737 F.Supp.2d 561 (W.D.Va. 2010), C. A. 7:09CV00434, Couch v. Jabe

Docket NºCivil Action 7:09CV00434.
Citation737 F.Supp.2d 561
Opinion JudgeJAMES C. TURK, Senior District Judge.
Party NameWilliam R. COUCH, Plaintiff, v. John JABE, et al., Defendants.
AttorneyWilliam R. Couch, Craigsville, VA, pro se. William W. Muse, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, VA, for Defendants.
Case DateSeptember 01, 2010
CourtUnited States District Courts, 4th Circuit, United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)

Page 561

737 F.Supp.2d 561 (W.D.Va. 2010)

William R. COUCH, Plaintiff,

v.

John JABE, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 7:09CV00434.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division.

September 1, 2010

Page 562

William R. Couch, Craigsville, VA, pro se.

William W. Muse, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, VA, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES C. TURK, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff William R. Couch (" Couch" ), a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, has brought this action under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants Jabe, Garman, Braxton, Swisher, and Ryder violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they applied the Virginia Department of Corrections (" VDOC" ) Operating Policy 803.2 to exclude Ulysses and Lady Chatterley's Lover from the prison library and prevent him from ordering these books from a private, approved vendor.1 Couch seeks a declaratory judgment that certain sections of VDOC Operating Policy 803.2 (" O.P. 803.2" ) are unconstitutional, both facially and as applied. He seeks injunctive relief, as well as punitive damages. Couch filed a motion for summary judgment on December 17, 2009 (Dkt. No. 16). The Defendants filed a cross-motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 21) on January 28, 2010. Couch replied (Dkt. No. 26) and the matter is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that O.P. 803.2 is unconstitutional on its face and an injunction shall issue preventing Defendants from applying it forthwith. Accordingly, the Defendant's motion for summary judgment is DENIED, and Couch's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Couch is an inmate at the Augusta Correctional Center located in Craigsville, Virginia,

Page 563

which is operated by the Virginia Department of Corrections. Defendant John Jabe was the Deputy Director of Operations for VDOC at all relevant times detailed in the Complaint. Defendant John Garman was Regional Director of the Western Regional Office of VDOC at all relevant times. Defendant Daniel Braxton was the Warden at Augusta Correctional Center. Defendant Swisher was an Operations Officer at Augusta Correctional Center, and the Warden's designee for enforcing compliance with VDOC Operating Policy 803.2.

Augusta Correctional Center contains a general purpose reading library, accessible to all the prisoners housed at the facility. The library originally contained the two books which form the basis for Couch's complaint: Ulysses and Lady Chatterley's Lover. 2 On March 4, 2009, Defendant Swisher removed Ulysses from the prison library after determining that it was in violation of O.P. 803.2. On April 22, 2009, prison staff also removed Lady Chatterley's Lover from the prison library after being alerted by the plaintiff that Lady Chatterley's Lover also contained sexually explicit passages. Both of these books were forwarded to the Publication Review Committee (" P.R.C." ), which reviewed these books to determine whether they were in compliance with O.P. 803.2. The P.R.C. determined that these books violated O.P. 803.2 and had been properly removed from the library. Couch then attempted to purchase both Ulysses and Lady Chatterley's Lover via mail, but his request was denied on the basis of the P.R.C.'s previous determination that the books violated O.P. 803.2. O.P. 803.2 lists the " Specific Criteria for Publication Disapproval" and reads, in relevant part:

L. The Facility Unit Head, or his designee, should disapprove a publication for receipt and possession by offenders and forward it to the Publication Review Committee for final action if the publication can be reasonably documented to contain:

1. Explicit or graphic depictions or descriptions of sexual acts, including, but not limited to:

a. Actual Sexual intercourse, normal or perverted, anal, or oral

b. Secretion or excretion of bodily fluids or substances in the context of sexual activity

c. Lewd exhibitions of uncovered genitals in the context of sexual activity

d. Bondage, sadistic, masochistic or other violent acts in the context of sexual activity

e. Any sexual acts in violation of state or federal law

Page 564

See Braxton Aff. Exh. A. (VDOC Operating Procedure 803.2(L)(1), August 1, 2007.) To challenge each of these decisions by the prison officials and the P.R.C., Couch filed the appropriate grievance. When these grievances were denied, Couch also followed the proper appeal process, and when those appeals were denied, Couch appealed again. Defendant Jabe made the final, Level III review of Couch's grievances-and determined that O.P. 803.2 was appropriate and should not be modified. See Jabe Aff. 118. Couch then filed the instant case.3

II. Analysis

The issue of the constitutionality of O.P. 803.2 comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment by the plaintiff and the defendants. The parties do not dispute any material facts. The Court's task, therefore, is to determine which party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See FED. R. CIV. PRO. 56(c) (summary judgment is appropriate where " there is no issue as to any material fact and ... the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law" ).

Couch's position is that O.P. 803.2 is facially invalid because it is overbroad and not rationally related to legitimate penological objectives. Alternatively, he has asserted that O.P. 803.2 is unconstitutional as applied to Ulysses and Lady Chatterley's Lover. Either way, Couch posits that O.P. 803.2 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and correspondingly infringes on the rights he enjoys under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Defendants answer by pointing out that O.P. 803.2 is intended to provide for the efficient, safe, and secure administration of VDOC facilities by limiting materials which might be disruptive in myriad ways. Additionally, they argue that O.P. 803.2 provides for the rehabilitation of offenders by limiting materials which might be counter-productive. They argue that the regulation, although it may restrict some First Amendment rights of offenders, is constitutional because it falls squarely within the " wide ranging deference [afforded to prison officials] in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security." In re Long Term Administrative Segregation of Inmates Designated as Five Percenters, 174 F.3d 464, 469 (4th Cir.1999). This Court does not agree.

1. Couch's Rights Under The First Amendment

Couch has no right to a general purpose reading library under the First Amendment. Counts v. Newhart, 951 F.Supp. 579, 587 (E.D.Va.1996) (" The Constitution contains no right of access to a general-literary library." ). But because VDOC has decided to provide a general literary library to offenders, VDOC officials are constrained by the First Amendment

Page 565

in how they regulate the library. The prison officials do not have unfettered discretion to regulate the library in whatever manner they see fit: " the discretion of [state actors in regulating the library] must be exercised in a manner which comports with the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment." Bd. of Educ., Island Trees Union Free School Dist. No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 864, 102 S.Ct. 2799, 73 L.Ed.2d 435 (1982) (plurality). In Pico the Court found the school officials violated the First Amendment because the action of the local authorities had " invad[ed] the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control." Id. (citing W.Va. Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 641, 63 S.Ct. 1178, 87 L.Ed. 1628 (1943)). Although these precedents addressed the rights of public school students rather than state prisoners, these two classes of individuals are similarly situated for the purposes of this analysis. See Cline v. Fox, 319 F.Supp.2d 685, 690 (N.D.W.Va.2004) (" Like prisoners, public school students have no constitutional right to a school library and otherwise must bear certain restrictions on their rights generally." ); compare Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 84, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987) (" Prison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution." ) with Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506, 89 S.Ct. 733, 21 L.Ed.2d 731 (1969) (" It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression at the schoolhouse gate." ). And sexually explicit materials are not exempted from First Amendment protections. See Reno v. Am. Civil Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844, 874, 117 S.Ct. 2329, 138 L.Ed.2d 874 (1997) (declaring it to be " perfectly clear that sexual expression which is indecent but not obscene is protected by the First Amendment" ). Though state prisoners are, sensibly, more constrained in the rights they may exercise than are public school students, the Court is concerned not with the comparison between students and prisoners, but with how the state government actors employ their discretion. Having created a general reading library for state prisoners, VDOC has " assumed an obligation to justify its discriminations and exclusions [in the library] under applicable constitutional norms." Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263, 268, 102 S.Ct. 269, 70 L.Ed.2d 440 (1981). Here, Couch alleges that the discretion employed by VDOC officials has resulted in the creation of an overly broad, unconstitutional regulation.

2. Overbreadth Of Prison Regulations Is Evaluated Under Turner v. Safley

Courts ordinarily...

To continue reading

Request your trial
12 practice notes
  • Reynolds v. Cook, 030920 CTDC, 3:13-cv-388 (SRU)
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 2nd Circuit United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • March 9, 2020
    ...54 F.3d 1050 (2d Cir. 1995). [8] Those cases were: (1) Ramirez v. Pugh, 379 F.3d 122 (3d Cir. 2004); (2) Couch v. Jabe, 737 F.Supp.2d 561 (W.D. Va. 2010); (3) Cline v. Fox, 319 F.Supp.2d 685 (N.D. W.Va. 2004); (4) Aiello v. Litscher, 104 F.Supp.2d 1068 (W.D. Wis. [......
  • Scott v. Clarke, 020516 VAWDC, 3:12-cv-00036
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 4th Circuit United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
    • February 5, 2016
    ...100 F.3d 365, 369 (4th Cir. 1996); Etters v. Young, No. 5:09-CT-3187-D, 2012 WL 1950415, *2 (E.D. N.C. May 30, 2012); Couch v. Jabe, 737 F.Supp.2d 561, 573 (W.D. Va. 2010). A court “shall not enter or approve a consent decree unless it complies with the limitations on relief set forth in” 1......
  • Part two: case summaries by major topic.
    • United States
    • Detention and Corrections Caselaw Quarterly Nbr. 55, January 2013
    • January 1, 2013
    ...on the inmate's RLUIPA claim. (Dick Conner Correctional Center, Jess Dunn Correctional Center, Oklahoma) U.S. District Couch v. Jabe, 737 F.Supp.2d 561 (W.D.Va. 2010). An Court CENSORSHIP inmate, proceeding pro se, brought a [section] 1983 BOOKS action claiming that prison officials violate......
  • Part two: case summaries by major topic.
    • United States
    • Detention and Corrections Caselaw Quarterly Nbr. 55, January 2013
    • January 1, 2013
    ...and the policy did not allow forcible shaving of inmates. (Greensville Correctional Center, Virginia) US. District Couch v. Jabc. 737 F.Supp.2d 561 (W.D.Va. 2010). An Court BOOKS inmate, proceeding pro se, brought a [section] 1983 action claiming that prison officials violated his First and......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 cases
  • Reynolds v. Cook, 030920 CTDC, 3:13-cv-388 (SRU)
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 2nd Circuit United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • March 9, 2020
    ...54 F.3d 1050 (2d Cir. 1995). [8] Those cases were: (1) Ramirez v. Pugh, 379 F.3d 122 (3d Cir. 2004); (2) Couch v. Jabe, 737 F.Supp.2d 561 (W.D. Va. 2010); (3) Cline v. Fox, 319 F.Supp.2d 685 (N.D. W.Va. 2004); (4) Aiello v. Litscher, 104 F.Supp.2d 1068 (W.D. Wis. [......
  • Scott v. Clarke, 020516 VAWDC, 3:12-cv-00036
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 4th Circuit United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
    • February 5, 2016
    ...100 F.3d 365, 369 (4th Cir. 1996); Etters v. Young, No. 5:09-CT-3187-D, 2012 WL 1950415, *2 (E.D. N.C. May 30, 2012); Couch v. Jabe, 737 F.Supp.2d 561, 573 (W.D. Va. 2010). A court “shall not enter or approve a consent decree unless it complies with the limitations on relief set forth in” 1......
  • Prison Legal News v. Stolle, 033115 VAEDC, 2:13cv424
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 4th Circuit United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • March 31, 2015
    ...generally recognized as having artistic or literary value should be excluded under this criterion...." Id .; cf. Couch v. Jabe, 737 F.Supp.2d 561, 567 (W.D. Va. 2010) (rejecting as unconstitutional under Turner a prior version of Virginia Operating Procedure 803.2 as it excluded all pu......
  • Hayes v. Phillips, 121214 NCEDC, 5:12-CT-3208-D
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 4th Circuit Eastern District of North Carolina
    • December 12, 2014
    ...Cir. 2013); Floyd v. Hergenrother, No. l:ll-CV-158-RJC, 2012 WL 2091175, at *6 (W.D. N.C. June 11, 2012) (unpublished); Couch v. Jabe, 737 F.Supp.2d 561, 566 (W.D. Va. 2010) ("[P]rison regulations banning sexually explicit material... are reasonably related to legitimate penological in......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • Part two: case summaries by major topic.
    • United States
    • Detention and Corrections Caselaw Quarterly Nbr. 55, January 2013
    • January 1, 2013
    ...on the inmate's RLUIPA claim. (Dick Conner Correctional Center, Jess Dunn Correctional Center, Oklahoma) U.S. District Couch v. Jabe, 737 F.Supp.2d 561 (W.D.Va. 2010). An Court CENSORSHIP inmate, proceeding pro se, brought a [section] 1983 BOOKS action claiming that prison officials violate......
  • Part two: case summaries by major topic.
    • United States
    • Detention and Corrections Caselaw Quarterly Nbr. 55, January 2013
    • January 1, 2013
    ...and the policy did not allow forcible shaving of inmates. (Greensville Correctional Center, Virginia) US. District Couch v. Jabc. 737 F.Supp.2d 561 (W.D.Va. 2010). An Court BOOKS inmate, proceeding pro se, brought a [section] 1983 action claiming that prison officials violated his First and......
  • Part one: complete case summaries in alphabetical order.
    • United States
    • Detention and Corrections Caselaw Quarterly Nbr. 55, January 2013
    • January 1, 2013
    ...Injunctive Relief RULES & REGULATIONS- PRISONER: Books SAFETY AND SECURITY: Books SERVICES- PRISONER: Library Couch v. Jabe, 737 F.Supp.2d 561 (W.D.Va. 2010). An inmate, proceeding pro se, brought a [section] 1983 action claiming that prison officials violated his First and Fourteenth A......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT