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Wagner v. Brown

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

August 10, 2017

JAZEALL BROWN, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Jazeall Brown, Janice Fairless, Laverta Barnes, and Louisa Lyles' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 83). The Motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition. Also before the Court is Plaintiff Benjamin William Wagner's pro se Motion for Return of PLRA Filing Fee (Doc. 96). For the following reasons, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and deny Plaintiff's Motion for Return of PLRA Filing Fee.

         I. Background

         On August 18, 2015, Plaintiff, a Missouri inmate, filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants in their individual and official capacities (Doc. 1). His complaint, as amended, alleges that Defendants impermissibly restricted his access to incoming and outgoing non-legal mail between July 16, 2012 and March 7, 2013, while he was incarcerated as a pre-trial detainee at the St. Louis City Justice Center (“SLCJC”) (Doc. 51). For relief, he seeks damages and a declaration that Defendants violated his rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (Id. at 12).[1] Defendants now move for summary judgment (Doc. 84). Plaintiff has filed a response (Doc. 87), and Defendants have replied (Doc. 89).

         The summary judgment evidence establishes the following.[2] Plaintiff was held at the SLCJC from approximately December 20, 2011 to March 10, 2014, while he awaited trial in the St. Louis City Circuit Court on various charges arising out of his alleged sexual assaults of several minor children (Doc. 84.1 at ¶¶ 1-2).

         Brown was a receptionist at the SLCJC (Id. at 4). Her job responsibilities did not include delivering mail to inmates; instead, her duties included sorting all of SLCJC's incoming mail and forwarding the inmate mail to Fairless (Id. at ¶¶ 5-6). Fairless was a clerk in the SLCJC mailroom; her job duties included sorting inmate mail and forwarding any inmate mail that was under subpoena to Lyles (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8). Lyles, a correctional officer at SLCJC, was responsible for handling responses to subpoenas (Id. at ¶¶ 9-10). Barnes was an administrative assistant at SLCJC. She was not involved with any aspect of SLCJC's inmate mail service, did not supervise any mailroom workers, and did not order anyone to withhold Plaintiff's mail (Id. at ¶¶ 11-13). Barnes, Lyles, Fairless, and Brown did not have authority to make SLCJC policies (Id. at ¶ 14).

         According to Defendants, during routine processing of Plaintiff's mail, SLCJC officials discovered that Plaintiff was corresponding with his alleged victims and receiving “potentially inappropriate photographs.” (Id. at ¶ 15). SLCJC employees reported this activity to the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office (Id. at ¶ 16). Plaintiff denies that he had any correspondence with his alleged victims or that he received any inappropriate photographs during his confinement at the SLCJC (Doc. 87 at 7).

         On or about July 17, 2012, SLCJC officials received a subpoena duces tecum directed at Lyles (Id. at ¶ 17). The subpoena was issued by a detective at the Circuit Attorney's Office and stated the following:

You are hereby commanded, that, setting aside all manner of excuse and delay, you be and appear before our [St. Louis City Circuit Court] on the 17th day of July, 2012 at 9 a.m. and speak the truth, in a certain cause pending in our said court, where in the State of Missouri is the Plaintiff and, Benjamin Wagner, Defendant, on the part of the STATE OF MISSOURI. You are further commanded to testify to records in your possession or provide information relative to: Incoming and outgoing mail for [Wagner] for mail received or sent out by defendant Benjamin Wagner, while confined at the St. Louis City Justice Center.

(Doc. 84.1 at ¶¶ 17-18; Doc. 84.10).

         Fairless and Lyles believed that the subpoena was valid and that they were required to comply with it (Id. at ¶ 26). Believing that the subpoena required her to give all of Plaintiff's non-legal incoming and outgoing mail to the Circuit Attorney's Office, Lyles directed Fairless to sort Plaintiff's mail and forward it to the Circuit Attorney's Office (Id. at ¶¶ 20-21). Between July 17, 2012 and March 7, 2013, all of Plaintiff's incoming and outgoing non-legal mail was redirected to the Circuit Attorney's Office; none of his legal mail was interrupted (Id. at ¶¶ 22-23). On March 7, 2013, the Circuit Court ordered the Circuit Attorney to return all of Plaintiff's mail that it had received pursuant to the subpoena, and directed the SLCJC to stop intercepting Plaintiff's mail (Id. at ¶ 24; Doc. 84.2 at 12). After March 7, 2013, none of Plaintiff's mail was redirected to the Circuit Attorney (Doc. 84.1 at ¶ 25). At all relevant times, the SLCJC had a policy relating to the processing of inmate mail; however, the policy did not set forth any procedure for processing inmate mail that is subject to a subpoena (Id. at ¶¶ 27-28). On February 27, 2014, Plaintiff was convicted on thirteen felony counts-including forcible rape, statutory rape, forcible sodomy, statutory sodomy, and child molestation-and two misdemeanor counts after he entered guilty pleas pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970) (Docs. 84.1 at ¶ 2; 84.2 at 1-9).

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         The Court may grant a motion for summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Peterson v. Kopp, 754 F.3d 594, 598 (8th Cir. 2014). A moving party bears the burden of informing the Court of the basis of its motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party discharges this burden, the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts demonstrating that there is a dispute as to a genuine issue of material fact, not the “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         In passing on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011). The Court's function is not to weigh the evidence but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “‘Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those ...

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