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Jones v. Washington

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

June 14, 2019

ARTHUR LEON JONES, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
HEIDI WASHINGTON et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          GORDON J. QUIST, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         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 Washington, Skipper, Arts, and Bonn. In addition, Plaintiff Palmer will be dismissed from this action.

         Discussion

         I. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff Jones is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Michigan Reformatory (RMI) in Ionia, Ionia County, Michigan. The events about which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff Palmer is Plaintiff Jones' mother. Plaintiffs sue MDOC Director Heidi Washington, Warden G. Skipper, Deputy F. Arts, Facility Inspector Unknown Bonn, Mailroom Staff R. Zammaron, and Prison Counselor Michael Sun.

         Plaintiff Jones alleges that on June 12, 2018, he asked Plaintiff Palmer to send him the criminal trial transcripts, police reports, and discovery materials that were a part of his criminal prosecution in People v. Jones, Case Number 12-4957-FC. Plaintiff Jones states that he needed access to these documents in order to prepare his motion for relief from judgment pursuant to MCR 6.500 et seq. On June 16, 2018, Plaintiff Palmer mailed the requested legal documents to Plaintiff Jones in accordance with MDOC Policy Directive 05.03.118. On June 21, 2018, Plaintiff Jones received a notice of mail rejection from Defendant Zammaron indicating that his mail was too voluminous to search. In the rejection notice, Defendant Zammaron specifically states that the mail was “Unduly burdensome to search and thus poses a threat to custody and security.”

         Plaintiff Jones asserts that Policy Directive 05.03.118 does not prohibit a prisoner's incoming mail merely because it is voluminous. Plaintiff Jones states that the only limitation on the size of incoming mail is set forth in the personal property limitation in Policy Directive 04.07.112. Policy Directive 05.03.118 states that personal correspondence and photographs are permitted to be received from any source.

         On June 22, 2018, Plaintiff Jones told Defendant Sun that the mail being rejected consisted of legal documents related to Plaintiff Jones' criminal conviction. Defendant Sun told Plaintiff Jones that if all the documents were indeed legal, he would allow Plaintiff to have them at the conclusion of an administrative hearing. On June 25, 2018, Defendant Sun told Plaintiff that he had reviewed the package of legal documents and that as soon as he looked through everything, he would get it to Plaintiff Jones. Defendant Sun stated that the only problem with the package was that it totaled over sixteen hundred pages of documents from a court and that there was no obvious reason to reject the package.

         On July 3, 2018, Plaintiff Jones filed a grievance against Defendants Skipper, Arts, Hill and Zammaron, stating that the mail rejection violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. On July 29, 2018, Plaintiff Jones received a copy of a letter from Plaintiff Palmer, which she had written in opposition to the June 21, 2018, mail rejection. Plaintiff Palmer's letter had pointed out that mail could not be rejected solely because it was voluminous. On July 7, 2018, Plaintiff Jones received a second notice of mail rejection, which stated that it was being rejected pursuant to Policy Directive 04.07.112 (prisoner personal property) because it contained binders and stickers which could not be searched without destroying it. Plaintiff Jones states that the policy in effect at that time provided that prisoners were permitted “to possess legal property which consisted of pleadings and other documents ordinarily filed with a court, research notes, exhibits, law book, legal periodicals and similar written documents and items necessary for litigation which the prisoner is currently pursuing on his/her own behalf, subject to PD 05.03.118, ‘Prisoner Mail.'” (ECF No. 1, PageID.7.) Plaintiff Jones states that the policy also allowed a prisoner to possess “[p]leadings, transcripts, court orders and court opinions arising out of the criminal case for which the prisoner is currently serving, even if there is no pending litigation.” (Id.)

         On July 9, 2018, Defendant Sun came to Plaintiff Jones' cell and stated that Plaintiff would regret filing a grievance. According to the complaint, Defendant Sun stated:

You're not getting your fucking legal documents Jones. I didn't tell you to file a grievance against Zammaron about your rejected mail. And your mother's little smart letter to the Warden's office won't save your legal mail either, we've changed the mail rejection (meaning him and Zammaron) anyway to say that there is contraband in it. How you like that. You won't file no more grievances will you, I bet you won't!

(ECF No. 1, PageID.8.)

         On July 11, 2018, Plaintiff Jones filed a grievance on Defendant Zammaron for the second mail rejection. Plaintiff Jones claims that the second mail rejection was written in retaliation for the grievance he had filed on Defendant Zammaron regarding the first mail rejection. Plaintiffs Jones and Palmer claim that Defendants Zammaron and Sun discriminated against them when they rejected Plaintiff Jones' legal mail simply because it was not sent by an attorney. Plaintiff Jones asserts that MDOC policy allows written correspondence from any source and does not prohibit legal publications or documents from a non-attorney. Plaintiff asked for an opportunity to review the contents of the package in order to prepare a defense to the rejection, but Defendant Sun refused. Defendant Sun stated that he had told Plaintiff Jones not to file a grievance, and that he would have given him the legal documents if Plaintiff had followed his advice. Defendant Sun conducted a hearing on the second mail rejection on July 12, 2018, but Plaintiff did not receive notice of the hearing until July 14, 2018, which deprived him of the ability to attend the hearing in violation of his due process rights. Plaintiff also states that he was never allowed to review the documents.

         On July 18, 2018, Defendants Sun and Zammaron responded to Plaintiff Jones' grievance by stating that his mail was being rejected because it contained three hole binders, tabs, and stickers. Plaintiff Jones asserts that if this was true, it would have been cited as the reason for the original rejection. On July 30, 2018, Assistant Resident Unit Manager Reed responded to Plaintiff Jones' grievance appeal by stating:

PC Sun conducted an administrative hearing on 7/12/18 at which time the item was determined [sic] more that 1500 pages of materials which contained contraband were not to enter the facility. PC Sun states he did not allow the grievant to view the rejected mail and failed to not (do) this and [note] the reason in the administrative hearing as required. Administrative steps ...

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