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McLaughlin v. Zavada

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

November 4, 2019




         Plaintiff, 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.[1]

         Presently 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.

         I. Facts Relevant to this Motion

         It is 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.)

         The new 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.)[2] "Privileged correspondence shall only contain essential, confidential, attorney-client communication." (ECF No. 29 Ex. C at 1-12.)

         "Non-privileged" 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 2.)

         On May 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."

         Plaintiff 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 Correspondence.
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.)[3]

         II. Stand ...

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