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Couch v. Clarke

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

March 29, 2019

WILLIAM R. COUCH, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
HAROLD CLARKE, ET AL., Defendants.

          William R. Couch and Scott M. Boger, Pro Se Plaintiffs;

          Laura Maughan, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES P. JONES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The plaintiffs, William R. Couch and Scott M. Boger, proceeding pro se, have sued several Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”) administrators and officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. After review of the record, I conclude that the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment must be granted.

         I. Background.

         At all times related to the claims in this lawsuit, Couch has been incarcerated in the Augusta Correctional Center (“Augusta”). His co-plaintiff, Scott M. Boger, is now a resident of Vinton, Virginia. According to the plaintiffs,

[t]he primary purpose of [their] relationship is to pursue legal remedies and petition for the redress of grievances where Couch conducts legal research for Boger to assist him in filing actions in court to vindicate Boger's legal rights, and where Boger conducts investigations outside the prison to enable Couch to vindicate his legal rights. Additionally, Boger conducts for Couch most of Couch's financial and business activities outside of the prison.

Compl. ¶ 33, ECF No. 1. The defendants are VDOC Director Harold Clarke, VDOC Chief of Correctional Operations A. David Robinson, Augusta Warden John Woodson, and Augusta Operations Manager Lynn Graham.

         The events on which the plaintiffs base their claims are undisputed. In March 2017, Augusta officials distributed a Memorandum from Warden Woodson about revisions to the VDOC's Operating Procedure (“OP”) 803.1, among other things. The Memorandum began:

Over the past year, facility staff has discovered a substantial amount of contraband entering DOC facilities through the facility visiting room and the facility mailroom. A significant portion of this contraband has been drugs. Due to the increasing amount of contraband entering our facilities and in order to ensure a high level of safety and security for all Department of Corrections (DOC) staff, visitors and offenders, it is essential that the Department implement additional security measures aimed at detecting and eliminating contraband in all DOC facilities. Therefore in response to this growing issue, the following changes will be implemented.

         Compl. Ex. A, ECF No. 1-1. The Memorandum, dated March 13, 2017, then described changes to policies concerning visitation security and inmates' incoming correspondence, to take effect on April 22, 2017.

         Before these changes, OP 803.1 permitted offenders to receive incoming general correspondence via the mail if it was processed by the United States Postal Service as weighing one ounce or less - the equivalent of a First Class Mail item. Thus, an inmate could receive mailed envelopes each containing up to five sheets of typical-weight copy paper or one sheet of paper and six photographs. Per policy, officers opened and inspected each piece of mail for contraband. If a mailing passed inspection, officers delivered all of the mail items to the inmate.[1]

         The revised edition of OP 803.1 implemented the following changes, as described in the warden's Memorandum:

1. All Security Level 2 and above Institutions. All incoming offender general correspondence to include the envelope at Security Level 2 and above Institutions will [be] photocopied in the institutional mailroom and a maximum of three black and white photocopied pages front and back will be provided to the offender.
• The original envelope, letter and all enclosed contents will be shredded in the institutional mailroom. Exceptions to this requirement include but are not limited to official legal, government and court ordered documents such as military records (i.e. DD214), Court documents (i.e. divorce decrees, name change orders), etc. Before any action is taken on these documents, facility management staff must be consulted. Personal Identification Documents will continue to be forwarded to the facility Records Office for processing.
• Offenders will be limited to receiving a maximum of three, 8 ½ X 11, black and white photocopied pages front and back to include the photocopy of the envelope. Each item in the envelope i.e., photograph, newspaper clipping, drawing, each side of a letter, etc. will be considered one photocopy.
• Enclosed items (photographs, greeting cards, newspaper articles, etc.) will not be manipulated to print multiple items on a single photocopied page. Items that exceed the established size limitation will not be manipulated to fit on a single or multiple 8 ½ X 11 photocopy pages.
• The entire correspondence and all enclosed items that exceed the established photocopy or size limit will be returned to the sender with the Notice of Unauthorized Correspondence 803F2 advising the sender of the reason for the return.

         2. Individuals will still be permitted to send offenders secure messages, photographs, and other attachments through the JPay system as is currently authorized. Additionally, offender pictures during visitation will still be permitted in accordance with Operating Procedure 801.6, Offender Services[.]

         3. Incoming legal correspondence and special purpose correspondence will be processed in accordance with the current procedural requirements as provided in ...


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