Consolidated Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, East St. Louis Division. No. 84 C 3269 - Gerald B. Cohn, Magistrate; and the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 84 C 7745 - Frank J. McGarr, Chief Judge.
Before COFFEY, FLAUM and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.
This consolidated appeal presents two similar constitutional challenges to the new Illinois Department of Corrections' regulations governing the treatment of prisoner mail. In both instances, the district courts dismissed the complaints pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted.*fn1 The appellants contend that dismissal at this stage of the litigations was error. We disagree. Accordingly, we affirm the judgments in both actions.
The appellants are individuals who have been committed to the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (Department). As inmates, they are subject to the Department's regulations covering the handling of incoming and outgoing mail. Prior to August 1, 1984, these rules were codified as Regulation 823. However, on that date, the Department enacted new regulations, Rule 525.100 et seq. The appellants have alleged that these new mail regulations are harsher than the previous rules and constitutionally deficient in a number of ways.
The mail regulations apply to both privileged and non-privileged mail. In general, privileged mail is defined as mail which is either sent to or received from attorneys or specified governmental and judicial officers. Non-privileged mail is, accordingly, comprised of all mail which does not fall within that definition. The appellants have alleged that the regulations are unconstitutional as they affect both types of mail.
Non-Privileged Mail. The appellants alleged that the regulations pertaining to non-privileged mail infringe on their first amendment right to substantially unrestricted speech. They first object to Rule 525.130 which, unlike its predecessor, requires all non-privileged outgoing mail to be unsealed when delivered to the mail room. That rule also permits prison employees to read all outgoing non-privileged mail and to inspect it for contraband. The regulations are objectionable, contend the appellants, because they do not specify 1) which prison employees may read the mail, or 2) what showing is necessary (i.e.: security, prisoner safety, etc.) to support such an intrusion. The appellants reiterate these same objections with respect to Rule 525.140 which subjects incoming non-privileged mail to the same inspection.
In addition, Rule 525.130(h) permits Department employees to censor, reproduce, or withhold from delivery non-privileged mail which they believe presents a threat to prison security or safety. (Rule 525.140(g) provides a similar regulation for incoming mail.) The rule continues by enumerating nine instances when such a threat exists. The appellants argue that this regulation is deficient in two respects. First, the regulation includes - as one of the nine potentially dangerous instances - letters which "solicit gifts, goods or money from other than family members." Rule 525.130(h)(6). The appellants allege that this provision cannot possibly promote prison security. Second, the appellants contend that the nine instances are merely illustrative of the types of situations in which mail restrictions are warranted. Since the list is not exhaustive, the appellants claim that the rules impermissibly give prison employees unfettered discretion to decide which items of mail present a threat to the prison.
Privileged Mail. The regulations do not specifically provide that incoming privileged mail may be read. However, Rule 525.140(b) does allow the mail to be inspected "to determine that noting other than legal or official matter is enclosed." Further, Rule 525.110 does not include letters to and from the news media within the definition of privileged mail. The appellants contend that both of these provisions unnecessarily intrude upon their first amendment rights and, therefore, should be stricken unless the Department can demonstrate some justification for their necessity.
Other Alleged Violations. In addition to these substantive first amendment claims, the appellants also argue that the regulations are impermissibly vague. Specifically, the appellants point to the restrictions found in Rule 525.130(a) and (b). Those sections allow an inmate to mail - at state expense - the equivalent of three one-ounce, first-class letters each week. Prisoners may also send additional letters provided they have sufficient funds in their prison accounts. If a prisoner does not have sufficient funds, he may nonetheless "send reasonable amounts of legal mail at State expense." The appellants contend that, because the regulations define neither "reasonable" nor "legal," they are impermissibly vague.
Finally, the appellants claim that the Department's rules violate due process inasmuch as they do not afford expeditious review of decisions to withhold prisoner mail.
In sum, the appellants have alleged that the mail regulations infringe on first amendment interests, are impermissibly vague, and fail to provide adequate procedures for contesting adverse decisions. Faced with these challenges, the district courts in both cases dismissed the complaints for failure to state a claim. They believed that the regulations were consistent with the general guidelines set forth by the Supreme Court in Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 40 L. Ed. 2d 224, ...