United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
December 29, 2016
CHRISTOPHER L. CHATMAN, Plaintiff,
HAROLD CLARKE, DIRECTOR, ET AL Defendants.
E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge
L. Chatman, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this
civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
alleging that excluding him from access to email in prison
violates his First Amendment rights. Upon review of the
record, the court finds that the action must be summarily
alleges the following sequence of facts related to his
claims. Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC")
officials have classified Chatman as Security Level S,
long-term segregation. He has been incarcerated in a
long-term segregation unit at Red Onion State Prison
("Red Onion") since April 7, 2016.
inmates were recently granted an opportunity to participate
in a web-based program that allows them to send and receive
secure email messages. Most inmates can receive or send such
messages from a kiosk dedicated for the purpose, with
postage-like stamps required for outgoing messages. Per the
VDOC policy on inmate correspondence, "Secure messaging
is a privilege. [O]ffenders assigned to a Special Housing
Unit will not be provided access to the kiosk to retrieve or
send their secure messages." (Compl. Ex. A at 1, ECF No.
1-1.) This policy also provides: "Offenders assigned to
long term segregation facilities will not have access to
kiosks but may access secure messaging" by
facility mailroom staff printing and delivering messages to
the offender through the facility mail." (Id.)
2016, Chatman filed a request for Red Onion mailroom staff to
have copies of his incoming messages printed out and
delivered to him, per VDOC policy. Defendant Shortridge, Red
Onion's operations manager, responded: Special Housing
Unit will not be provided access to kiosk." (Compl. 3,
ECF No. 1.) Chatman then filed a grievance on the matter. In
the Level I response, a supervisory official deemed the
grievance unfounded and wrote:
LOP 830.A establishes kiosk access as an incentive for
Security Level "S" offenders to progress in the
[Red Onion] Segregation Reduction Step-Down Program. Kiosk
privileges are earned once Security Level "S"
offenders have successfully completed the requirements of
their assigned pathway (SM or EVI), had a reduction in
Security level from Security Level "S" to Security
Level 6 and are housed in Step-Down Phase 1 or EVI Closed
pods. Due to your current Security Level "S"
assignment, you do not have access to secure messages.
(Id. Ex., at 9, ECF No. 1-1.) Chatman appealed. At
Level II, a regional administrator wrote:
The Level I response from Red Onion State Prison is
inappropriate. Procedural violations are noted. [OP] 803.1
Offender Correspondence is the governing authority.
The decision of the Level I respondent is reversed to
FOUNDED. The administrative remedy is to print out your
messages and deliver them to you. Level II is the last level
of appeal for this grievance.
(Id. Ex., at 10.) Nevertheless, Shortridge has
continued to refuse to deliver Chatman's messages to him
under Red Onion's Step-Down Procedure.
filed this § 1983 action against Shortridge, seeking
declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief. He also sues
the Red Onion warden and the director of the VDOC for failing
to ensure that he can receive his secure kiosk messages as
provided by policy.
court is required to dismiss any action or claim filed by a
prisoner against a governmental entity or officer if the
court determines the action or claim is frivolous, malicious,
or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
28 U.S.C. § 1915 A(b)(1). In order to state a claim in
any federal civil action, the plaintiffs "[f]actual
allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level, " to one that is "plausible
on its face, " rather than merely
"conceivable." Bell All. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
state a cause of action under §1983, a plaintiff must
establish that he has been deprived of rights guaranteed by
the Constitution or laws of the United States and that this
deprivation resulted from conduct committed by a person
acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487
U.S. 42, 48 (1988). While prisoners have a First Amendment
right to communicate with the outside world, see
Thornburgh v. Abbott 490 U.S. 401, 411-12 (1989),
they do not have a constitutional right to a particular form
of communication, such as access to email. Edington v.
Warden of FCI Elkton No. 4:14CV2397, 2015 WL 1843240, at
*3 (N.D. Ohio Apr. 22, 2015) (unpublished) (citing other
cases). Chatman clearly has the ability to
communicate with the outside world through the regular mail,
as he posted his § 1983 Complaint to the court. He has
not been deprived of his First Amendment rights here.
to the extent that Red Onion's secure message restriction
on Level S offenders infringes on Chatman's First
Amendment right, nevertheless, the restriction is
constitutional. It is well established that "some [First
Amendment] rights are simply inconsistent with the status of
a prisoner or 'with the legitimate penological objectives
of the corrections system.'" Shaw v. Murphy
532 U.S. 223, 229 (2001) (quoting Pell v. Procunier,
417 U.S. 817, 822 (1974)).
security, order, and discipline are essential goals of a
corrections system, and prison officials, therefore, are
accorded wide latitude in the adoption and application of
prison policies and procedures. See Bell v. Wolfish
441 U.S. 520, 546-47 (1979). "[B]ecause 'the
problems of prisons in America are complex and intractable,
' and because courts are particularly 'ill
equipped' to deal with these problems, [courts] generally
have deferred to the judgments of prison officials in
upholding these regulations against constitutional
challenge." Shaw, 532 U.S. at 229. "[W]hen
a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional
rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related
to legitimate penological interests." Turner v.
Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987). To determine the
reasonableness of a particular prison regulation, the court
considers four factors:
(1) whether 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.
Lovelace v. Lee, 472 F.3d 174, 200 (quoting
Turner, 482 U.S. at 89-92 (internal brackets
omitted). Chatman bears the burden of "overcom[ing] the
presumption that the prison officials acted within their
broad discretion." Shaw, 532 U.S. at 232.
Onion's restriction on kiosk messages satisfies this
Turner standard. The connection between the
challenged regulation and prison interests is clear.
Reserving for Security Level 6 offenders the privilege of
receiving or sending kiosk messages furthers the prison's
interest in offering Level S offenders an incentive to work
toward achieving Level 6 status. Chatman retains, at a
minimum, the alternative of regular mail as a means of
exercising his right to communicate with those outside the
prison. Lifting the restriction on kiosk messages would
eliminate an important incentive to progress out of Level S
status and would require Red Onion mail staff to expend more
time and effort to print out secure messages for the many
Level S inmates. Furthermore, Chatman fails to offer any
obvious or easy alternatives to this restriction to achieve
the same goals. Therefore, the court concludes that Red
Onion's kiosk restrictions pass constitutional muster and
survive Chatman's First Amendment challenge under §
Chatman's evidence of conflict between VDOC-wide inmate
correspondence regulations and Red Onion's local program
restriction of kiosk messaging presents, at most, a possible
violation of VDOC policy. State officials' failure to
abide by state procedural regulations is not a federal due
process issue, and is, therefore, not actionable under §
1983. Riccio v. Cnty. of Fairfax 907 F.2d 1459, 1469
(4th Cir. 1990) ("If state law grants more procedural
rights than the Constitution would otherwise require, a
state's failure to abide by that law is not a federal due
reasons stated, the court dismisses Chatman's complaint
without prejudice, pursuant to § 1915A(b)(1), for
failure to state a claim. An appropriate order will enter
Clerk is directed to send copies of this memorandum opinion
and accompanying order to plaintiff.
 See, e.g., Bristow v. Amber,
No. 2:12-cv-412, 2012 WL 1963577, at *2-3 (S.D. Ohio May 31,
2012) (prisoners do not have a First Amendment right to
access email); Grayson v. Federal Bureau of Prisons,
No. 5:11CV2, 2012 WL 380426, at *3 (N.D. W.Va. Feb. 6, 2012)
("[P]risoners have no First Amendment constitutional
right to access email."); Rueb v. Zavaras, No.
09-cv-02817-REB-MEH, 2011 WL 839320, at *6 (D. Colo. Mar. 7,
2011) ('[I]nmates have no established First Amendment
right to access email."); Holloway v. Magness.
No. 5:07cv88, 2011 WL 204891, at *7 (E.D. Ark. Jan. 21, 2011)
("[A]ssuming that the free speech clause of the First
Amendment requires prisons to permit communication between
prisoners and persons outside the prison, it does not follow
that the First Amendment requires that the government provide
telephones, videoconferencing, email, or any of the other
marvelous forms of technology that allow instantaneous
communication across geographical distances; the First
Amendment is a limit on the exercise of governmental power,
not a source of positive obligation on the part of the