United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
William McLaughlin, a prisoner currently housed at the State
Correctional Institution at Benner Township, Pennsylvania
(SCI Benner Township), brings this pro se civil rights action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, raising claims under the
Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States
Constitution arising out of the conditions to which he was
allegedly subjected at the Fayette County Prison in 2017 as a
pretrial detainee. Named as Defendants are Michael Zavada,
Brian S. Miller, Lt. Smith, the County of Fayette, Lt.
Lanksay and six "John Doe" individuals who served
as members of the Fayette County Prison Board at the times
relevant to the Complaint. The original Complaint was filed
on March 15, 2109, but in response to a motion to dismiss,
Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on September 17, 2019.
Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the Amended
Complaint and Plaintiffs response to this motion is due by
November 15, 2019.
pending before the Court is Plaintiffs motion for a
preliminary and permanent injunction, which seeks to compel
Defendants to send all correspondence and effect all service
of filings upon him by using the Pennsylvania Department of
Corrections (DOC) "privileged" mail procedures, and
also seeks to compel the DOC-which is not a party to this
case-to accept such incoming mail as privileged and deliver
it to him within 48 hours of receipt. For the reasons that
follow, Plaintiffs motion will be denied.
Facts Relevant to this Motion
undisputed that the DOC recently made changes to its policies
and procedures relating to prisoner reception of incoming
mail. Defendants indicate that the change occurred in the
fall of 2018 in response to concerns that inmates were
smuggling synthetic drugs into the state prisons by means of
inmate mail, causing illness to both correctional officers
and inmates. Plaintiff asserts that this claim is untrue,
that no prison staff were exposed to any controlled
substances and that the new procedures are designed to
"frustrate inmates' ability to receive mail and are
a dishonest attempt to obtain additional funding for the
Department." (ECF No. 44 at 1.)
policy, DC-ADM 803, divides incoming prisoner mail into two
categories, "privileged" and
"non-privileged." (Pl.'s Br. (ECF No. 29) Ex.
C.) "Privileged" mail is sent to the prison at
which the prisoner is housed, entered into a log and
distributed to the prisoner. (Id. at 1-11 to
1-14.) "Privileged correspondence shall only
contain essential, confidential, attorney-client
communication." (ECF No. 29 Ex. C at 1-12.)
mail is sent to "Smart Communications," an outside
service located in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Id. at
1-1.) The mail is opened, scanned and electronically
transmitted to staff at the appropriate facility, where it is
printed and delivered to the inmates. (Id. at 1 -8
to 1 -9.) Plaintiff asserts that this process requires a
minimum of seven days, but mail is often delayed and can take
more than fourteen days. He contends that "mail
processed through Smart Communications is often lost or not
delivered for reasons unknown to [him]." (ECF No. 29 at
29, 2019, in response to Plaintiffs correspondence of May 23,
2019, counsel for Defendants informed him that the DOC was
"taking the position that the 'attorney' mail
that comes directly to a state facility with a control number
is only communications between an inmate and his own counsel,
in other words, privileged attorney-client communications.
Correspondence from opposing counsel, which carries no such
privilege, must go through the regular mail system."
(ECF No. 29 Ex. A at 1-2.) Therefore, as Defendants'
counsel informed Plaintiff, DOC policy requires that all
correspondence sent to him by defense counsel in connection
to this lawsuit would go through Smart Communications in
Florida because it is "non-privileged."
filed a grievance at SCI Benner Township about this mail
policy. On June 20, 2019, he received an Initial Review
Response denying his grievance, stating as follows:
In your grievance, you state that you are a pro se litigant
who corresponds with opposing counsel. Correspondence
received from opposing counsel to you is required to be sent
to Smart Communications and processed as Non-Privileged
You seek relief in the form of allowing attorneys to engage
with you in legal matters to send mail directly to SCI Benner
Townships physical address, allow you to receive any incoming
mail from attorneys sent to you at the facility, and
unspecified financial compensation for violating your rights.
Upon advice from the Office of Chief Counsel there is no
attorney client privilege between the above[-]mentioned
parties. Therefore it will be processed as Non-Privileged
Correspondence in accordance with DC-ADM 803.
(ECF No. 29 Ex. B.)