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Ramirez v. Pugh

March 29, 2007

MARC RAMIREZ PLAINTIFF
v.
MICHAEL V. PUGH, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. McClure, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

This is a civil rights case concerning the constitutionality of statutory and regulatory restrictions that prevent federal inmates from receiving pornography. Initially, this court found that such restrictions were constitutional because they met the constitutional requirements set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987). In doing so, we found that the restrictions were rationally connected to legitimate penological interests concerning rehabilitation and institutional security. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed and remanded, directing the court to allow a factual record to first develop before ruling on the constitutionality of the restrictions in question. See Ramirez v. Pugh, 379 F.3d 122 (3d Cir. 2004). Discovery has now ended, and both plaintiff and defendants have filed cross motions for summary judgment. After reviewing the developed factual record, we find that the statutory and regulatory restrictions in question are rationally related to the legitimate penological interests of rehabilitation and institutional security, meet the reasonableness requirements set forth under Turner, and therefore are constitutional. For the reasons stated below, we will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

I. Procedural History

In 1997, Congress authorized legislation and the BOP promulgated regulations that essentially prohibited federal prisoners from receiving pornography. On March 7, 1997, Plaintiff Marc Ramirez, an inmate presently confined at the Allenwood Low Security Correctional Institution, White Deer, Pennsylvania ("LSCI-Allenwood"), initiated this civil rights action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. He named as defendants the former United States Attorney Janet Reno, Kathleen Hawk, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"), and LSCI-Allenwood Warden Michael V. Pugh. Plaintiff claims that these restrictions violate his First Amendment rights because the restrictions prevent him access to publications such as Playboy and Penthouse.

On March 27, 1997, plaintiff's amended complaint was dismissed without prejudice for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The Third Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Because the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia was considering a similar issue, we stayed all proceedings pending final disposition of Amatel v. Reno, 975 F. Supp. 365 (D.D.C. 1997).*fn1 On March 8, 2000, after Amatel was decided, we lifted the stay.

On February 28, 2002, we granted defendants' motion to dismiss the amended complaint. We found that the restrictions on pornography were constitutional in part because "Congress could have reached a rational conclusion that bans on sexually explicit materials would promote rehabilitation and institutional security." (February 28th Memorandum and Order, Rec. Doc. No. 61, at 10.) On August 12, 2004, the Third Circuit reversed our decision, and remanded the matter instructing the court to "first identify with particularity the specific rehabilitative goals advanced by the government to justify the restriction at issue, and then give the parties the opportunity to adduce evidence sufficient to enable a determination as to whether the connection between these goals and the restriction is rational under Turner." Ramirez, 379 F.3d at 128.*fn2

The parties have conducted discovery, which has ended.*fn3

Plaintiff and defendants have filed cross motions for summary judgment. Both motions are ripe for disposition.*fn4

II. Ensign Amendment and BOP Regulations

The restrictions in question stem from what is known as the Ensign Amendment, which was originally enacted as part of the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997. See Pub. L. No. 104-208, § 614, 110 Stat. 3009 (1996). The amendment, which has been reenacted in each subsequent appropriations act and is now codified at 28 U.S.C. § 530C(b)(6), prohibits the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") from using federal funds to "distribute or make available any commercially published information or material to a prisoner when it is made known to the Federal official having authority to obligate or expend such funds that such information or material is sexually explicit or features nudity." Id.

To help implement this congressional mandate, the BOP has promulgated regulations that define some of the amendment's key terms. For instance, under the BOP regulations, "sexually explicit" means "a pictorial depiction of actual or simulated sexual acts including sexual intercourse, oral sex, or masturbation." 28 C.F.R. § 540.72(b)(4). "Nudity" means "a pictorial depiction where genitalia or female breasts are exposed," and "features" means "the publication contains depictions of nudity or sexually explicit conduct on a routine or regular basis or promotes itself based upon such depictions in the case of individual one-time issues." 28 C.F.R. § 540.72(b)(2) and (3). The BOP regulations specifically exempt nudity used for medical, educational, or anthropological purposes from the definition of "features." Id. Under these guidelines, certain publications from the National Geographic and the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated are not considered prohibited publications. Fed. Bureau of Prisons Program Statement 5266.07 (Nov. 1, 1996). As the Third Circuit noted, the regulations "are clearly targeted to the receipt by inmates of softcore and hardcore pornography." Ramirez, 379 F.3d at 125.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard Governing Summary Judgment

It is appropriate for a court to grant a motion for summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

"If the nonmoving party has the burden of persuasion at trial, 'the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial.'" Jalil v. Avdel Corp., 873 F.2d 701, 706 (3d Cir. 1989) (quoting Chippolini v. Spencer Gifts, Inc., 814 F.2d 893, 896 (3d. Cir. 1987)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the court will draw all reasonable inferences from the evidence in the record in favor of the nonmoving party. Am. Flint Glass Workers Union v. Beaumont Glass Co., 62 F.3d 574, (3d Cir. 1995). The nonmoving party, however, cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment by merely offering general denials, vague allegations, or conclusory statements; rather the party must point to specific evidence in the record that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 32; Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E. ex rel. M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999).Issues of fact are "genuine only if a reasonable jury, considering the evidence presented could find for the nonmoving party." Childers v. Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 693-94 (3d Cir. 1988). Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit will preclude the entry of summary judgment. Id.

II. Legal Standard Applicable to Restrictions on Prisoner Rights

When considering the constitutionality of restrictions on prisoners' rights, there exists a tension between the principle that prisoners do not lose their constitutional protections merely because they are prisoners, with the "practical reality that the judicial branch is ill-suited for running the country's prisons, a task committed to the particular expertise of the legislative and executive branches." Ramirez, 379 F.3d at 126 (citing Turner, 482 U.S. at 84-85).To resolve this tension, the Supreme Court in Turner held that "when a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Turner, 482 U.S. at 89.

To carry out this inquiry, the Turner court set forth a four-factor test, which the Third Circuit considers as a two-step analysis. First, a district court must determine whether there is a "'valid, rational connection' between the prison regulation and the legitimate governmental interest put forward to justify it. Thus, a regulation cannot be sustained where the logical connection between the regulation and the asserted goal is so remote as to render the policy arbitrary or irrational." Jones v. Brown, 461 F.3d 353, 360 (3d Cir. 2006) (citations omitted).

Second, if the court finds a rational relationship exists, then it must consider the other three factors enunciated in Turner's overall reasonableness test. These factors include "(1) whether inmates retain alternative means of exercising the circumscribed right, (2) the burden on prison resources that would be imposed by accommodating the right, and (3) whether there are alternatives to the regulation that fully accommodate the prisoners' rights at de minimis cost to valid penological interests." Id. (citations omitted). The Turner analysis presupposes that the prisoner regulation restricts a constitutionally protected right in the first place. Jones, 461 F.3d at 358.

The Supreme Court has ruled that "the burden . . . is not on the State to prove the validity of prison regulations but on the prisoner to disprove it." Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126, 132 (2003). When considering the government's summary judgment motion, however, "the defendant administrators must 'put forward' the legitimate governmental interests alleged to justify the regulation, and 'demonstrate' that the policy drafters 'could rationally have seen a connection' between the policy and [that interest]." Brown, 461 F.3d at 353 (citations omitted). The Third Circuit has stated that though this burden may be slight, it "must amount to more than a conclusory assertion." Id. Indeed, as required by the standard governing summary judgment, defendants must demonstrate in their summary judgment motion that there is "an absence of a genuine issue of material fact" and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Banks v. Beard, 126 S.Ct. 2572, 2578 (2006). If they succeed, then the plaintiff, as the party with the ultimate burden of persuasion, must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. (citations omitted).*fn5

In considering these burdens, however, the Supreme Court commands that courts "distinguish between the evidence of disputed facts and disputed matters of professional judgment. In respect to the latter, our inferences must accord deference to the views of prison authorities." Id. Therefore, we must "accord substantial deference to the professional judgment of prison administrators." Overton, 539 U.S. at 132. "Unless a prisoner can point to sufficient evidence regarding such issues of ...


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