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Nasir v. Morgan

November 25, 2003

ABDUL NASIR APPELLANT,
v.
CAPTAIN JAMES MORGAN; SUPERINTENDENT TIMOTHY B. ENGLISH; THOMAS ALTMAN, MAIL ROOM SUPERVISOR



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (W.D. PA. CIV. NO. 99-CV-00791) District Judge: The Honorable Alan N. Bloch

Before: Nygaard and Smith, Circuit Judges and IRENAS,*fn1 Senior District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irenas, Senior District Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued July 9, 2003

OPINION OF THE COURT

Presently before the Court is Appellant Abdul Nasir's ("Appellant," "Nasir") appeal of the Judgment entered by the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, finding that Appellees Captain James Morgan ("Captain Morgan"), Superintendent Timothy B. English and Mail Room Supervisor Thomas Altman did not violate Nasir's constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, Nasir argues that: (1) Appellees violated the First Amendment by banning correspondence between Nasir and former prisoner Jason Shutt ("Shutt"); and (2) Appellees violated Shutt's Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by failing to inform him of the ban on correspondence.

The District Court had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Our standard of review applicable to an order granting summary judgment is plenary. Curley v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 276-77 (3d Cir. 2002). In conducting our review, we view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Doe v. County of Centre, PA, 242 F.3d 437, 446 (3d Cir. 2001). We affirm the judgment of the District Court, though on different grounds. We may affirm a District Court's summary judgment ruling on different grounds, "provided the issue which forms the basis for our decision was before the lower court." Morse v. Lower Merion School District, 132 F.3d 90, 904 n.1 (3d Cir. 1998); see also Salley v. Circuit City Stores, Inc., 160 F.3d 977, 978 (3d Cir. 1998).

I.

In 1999, while an inmate in the State Correctional Institution at Greensburg, Pennsylvania ("Greensburg"), Abdul Nasir attempted to correspond by letter with Jason Shutt, a former inmate with whom Nasir had formed a romantic relationship. Appellants, who are officials at Greensburg, blocked this correspondence based on Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Policy Statement DC-ADM 803 ("Policy Statement"), which prohibits correspondence between current and former inmates.*fn2

On April 22, 1999, one week after Shutt was released from Greensburg, Captain Morgan began monitoring Nasir's correspondence. Nasir was expressly ordered to stop all communications with Shutt on May 4, 1999. The following day, Morgan discovered mail which he believed Nasir was attempting to send to Shutt, and filed a report that resulted in Nasir receiving ninety days of disciplinary confinement. On May 7, 1999, Nasir's cell was searched to determine whether he was complying with the Policy Statement and a number of different items were seized as a result. Though Nasir contends that none of the seized items bore any relationship to Shutt, he received another ninety days of disciplinary confinement based on the search.

The Greensburg mail logs show that during the relevant period, the prison confiscated eight pieces of mail that had been sent to or from Shutt. Five letters were from Shutt or Shutt's address, and three were either to Shutt, his address, or to Nasir's brother with an enclosed letter to be forwarded to Shutt. Nasir is now incarcerated at a state facility in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, where he is still subject to the Policy Statement.

Nasir filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on May 21, 1999, claiming violations of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; specifically, that Appellees violated the free speech provisions of the First Amendment and the due process protections of the Fourteenth Amendment in blocking any correspondence to and from Shutt. The District Court granted Defendants' summary judgment motion.*fn3

On June 13, 2001, Nasir appealed to this Court. On May 31, 2002, a panel of this Court dismissed part of Nasir's appeal, but held the appeal to be non-frivolous as to two issues: (1) whether the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections' prohibition on correspondence between inmates and former inmates is constitutional; and (2) whether defendants properly notified Jason Shutt when his letters to Appellant were rejected, whether Appellant has standing to bring an action based on this failure, and if so, whether Appellant's due process rights were violated.

II.

We do not find that Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Policy Statement DC-ADM 803 violates the First Amendment.*fn4 To reach this conclusion, we rely on two Supreme Court cases, Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987) and Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, (1974), as the standards governing incoming and outgoing mail. We then determine that the Policy Statement passes both tests: (1) the four-part Turner test as to incoming mail and (2) the two-part Martinez test as to outgoing mail.

A.

We begin, as did the Supreme Court in Martinez and Turner, by noting that federal courts must heed the valid constitutional claims of prison inmates. "Prison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution." Turner, 482 U.S. at 84. Because prisoners retain their constitutional rights, "[w]hen a prison regulation or practice offends a fundamental constitutional guarantee, federal courts will discharge their duty to protect constitutional rights." Martinez, 416 U.S. at 405-06. However, "[r]unning a prison is an inordinately difficult undertaking that requires expertise, planning," and regulations to guarantee prison and inmate security. Turner, 482 U.S. at 84. Prisoner mail is one such area in which inmate behavior is regulated.

The Court's original decision in the field of prisoner mail was Martinez, which in effect applies a strict scrutiny test to all restrictions on prisoner correspondence.*fn5 However, in Turner, the Court retreated from the Martinez test and outlined a more deferential standard — one that the Court and the Third Circuit have since followed consistently in prisoners' constitutional rights cases. However, in a 1989 Supreme Court case, Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 413 (1989), Justice Blackmun suggested that Turner had not overruled the Martinez two-part test as applied in cases concerning outgoing mail.

Martinez concerned a California Department of Corrections regulation which censored inmate mail deemed to magnify grievances or contain other inflammatory statements. 416 U.S. at 316. In finding the regulation unconstitutional, the Court originally set forth a two-part test:

First, the regulation or practice in question must further an important or substantial government interest unrelated to the suppression of expression. Prison officials must show that a regulation authorizing censorship furthers one or more of the substantial government interests of security, order and rehabilitation. Second, the limitation of First Amendment freedoms must be no greater ...


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