Hanrahan v. Mohr, 092618 FED6, 17-4316

Docket Nº:17-4316
Opinion Judge:JULIA SMITH GIBBONS, Circuit Judge
Party Name:Noelle Hanrahan; Christopher Hedges; Derrick Jones; James Ridgeway; Siddique Abdullah Hasan; Gregory Curry; Keith LaMar; Jason Robb; George W. Skatzes, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Gary C. Mohr; JoEllen Smith, Defendants-Appellees.
Attorney:Raymond V. Vasvari, Jr., VASVARI | ZIMMERMAN, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellants. Mindy Worly, OFFICE OF THE OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellees. Raymond V. Vasvari, Jr., VASVARI | ZIMMERMAN, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellants. Mindy Worly, OFFICE OF THE OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL, Columbus...
Judge Panel:Before: SUHRHEINRICH, CLAY, and GIBBONS, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:September 26, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Noelle Hanrahan; Christopher Hedges; Derrick Jones; James Ridgeway; Siddique Abdullah Hasan; Gregory Curry; Keith LaMar; Jason Robb; George W. Skatzes, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

Gary C. Mohr; JoEllen Smith, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 17-4316

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 26, 2018

Argued: August 2, 2018

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio at Columbus. No. 2:13-cv-01212-Edmund A. Sargus Jr., Chief District Judge.

ARGUED:

Raymond V. Vasvari, Jr., VASVARI | ZIMMERMAN, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellants.

Mindy Worly, OFFICE OF THE OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellees.

ON BRIEF:

Raymond V. Vasvari, Jr., VASVARI | ZIMMERMAN, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellants.

Mindy Worly, OFFICE OF THE OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellees.

Before: SUHRHEINRICH, CLAY, and GIBBONS, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

JULIA SMITH GIBBONS, Circuit Judge

This case concerns the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's restrictions on in-person media interviews with certain prisoners. The plaintiffs in this case are prisoners who participated in the 1993 Lucasville prison riot and journalists who unsuccessfully sought in-person, recorded interviews with these prisoners. They brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the prison's interview policies violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court granted partial summary judgment for the defendants and later granted the defendants' motion to dismiss. We affirm.

I.

In April 1993, a major prison riot took place at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio-now known as the Lucasville prison riot. The riot began when prisoners overpowered a prison guard and took his keys, allowing the prisoners to then overpower the remaining guards in that section of the prison. The rioting prisoners ultimately took a dozen guards hostage and gained complete control of the prison's L-block. The riot went on for eleven days, and during those eleven days, one guard and nine prisoners were murdered, and many more were injured. In addition to the human losses, tens of millions of dollars' worth of damage was done to the prison facility.

Plaintiffs Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Gregory Curry, Keith LaMar, Jason Robb, and George Skatzes ("Prisoner Plaintiffs") are prisoners who participated in the Lucasville riot. Hasan, LaMar, Robb, and Skatzes were sentenced to death for their involvement in the riot, and Curry was sentenced to life in prison. Hasan, Curry, LaMar, and Robb are incarcerated in the Ohio State Penitentiary and are classified as restricted population inmates, a classification that is reserved for prisoners who "pose a direct threat to the safety of persons, including themselves, or an elevated, clear[, ] and ongoing threat to the safe and secure operations of the facility."1 DE 42-2, 2017 Restrictive Housing Procedures, Page ID 1014. Skatzes is classified as a general population inmate and is incarcerated at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution.

Since the Lucasville riot, journalists have sought interviews with its leaders, including with the Prisoner Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs Noelle Hanrahan, Christopher Hedges, Derrick Jones, and James Ridgeway ("Media Plaintiffs") are professional journalists who sought in-person, recorded interviews with the Prisoner Plaintiffs in the lead-up to the twentieth anniversary of the Lucasville prison riot. Their interview requests were all denied.

On December 9, 2013, the Prisoner Plaintiffs and Media Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction ("ODRC"), Gary Mohr, and ODRC's Communications Chief, JoEllen Smith, alleging that the interview denials violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments because they were based on the interviews' anticipated content-discussion of the Lucasville prison riots.2 Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the defendants "violated Plaintiffs' constitutionally protected rights to media access" by "denying all media requests to interview Prisoner Plaintiffs because of the anticipated content of the interviews." DE 1, Compl., Page ID 27. They also sought a preliminary and permanent injunction "prohibiting Defendants from denying in-person media access to inmates involved with the Lucasville prison uprising[] and requiring that if Defendants wish to deny a particular request for such access, they must provide a specific, factual basis for denying the particular request." Id.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted in part and denied in part. The district court concluded that the interview denials as to the restricted population inmates were permissible because ODRC had a written media policy "prohibit[ing] all prisoners classified as part of the restricted population from participating in face-to-face or video recorded interviews," meaning that the restricted population Prisoner Plaintiffs were categorically ineligible for the type of interviews that had been requested. DE 37, Summ. J. Order, Page ID 894. And because the restricted population inmates had adequate alternative channels of communication with the media available, such as sending letters and making direct phone calls, the district court determined that the defendants were entitled to summary judgment on Hasan's, LaMar's, Robb's, and Curry's claims. The district court, however, denied summary judgment for the defendants on Skatzes's claim, as ODRC had no similar categorical restriction on interviews with general population inmates, and the defendants acknowledged that Skatzes was prohibited from such interviews due to his involvement with the Lucasville riots. The court therefore concluded that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the interview denials as to Skatzes were unlawful.

After the district court's summary judgment order, ODRC modified its media policies to delete certain language that previously authorized ODRC to inquire into the nature of the interview and to consider the impact of an interview on victims when determining whether to approve a media interview request with a non-restricted prisoner. In August 2017, ODRC also granted all outstanding requests of the Media Plaintiffs to interview Prisoner Plaintiff Skatzes. On August 22, 2017, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' remaining claims as moot. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, concluding that the defendants' voluntary cessation of allegedly illegal conduct by modifying the media policies and granting the Skatzes interview requests mooted the only remaining claims in the case and that it had "no reason to doubt the genuineness of their revocation of the allegedly wrongful policies." DE 67, Mot. Dismiss Order, Page ID 1285. Plaintiffs then filed this appeal.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argue that the district court erred in granting summary judgment for the defendants on the restricted population inmates' claims and that the district court erred in dismissing the Media Plaintiffs' and Skatzes's claims as moot. We address each claim in turn.

II.

A.

We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Gillis v. Miller, 845 F.3d 677, 683 (6th Cir. 2017). Summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists, Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986), while the nonmoving party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial," Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, we then determine "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52; see Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

B.

Several principles "necessarily frame our analysis of prisoners' constitutional claims." Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 84 (1987). First, "federal courts must take cognizance of the valid constitutional claims of prison inmates," since "[p]rison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution." Id.; see Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 405 (1974). Consequently, "[w]hen a prison regulation or practice offends a fundamental constitutional guarantee, federal courts will discharge their duty...

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