Sunday, August 5, 2018

Prison Legal News (PLN) based in Lake Worth loses major appeal at U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th District.

PLN is a monthly magazine issued by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC). In 2013 the activists at HRDC moved operations from Vermont to Lake Worth, Florida advocating for issues such as “immigrant amnesty and prison abolition”.

The HRDC was front page news in The Palm Beach Post, below the fold last Friday (August 3rd) and a correction was issued by the Post in yesterday’s print edition about a misidentified defendant in a lawsuit.

At the end of this blog post are two excerpts from Friday’s front page news and the subsequent correction in the paper.

Now back to PLN’s devastating loss at the
11th District U.S. Court of Appeals.  

The vote was unanimous against PLN. But according to WLRN reporter Daniel Rivero (see below) this publication will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. After reading the opinion and ruling from the Eleventh Circuit the real question is whether the Supreme Court would even consider taking up an appeal at all (see two excerpts from ruling below).

This matter between PLN and the Florida Dept. of Corrections has been going on since 2004. For fourteen (14) years. For some perspective — to give you an idea how far back this goes — former Lake Worth Mayor Mark Foley in 2004 was still a high ranking member in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The appeal Prison Legal News vs. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections was dated May 17th. Here are two excerpts from the WLRN story dated May 22nd titled, “Inmate Magazine Loses First Amendment Case Against Florida Department Of Corrections”:

A Florida-based publisher of a magazine written by inmates lost a federal appeal of a freedom of speech case against the Florida Department of Corrections, which has barred the magazine from state correctional facilities.
     Prison Legal News, based in Lake Worth, is distributed and read in state prisons in all 49 other states, leaving its home state as the only exception.

and. . .

     The appellate court decision, which came down last week, upheld a 2015 decision against the magazine by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker. In a 48-page opinion, Ed Carnes, chief judge of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote that the magazine represents a security threat and that the state is within its rights to bar the magazine from correctional facilities. He was joined by two judges in the decision.

To read the entire decision, “Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida” click on this link and scroll down for case number 15-14220.

From pp. 2–3 of the unanimous ruling against PLN:

The Constitution does place some limits on the measures that corrections officials may use to carry out that duty, which is what this case is about.
     The Florida Department of Corrections has rules aimed at preventing fraud schemes and other criminal activity originating from behind bars, but inmates continually attempt to circumvent measures in place to enforce those rules. The Department, for its part, continually strives to limit sources of temptation and the means that inmates can use to commit crimes. One way it does that is by preventing inmates from receiving publications with prominent or prevalent advertisements for prohibited services, such as three-way calling and pen pal solicitation, that threaten other inmates and the public. In the Department’s experience, those ads not only tempt inmates to violate the rules and commit crimes, but also enable them to do so.
     One publication the Department impounds based on its ad content is plaintiff Prison Legal News (PLN)’s monthly magazine, Prison Legal News. [emphasis added] PLN contends that the Department’s impoundments of its magazine violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. After a bench trial, the district court ruled that the impoundments do not violate the First Amendment but the failure to give proper notice of them does violate the Fourteenth Amendment. We agree.

And from pp. 47–48:


The Department’s concerns with the ads in Prison Legal News are reasonably related to its legitimate interests in prison security and public safety, so we defer to its decision and hold that the impoundments of Prison Legal News under Rules (3)(l) and 3(m) do not violate the First Amendment. But with the power to impound Prison Legal News comes the duty to inform PLN of the reasons for the impoundments. The Department did not do that, which is why the district court did not abuse its discretion in entering an injunction to require the Department to adhere to its own notice rules.


Now to the most recently initiated lawsuit. . .

Friday in the Post was front page news about a lawsuit filed against the Florida Dept. of Corrections initiated by the HRDC, news with the secondary headline in the online edition, “West Palm man had lost lost [sic] 75 pounds in 2½ years”:

[A]according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday by his family [Vincent Gaines died in prison] and initiated by the Human Rights Defense Center in Lake Worth.
     The death again put the spotlight on Corizon Health, the for-profit medical health provider that in 2015 walked away from its $1.2 billion, five-year contract with the Department of Corrections after an award-winning Palm Beach Post investigation. Corizon claimed it was losing $1 million a month and it was a fiscal decision, but it left its contract after reports of inmates dying for lack of adequate medical care.

and. . .

     The Department of Corrections, a defendant in the lawsuit along with Corizon, had yet to be served with the lawsuit to review it, but spokesman Patrick Manderfield said the “department is committed to ensuring all inmates have access to appropriate health services.”

Yesterday’s correction published on page A2:

Because of a reporting error, a story in Friday’s Palm Beach Post about a lawsuit claiming a Florida prisoner died of starvation incorrectly reported that Corizon Health is a defendant in another lawsuit in Alabama. The defendant in that lawsuit is the Alabama Department of Corrections. The story appeared on the front page.