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Grenning v. Klemme

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

July 6, 2015

NEIL GRENNING, Plaintiff,
v.
RISA A. KLEMME, et al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

JUSTIN L. QUACKENBUSH, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

BEFORE THE COURT is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 99). Plaintiff is represented by attorney Jeffrey Finer, appointed by the court. The Defendants are represented by Timothy Feulner, Assistant Attorney General.

On May 7, 2015, four of the Defendants in this matter: Paul Barker, Ronald Doty, Bonnie Munden, and Thomas Orth, who work in the Department of Correction’s Airway Heights Corrections Center (“DOC”) mailroom (“mailroom Defendants”), filed the Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 99). Plaintiff Neil Grenning, a prisoner at Airway Heights, filed a Response in Opposition on June 8, 2015 (ECF No. 108), to which the Defendants filed a Reply on June 19, 2015 (ECF No. 113). Grenning is serving a 1392-month (116 years) sentence for numerous 2004 Washington state child sex abuse conviction. ECF No. 57, at ¶ 2; Judgment and Sentencing, Pierce County Cause No. 02-1-01106-5. This matter, involving the screening of the Plaintiff's mail, was submitted without oral argument.

"While prisoners have the right to send and receive mail, prison officials have a legitimate interest in monitoring that mail for security reasons." Ortiz v. Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, 368 F.3d 1024, 1026 (8th Cir. 2004). Such regulations cannot be arbitrarily enforced, or used as a pretext to retaliate against inmates. See Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89-90 (1987). However, "when a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Id. at 89. Here, the court finds that the Defendants' interpretation of the 2012 mail policy was rationally related to the legitimate penological interests of security and resource conservation. Grenning has not shown that the mail policy was used as a pretext to retaliate against him in violation of the First Amendment.

I. History

Grenning claims that on December 17, 2010, Defendant Craig Harrington forwarded to Defendant Jack Richardson a portion of an outgoing email Grenning sent his mother that was critical of Richardson. On December 23, 2010, Richardson issued Grenning an infraction based on the content of that email, which was overturned on an internal appeal. On December 25, 2010, Grenning filed a staff misconduct grievance against Richardson and Harrington for wrongfully issuing the citation, which was denied on January 20, 2011.

Grenning contends that beginning in March of 2012, the mailroom Defendants retaliated against him for filing the grievance by restricting incoming correspondence from his family containing contents written in the Norwegian language:

Date of rejection

Rejected by

Reason for rejection

March 5, 2012

Ronald Doty

One page of correspondence part in a language other than English.

March 23, 2012

Paul Barker

One page of correspondence part in a language other than English.

May 3, 2012

Paul Barker

Letter mostly in English but parts in a foreign language.

May 24, 2012

Paul Barker

Correspondence in a foreign language when sender has previously correcponded [sic] in English.

July 11, 2012

Ronald Doty

Two pages of correspondence in language other than English.

Defendant Thomas Orth is the Mailroom Sergeant and is named for his role in overseeing the mailroom operations. Defendant Bonnie Munden was not involved in any of the mail rejections at issue in this case.

The 2012 DOC mail policy defined unauthorized inmate mail as: “Mail in a foreign language with contents not understood by the inspecting staff, when reasonable efforts to have the mail interpreted have been unsuccessful.” The policy allowed “[c]orrespondence up to 10 pages in length” to be “sent for translation services per the available contract at the discretion of the Mailroom Supervisor.” ECF No. 100-1, DOC Mail policy 450.100: Unauthorized Mail, at ¶ 11.

Grenning was informed during these rejections that the DOC interpreted the mail policy as prohibiting letters containing some English and some foreign language. For instance, on April 8, 2012 Security Operations Manager Michael Watkins wrote to Grenning explaining:

When the writer chooses to use another language and has clearly demonstrated the ability to use English within the same letter, it becomes an unreasonable effort to translate the use of the second language within that letter ... [Additionally, ] when two languages are being used within the same letter, it can give the reviewer the impression that an unstated message is being transmitted between the writer and the receiver. This can lead the reviewer to believe the mail is ‘in code.’

ECF No. 100-1; April 8, 2012 letter from Michael Watkins.

Another letter with the same "mixed language" explanation was sent to Grenning on October 29, 2012. Pursuant to the mail policy, inmates are “responsible for informing their correspondents of the rules governing offender mail.” It is unclear whether Grenning ever informed his family of the policy. Grenning’s family continued sending him letters written entirely in Norwegian, ...


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