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Clem v. Clarke

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

March 13, 2014

JASON CLEM, Plaintiff,
v.
HAROLD C. CLARKE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MICHAEL F. URBANSKI, District Judge.

Jason Clem, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 with jurisdiction vested in 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and § 1343. Clem names as defendants Harold C. Clarke, the Director for the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC"), and A. David Robinson, the VDOC's Chief of Corrections Operations. Clem sues defendants to challenge the constitutionality of VDOC Operating Procedure 802.1 ("OP"), which inter alia, limits the number of publications an inmate may possess. After reviewing the record, the court grants defendants' motion for summary judgment because the OP is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.

I.

The OP outlines the procedures and requirements for inmates to possess various types of property.[1] The OP requires that personal property, including publications, "be stored and secured in a locker, cabinet, or other facility supplied container so that it will not interfere with sanitation, insect and rodent control, and will not violate fire or other safety regulations." OP § IV.C.1. Unless otherwise regulated by a facility, a male inmate in general population, like Clem, may not possess more than twelve magazines, catalogs, or other periodicals, thirteen books, and one newspaper. Although newspapers may not be accumulated, an inmate may possess as many newspaper and magazine clippings as can be stored in his locker or cabinet.[2]

While incarcerated at the ACC in 2012, Clem possessed thirteen books when he ordered four more books from a vendor. Before he could accept the four new books, the OP required him to relinquish possession of four books to remain below the OP's limit.[3] Clem also ordered a new book while at KMCC on July 31, 2012, but the OP prohibited Clem from receiving it unless he possessed only twelve other books. Clem alleges that he wants to order a daily newspaper but finds the current limit of one newspaper too restrictive to commit to subscribing, despite the fact that none of his listed property includes a newspaper. Compl. ¶ 16; Pl.'s First Resp. in Opp. to Summ. J., Ex. A, Dkt. # 40-1.

Clem admits to violating the OP in March 2013 when he possessed thirteen books and twenty-six magazines and catalogs at the time he instituted this action. Notably, Clem explains that his thirteen books and twenty-six magazines and catalogs, which consist of "thousands of pages, " do not fill up a quarter of his assigned storage containers. Compl. ¶¶ 17-18. Clem also admits to violating the OP in September 2013 when he possessed nineteen books and more than thirty magazines, periodicals, and catalogs.[4]

Clem argues that the OP violates the First Amendment because the limits of twelve magazines, catalogs, or other periodicals, thirteen books, and one newspaper lack adequate penological justification. Clem demands damages against defendants because they allegedly promulgated, implemented, and enforced the applicable OP and also demands an injunction and declaration that he should be allowed to possess an unlimited number of publications as long as they fit neatly in his assigned storage containers.

II.

Clem is not entitled to his requested relief because the OP is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. Clem "retains those First Amendment rights that are not inconsistent with his status as a prisoner or with the legitimate penological objectives of the corrections system." Pell v. Procunier , 417 U.S. 817, 822 (1974). "[T]he fact that such detention interferes with the... understandable desire to live as comfortably as possible and with as little restraint as possible during confinement does not convert the conditions or restrictions of detention into [unlawful] punishment.'" Bell v. Wolfish , 441 U.S. 520, 537 (1979). Thus, "a prison regulation that abridges inmates' constitutional rights is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.'" Lovelace v. Lee , 472 F.3d 174, 199 (4th Cir. 2006) (citing Turner v. Safley , 482 U.S. 78, 84 (1987)). Whether a regulation is reasonably related depends on:

(1) [W]hether there is a "valid, rational connection" between the prison regulation or action and the interest asserted by the government, or whether this interest is "so remote as to render the policy arbitrary or irrational"; (2) whether "alternative means of exercising the right... remain open to prison inmates, "...; (3) what impact the desired accommodation would have on security staff, inmates, and the allocation of prison resources; and (4) whether there exist any "obvious, easy alternatives" to the challenged regulation or action, which may suggest that it is "not reasonable, but is [instead] an exaggerated response to prison concerns.

Id. at 200 (citing Turner , 482 U.S. at 89-92); see Overton v. Bazzetta , 539 U.S. 126, 132 (2003) (recognizing the prisoner has the burden to disprove the validity of a prison regulation pursuant to the Turner analysis). Notably, federal courts "must accord substantial deference to the professional judgment of prison administrators, who bear a significant responsibility for defining the legitimate goals of a corrections system and for determining the most appropriate means to accomplish them." Overton , 539 U.S. at 132; see, e.g., Bell , 441 U.S. at 547.

In support of the OP, Robinson avers that:

The number of publications an offender may possess was implemented by the VDOC as it is a good fit for all types of storage that are available and are based on average sizes. Limitation on these publications occurs for sanitation reasons, fire prevention, storage space issues, security issues, ability to conduct searches, and to ensure that staff can enter the offender's living area for emergencies. Even neatly stored items can present a safety and sanitation issue based on flammability, age, and proximity to other items that could soil or ignite the publications. Furthermore, publications in excess of the number permitted for an offender to possess presents security concerns such as offenders concealing contraband. Knives, shanks, and other forms of contraband are more easily stored in books and magazines. Search requirements for books, magazines, and newspapers requirements are time consuming. Limiting the number of these publications allowed in an offender's cell ensures that searches are manageable with existing prison staff.

Robinson Aff. ¶ 5. Robinson also explains that prisoners, like Clem, have access to books, magazines, and newspapers in an ...


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