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RHINEHART v. RHAY

May 27, 1970

Keith Milton RHINEHART, Plaintiff,
v.
B. J. RHAY, Robert A. Freeman and William P. Macklin, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GRAY

WILLIAM P. GRAY, District Judge.

This is an action for damages, under the civil rights laws of the United States, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985(3), brought against the Superintendent of the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla and two of his principal assistants at that institution. At the time the action was filed, the plaintiff was a prisoner at Walla Walla. Subsequently, he has been released, conditionally, pursuant to an order of this court in the course of habeas corpus proceedings challenging the constitutional validity of certain aspects of the trial that had resulted in the present plaintiff's conviction and incarceration.

 In this action, the plaintiff complains of the treatment accorded him at Walla Walla during the period of his confinement there from July 10, 1967, until about August 1969. The defendants, through the Attorney General of the State of Washington, have moved for summary judgment and have submitted affidavits and a legal memorandum in support of such motion; the plaintiff has submitted a brief and affidavits in opposition to such motion; all of these documents have been considered by the court, and the court also heard oral arguments on the matter on March 6, 1970. For reasons hereinafter set forth, the motion for summary judgment will be granted.

 The plaintiff asserts six bases upon which he contends that his rights under the United States Constitution were violated by the defendants under color of state law (42 U.S.C. § 1983). The following numbered paragraphs of this memorandum will summarize these respective six contentions and will indicate my reasons for their rejection.

 1. During his confinement at Walla Walla, the plaintiff wrote many letters to his attorneys in Seattle, some of which were mailed in regular course; others (the defendants say seven; the plaintiff contends that there were more) were intercepted and held by the prison officials, on authority of certain Washington State prison regulations pertaining to mail privileges. Such regulations provide that inmates may not send letters containing vulgar or obscene matter nor may they send out complaints about institution personnel, inmates or policies. Matter derogatory to any person or group on the basis of race or religion or political affiliation is also proscribed (MO Instruction 330.5A). The regulations impose no limit upon the letters that an inmate may send to his attorney (MO Instruction 330.2, par. 27), but such correspondence is also subject to the above mentioned prohibitions as to content.

 In the course of this litigation the defendants have submitted to counsel for the plaintiff and to the court copies of the seven letters that they acknowledge having intercepted. Parts of these letters do refer to the then anticipated habeas corpus proceedings; and some of them refer, with varying detail, relevance and coherence, to the many reported cases dealing with sodomy that were the products of the plaintiff's legal "research".

 However, interspersed through these letters are reports of the plaintiff's alleged observations of "boundless" acts of "oral sodomy" among the population at the prison. The letters also contained expressions of the plaintiff's opinion that sodomy and other comparable acts between consenting adults should be made lawful. Taken as a whole, it seems to me that the letters could reasonably be suspected to reveal a pathological fixation with the subject of sodomy.

 In seeking to determine whether the plaintiff's constitutional rights were violated by the limited withholding of mail, we start with the proposition that reasonable restriction upon prisoners' correspondence has regularly been held to be an aspect of prison administration and that the courts should not interfere therewith except in extreme cases. Lee v. Tahash, 352 F.2d 970 (8th Cir. 1965). Such restriction, of course, must not be so designed as to deny a prisoner reasonable access to the courts or to his attorney so that the latter might help him in perfecting access to the courts. Lee v. Tahash, supra.

 Here, it is quite apparent from the documentary submissions of the parties that the plaintiff was not denied reasonable access to his attorneys. Considerable interchange of correspondence did take place, and, as noted at the outset of this memorandum, habeas corpus proceedings were instituted and vigorously prosecuted by the attorneys during the plaintiff's incarceration. The intercepted letters were withheld, not for the purpose of interfering with the attorney-client relationship, but because of extraneous comments contained therein that the defendants believed to be otherwise objectionable and in violation of prison regulations. Under these circumstances, it is the conclusion of this court that the plaintiff's civil rights under the United States Constitution were not violated by the withholding of the letters from the mails.

 In making this ruling, I do not express approval or disapproval of the prison regulations here concerned, nor do I seek to evaluate the wisdom of the defendants in the manner in which they applied such regulations to the plaintiff's correspondence. It is not the business of federal courts to supervise state prison regulations and practices. Hatfield v. Bailleaux, 290 F.2d 632 (9th Cir. 1961).

 2. The plaintiff next complains that the interception of his letters to his attorneys required the latter to journey many times from Seattle to Walla Walla to visit him, inasmuch as they could not depend upon mail communications getting through.

 As is above indicated, there was a substantial interchange of communication between the plaintiff and his attorneys, and the exhibits submitted in this action reveal that the defendants gave orders that the plaintiff be advised of the reasons for blocking passage of certain of his letters. It would appear that unrestricted correspondence with his attorneys would have been permitted if the plaintiff had refrained from making ...


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