17 F.3d 256 (8th Cir. 1994), 93-1788, Thongvanh v. Thalacker

Docket Nº:93-1788, 93-1966.
Citation:17 F.3d 256
Party Name:Khamfeuang THONGVANH, Appellee/Cross Appellant v. John A. THALACKER, Mike Lambert and Larry Brimeyer, Appellants/Cross Appellees.
Case Date:February 22, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 256

17 F.3d 256 (8th Cir. 1994)

Khamfeuang THONGVANH, Appellee/Cross Appellant


John A. THALACKER, Mike Lambert and Larry Brimeyer,

Appellants/Cross Appellees.

Nos. 93-1788, 93-1966.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

February 22, 1994

Submitted Dec. 14, 1993.

Page 257

Before JOHN R. GIBSON, [*] Senior Circuit Judge, MORRIS SHEPPARD ARNOLD, Circuit Judge and WOODS, [**] District Judge.

Page 258

HENRY WOODS, District Judge.

Khamfeuang Thongvanh is an inmate in the Iowa Men's Reformatory (IMR), Anamosa, Iowa. He filed this 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 action challenging the IMR rule that all his correspondence--both in-coming and out-going--be in English, except for correspondence with his parents and grandparents. He alleged that the ban on non-English correspondence violated his rights to free speech, due process and equal protection. The jury returned a $4,000 verdict for the plaintiff, from which the defendants appeal. The plaintiff has cross appealed the district court's decision to enter judgment for $2,000 rather than $4,000, as well as the district court's denial of his motion for a new trial on the issue of damages only.

Khamfeuang Thongvanh, a native of Laos, speaks some English, but his primary language is Lao. 1 His parents and grandparents speak no English; other family members speak English at varying levels of fluency. The IMR has a general rule that all written communications between inmates and persons in the free world be in English. The purpose of this policy is to promote security by allowing prison officials to monitor prisoner mail so that they may be alert to escape plans or other unlawful activity. The plaintiff does not dispute the legitimate governmental interest in monitoring prisoner mail.

Spanish-speaking inmates are excepted from the "English only" policy and are allowed to correspond in Spanish because an IMR employee, fluent in Spanish, is readily available to translate. Other exceptions have been made to the policy. The plaintiff, himself, was granted permission to correspond with his parents and grandparents in Lao. Arrangements were made to send this excepted correspondence to the Iowa Refugee Service Center in Des Moines, Iowa, for translation.

The defendants contend that the district court erred in denying their motion for judgment as a matter of law and in refusing to grant their motion for new trial. We review the district court's denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law de novo, affirming if "the evidence is such that, without weighing the credibility of the witnesses, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict." Caudill v. Farmland Industries, Inc., 919 F.2d 83, 86 (8th Cir.1990). Our review is limited to whether evidence introduced by the non-moving party, together with all reasonable inferences to be drawn from that evidence, was sufficient to create an issue of fact for the jury. Standley v. Chilhowee R-IV School Dist., 5 F.3d 319, 323 (8th Cir.1993).

We begin our analysis of the "English only" policy by acknowledging the delicate balance required to weigh the constitutional rights of inmates against legitimate regulations imposed by those charged with the "inordinately difficult task of operating a prison." Quinn v. Nix, 983 F.2d 115, 118 (8th Cir.1993). It is settled law that convicted persons "do not forfeit all constitutional protections by reason of their conviction and confinement in prison." Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 545, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 1877, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979). "Inmates clearly retain protections afforded by the First Amendment." O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348, 107 S.Ct. 2400, 2404, 96 L.Ed.2d 282 (1987). This includes the right to send and receive mail. Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 109 S.Ct. 1874, 104 L.Ed.2d 459 (1989); Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987); Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 94 S.Ct. 1800, 40 L.Ed.2d 224 (1974); Griffin v. Lombardi, 946 F.2d 604 (8th Cir.1991). Conversely, prison officials have a duty to maintain security within the prison, and this may include reading

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