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Vandenburgh v. Stanton

February 5, 2010




Before the Court is Defendant Sheriff Gary Stanton's ("Sheriff Stanton" or "Defendant") Motion for Summary Judgment. After considering the moving, opposing and replying papers, and for the reasons that follow, the Court hereby GRANTS Defendant's Motion.


Plaintiff Mark J. Vandenburgh ("Vandenburgh" or "Plaintiff"), a state prisoner at Solano County Jail ( "Solano County" or the "Jail") proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

On May 28, 2008, Plaintiff filed a grievance with the Solano County Sheriff's Office (the "Sheriff's Office") claiming that the Jail's regulations with respect to legal mail procedures were invalid because they permit institutional authorities to "read letters to and from an attorney to search for 'verbal contraband,' or to read all 'enclosures' such as letters." Pl.'s Opp. Attach. 5.*fn1 The Sheriff's Office determined Plaintiff's grievance to be unfounded and stated that the county employees do not read inmates' legal mail. Pl.'s Opp. Attach. 6. Plaintiff appealed this response, but the Sheriff's Office denied the appeal because Plaintiff did not provide his original grievance with the appeal. Pl.'s Opp. Attachs. 7-8. The Sheriff's Office also informed Plaintiff he had exhausted all administrative remedies as they applied to this issue. Pl.'s Opp. Attach. 8.

On June 18, 2008, Plaintiff filed another grievance with the Sheriff's Office in which he claimed that "outgoing legal mail is taken and at the discretion of the officer it is read or not. This Facility[,] Solano County Justice Center gives the officers the right to read privileged legal mail without prior warning." Pl.'s Opp. Attach. 2. On June 19, 2008, the Sheriff's Office responded and informed Plaintiff that "Department policy states that inmate legal mail is to be scanned for contraband in the presence of the inmate." Pl.'s Opp. Attach. 3. Plaintiff's grievance was not sustained because it was a "random statement" that was not supported by allegations of wrongdoing by particular officers. Id. Plaintiff attempted to appeal this decision. Id.

Sheriff Stanton was elected the Sheriff/Coroner of Solano County on July 9, 2001, and continues to hold these positions today. Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Def.'s Statement") 1:19-20; Compl. 5. The Solano County Sheriff's Department (the "Sheriff's Department") has adopted policies governing inmate correspondence and the inspection of mail.

Def.'s Statement 1:24-25; Pl.'s Statement of Facts ("Pl.'s Statement") 1:19-21. Once in Jail Administration, the exterior of each piece of legal mail is marked with the location of the inmate who is the intended recipient and staff makes an entry in the inmate legal mail log stating that the inmate received a piece of legal mail. Def.'s Statement 2:3-4; Pl.'s Statement 1:19-21. After being logged in, legal mail is placed unopened in a box before being delivered to the housing units where the module officer in each housing unit opens all incoming legal mail in the presence of the inmate and inspects it for contraband. Def.'s Statement 2:9-11; Pl.'s Statement 1:19-21.

Defendant also claims that the following policies are in place with respect to legal mail:

(1) outgoing legal mail is inspected by the module officer prior to the mail being sealed by the inmate; and (2) legal mail will not be read or censored by any staff member except where there is specific documentation to support such action or there is reasonable suspicion that plans are being formulated by the inmate to send or receive contraband, plot an escape, or engage in any other activity that could jeopardize the security of the facility. Def.'s Statement 2-3; Pl.'s Statement 1:19-21. In Plaintiff's statement of facts, he states that he disputes these two policies, apparently because he believes that the policy states that it "forbid[s] module officers from reading outgoing legal mail." Pl.'s Statement 1:22-27.

Plaintiff also disputes the application and enforcement of these policies. Plaintiff alleges that certain unnamed correctional or module officers ("module officers") unlawfully read and inspected Plaintiff's outgoing legal mail for "verbal contraband" directly after he handed the mail to the module officers. Opp. 2:24-28. In addition, Plaintiff claims that the module officers denied him the ability to get copies of "authenticated documents." Id. at 2:13-16.

Plaintiff claims that Sheriff Stanton, as Head Sheriff, was responsible for ensuring that module officers did not read his outgoing legal mail. Id. at 6:1-7. Plaintiff claims he has suffered emotional and mental suffering which has directly caused a physical injury that is "not visibly apparent." Id. at 1:24-27.

On June 4, 2008, Plaintiff filed his original Complaint with the United States District Court, Eastern District of California against Solano County and Sheriff Stanton. On June 27, 2008, Plaintiff was ordered to amend his Complaint by Magistrate Judge Craig M. Kellison because he failed to indicate how either named defendant was involved in any alleged constitutional violation. On July 17, 2008, Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint solely against Sheriff Stanton. On ...

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