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Byrnes v. Ojibway Correctional Facility

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Northern Division

April 22, 2019

ERIC BYRNES, Plaintiff,



         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996) (PLRA), the Court is required to dismiss any prisoner action brought under federal law if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Court must read Plaintiff's pro se complaint indulgently, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and accept Plaintiff's allegations as true, unless they are clearly irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Applying these standards, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim against Defendants Ojibway Correctional Facility, Michigan Department of Corrections, Hamel, Washington, and Russell.


         I. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Muskegon Correctional Facility (MCF) in Muskegon, Muskegon County, Michigan. The events about which he complains, however, occurred at the Ojibway Correctional Facility (OCF) in Marenisco, Gogebic County, Michigan. Plaintiff sues OCF, the MDOC, MDOC Director Heidi Washington, and MDOC Office of Legal Affairs Manager Richard Russell, together with the following OCF officials: Warden Kathy Olsen; Grievance Coordinator T. Hamel; Mail Room Manager (unknown) Hill; and Office Manager (unknown) Lacount.

         Plaintiff's complaint involves the handling of his legal mail by OCF personnel. Plaintiff contends that he has completed the paperwork required to receive special handling of his legal mail.[1]

         Plaintiff alleges that, on March 14, 2018, Plaintiff's attorney Mr. Ferry sent a letter to Plaintiff, advising him that his appeal had been denied and that Plaintiff needed to file a motion for reconsideration that presented new evidence and/or that he needed to file an application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. Attorney Ferry's package also contained copies of Plaintiff's trial transcripts, lower court proceedings, unspecified new evidence, an application for leave to appeal, and a Michigan Supreme Court package. Ferry initially mailed the documents to the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility (LRF), where Plaintiff previously was housed. Plaintiff, however, had been transferred to OCF. LRF forwarded the package to OCF, which rejected the mail and returned it to Attorney Ferry. Ferry reconfirmed Plaintiff's new address and remailed the package on April 1, 2018, to Plaintiff at OCF, which OCF rejected again.

         On April 6, 2018, Attorney Ferry sent Plaintiff a legal letter, advising Plaintiff of his attempts to send the documents that Plaintiff required for his motion for reconsideration and application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, all of which had been rejected by OCF, despite being marked “legal mail” and being certified. The letter also advised Plaintiff of his upcoming deadlines.

         On April 11, 2018, Plaintiff filed a grievance about his rejected mail, advising that the handling violated policy and resulted in Plaintiff missing his deadline to file a motion for reconsideration. Defendant Hill responded that legal mail was required to be marked “legal mail” and only counted if it was received directly from the attorney or other legitimate legal source through an official carrier. Plaintiff complains that the mail was appropriately marked and that the rejection of his mail was not handled according to policy, which would have required that he receive notice and a hearing on the rejection and that the mail be held for 15 days for this purpose.

         Plaintiff sent a kite to Defendant Warden Olson on an unspecified date. Defendant Olson responded on April 27, 2018, indicating that Plaintiff should allow the grievance process to proceed. Olson advised Plaintiff that, if he had specific issues, he should kite Defendant Lacount, who was the mailroom staff person. Plaintiff kited Defendant Lacount, who advised him that OCF had introduced a new policy to ensure that they make copies of any mail rejection. Plaintiff advised that another prisoner had his legal mail delivered after the mailroom had looked up the suspicious attorney address, and he asked why his legal mail had not received the same treatment. Lacount responded that Plaintiff's incoming mail was handwritten.

         On May 2, 2018, Plaintiff received a letter from the State Appellate Defender Office (SADO) Deputy Director Kathy Swedlow, who advised that the failure to deliver Attorney Ferry's March 14 and April 1, 2018, letters was beyond Attorney Ferry's control. Swedlow placed the fault on the MDOC.

         Plaintiff sent a kite to Defendant Olson on May 10, 2018. He met with Defendants Olson and Lacount, and he asked why, when Attorney Ferry's legal mail to Plaintiff was both certified and labeled “legal mail, ” OCF rejected the mail twice without informing Plaintiff, thereby denying Plaintiff his right to seek reconsideration in the court of appeals and leave to appeal to the supreme court. On May 24, 2018, Defendant Olson advised Plaintiff that the first of Ferry's mailings was in an envelope that the prison did not accept, the return address was “G. Ferry, ” and the words “Legal Mail” were handwritten. In addition, the mailing was transferred from another facility. Olson explained that the mailroom had made the determination that the envelope did not meet prison policy and therefore returned the mailing. Plaintiff argues, however, that the response is unsatisfactory, as the prison did not maintain a copy of the envelope or a record of its receipt, so they are fabricating reasons, in violation of prison policy. In addition, he contends, OCF again rejected Attorney Ferry's mailing, demonstrating that they had a policy of rejecting legal mail without notice to the prisoner.

         On May 30, 2018, Plaintiff sent a kite to Defendant Hill complaining that his legal mail was being opened before he received it. Defendant Hill responded that some courts sent envelopes sealed only with tape, rather than by wetting the flap.

         Plaintiff wrote to Defendant Olson on June 12, 2018, advising her that the mail being sent by Attorney Ferry was related to his case and that the rejections of his mail caused him to miss court dates. Olson advised Plaintiff that he should have Mr. Ferry send it again, and she informed Plaintiff that there was nothing more that she could do. She referred Plaintiff to the law library for help handling his appeal.

         On June 12, 2018, Plaintiff was called to the control center for legal mail. When he arrived, he found that his letter of June 5, 2018, which was directed to the United States Marshal, had been returned to the prison. The letter also had been opened and was damaged. The captain in the control center told Plaintiff that he had never seen that happen before and that the mail apparently never left OCF. Plaintiff wrote to Defendant Olson, complaining that his mail was being interfered with, going and ...

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