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Hairston v. Franklin County Sheriff's Office Center Main Jail 1

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

June 7, 2019

RICO ISAIH HAIRSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
FRANKLIN COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE CENTER MAIN JAIL 1, et al., Defendants.

          Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. Chief Judge

          ORDER AND REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          CHELSEY M. VASCURA, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Rico Isaih Hairston, who is proceeding without the assistance of counsel, brought this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Franklin County Sheriff's Office Center Main Jail 1 (“FCSO”) and three county employees. By Order dated December 21, 2017, the Court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims with the exception of his claim against FCSO and Deputy Burke based upon allegations that, in May and June 2017, Burke opened mail from the United States District Court addressed to Plaintiff outside of Plaintiff's presence in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

         On July 12, 2018, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on his remaining claims. (ECF No. 66.) That motion was denied with the exception of summary judgment in Plaintiff's favor as to liability against Burke as to the third incident of opening Plaintiff's legal mail on June 21, 2017. (ECF No. 84.)

         This matter is now before the Court on three motions: Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment, Costs, Economic Damages, and Punitive Damages from Defendant Burke's Liability on Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 87), Defendant FCSO's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 90), and Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery (ECF No. 86). Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment and Motion to Compel Discovery are fully briefed; but Plaintiff filed no opposition to FCSO's Motion, and the time to do so has now expired. For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment be DENIED without prejudice to renewal and that FCSO's Motion for Summary Judgment be DENIED. It is further ORDERED that, to the extent Plaintiff seeks to compel depositions of FCSO and Burke, Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery is DENIED; otherwise, the parties must either supplement their submissions so that the Court may rule on the remaining portions of Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery, or contact the Court to request Court-facilitated mediation in lieu of a ruling.

         I. BACKGROUND

         At all relevant times, Plaintiff was being held at correctional facilities maintained by Defendant Franklin County Sheriff's Office (“FCSO”). Plaintiff alleges that his legal mail was opened outside his presence on three occasions: May 12, 2017; June 15, 2017; and June 21, 2017. (Pl.'s Statement, ECF No. 72, PAGEID #452-53.) Based on these incidents, Plaintiff filed a grievance with the FCSO. (Id.)

         An FCSO investigation was conducted by Sergeant Karen Johnson. (Johnson Report, ECF No. 72, PAGEID #454-462.) Sgt. Johnson took photos of the envelopes Plaintiff alleged were already open when delivered to him and noted that each were sent from the “Office of the Clerk, United States District Court, Southern District.” (Id. at PAGEID #454.) The FCSO ultimately determined that Plaintiff's legal mail had been opened by Defendant Debra Burke. Burke had a “sit down/oral reprimand” with Sergeant Christina McDowell, who told Burke that the FCSO's policy was that legal mail was not to be opened outside the presence of the inmate to whom it was addressed. (Id. at PAGEID #460; McDowell Statement, ECF No. 72, PAGEID #469.)

         Burke gives conflicting explanations for why she opened Plaintiff's legal mail. In her statements to Sgt. Johnson, Burke stated that she “[did] not recall any specifics” of the May 12 and June 15 incidents, “but allegedly, I mistakenly opened legal mail for a Rico Hairston. I apologize profusely for any error made and will pay closer attention to opening mail moving forward.” (Johnson Report, ECF No. 72, PAGEID #460). As for the June 21 incident, Burke stated, “It has been stated that I opened legal mail for Rico Hairston but I do not recall doing so. If I did, it was in error. I apologize for any inconvenience and will be more attentive in the future.” (Id., PAGEID #461.)

         However, during her sit down/oral reprimand with Sgt. McDowell, “Burke stated that she did in fact open up the legal mail because it came from a court system. She went on to say that she was taught on her initial job training that it was a matter of public record and not subject to client confidentiality so it was to be opened and searched.” (McDowell Statement, ECF No. 72, PAGEID #469.) Moreover, Burke informed Sgt. McDowell that “she had opened such mail in the past on numerous occasions. She further went on to say that other CSCs handled such legal mail in the same manner and they should be notified also, to make sure it did not re-occur, as she was not the only one trained in such a manner from Deputy staff when she started her position.” (Id.)

         Sgt. McDowell sent an email to a number of correctional facility staff members on June 16, 2017. (Email, ECF No. 72, PAGEID #470.) The email emphasized that regardless of whether legal mail came from an attorney or a court system, legal mail may not be opened except by deputy staff in front of the inmate to whom it is addressed. (Id.) Burke was a recipient of this email, which predated Burke's opening of Plaintiff's legal mail on June 21, 2017. (Id.)

         In support of its Motion for Summary Judgment, FCSO also submits sworn interrogatory answers by Burke. (ECF No. 90, PAGEID #591-98.) In her interrogatory answers, Burke states, “I know that AR 815 governs the opening of legal mail” and “I will testify that AR 815 governs the opening of legal mail. There is no other custom or practice.” (Id. at PAGEID #593.) A copy of FCSO's written policy numbered AR 815, effective January 4, 1993, is attached to her interrogatory answers; it requires that “[m]ail between any prisoner and any court of law, lawyer, public service law office, law school legal clinic, or any office or official of the federal, state, or local government . . . be opened and inspected for contraband only in the presence of the prisoner to whom the mail is addressed.” (Id. at PAGEID #597.) Burke also states “I was trained on the opening of legal mail” but does not describe the substance of that training. (Id. at PAGEID #560.)

         Burke's interrogatory answers also refer to an incident in which she was reprimanded “for opening a letter to the plaintiff from the IRS because the policy considered it to be legal mail.” (Id. at PAGEID #592.) Her answers do not indicate when this incident occurred; but Plaintiff indicates in his briefing in support of his Motion for Judgment against Burke that “[Burke] again opened my legal mail a fourth time (mail from the Internal Revenue Service) and mail from the Franklin County Clerk of Courts. Both incidents took place after this lawsuit was filed (August 1st, 2017, November 9th, 2017).” (Pl.'s Reply at 3, ECF No. 91.)

         II. PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT, COSTS, AND DAMAGES

         Plaintiff's motion asks that the Court execute the partial summary judgment in Plaintiff's favor against Burke as to the June 21, 2017 mail opening incident. (ECF No. 87.) Specifically, he asserts that he is entitled to costs, economic damages, and punitive damages totaling $550, 000 from Burke, but seeks to collect this amount through indemnification from FCSO. (Id. at 1.) Plaintiff states that he previously submitted evidence of his damages (citing ECF No. 56-57), but a review of those documents reveals primarily a list of grievances against FCSO, few of which are related to the opening of legal mail outside his presence. Although Plaintiff asserts that FCSO staff retaliated against him because he commenced this lawsuit, there are no retaliation claims before the Court. The only relief quantified by Plaintiff is as follows:

• Postage from July 2017 to May 2018 ...

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