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Rodriguez v. James

decided: June 29, 1987.


Appeal from a grant of summary judgment of the United States District Court for the Western District of New York (John T. Curtin, Chief Judge) dismissing plaintiff's claim that his first and fourteenth amendment rights were violated by prison regulations allowing the inspection of his business mail. Affirmed.

Author: Winter

Before: OAKES and Winter, Circuit Judges, and ZAMPANO, Senior District Judge.*fn*

WINTER, Circuit Judge:

O. Rodriguez, a prisoner in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), alleged in his complaint that several DOCS officials had violated his constitutional rights while he was imprisoned at the Collins Correctional Facility ("Collins"). Rodriguez's principal claim was that his first amendment rights were violated by Collins officials' implementation of a DOCS regulation that required inmates to submit all outgoing business and mail in unsealed form for inspection. He also claimed that his transfer to the Orleans Correctional Facility ("Orleans") was intended to frustrate his pursuit of legal remedies. Chief Judge Curtin granted summary judgment against Rodriguez, and this appeal followed.


From October 11, 1985 to March 15, 1986, Rodriguez was an inmate at Collins, a "medium A" security facility in Helmuth, New York. Sometime in late October 1985, he submitted two sealed letters to the prison mailroom for mailing. Both letters were addressed to business; one was addressed to The Sharper Image, the other to Stereo World Electrons Discounters. According to Rodriguez, the first was a notice of a change of address, and the second was an inquiry about overdue merchandise. Pursuant to DOCS Directive No. 4422, those letters were returned to Rodriguez unopened and unmailed.

Directive 4422, issued by DOCS on December 7, 1983, modified the Inmate Correspondence Program, which regulates the exchange of correspondence between inmates and other persons. The directive was issued after a number of restricts on inmate mail privileges were invalidated by this court in Davidson v. Scully, 694 694 F.2d 50, 52 & n.3 (2d Cir. 1982). As a result of the directive, inmates may now submit most of their outgoing personal mail to the prison mailroom already sealed. Inspection is allowed only upon reasonable suspicion that the contents constituted a threat to safety.

Business mail, however, is treated differently. Correspondence addressed to commercial firms must be submitted unsealed and is subject to inspection. This requirement was devised after a number of inmates had ordered merchandise or services without having sufficient funds to make payment. Any business mail that obligates an inmate's funds must receive prior approval of the prison superintendent. The inmate must send advance payment in the form of a check drawn on his prison account for any merchandise ordered by mail. As an additional measure, the Deputy Commissioner of DOCS ordered that all outgoing inmate mail be stamped with the name of the correctional facility. A subsequent revision of Directive 4422 excluded from the definition of "business mail" correspondence to the media not obligating the inmate's funds.*fn1

In a letter to Rodriguez explaining the return of the two sealed letters and a third unmailed letter to Radio Shack, Kay Baase, the Collins Inmate Records Coordinator, specifically quoted Directive 4422, ยง III(E)(2). Baase also noted that had the mailroom employees been able to verify that The Sharper Image and Stereo World letters merely effected a change of address and inquired about overdue merchandise, "they would have promptly been dispatched."

On December 27, 1985, Rodriguez requested that a letter addressed to Senator Edward Kennedy be sent via certified mail. Prison records, including a Postal Service receipt, indicate that the letter was sent on December 30, that Rodriguez was billed for the certified mail charge, but the letter was never received by Senator Kennedy's office. Two tracers submitted by Collins officials at Rodriguez's request received no response from the Postal Service.

On March 15, 1986, Rodriguez was transferred to Orleans, another "medium A" security facility, as part of an inmate "swap" between the two prisons. Rodriguez and one other inmate at Collins were exchanged for two inmates at Orleans to allow the Orleans inmates to participate in programs offered only at Collins. Officials at Orleans apparently initiated the exchange.

Rodriguez's complaint alleged that four officials at Collins, including Baase, had deliberately transferred him to Orleans to prevent "legal redress against them for their violations of his rights," to deny him his job assignment at Collins, and to cause him mental anguish. Rodriguez also alleged that those four officials had destroyed or suppressed his mail to Senator Kennedy and had refused to send out his sealed business mail. Finally, Rodriguez alleged that Arthur Leonardo, Deputy Commissioner of DOCS, and an unnamed DOCS official had approved and implemented the "illegal and unconstitutional" Directive 4422.*fn2 All of these actions, Rodriguez claims, were violations of his civil, statutory, human and constitutional rights. Each of the five named defendants moved for summary judgment and submitted numerous supporting affidavits and prison records. On November 5, 1986, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants.


In granting summary judgment, Chief Judge Curtin correctly rejected as lacking any factual basis Rodriguez's claims that Collins officials tampered with the Kennedy letter and illegally transferred him to Orleans. Evidence submitted by the defendants demonstrates that the Kennedy letter was mailed by Collins prison officials and was lost after it had passed into Postal Service custody. Moreover, Rodriguez has offered no evidence ...

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