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Buff v. Stirling

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division

March 31, 2016

David Buff also known as David Keith Buff also known as Osiris, Plaintiff,
v.
Bryan P. Stirling, Defendants.

ORDER

TERRY L. WOOTEN Chief United States District Judge

Plaintiff, David Keith Buff (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brought this action on July 29, 2014 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violation of his constitutional rights based upon conditions of his confinement at Lieber Correctional Institution (“LCI”) and, more specifically, the Special Management Unit (“SMU”). (Doc. #1). Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief and an injunction against enforcement of a prison regulation that applies to prisoners housed in the SMU. He does not seek money damages.

Plaintiff primarily alleges that a South Carolina Department of Correction’s (“SCDC”) policy restricting SMU inmates’ access to “publications” is unconstitutional as it violates the First Amendment, as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[1] He challenges the policy’s limitation on receiving any publication through the mail to be accessed outside or inside an inmate’s cell. The SCDC maintains two specialized security detention units for inmates, one of which is the SMU where Plaintiff was housed.[2] See Incumaa v. Ozmint, 507 F.3d 281, 283-84 (4th Cir. 2007). The Plaintiff began a term of imprisonment at LCI in March of 2009. Almost immediately, Plaintiff was assigned to the SMU, and remained in that unit for more than five (5) years. Plaintiff alleges he was assigned to the SMU for “non-disciplinary” and “non-behavioral” reasons. Defendant does not dispute that Plaintiff has been assigned to SMU for reasons unrelated to his behavior in prison. Defendant does not dispute that Plaintiff was assigned to SMU when Plaintiff began his term of imprisonment in 2009.[3]

The SMU is substantially more restrictive than the general population. See, e.g., Incumaa v. Stirling, 791 F.3d 517 (4th Cir. 2015) (discussing some additional restrictions applicable to SMU inmates). The record reflects that there are approximately 600 inmates assigned to SMU in the state of South Carolina. The policy at issue in this case restricts SMU inmates from receiving or accessing any publication through the mail. In addition, SMU inmates are not permitted any access to a radio, television, or the internet. The policy also explicitly states that “Inmates in SMU will not be allowed to receive newspapers.” (Doc. #64-3 at 31). Publication is defined in SCDC policy as “any printed communications such as newspapers, magazines, newsletters, books, paperbacks, brochures, periodicals, technical manuals, catalogs, and/or pamphlets which can be subscribed to, ordered, or otherwise received direct from an approved source (e.g., publisher, bookstore, etc.).” (Doc. #64-3 at 42). Prisoners in SMU are permitted to check out one book from the prison library collection. Plaintiff, like all SMU inmates, is prohibited from accessing, receiving, reading, and possessing any publication other than those books available in the prison library. He cannot receive publications, such as newspapers or GED study materials, even if mailed directly from a publisher or publications supplier. The SMU policy also prohibits SMU inmates from participating in “education and vocational opportunities.” (Doc. #64-3).

Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on May 19, 2015 (Doc. #64). Defendant responded with a cross motion for summary judgment on June 19, 2015 (Doc. #71; #72), to which Plaintiff replied on August 31, 2015 (Doc. #84). Defendant filed a supplemental motion for summary judgment on September 23, 2015 (Doc. #86), to which Plaintiff responded in opposition on November 4, 2015 (Doc. #91). A Report and Recommendation (“the Report”) was issued on November 2, 2015 by United States Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West, to whom this case was previously assigned pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.). (Doc. #89).

This matter is now before the Court for review of the Magistrate Judge’s Report (Doc. #89), in which she recommends that this Court deny Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment (Doc. #64) and grant summary judgment in favor of Defendant (Doc. #71). Plaintiff filed objections to the Report on November 30, 2015 (Doc. #95). Defendant did not file a reply to Plaintiff’s objections. (Doc. #123). This matter is now ripe for disposition.

This Court is charged with conducting a de novo review of any portion of the Magistrate Judge’s Report to which a specific objection is registered, and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendations contained in that report. 28 U.S.C. § 636. In conducting this review, the Court applies the following standard:

The magistrate judge makes only a recommendation to the Court, to which any party may file written objections. . . . The Court is not bound by the recommendation of the magistrate judge but, instead, retains responsibility for the final determination. The Court is required to make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified findings or recommendation as to which an objection is made. However, the Court is not required to review, under a de novo or any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of the Report and Recommendation to which no objections are addressed. While the level of scrutiny entailed by the Court's review of the Report thus depends on whether or not objections have been filed, in either case, the Court is free, after review, to accept, reject, or modify any of the magistrate judge's findings or recommendations.

Wallace v. Hous. Auth. of City of Columbia, 791 F.Supp. 137, 138 (D.S.C. 1992) (citations omitted).

In the Report, the Magistrate Judge sets forth in detail the relevant facts and standards of law. (Doc. #89). The Court incorporates the Magistrate Judge’s recitation of the facts and the legal standards herein.

The United States Supreme Court has recognized that “imprisonment does not automatically deprive a prisoner of certain important constitutional protections, including those of the First Amendment.” Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 93 (1987). However, the Supreme Court has also made clear that “the Constitution sometimes permits greater restriction of such rights in a prison that it would allow elsewhere.” Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 527 (2006). In addition, courts owe substantial deference to the professional judgment of prison administrators. See Id. Moreover, “[f]reedom of speech is not merely freedom to speak; it is also freedom to read, ” receive, and to think. King v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 415 F.3d 638 (7th Cir. 2005); see also Beard, 548 U.S. 521. Courts acknowledge, however, that managing a prison “is an inordinately difficult undertaking that requires expertise, planning, and commitment of resources, all of which are peculiarly within the province of the legislative and executive branches of government.” Turner, 482 at 84–85. Thus, courts must accord substantial deference to the professional judgment of prison administrators. Id.

In Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521 (2006), the Supreme Court, in a plurality opinion, applied the deferential standard set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), to prisoner cases involving First Amendment restrictions. In Beard, a Pennsylvania inmate, on behalf of himself and similarly situated inmates, brought a First Amendment challenge to a Pennsylvania Department of Corrections policy restricting access to newspapers, magazines, and photographs by inmates placed in the most restrictive level of the Commonwealth’s long-term segregation unit. Beard, 548 U.S. 521. The plurality in Beard applied Turner’s standard that restrictive prison regulations are permissible if they are “reasonably related to legitimate penological interests, ” 482 U.S. at 87, and are not an “exaggerated response” to such objectives. Id. Under that test, a court considers four factors “relevant in determining the reasonableness of the regulation at issue, ” Beard, 548 U.S. at 529 (quoting Turner, 482 U.S. at 89), and thus whether a reasonable relationship exists: (1) whether there is a valid, rational connection between the restriction and a legitimate governmental interest; (2) whether alternatives for exercising the right at issue are available to the prisoner; (3) what impact accommodation of the right will have on prison administration; and (4) whether there are other ways that prison officials can achieve the same goals without encroaching on the right. Beard, 548 U.S. at 529 (citing Turner, 482 U.S. at 89). Applying this test in Beard, the United States Supreme Court upheld the restrictive Pennsylvania Department of Correction’s publication policy. Id.

In the instant case, Defendant justifies the SMU policy restricting access and possession of publications on a number of grounds, including, among other reasons, the need to motivate better behavior of difficult prisoners, deter other inmates from violating prison rules, minimize the amount of property inmates have in their cells, and further ensure prison safety, by, for example, diminishing the amount of material a prisoner might use to start a cell fire. (Doc. #71; #71-1). As explained below, the Court concludes that Defendant’s legitimate justifications for the SMU regulation are adequate and warrant summary judgment in Defendant’s favor.

Plaintiff has set forth a number of specific objections to the Report, and the Court will address each in turn. Plaintiff first argues that the Magistrate Judge did not analyze a fundamental aspect of his First Amendment claim. More specifically, he asserts that the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion that the SMU policy is justified relies on the premise that this Court owes deference to prison officials in the management of prisons, and as such should allow prison officials to maintain order by enforcing policies aimed at preventing prisoners from accumulating too much property in their cells, which they could use to cause clutter, is a fire hazard, or could clog the toilet. Plaintiff clarifies in his objections that the primary subject of his First Amendment claim is the denial of access to publications absolutely, if not available in the prison library, regardless of whether he is permitted to possess the publications in his prison cell. Plaintiff seems to acknowledge that prison officials have the right to enact policies that limit the amount of property in cells due to security concerns. Instead, however, the heart of Plaintiff’s First Amendment challenge to the policy lies in the complete restriction of access to and receipt of publications through the mail whatsoever. Even outside of his cell, in the prison library for example, Plaintiff is prohibited from reading a newspaper, a magazine, an article, an internet article, or any other publication not made available by SCDC. Plaintiff cannot receive any publication through the mail, regardless of content or origin, to read outside of his cell. Plaintiff argues that his principal challenge to the policy is not that it limits the number or character of publications that Plaintiff is permitted to possess in his cell. The issue is the complete prohibition of access to receive information and publications even outside of his cell. In connection with this issue, Plaintiff also objects that the Magistrate Judge did not ...


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