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Anctil v. Fitzpatrick

United States District Court, D. Maine

April 10, 2018

STEVE ANCTIL, JR., Plaintiff
JOSEPH FITZPATRICK, et al., Defendants



         In this action, Plaintiff Steve Anctil, Jr., an inmate in the custody of the Maine Department of Corrections, alleges that Defendants unlawfully opened his legal mail without him present. (Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. 31.)

         The matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction. (Motion, ECF No. 83.) Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief “to ensure that his designated legal mail is no longer opened outside his presence.” (Motion at 1.)

         Following a review of the record and after consideration of the parties' arguments, I recommend the Court deny the motion.


         Plaintiff previously filed a motion for injunctive relief. (ECF No. 26.) In that motion, Plaintiff asked the Court to order Defendants to open his legal mail only in his presence. On July 19, 2016, upon review of a recommended decision to which Plaintiff did not file an objection, the Court denied the motion. (Order, ECF No. 32.) In the instant motion, Plaintiff seeks similar relief.

         In his complaint and subsequent filings, Plaintiff asserts that he received opened “legal mail” from multiple organizations he contacted for help or for information related to the conditions of his confinement, including the Department of Public Safety, the Maine Superior Court, the State Fire Marshal, the State Law and Legislative Reference Library, and this Court. In his declaration filed in support of the present motion for injunctive relief, Plaintiff asserts that after he initiated this action, he has continued to receive unlawfully opened legal mail from the Maine State Board of Nursing, the Kennebec County Sheriff, the Knox County Sheriff, the Maine Superior Court, the Maine Commissioner of Public Safety, the Maine State Fire Marshal, and this Court. Plaintiff also asserts that he received opened mail from an attorney in June 2017, from the Maine State Fire Marshal's Office in December 2017, from the Knox County Sheriff in January 2018, and from the Kennebec County Sheriff in January 2018. (Declaration of Steve Anctil, ECF No. 83-2.)


         Plaintiff contends he is entitled to preliminary injunctive relief based on the irreparable harm that results from Defendants repeatedly opening his legal mail outside of his presence. (Motion, ECF No. 83; Declaration of Steve Anctil, ¶¶ 14 - 15, ECF No. 83-1; Supplemental Declaration of Steve Anctil, ECF No. 83-2.) Defendants argue Plaintiff is not entitled to relief because Plaintiff has not and cannot demonstrate a harm to an actual, non-frivolous, legal interest respecting a conditions of confinement claim. (Opposition at 2 - 3, ECF No. 84.)

         To obtain preliminary injunctive relief, [1] Plaintiff must show “(1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, (2) a significant risk of irreparable harm if the injunction is withheld, (3) a favorable balance of hardships, and (4) a fit (or lack of friction) between the injunction and the public interest.” Nieves-Marquez v. Puerto Rico, 353 F.3d 108, 120 (1st Cir. 2003); Hoffman v. Sec'y of State of Me., 574 F.Supp.2d 179, 186 (D. Me. 2008). “The dramatic and drastic power of injunctive force may be unleashed only against conditions generating a presently existing actual threat; it may not be used simply to eliminate a possibility of a remote future injury, or a future invasion of rights, be those rights protected by statute or by the common law.” Holiday Inns of Am., Inc. v. B & B Corp., 409 F.2d 614, 618 (3d Cir. 1969).

         As the First Circuit has observed, the “four factors are not entitled to equal weight in the decisional calculus; rather, ‘[l]ikelihood of success is the main bearing wall of the four-factor framework.'” Corp. Techs., Inc. v. Harnett, 731 F.3d 6, 9 - 10 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Ross-Simons of Warwick, Inc. v. Baccarat, Inc., 102 F.3d 12, 16 (1st Cir. 1996)). In other words, the likelihood of success factor is “critical in determining the propriety of injunctive relief.” Lancor v. Lebanon Hous. Auth., 760 F.2d 361, 362 (1st Cir. 1985). If Plaintiff cannot establish that he is likely to prevail on his claim, injunctive relief would likely not be warranted. See Weaver v. Henderson, 984 F.2d 11, 12 (1st Cir. 1993) (“In the ordinary course, plaintiffs who are unable to convince the trial court that they will probably succeed on the merits will not obtain interim injunctive relief.”) An assessment of Plaintiff's underlying claim is thus necessary.

         The First Amendment protects a prisoner's ability to correspond on a broad range of topics, including the vindication of a prisoner's rights, and it protects legal mail from unlawful interception and censorship. Thus, “[i]n addition to the right of access to the courts, a prisoner's right to the free flow of incoming and outgoing mail is protected by the First Amendment.” Davis v. Goord, 320 F.3d 346, 351 (2d Cir. 2003). “In balancing the competing interests implicated in restrictions on prison mail, courts have consistently afforded greater protection to legal mail than to non-legal mail, as well as greater protection to outgoing mail than to incoming mail.” Id. Not all incoming mail, therefore, even legal mail, enjoys equal status under the First Amendment.

         Correspondence from criminal defense counsel enjoys a special status because it is protected by both the First Amendment and the Sixth Amendment. Mangiaracina v. Penzone, 849 F.3d 1191, 1197 (9th Cir. 2017) (collecting cases, and observing that even a single incident of improper inspection of attorney mail can rise to the level of a constitutional violation). Attorney mail regarding a civil matter is also entitled to protection, given the importance of attorney-client confidences. Hayes v. Idaho Corr. Ctr., 849 F.3d 1204, 1210 (9th Cir. 2017). In civil matters, however, a prisoner must demonstrate more than isolated violations to establish a constitutional violation. Id.; Ahlers v. Rabinowitz, 684 F.3d 53, 64 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 568 U.S. 944 (2012) (inmate must show that prison officials “regularly and unjustifiably interfered with the incoming legal mail.”); Merriweather v. Zamora, 569 F.3d 307, 317 (6th Cir. 2009) (allegations describing “two or three pieces” of “properly labeled” attorney mail “opened in an arbitrary or capricious way” is sufficient to state a claim). Nevertheless, the long-established practice is to preserve the prisoner's interest in confidential communication by opening properly identified legal mail from counsel in the presence of the prisoner. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 576 - 77 (1974); Am. Civil Liberties Union Fund of Michigan v. Livingston Cty., 796 F.3d 636, 643 (6th Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 1246, 194 L.Ed.2d 184 (2016).

         Courts have also held that correspondence with attorneys general, prosecutors, elected officials, and governmental agencies can implicate the right of prisoners to access the courts or otherwise to petition the government for redress of grievances, and have expressed concern that opening and reviewing the content of such mail could “chill” access to justice. See Muhammand v. Pitcher, 35 F.3d 1081, 1083 (6th Cir. 1994) (collecting cases). “Legal mail” from a court, however, is not generally protected under the First Amendment because “[w]ith minute and irrelevant exceptions all correspondence from a court to a litigant is a public document, which prison personnel could if they want inspect in the court's files.” Keenan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083, 1094 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Martin v. Brewer, 830 F.2d 76, 78 (7th Cir. 1987)). Similarly, not all mail sent to a prisoner by a governmental institution must be opened in the presence of the prisoner. Sallier v. Brooks, 343 F.3d 868, 874 (6th Cir. 2003) (“Not all mail that a prisoner receives from a legal source will implicate constitutionally protected legal mail rights. Indeed, even mail from a legal source may have little or nothing to do with protecting a prisoner's access to the courts and other governmental entities to redress grievances or with protecting an inmate's ...

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