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Holbrook v. Jellen

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 16, 2014

ROBERT L. HOLBROOK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THERESA JELLEN, et al., Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

THOMAS M. BLEWITT, Magistrate Judge.

I. BACKGROUND.

On January 9, 2014, Plaintiffs, Robert L. Holbrook, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Coal Township ("SCI-Coal Twp.")[1], along with Kristi Brian, Ph.D., an employee of the College of Charleston, South Carolina, and the Philadelphia Chapter of the Human Rights Coalition ("HRC"), jointly filed this civil rights action, through counsel, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs paid the filing fee.

Named as Defendants are: Theresa Jellen, Mailroom Supervisor at SCI-Coal Twp., the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"); David Varano, former Superintendent at SCI-Coal Twp.; Vincent Mooeny, Superintendent at SCI-Coal Twp.; Nancy Wilson, Business Manager at SCI-Coal Twp.; Dorina Varner, Chief Grievance Officer for the DOC; and Diana Woodside, Policy Office Director for the DOC. Plaintiffs sue all Defendants in both their official and individual capacities.

The Summons was issued and Defendants were served with Plaintiffs' Complaint. Counsel entered her appearance for all Defendants and waived service.

On March 10, 2014, Defendants jointly filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. 5). Defendants simultaneously filed their support brief, with an attached Exhibit, namely, a copy of DOC Policy DC-ADM 803, regarding inmate mail and incoming publications. (Docs. 6 & 6-1). Plaintiffs filed their opposition brief on March 23, 2014. (Doc. 7). Defendants did not file a reply brief.

Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint is ripe for review. We have been assigned this case for pre-trial matters.

Plaintiffs' case is actionable under §1983 and this Court has jurisdiction over it under 28 U.S.C. §1331. See Fontroy v. Beard, 559 F.3d 173, 177 (3d Cir. 2009).

II. ALLEGATIONS OF COMPLAINT, DOC. 1.

In their 28-page typed pleading, Plaintiffs essentially allege that Defendants prohibited Holbrook from receiving mail containing various publications and internet materials, including articles and social networking pages about his criminal case and about other juvenile offenders serving life sentences without parole. Plaintiffs also allege that supervisory Defendants upheld the prohibitions regarding Holbrook's mail via the DOC administrative remedy process and DOC DC-ADM 803. Plaintiffs claim that Defendants violated their First Amendment rights to free speech and free association applicable to states under the Fourteenth Amendment.[2] As relief, Plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that Defendants' acts of censorship were unconstitutional, an injunction directing Defendants to stop their censorship, as well as compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees.[3]

According to the Complaint, [4] Holbrook was convicted as a juvenile and received a life imprisonment sentence without parole. His case has been written about in many articles. (Doc. 1, ¶'s 13-17). Before Holbrook was transferred to SCI-Coal Twp., he received in the mail "all copies of articles published on the Internet and in print publications, including those relating to his sentence and conviction." ( Id., ¶ 19). After Holbrook was transferred to SCI-Coal Twp., he was not allowed by Defendants to receive many publications and articles mailed to him.

Plaintiffs' Complaint divides the censored publications at issue in five categories which we discuss seriatim.

1. Social Networking pages from Ms. Ly

Ms. Ly created a Facebook page containing materials about Holbrook, including his writings, and information about his criminal case, and she sent Holbrook two mailings. One mailing contained social networking pages about Holbrook so that Holbrook could review them for accuracy. The second mailing contained copies of four articles written by Holbrook which were on a website about Holbrook's criminal case. Plaintiffs allege that Holbrook previously was allowed to receive these articles when he was confined at SCI-Greene and, that he could not take all of his materials with him when he was transferred to SCI-Coal Twp. since they exceeded the permissible amount allowed. ( Id., ¶'s 24-28).

Defendant Jellen did not allow Holbrook to receive the first mailing from Ms. Ly on March 6, 2012, and Jellen did not allow Holbrook to receive the second mailing from Ms. Ly on March 9, 2012. Jellen sent Holbrook two Unacceptable Correspondence forms which stated that inmates were not allowed to receive social networking pages. Holbrook's mail was returned to the sender before he could file an appeal of Jellen's decisions under DOC DC-ADM 803. On March 13, 2012, Holbrook filed a grievance via the Doc administrative remedy process regarding Jellen's decisions complaining about the denial of his stated mail from Ms. Ly and claiming that Jellen violated his First Amendment rights. On April 3, 2012, Defendant Wilson responded to Holbrook's grievance and denied it stating that social networking pages were not permitted to inmates. Holbrook appealed the denial of his grievance and Defendant Varano upheld the decisions of Jellen and Wilson. Holbrook finally appealed to Defendant Varner who upheld the decisions to censor his mail. Plaintiffs allege that since Holbrook did not receive the mailings from Ms. Ly, he could not provide information to a writer who published an article in a newspaper about his case on March 16, 2012. ( Id., ¶'s 29-41).

2. Publications from Plaintiff Dr. Brian

Plaintiffs allege that on June 15, 2012, Dr. Brian mailed Holbrook two essays she wrote and an excerpt from a book. Brian requested that Holbrook collaborate with her regarding her presentation at an academic conference on the Black Power Movement. Defendant Jellen did not allow Holbrook to receive the mail from Brian since Jellen found they posed a security threat to the prison because the material advocated violence and insurrection against the government, advocated criminal activity or facility misconduct, and contained racially inflammatory comments. Holbrook appealed the denial of the mail from Brian and Defendant Varano upheld Jellen's decision. On further appeal, Defendant Woodside granted Holbrook's appeal and reversed Jellen's decision on August 29, 2012, and allowed Holbrook to receive the mail from Brian more than eleven weeks after it was mailed to him. Plaintiffs allege that the delay hindered the ability of Brian and Holbrook to collaborate for the stated conference. ( Id., ¶'s 43-57).

3. Letter/Flyer/Meeting Notes from Plaintiff HRC

Plaintiffs allege that on September 11, 2012, Defendant Jellen did not permit Holbrook, who was an HRC member, to receive publications, including a flyer and HRC meeting notes, mailed to him by Plaintiff HRC regarding a September 17, 2012, rally against solitary confinement in prison and a September 18, 2012, hearing conducted by the House Democratic Policy Committee. Defendant Jellen did not allow Holbrook to receive the mail from HRC since Jellen found it posed a security threat to the prison because the material advocated violence and insurrection against the government, and advocated criminal activity or facility misconduct. Holbrook appealed the denial of the mail from HRC and Defendant Varano upheld Jellen's decision on September 27, 2012. On further appeal, Defendant Woodside granted Holbrook's appeal and reversed Jellen's decision on November 16, 2012, and allowed Holbrook to receive the mail from HRC over two months after it was mailed to him. Plaintiffs allege that the delay hindered ...


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