451 F.2d 545 (1st Cir. 1971), 71-1156, Nolan v. Fitzpatrick

Docket Nº:71-1156, 71-1166.
Citation:451 F.2d 545
Party Name:Daniel NOLAN et al., Plaintiffs, v. John FITZPATRICK et al., Defendants (two cases).
Case Date:November 04, 1971
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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451 F.2d 545 (1st Cir. 1971)

Daniel NOLAN et al., Plaintiffs,

v.

John FITZPATRICK et al., Defendants (two cases).

Nos. 71-1156, 71-1166.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

November 4, 1971

Heard Sept. 9, 1971.

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John Leubsdorf, with whom Michael B. Keating, Foley, Hoag & Eliot, Boston, Mass., and Max D. Stern, Cambridge, Mass., were on brief, for Daniel Nolan and others.

Charles E. Chase, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom Robert H. Quinn, Atty. Gen., and John J. Irwin, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., Chief, Criminal Div., were on brief, for John Fitzpatrick and others.

Before ALDRICH, Chief Judge, McENTEE and COFFIN, Circuit Judges.

COFFIN, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs Nolan and LeFebvre, two prisoners confined at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Walpole, have brought this action to challenge the constitutionality of that prison's total ban on prisoner letters to the news media concerning prison affairs. Plaintiffs have exhausted their administrative remedies under state law and seek a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, invoking the jurisdictional provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1343 and the substantive provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The district court granted a declaratory judgment and issued an injunction under which prison authorities retain wide discretion. The authorities may refuse to mail a letter if they "have reasonable ground (not necessarily probable cause) to believe that the contents of the letter or the addressee of the letter presents a risk (a) to the security of the public, the prison administration, or the prison population, or (b) to the observance of rules of behavior by prisoners, or (c) to the rehabilitation of prisoners * * *." 326 F.Supp. 209, 217, 218 (D.Mass.1971). Both parties appeal, the officials contending that the total ban should be upheld and the prisoners contending that restrictions, if any, must be drawn more narrowly.

At the outset, we note that the plaintiffs do not challenge the right of prison authorities to read all letters to the press and to inspect them for contraband or escape plans. Nor do they here assert a right to correspond with the news media about matters of public policy or personal affairs unrelated to the prisons. They claim simply the right to send to the media letters concerning prison management, treatment of offenders, and personal grievances arising within the prison. Plaintiff Nolan wrote seven such letters, and plaintiff LeFebvre wrote one; all were returned by the Walpole censor. The following letter, addressed to the Editor of the Boston Record American, is illustrative:

"Dear Sir,

I am writing this letter in regards to an article which I read in your newspaper concerning the work strike at Walpole State Prison. 1/15 [illegible]

I want to thank you for not minimizing our grievances and I would like to point out that the situation in this prison is a great deal more serious than you indicate. Contrary to your statement that 'the Superintendent agreed to discuss our grievances.' This information is incorrect.

The work strike started on Monday afternoon (1/11/71) & continued until late Thursday afternoon 1/14/71.

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If you would like to know more about the reasons behind that work strike & other such trouble that has taken place in this prison during these past 10 months, then please contact the above named attorney (482-1390).

Yours,

Dan Nolan /s/

Prisoner, Walpole"

Plaintiffs make First Amendment claims under the heads of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to petition. It is clear that federal courts may no longer refuse to hear such claims. The oft-cited proposition that "Lawful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a retraction justified by the considerations underlying our penal system", Price v. Johnston, 334 U.S. 266, 285, 68 S.Ct. 1049, 1060, 92 L.Ed. 1356 (1948), must be read in the light of its equally oft-cited contrapositive, that "A prisoner retains all the rights of an ordinary citizen except those expressly, or by necessary implication, taken from him by law", Coffin v. Reichard, 143 F.2d 443, 445 (6th Cir. 1944), cert. denied, 325 U.S. 887, 65 S.Ct. 1568, 89 L.Ed. 2001 (1945).

Since the challenged total ban does deprive prisoners of all opportunity to write letters to the press, we must, as a threshold matter, determine whether one's freedom to write to the press survives his incarceration. While to our knowledge no court has addressed the precise question, many have concluded that various other First Amendment rights survive. 1 The right to free exercise of religion has given rise to most of the litigation. In Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546, 84 S.Ct. 1733, 12 L.Ed.2d 1030 (1964), the Supreme Court held that a prisoner stated a cause of action in alleging that he was denied permission to purchase certain religious publications and was, because of his religious beliefs, denied other privileges enjoyed by other prisoners. While Cooper could conceivably be thought to be grounded in either free exercise of religion or equal protection, it has consistently been interpreted as proceeding on free exercise grounds. E. g., Brown v. Peyton, 437 F.2d 1228, 1230 (4th Cir. 1971); Walker v. Blackwell, 411 F.2d 23, 24 (5th Cir. 1969); Long v. Parker, 390 F.2d 816, 820 n. 17 (3d Cir. 1968). Indeed, the language of these cases suggests the survival of First Amendment rights generally. 437 F.2d at 1231; 411 F.2d at 24. Similar language was used in an opinion holding that prisoners had the right to receive Fortune News, a (non-religious) newsletter published by former inmates and often critical of prison authorities. Fortune Society v. McGinnis, 319 F.Supp. 901, 904 (S.D.N.Y.1970).

We need not adopt the broad principle that a prisoner retains all First Amendment rights to conclude, as we do, that he retains the right to send letters to the press concerning prison matters. 2 In so concluding, we rely primarily on the fact that the condition of our prisons is an important matter of public policy as to which prisoners are, with their wardens, peculiarly interested and peculiarly knowledgeable. The argument that the prisoner has the right to communicate his

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