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HRDC v Marshall County, TN, Complaint, Jail Censorship, 2019

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
COLUMBIA DIVISION
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENSE CENTER,
Plaintiff,
Case No.:
v.
MARSHALL COUNTY, TENNESSEE,
BILLY LAMB, Sheriff of Marshall County,
Tennessee, in his official and individual
capacities; SABRINA PATTERSON, Jail
Administrator, in her official and individual
capacities, and DOES 1-10.

JURY DEMAND

Defendants.

______________________________________________________________________________
COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF
AND FOR DAMAGES

I.
1.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Human Rights Defense Center (“HRDC” or “Plaintiff”) brings this action

to enjoin Defendants’ censorship of mail sent from Plaintiff and other publishers to prisoners at
the Marshall County Jail (the “Jail”), in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the
United States Constitution. Defendants have adopted and implemented mail policies prohibiting
delivery of written speech from Plaintiff and other speakers, and failed to provide due process
notice of and an opportunity to challenge the censorship as required under the Constitution.
II.

JURISDICTION AND VENUE

2. This action is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question), as this action arises
under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343 (civil
rights), as this action seeks redress for civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
3. Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). At least one Defendant resides within this
judicial district, and the events giving rise to the claims asserted herein all occurred within this
judicial district.
4. HRDC’s claims for relief are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which authorizes
actions to redress the deprivation, under color of state law, of rights, privileges and immunities
secured by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution and laws of the United States.
5. This Court has jurisdiction over claims seeking declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202, and the Court also has jurisdiction to award damages against all
Defendants.
6. HRDC’s claim for attorneys’ fees and costs is predicated upon 42 U.S.C. § 1988, which
authorizes the award of attorneys’ fees and costs to prevailing plaintiffs in actions brought pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
III. PARTIES
7. The Human Rights Defense Center is a not–for–profit charitable organization recognized
under §501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, incorporated in the state of Washington and with
principal offices in Lake Worth, Florida. The purpose of HRDC is to educate prisoners and the
public about the destructive nature of racism, sexism, and the economic and social costs of prisons
to society. HRDC accomplishes its mission through advocacy, litigation, and publication and/or
distribution of books, magazines and other information concerning prisons and prisoner rights.
8.

Defendant Marshall County, Tennessee is a unit of government organized and existing

under the laws of the State of Tennessee. Defendant Marshall County operates the Jail, and is and

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was responsible for adopting and implementing mail policies governing incoming mail for
prisoners at that facility.
9.

Defendant Billy Lamb is the Sheriff of Marshall County, Tennessee. Defendant Lamb

is employed by and is an agent of Defendant Marshall County. Defendant Lamb has ultimate
responsibility for the promulgation and enforcement of all Jail staff policies and procedures and is
responsible for the overall management of the Jail, to include processing of mail. He is sued in his
individual and official capacities.
10.

Defendant Sabrina Patterson is the administrator of the Jail. Defendant Patterson is

employed by and is an agent of Defendants Marshall County and Billy Lamb. She is responsible
for overseeing the management and operations of the Jail, and for the hiring, screening, training,
retention, supervision, discipline, counseling, and control of the personnel of the Jail who interpret
and apply the mail policy for prisoners. She is sued in her individual and official capacities.
11.

The true names and identities of Defendants DOES 1 through 10 are presently unknown

to HRDC. Each of Defendants DOES 1 through 10 are or were employed by and are or were
agents of Defendants when some or all of the challenged inmate mail policies and practices were
adopted and/or implemented. Each of Defendants DOES 1 through 10 were personally involved
in the adoption and/or implementation of the mail policies at the Jail, and/or were responsible for
the hiring, screening, training, retention, supervision, discipline, counseling, and/or control of the
Jail staff who interpret and implement these mail policies. HRDC will seek to amend this
Complaint as soon as the true names and identities of Defendants DOES 1 through 10 have been
ascertained.
12. At all times material to this action, the actions of all Defendants as alleged herein were
taken under the authority and color of state law.
13. At all times material to this action, all Defendants were acting within the course and
scope of their employment as agents and/or employees of Defendant Marshall County, Tennessee.

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IV.
A.
14.

FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

HRDC’s mission and outreach to the Jail
For more than 28 years, the focus of HRDC’s mission has been public education,

advocacy and outreach on behalf of, and for the purpose of assisting, prisoners who seek legal
redress for infringements of their constitutionally guaranteed and other basic human rights.
HRDC’s mission, if realized, has a salutary effect on public safety.
15.

To accomplish its mission, HRDC publishes and distributes books, magazines, and

other information containing news and analysis about prisons, jails and other detention facilities,
prisoners’ rights, court rulings, management of prison facilities, prison conditions and other
matters pertaining to the rights and/or interests of incarcerated individuals.
16.

HRDC publishes and distributes an award-winning, 72-page monthly magazine titled

Prison Legal News: Dedicated to Protecting Human Rights, which contains news and analysis
about prisons, jails, and other detention facilities, prisoners’ rights, court opinions, management
of prison facilities, prison conditions, and other matters pertaining to the rights and/or interests of
incarcerated individuals.
17.

More recently, HRDC also began publishing a second monthly magazine, Criminal

Legal News. This magazine focuses on review and analysis of individual rights, court rulings, and
news concerning criminal justice-related issues.
18.

HRDC has thousands of subscribers to its monthly magazines in the United States and

abroad, including prisoners, attorneys, journalists, public libraries, judges, and members of the
general public. HRDC distributes Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News to prisoners in
correctional facilities across the United States, including death row units and institutions within
the Federal Bureau of Prisons, such as the federal Administrative Maximum Facility (“ADX” or
“Supermax”) at Florence, Colorado - the most secure prison in the United States. Prison Legal

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News and Criminal Legal News are distributed to prisons and jails within the correctional systems
of all 50 states, including to hundreds of prisoners housed in facilities in the State of Tennessee.
19. Accordingly, HRDC engages in core protected speech and expressive conduct on
matters of public concern, such as the operation of prison facilities, prison conditions, prisoner
health and safety, and prisoners’ rights. HRDC’s publications, as described above, contain
political speech and social commentary, which are core First Amendment rights and are entitled
to the highest protection afforded by the United States Constitution.
20. The Jail is a full-service detention facility, and confines a number of prisoners who have
been prohibited receipt of HRDC’s communications and publications. A substantial number of
the prisoners held at this facility have yet to stand trial or be sentenced for a crime.
B.

Defendants’ Unconstitutional Mail Policies and Practices

21. Defendants have censored the following materials sent by Plaintiff to prisoners held in
the Jail: (1) monthly issues of Prison Legal News; (2) sample issues of Prison Legal News, and (3)
monthly issues of Criminal Legal News. Defendants refused to deliver said items to the intended
prisoner-recipients, and, in many instances, returned items to Plaintiff’s office via the “Return To
Sender” service of the United States Postal Service. Defendants continue to censor the items listed
above.
22. Altogether, since March 2018, Plaintiff can identify at least one hundred (100) items of
mail sent by HRDC to prisoners held in the Jail which were censored by Defendants. This includes
forty-four (44) monthly issues of Prison Legal News, ten (10) sample issue of Prison Legal News,
and forty-six (46) monthly issues of Criminal Legal News. Most of these items were returned to
HRDC with no explanation; some sample issues of Prison Legal News was returned to HRDC
with the handwritten notation: “No Staples Allowed”.
23. On information and belief, a substantial portion of other magazines and communications
mailed by HRDC to individual prisoners held in the Jail were also censored by the Defendants.

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24. Such restrictions on written speech sent to prisoners at the Jail are not rationally related
to any legitimate penological interest and violate HRDC’s First Amendment right to communicate
its speech with prisoners.
25. In all of the above instances of censorship of HRDC’s communications, Defendants
failed to provide any notice to HRDC of their rejection of its mail, violating the Fourteenth
Amendment rights of the Plaintiff.
26. Defendants further failed to provide an opportunity for HRDC to challenge the
censorship of its mail, in violation of HRDC’s Fourteenth Amendment rights.
27. Defendants’ policies, practices, and customs are unconstitutional both facially and as
applied to HRDC.
28. Plaintiff will continue to mail its magazines to subscribers, customers, and other
individuals imprisoned at the Jail, but seeks the protection of this Court to ensure that the materials
are delivered and, if not, that due process is afforded to the Plaintiff so it may challenge the basis
for any censorship.
C. Defendants’ Unconstitutional Mail Policies and Practices are Causing HRDC
Ongoing Harm
29.

Due to Defendants’ actions described above, HRDC has suffered damages, and will

continue to suffer damages, including, but not limited to: the violation of the HRDC’s
constitutional rights; the impediment of HRDC’s ability to disseminate its political message;
frustration of HRDC’s non–profit organizational mission; diversion of resources; loss of potential
subscribers and customers; an inability to recruit new subscribers and supporters; the loss of
reputation; and the costs of printing, handling, mailing, and staff time.
30. Defendants’ actions and inactions were and are motivated by ill motive and intent, and
were and are all committed under color of law and with reckless indifference to HRDC’s rights.

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31. Defendants and their agents are responsible for or personally participated in creating
and implementing these unconstitutional policies, practices, and customs, or for ratifying or
adopting them. Further, Defendants are responsible for training and supervising the staff persons
whose conduct has injured and continues to injure HRDC.
32. Defendants’ unconstitutional policy, practices, and customs are ongoing, continue to
violate HRDC’s rights, and are the moving force behind the constitutional violations. Defendants’
unconstitutional policy, practices, and customs will continue unless enjoined. As such, HRDC has
no adequate remedy at law.
33. HRDC is entitled to injunctive relief prohibiting Defendants from refusing to deliver its
monthly magazines Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News without any legal justification,
and prohibiting Defendants from censoring mail without due process of law.
IV.

CLAIMS

Count I – 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Violation of the First Amendment (Censorship)
34.

HRDC re-alleges and incorporates the allegations of Paragraphs 1 through 33 of the

Complaint as if fully set forth herein.
35.

The acts described above constitute violations of HRDC’s rights, the rights of other

publishers who have attempted to or intend to communicate with prisoners at the Jail, under the
First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
36.

HRDC has a constitutionally protected liberty interest in communicating with

incarcerated individuals, a right clearly established under existing case law.
37.

The conduct of Defendants was objectively unreasonable and was undertaken

recklessly, intentionally, willfully, with malice, and with deliberate indifference to the rights of
others.

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38.

HRDC’s injuries and the violations of its constitutional rights were directly and

proximately caused by the policies and practices of Defendants, which were and are the moving
force of the violations.
39.

Defendants’ acts described above have caused damages to HRDC, and if not enjoined,

will continue to cause damage to HRDC.
40.

HRDC seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, and nominal and compensatory damages

against all Defendants. HRDC seeks punitive damages against the individual Defendants in their
individual capacities.
Count II – 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Violation of Fourteenth Amendment (Due Process)
41.

HRDC re-alleges and incorporates the allegations of Paragraphs 1 through 40 of the

Complaint as if fully set forth herein.
42.

The acts described above constitute violations of HRDC’s rights and the rights of other

publishers who have attempted to or who intend to communicate with prisoners at the Jail under
the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
43.

Because HRDC and others outside the Jail have a liberty interest in communicating

with prisoners, HRDC and other senders have a right under the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment to receive notice of and an opportunity to appeal Defendants’ decisions to
censor their written speech.
44.

Defendants’ policy and practice fail to provide HRDC and other senders with adequate

notice and an opportunity to be heard.
45.

The conduct of Defendants was objectively unreasonable and was undertaken

recklessly, intentionally, willfully, with malice, and with deliberate indifference to the rights of
others.

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46.

HRDC’s injuries and the violations of its constitutional rights were directly and

proximately caused by the policies and practices of Defendants, which are and were the moving
force of the violations.
47.

Defendants’ acts described above have caused damages to HRDC, and if not enjoined,

will continue to cause damage to HRDC.
48.

HRDC seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, and nominal and compensatory damages

against all Defendants. HRDC seeks punitive damages against the individual Defendants in their
individual capacities.
V.

REQUEST FOR RELIEF

WHEREFORE, the Plaintiff respectfully requests relief as follows:
1.

A declaration that Defendants’ policies and practices violate the Constitution.

2.

A preliminary and permanent injunction preventing Defendants from continuing to

violate the Constitution, and providing other equitable relief.
3.

Nominal damages for each violation of HRDC’s rights by the Defendants.

4.

Compensatory damages in an amount to be proved at trial.

5.

Punitive damages against the individual Defendants in an amount to be proved at trial.

6.

Costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, and under other

applicable law.
7.

Any other such relief that this Court deems just and equitable.
VI.

JURY DEMAND

Plaintiff, Human Rights Defense Center, by and through its attorneys, hereby demands a
trial by jury pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 38(b) on all issues so triable.

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Respectfully Submitted,
/s/ Gautam Hans
Gautam S. Hans, Mich. State. Bar No. P81537
gautam.hans@vanderbilt.edu
Vanderbilt Law School First Amendment Clinic
131 21st Ave South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
Telephone: (615) 343-2213
Bruce E.H. Johnson, Wa. Bar No. 7667*
Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
1201 Third Avenue, Suite 220
Seattle, WA 98101
Telephone: (206) 757-8069
Facsimile: (206) 757-7069
brucejohnson@dwt.com
Sabarish Neelakanta, Fla. Bar No.: 26623*
sneelakanta@hrdc-law.org
Masimba M. Mutamba, Fla. Bar No.: 102772*
mmutamba@hrdc-law.org
Daniel Marshall, Fla. Bar No.: 617210*
dmarshall@hrdc-law.org
Human Rights Defense Center
P.O. Box 1151
Lake Worth, FL 33460
Telephone: (561) 360-2523
Facsimile: (866) 735-7136
* Pro hac vice applications to be filed

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