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Salvador v. Brown

April 8, 2008

ROBERTO SALVADOR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DEVON BROWN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

Plaintiff Roberto Salvador, proceeding pro se, is an inmate who is presently incarcerated in East Jersey State Prison ("EJSP") in Rahway, New Jersey, and who was previously incarcerated at South Woods State Prison ("SWSP") in Bridgeton, New Jersey. He filed this action against multiple defendants, alleging, inter alia, that the policy of the New Jersey Department of Corrections ("NJDOC") of opening an inmate's legal mail outside of his presence violated his rights under the First Amendment. On January 20, 2005, the Court stayed all proceedings on Plaintiff's First Amendment claim pending the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Jones v. Brown, 461 F.3d 353 (3d Cir. 2006), a consolidated appeal that addressed the constitutionality of the policy at issue in this suit. In Jones, the Court of Appeals ultimately found the NJDOC's legal mail policy unconstitutional and upheld a district court order enjoining officials from enforcing the policy.

The parties have since filed cross-motions for summary judgment [Docket Items 48 and 50]. For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff's First Amendment claim, and that Plaintiff's claim for declaratory relief is moot. The Court will thus deny Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and grant Defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, an inmate at EJSP, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on August 16, 2004, alleging that while he was previously incarcerated at SWSP, various NJDOC employees committed a range of activities that violated his constitutional rights. Specifically, Plaintiff's three-count Complaint alleges that Defendants Brown and MacFarland violated his First Amendment rights by instituting and enforcing an NJDOC policy of opening, screening, and censoring inmates' legal mail outside of the inmates' presence (Count One)*fn1 ; that SWSP employed inadequate grievance procedures, resulting in an impingement upon Plaintiff's access to courts (Count Two); and that Plaintiff was retaliated against for having exercised his First Amendment rights (Count Three).

On December 22, 2004, Defendants moved to stay the proceedings in this matter pending the decision by the Court of Appeals in Jones. On January 20, 2005, the Honorable Ann Marie Donio, United States Magistrate Judge, entered an Order granting Defendants' motion in part, finding that a stay was appropriate only as to Count One of the Complaint.

Defendants subsequently filed a motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment as to Counts Two and Three. In its August 24, 2005 Opinion and Order, the Court granted Defendants' motion. The Court found that Defendants Brown and MacFarland were entitled to dismissal of the claims asserted in Counts Two and Three because Plaintiff failed to plead facts suggesting the fault or involvement by either Defendant in the conduct underlying those claims, and that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to Counts Two and Three, as is required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Additionally, in its August 24, 2005 Order, the Court administratively terminated this action without prejudice to Plaintiff's right to reopen the case and proceed on Count One following the decision of the Court of Appeals in Jones.

On August 24, 2006, the Court of Appeals issued its decision in Jones. As in this case, the issue in Jones was whether the NJDOC's policy of opening inmates' legal mail outside of their presence violated the inmates' rights under the First Amendment. Jones, 461 F.3d at 355-56. As the Court of Appeals explained, the NJDOC adopted the policy as a security measure in 2001 after letters containing anthrax were mailed through the United States postal system. Id. at 356. The court affirmed the order of the district court in Allah v. Brown, 351 F. Supp. 2d 278 (D.N.J. 2004), enjoining the enforcement of the mail inspection policy:

We believe that a prison administrator compelled to act immediately after September 11th and October of 2001 might reasonably have concluded that the risk of an anthrax terrorism attack on a prison was sufficiently unquantifiable to justify a temporary, emergency measure involving the opening of a prisoner's legal mail in his absence. We conclude, however, that we should review the injunction entered by the District Court in Allah based on the state of the record in that case at the time it was entered more than three years after September 11th . . . Reviewing it from that perspective we . . . find that there is no reasonable connection between the Legal Mail Policy and the defendants' asserted interest.

Jones, 461 F.3d at 362-63. The court further held that the state employees who implemented the policy were entitled to qualified immunity because reasonable prison administrators in their position would not have known that their conduct violated the First Amendment prior to the court's decision in Jones. Id. at 365.

On October 16, 2006, after the Court of Appeals rendered its decision in Jones, Plaintiff filed a motion to reopen this docket, which the Court granted. The parties subsequently filed the cross-motions for summary judgment presently before the Court.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when the materials of record "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A ...


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