The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge
This matter has come before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims that while he was incarcerated Defendants violated his constitutional rights when they improperly opened his legal mail. For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motion will be granted.
Plaintiff, Darryl James Glover, claims that during his incarceration at FCI Fairton, ten letters from his attorney were not handled in accordance with Bureau of Prison regulations. Glover claims that Defendants Kim White, Warden of FCI during part of the relevant time period, and Duane J. Brown and Fernando Messer, who successively served as the Inmate Systems Manager during the relevant time period, violated his constitutional rights by the improper handling of his legal mail and by retaliating against him for having complained about it.
Glover seeks an award of compensatory and punitive damages against each of them in their personal capacities, as well as declaratory relief. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment on all of Glover's claims against them.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).
An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Marino v. Industrial Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).
Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary judgment must do more than just rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001).
B. Mail Handling Regulations
Federal Regulations and Bureau of Prison Regulations govern the handling of prisoner mail. As authorized and suggested by the Federal Regulations, the warden is charged with establishing correspondence procedures for inmates in each institution. See 28 C.F.R. § 540.10; P.S. 5800.10, Mail Management Manual, ¶ 301 (directing that "the Warden may establish controls to protect inmates and maintain the institution's security, discipline, and good order"). "All mail room staff shall be thoroughly familiar with the provisions of the Program Statements on Correspondence, which contains criteria for sending and receiving inmate correspondence. . . . Size and complexity of an institution, the degree of sophistication of the inmates confined, and many other variables (e.g. physical plant) require flexibility in correspondence procedures." P.S. 5800.10, ¶ 301.
All mail except for "special mail" is to be opened, inspected and randomly read by mail room staff. Id. ¶ 304; 28 C.F.R. § 540.14. "Special mail," which includes legal mail, must only be opened "in the presence of the inmate for inspection for physical contraband and the qualification of any enclosures as special mail." 28 U.S.C. § 540.18; P.S. 5800.10, ¶ 305. "The correspondence may not be read or copied if the sender is adequately identified on the envelope, and the front of the envelope is marked "'Special Mail--Open only in the presence of the inmate.'" 28 C.F.R. § 540.18. In the absence of the required marking, the staff may treat the mail as general correspondence and may open, inspect, and read the mail. Id.
Specifically with regard to legal mail, if the sender has properly marked the envelope as specified by § 540.18, the staff is to "mark each envelope of incoming legal mail (mail from courts or attorneys) to show the date and time of receipt, the date and time the letter is delivered to an inmate and opened in the inmate's presence, and the name of the staff member who delivered the letter." Id. § 540.19. It is the inmate's responsibility to advise "any attorney that correspondence will be handled as special mail only if the envelope is marked with the attorney's name and ...