how many pieces of mail it receives and thus there is no evidence regarding the
impact of the postcard-only policy on the volume of mail. Id. at p. 13. There are
also no formal measures of any time-savings realized by the postcard-only policy,
but Lt. Stevens testified that handing out the mail takes less time because jail
personnel are no longer reading the incoming mail and do not have to deal with
property or potential contraband in the mail. In addition, most incoming postcards
do not have a stamp that has to be removed. Finally, the jail no longer faces
liability for losing property. Id. at pp. 29-30.
Jail personnel wrote approximately 90 incident reports regarding seizure of
contraband between 2009 and 2013. Pl. Ex. 4 [Doc. #33-2 at 96-234]. Sometimes
the seized items are too large to have arrived in a letter (e.g., cell phone). In most
cases, the reports do not identify how the contraband entered the jail and there are
no incident reports stating that the contraband arrived through the mail.
Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary
judgment shall be entered if the moving party shows “that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a
matter of law.” In ruling on a motion for summary judgment the court is required to
view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must give
that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the underlying
facts. AgriStor Leasing v. Farrow, 826 F.2d 732, 734 (8th Cir. 1987). The moving
party bears the burden of showing both the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact and its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986); Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on the allegations of his pleadings but must set forth
specific facts, by affidavit or other evidence, showing that a genuine issue of
material fact exists. United of Omaha Life Ins. Co. v. Honea, 458 F.3d 788, 791
(8th Cir. 2006) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). Rule 56 “mandates the entry of
summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a
party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an
element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden
of proof at trial.” Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
The defendant argues that it cannot be held responsible for a policy approved
by Sheriff John Jordan and implemented by the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s
Section 1983 liability for a constitutional violation may attach to a
municipality if the violation resulted from an official municipal policy. Atkinson v.
City of Mountain View, Mo., 709 F.3d 1201, 1214 (8th Cir. 2013) (citing Monell v.
Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)). Municipal
liability for a challenged policy attaches where the decisionmaker possesses final
authority to establish municipal policy. Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469,
481 (1986); Ware v. Jackson Cnty., Mo., 150 F.3d 873, 880 (8th Cir. 1998) (official
policy “involves a deliberate choice to follow a course of action made from among
various alternatives by an official who is determined by state law to have the final
authority to establish governmental policy”). Whether an official has final policy-
making authority is a question of state law and is to be resolved by the court.
Shepard v. Wapello Cnty., Iowa, 303 F. Supp. 2d 1004, 1017 (S.D. Iowa 2003)
(citing Jett v. Dallas Ind. School Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 737 (1989)).
Defendant does not dispute that Sheriff Jordan implemented the disputed
policy or that a county sheriff is a county official. See Overbay v. Lilliman, 572 F.
Supp. 174, 177 (W.D. Mo. 1983) (under Missouri law, the county sheriff is the law
enforcement arm of the county government). Defendant also does not dispute that
Sheriff Jordan has final policy-making authority with respect to jail operations. See
Stevens Dep. at 31 (Sheriff Jones “makes all decisions for the jail.”); Mo. Rev. Stat.
§ 221.020 (“the sheriff of each county in this state shall have the custody, rule,
keeping and charge of the jail within his county, and of all the prisoners in such jail
. . . ”) Thus, as a matter of state law, the county sheriff is the final policy maker for
the county for the purposes of the postcard-only policy. To the extent that
defendant argues that plaintiff should have named Sheriff Jordan as defendant, a
suit against a government officer in his official capacity is functionally equivalent to
a suit against the employing governmental entity. Veatch v. Bartels Lutheran
Home, 627 F.3d 1254, 1257 (8th Cir. 2010). The defendant thus can be held liable
under § 1983 for unconstitutional policies adopted by Sheriff Jones. See Ware, 150
F.3d at 885-86 (finding director of county corrections department was final
policymaker for county for § 1983 purposes). Plaintiff may properly maintain this
action against the County of Cape Girardeau.
The Postcard-Only Policy
Both the addressee and the sender of direct personal correspondence are
protected by the First Amendment against unjustified governmental interference
with communication. Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 408–09 (1974) (citing
Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301 (1965)). However, “the Constitution
sometimes permits greater restriction of such rights in a prison than it would allow
elsewhere.” Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 528 (2006). To ensure that appropriate
deference is afforded to prison officials, courts evaluate prison regulations alleged
to infringe constitutional rights under a “reasonableness” test that is less restrictive
than that ordinarily applied to alleged infringements of fundamental constitutional
rights. O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 349 (1987). Thus, restrictive
prison regulations are permissible if they are “reasonably related to legitimate
penological interests and are not an exaggerated response to such objectives.”
Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 87 (1987).
There are four relevant factors in determining the reasonableness of a prison
regulation: (1) whether the regulation has a “valid, rational connection” to a
legitimate governmental interest; (2) whether alternative means are open to
inmates to exercise the asserted right; (3) what impact an accommodation of the
right would have on guards and inmates and prison resources; and (4) whether
there are “ready alternatives” to the regulation. Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126,
132 (2003) (quoting Turner, 482 U.S. at 89-91). In conducting the analysis under
Turner, courts must accord substantial deference to the professional judgment of
prison administrators, who bear a significant responsibility for defining the
legitimate goals of a corrections system and for determining the most appropriate
means to accomplish them. Id. (citations omitted). The burden, moreover, is not on
state officials to prove the validity of prison regulations but on the plaintiff to
disprove it. Id. (citations omitted).
The court has reviewed the parties’ submissions in light of the analysis under
Turner and concludes that summary judgment cannot be granted on the basis of
the present record.
Therefore, the parties’ motions will be denied and this case
remains set for trial on August 17, 2015.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendant’s motion for summary judgment
[Doc. #28] is denied.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment
[Doc. #31] is denied.
CAROL E. JACKSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated this 16th day of April, 2015.
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