Champagne v. Commissioner of Correction

Decision Date11 July 1985
Citation480 N.E.2d 609,395 Mass. 382
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Arthur B. Leavens, for plaintiff.

John A. Amabile, Asst. Atty. Gen., for Com'r of Correction et al.


HENNESSEY, Chief Justice.

The plaintiff, an inmate at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction, appeals from an order of the Superior Court granting summary judgment to the defendant prison officials. He alleges that the defendants censored and confiscated his incoming publications, thereby violating his speech and due process rights under both the Federal and Massachusetts Constitutions. He also contends that he was denied his constitutional rights of access to the courts and assistance of counsel by the defendants' mishandling of his legal correspondence. The plaintiff's complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, money damages, and attorneys' fees. We conclude that the defendants' initial failure to deliver incoming books to the plaintiff was in accordance with permissible prison policy and did not violate the plaintiff's constitutional rights. The defendants were entitled to summary judgment on this count, as well as on the plaintiff's claim concerning his legal correspondence. However, we agree with the plaintiff that one of the prison regulations governing the censorship of incoming mail is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. We therefore allow his motion for summary judgment on this issue, and we direct the entry of an appropriate declaration of rights.

We cite the following undisputed facts, as we have culled them from affidavits, answers to interrogatories, and answers to demands for admission of facts, all as included in a somewhat voluminous and not entirely orderly record. On June 17, 1982, a bookseller mailed to the plaintiff two books. One was a hardcover entitled "The Struggle to be Human: Crime, Criminology and Anarchism"; the other was a paperback entitled, "The Guinea Pigs." On or about July 7, 1982, the plaintiff received notice from the defendant Furtado, a mail officer at M.C.I., Cedar Junction, that the books would not be delivered to him and that they could either be picked up by his designee or returned to the sender. The reasons given to the plaintiff for withholding the books were: (1) that he had failed to submit the required property permission slips, and (2) that hardcover books were not permitted in the Departmental Segregation Unit where the plaintiff was at the time incarcerated. The parties disagree over whether the plaintiff was afforded a right to appeal Furtado's action. On August 3, 1982, the plaintiff's attorneys claimed the withheld books.

On October 14, 1982, the plaintiff's attorneys mailed to him a package of legal documents in an envelope stamped as attorney-client correspondence. This package was delivered to the plaintiff on November 19, 1982, having already been opened and inspected. The plaintiff alleges that he was not present during the inspection as is required by prison mail regulations.

On November 15, 1982, the plaintiff was mailed a paperback book entitled "The Hate Factory," which concerned the 1981 riots at the New Mexico State penitentiary. On December 1, 1982, the plaintiff was notified by the defendant Furtado that this book had been classified as contraband and would not be delivered. After the plaintiff, through counsel, objected to the classification, Furtado's decision was overturned by Deputy Superintendent Olive Langlois. However, Furtado refused to deliver "The Hate Factory" until the plaintiff submitted the requisite property permission slip.

On January 6, 1983, the plaintiff filed a supplemented and substituted complaint alleging that: (1) the defendants' interference with his mail and failure to afford him minimal procedural safeguards violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Federal Constitution and under the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights; (2) two of the prison mail regulations authorizing censorship of incoming mail are unconstitutionally vague and overbroad; (3) by opening and inspecting his legal correspondence outside of his presence, the defendants denied him his constitutional rights of access to the courts and of effective assistance of counsel; and (4) the defendants' confiscation of his books for an unreasonable period of time amounted to an intentional conversion of his property. 3 Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982) and G.L. c. 231A and c. 12, § 11 (1984 ed.), the plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys' fees.

On February 4, 1983, the plaintiff successfully moved for a preliminary injunction ordering the defendants to deliver to him the three books described above, and any other books and publications mailed by a publisher or bookseller, upon his presentation of a property permission slip. In June, 1983, the plaintiff filed a motion for civil contempt alleging that the defendants had violated the terms of the injunction by withholding publications. As a result of this motion, and after a hearing in the Superior Court, the books were delivered to the plaintiff.

The defendants then filed their motion for summary judgment on July 1, 1983, and supporting memorandum on August 19, 1983. They argued that: (1) the defendants Motta, Fair, and Ponte were not personally involved in the actions complained of and therefore cannot be held liable for damages; 4 (2) the defendant Furtado is not liable because he acted in good faith reliance upon constitutional policies and regulations; and (3) the regulations challenged by the plaintiff do not violate his constitutional rights. The plaintiff then filed memoranda in opposition to the defendants' motion and moved for summary judgment with regard to the constitutionality of the challenged prison regulations. On September 22, 1983, the defendants' motion for summary judgment was allowed. We, of course, may consider any ground supporting the defendants' motion. See Gallant v. Worcester, 383 Mass. 707, 709, 421 N.E.2d 1196 (1981).

1. Permission Slip Policy.

The defendants contend that the books mailed to the plaintiff were withheld in accordance with a content-neutral prison policy requiring inmates to submit property permission slips for all incoming personal property. Therefore, they argue that they were entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff's claims for damages and injunctive relief. We agree.

It is undisputed that the plaintiff did not initially submit the required permission slips for the three books named in his complaint, that he was notified that the books would not be delivered without such slips, and that upon presenting the slips, pursuant to the terms of the preliminary injunction, the plaintiff received the books. We therefore must consider whether the permission slip policy is an unconstitutional infringement of the plaintiff's First Amendment rights.

At the outset, the defendants contend that since the plaintiff ultimately received his books, his claim has been mooted. However, because this case concerns a prisoner's First Amendment rights, we think that, even though the case is factually moot, the underlying constitutional questions are "of public importance, capable of repetition, yet evading review." Commissioner of Correction v. Myers, 379 Mass 255, 261, 399 N.E.2d 452 (1979), quoting Superintendent of Worcester State Hosp. v. Hagberg, 374 Mass. 271, 274, 372 N.E.2d 242 (1978). Further, we note that, given the facts presented here, the plaintiff's Federal and State constitutional claims are subject to the same standard of review. See Commonwealth v. Franklin Fruit Co., 388 Mass. 228, 235, 446 N.E.2d 63 (1983); Zayre Corp. v. Attorney Gen., 372 Mass. 423, 433 n. 22, 362 N.E.2d 878 (1977). The United States Supreme Court has held that "a prison inmate retains those First Amendment rights that are not inconsistent with his status as a prisoner or with the legitimate penological objectives of the corrections system." Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822, 94 S.Ct. 2800, 2804, 41 L.Ed.2d 495 (1974). Specifically, the Court has stated that "[t]he interest of prisoners and their correspondents in uncensored communication by letter, grounded as it is in the First Amendment, is plainly a 'liberty' interest within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment even though qualified of necessity by the circumstance of imprisonment. As such, it is protected from arbitrary governmental invasion." Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 418, 94 S.Ct. 1800, 1814, 40 L.Ed.2d 224 (1974). Following these guidelines, several courts have recognized the First Amendment rights of prisoners to receive publications mailed from outside. Hopkins v. Collins, 411 F.Supp. 831, 833 (D.Md.1976), modified, 548 F.2d 503 (4th Cir.1977).

However, "simply because prison inmates retain certain constitutional rights does not mean that these rights are not subject to restrictions and limitations.... The fact of confinement as well as the legitimate goals and policies of the penal institution limits these retained constitutional rights.... Accordingly, we have held that even when an institutional restriction infringes a specific constitutional guarantee, such as the First Amendment, the practice must be evaluated in the light of the central objective of prison administration, safeguarding institutional security." Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 545-547, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 1877-1878, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979). See Jackson v. Hogan, 388 Mass. 376, 381, 446 N.E.2d 692 (1983). Commissioner of Correction v. Myers, 379 Mass. 255, 264, 399 N.E.2d 452 (1979). Prison administrators are therefore "accorded wide-ranging deference" in the "adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve...

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