Trudeau v. Wyrick

Decision Date05 August 1983
Docket NumberNos. 82-1817,82-2198,s. 82-1817
Parties13 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 1969 Noel C. TRUDEAU, Appellee, v. Donald WYRICK, Warden, Missouri State Penitentiary, Appellant, Security Insurance Co. of Hartford. Noel C. TRUDEAU, Appellant, v. Donald WYRICK, Warden, Missouri State Penitentiary and Security Insurance Co. of Hartford, Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

John Ashcroft, Atty. Gen., Robert L. Presson, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, Mo., for David Wyrick.

Tom Mendelson, University City, Mo., for Noel C. Trudeau.

C. Christy Barton, Jefferson City, Mo., Francis L. Kenney, Jr., St. Louis, Mo., for appellee, Security Ins. Co. of Hartford.

Before ARNOLD and BENNETT, * Circuit Judges, and HENLEY, Senior Circuit Judge.

ARNOLD, Circuit Judge.

Noel C. Trudeau, a Texas resident, filed this action in the District Court 1 against Donald Wyrick, who is Warden of the Missouri State Penitentiary for Men, and Security Insurance Company of Hartford, which provided the Warden's surety bond. The complaint, which was based on Section 1983 of Title 42 and which also asserted a claim based on state law, invoked both the court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 and its civil rights jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3). The plaintiff's case is based on the theory that the Warden's interference with his letter to an inmate violated the First Amendment and was the proximate cause of plaintiff's losing his job. The jury awarded the plaintiff $25,001 in damages. Although the chain of circumstances involved in this case was, to say the least, unusual, we agree with the District Court that the evidence was sufficient to create a jury question. We therefore affirm the judgment entered on the jury verdict. We vacate the court's dismissal of Security Insurance Company after trial, and remand for further proceedings as to the defendant surety.


This story begins in November of 1976 on the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington. The plaintiff Trudeau was a student at the University and was serving the University Catholic Community (UCC) as a lay associate minister. In addition to his formal duties with the church, he was active in the local chapter of Dignity, 2 an organization of Roman Catholics who are gay. Through Dignity, Trudeau received a letter from one Robert Johnson, an inmate in the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP), indicating that Johnson wished to participate in Dignity's pen-pal program, a part of the organization's prison ministry. Trudeau was president of the Dignity chapter, and he elected to respond to Johnson's letter personally. Johnson then wrote to Trudeau again. The contents of this letter from Johnson, which is not in the record, apparently aroused some suspicion on Trudeau's part as to the legitimacy of the prisoner's representations about himself. 3 Because of this concern, Trudeau wrote to Warden Wyrick on December 7, 1976, requesting information about Johnson. On December 8, 1976, Trudeau, apparently somewhat remorseful about doubting Johnson, determined to write to the inmate again before hearing from the Warden. He enclosed a money order for $3.00 as a Christmas gift. It is the fate of this letter of December 8 which forms the basis of this lawsuit.

The fact of the matter, as later revealed in Warden Wyrick's reply to Trudeau, was that Johnson's letters to Dignity were part of a fraudulent scheme by the inmate to get money out of people who were likely to be sympathetic. The story he told varied with the audience. In Trudeau's case, Johnson described himself as a young man who was gay and lonely and who was serving five years for possession of marijuana. He said that he needed a friend, and could also use some money. In fact, Johnson was a murderer serving a life sentence and was suspected of involvement in the murder of a prison guard. Warden Wyrick had been alerted to the scheme by a previous letter written by Johnson to a Dignity chapter in Baton Rouge. Wyrick responded by ordering that all of Johnson's mail be diverted to his office where it was screened by a stenographer, Mrs. Moody.

Trudeau's December 8 letter to Johnson attracted attention because it contained money which the Warden thought, because of Trudeau's previous letter, was a response to the fraudulent scheme. The money, Wyrick felt, should be returned to Trudeau. He assigned the task of returning Trudeau's letter and money to one of the prison's chaplains, Father Wheeler, but did not give the chaplain specific instructions, simply telling Mrs. Moody to have Father Wheeler "handle it." At this point, the facts of the case become somewhat bizarre.

Although we regret shedding more publicity on the contents of this essentially private correspondence than has already occurred, some knowledge of what was said is essential to understand Father Wheeler's actions. Trudeau acknowledged in the letter that he was gay and said that both his priest and his bishop were aware of his homosexuality. Moreover, he made some comments about the bishop's supposed " 'life or death' hold over the people and priests in his diocese." Plaintiff's Exhibit (PX) 3 at 2. In addition to this letter and the money order, Father Wheeler was also given Trudeau's earlier letter to Wyrick and a copy of the Warden's response. 4 Rather than simply returning the correspondence and money order to Trudeau, Father Wheeler chose to approach the problem through official church channels. He wrote to the chancellor of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Monsignor Eugene Witkowski, enclosing Trudeau's letter to Johnson and the money order. Through the Monsignor, the entire matter came to the attention of the episcopal head of the diocese, Bishop John J. Cassata. The Bishop was not pleased. 5 He ordered that Trudeau must leave his position at UCC, or else he would remove UCC's priest, Father Scholl. Trudeau was employed at UCC under a year-to-year contract which provided, essentially, for automatic renewal absent notice or just cause for removal. 6 He eventually acceded to the Bishop's demand and resigned as of the end of the academic year.


Trudeau filed this suit in the District Court alleging that Wyrick's actions constituted censorship in violation of the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, and also that these actions amounted to a tortious invasion of privacy under Missouri law. After a full trial on both claims, the Court directed a verdict for the defendant on the state law claim 7 and submitted the constitutional claim to the jury. The six-member jury returned a verdict for Trudeau for one dollar in nominal damages and $25,000 in actual damages. They declined to award punitive damages.

The defendant's first argument on appeal is that the facts are simply insufficient to support the jury's verdict. Both sides rely on Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S 396, 94 S.Ct. 1800, 40 L.Ed.2d 224 (1974). In Procunier the Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of California prison mail regulations which had been invalidated by a three-judge district court on the grounds of vagueness, censorship of constitutionally protected speech, and failure to provide procedural safeguards. The Supreme Court affirmed the holding of unconstitutionality. 416 U.S. at 415, 94 S.Ct. at 1812. The premise of the holding is clear: "[i]n the case of direct personal correspondence between inmates and those who have a particularized interest in communicating with them, [footnote omitted] mail censorship implicates more than the right of prisoners." Id. at 408, 94 S.Ct. at 1809. Justice Powell's opinion for the Court described the legal interests at stake in this way:

Communication by letter is not accomplished by the act of writing words on paper. Rather, it is effected only when the letter is read by the addressee. Both parties to the correspondence have an interest in securing that result, and censorship of the communication between them necessarily impinges on the interest of each. Whatever the status of a prisoner's claim to uncensored correspondence with an outsider, it is plain that the latter's interest is grounded in the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. And this does not depend on whether the nonprisoner correspondent is the author or intended recipient of a particular letter, for the addressee as well as the sender of direct personal correspondence derives from the First and Fourteenth Amendments a protection against unjustified governmental interference with the intended communication.

Id. at 408-09, 94 S.Ct. at 1809. Thus it is clear that the sender of a letter to an inmate has a right, grounded in the Constitution, to have that letter delivered to the inmate free of unjustified interference by state officials.

It should be noted, however, that the opinion in Procunier dealt primarily with the facial validity of regulations promulgated for a correctional institution. This case, on the other hand, deals with a single instance in which mail was diverted from the normal course of delivery and sent to a third party who had no colorable legal interest in the letter. The validity of the prison's regulation on the subject of censorship is not at issue. It provided simply, "Incoming mail will not be read." PX 11(a) at 2, PX 11(b) at 2. No one doubts that this regulation meets or exceeds the requirement established in Procunier, which held that a

regulation authorizing mail censorship [must] further[ ] one or more of the substantial governmental interests of security, order, and rehabilitation. Second, the limitation of First Amendment freedoms must be no greater than is necessary or essential to the protection of the particular governmental interest involved.

416 U.S. at 413, 94 S.Ct. at 1811.

The District Court incorporated this balancing test in its instructions numbered 10 and 12, setting forth the elements which the plaintiff must prove in order to...

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  • Grenning v. Klemme
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Washington
    • July 22, 2014
    ...right to censor or forward inmate mail does not extend to publicizing private correspondence to a third party. See Trudeau v. Wyrick, 713 F.2d 1360, 1366 (8th Cir.1983) (prison officials may have had the right to intercept letter from plaintiff, a lay minister, to prisoner, but that interes......
  • Elder v. Gillespie
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Arkansas
    • March 31, 2021
    ...a policy" that gives rise to unconstitutional conditions. Bonner v. Outlaw, 552 F.3d 673, 679 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing Trudeau v. Wyrick, 713 F.2d 1360, 1367 (8th Cir. 1983)). Where liability is premised on a supervisor's deliberate indifference to misconduct, "[t]he supervisor must know abo......
  • Martin v. Kelley
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • October 8, 1986
    ...that one instance of mail censorship can amount to a constitutional violation under the First Amendment. See, e.g., Trudeau v. Wyrick, 713 F.2d 1360 (8th Cir.1983) (interference with one letter was a constitutional violation under Procunier v. Martinez ); McNamara, 606 F.2d 621 (it is a vio......
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    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • March 28, 2014
    ...a policy” that gives rise to unconstitutional conditions. Bonner v. Outlaw, 552 F.3d 673, 679 (8th Cir.2009) (citing Trudeau v. Wyrick, 713 F.2d 1360, 1367 (8th Cir.1983)). In requiring a plaintiff to allege that each defendant was personally involved in the deprivation of his constitutiona......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Nonbelievers and Government Speech
    • United States
    • Iowa Law Review No. 97-2, January 2012
    • January 1, 2012
    ...injuries, and the defendant’s fault need not have been the sole proximate cause in order to allow recovery.” (quoting Trudeav v. Wyrick, 713 F.2d 1360, 1367 (8th Cir. 1983))); FDIC v. Bierman, 2 F.3d 1424, 1434 (7th Cir. 1993) (noting that proximate cause “need only be a substantial factor”......

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