This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Michael P. Henderson,
Department of Corrections Faribault Facility, et al.,
Rice County District Court
File No. 66-C3-05-001469
Michael Henderson, MCF –
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Richard L. Varco, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge; Wright, Judge; and Worke, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court’s grant of summary judgment on his constitutional claims against respondents’ enforcement of a policy prohibiting inmate-to-inmate property transfers via mail. We affirm.
Michael Henderson is incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in
Appellant served a summons and complaint upon respondents MCF-Faribault and Jackie Carter, alleging that they violated his constitutional rights by not delivering the photograph. Appellant filed a motion for summary judgment and respondents filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. After holding a telephone conference on the parties’ motions, the district court granted respondents’ motion for summary judgment and denied appellant’s motion. This appeal follows.
an appeal from summary judgment, we ask two questions: (1) whether there are
any genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the [district] court
erred in [its] application of the law.” State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2,
first issue presented is whether the DOC policy prohibiting property transfers
between inmates infringes upon appellant’s First Amendment freedom. “[C]onvicted prisoners do not forfeit all
constitutional protections by reason of their conviction and confinement in
Commissioner of Corrections has broad authority to regulate prison conditions
and adopt regulations to prohibit prisoner conduct that would be harmful to
staff or other prisoners.
reviewing prison regulations, courts “must accord substantial deference to the
professional judgment of prison administrators, who bear a significant
responsibility for defining the legitimate goals of a corrections system and
for determining the most appropriate means to accomplish them.” Overton
v. Bazzetta, 539
The Supreme Court
has adopted a “reasonableness” test to evaluate the constitutionality of prison
policies. O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482
First, we consider whether the policy is rationally related to a legitimate interest. In support of their motion to dismiss or for summary judgment, respondents submitted the affidavit of the warden of MCF-Faribault. The warden stated that the DOC has an interest in “maintaining safe and secure institutions.” The warden also explained the various justifications for the policy. For example, inmate-to-inmate property transfers could allow for illicit economic activity, including extortion, gambling, and the purchase of drugs or sexual favors, to occur in prisons. In addition, the allowance of photograph transfers could compromise prison security, “facilitate the identification of an individual against whom some violent action is intended,” and facilitate the transmission of gang signs between inmates. We conclude that the policy prohibiting inmate-to-inmate property transfers is rationally connected to these legitimate security concerns.
next consideration is whether inmates have alternative means of exercising
their constitutional rights. The policy
in this case does not deprive prisoners of all means of expression, and
alternative means of communication between prisoners exist. DOC’s mail policy specifies that inmates may
“send/receive letters, post cards and signed greeting cards to each other.”
Next, we consider the impact of accommodation on guards, other inmates, and the allocation of prison resources. In her affidavit, the warden stated that allowing property transfers between inmates would provide “another method by which contraband can be introduced” into the prison, burdening prison staff with additional inspection tasks. In addition, according to the warden, permitting such exchanges would “create an unacceptable risk to prison security [because] mailroom staff cannot reasonably be expected to review each photograph, determine the purpose for which it is sent[,] . . . [and] determine whether . . . the photograph contains gang-related hand or body signs.” We conclude that respondents’ assertion that accommodating inmate-to-inmate property transfers would significantly burden prison mailroom staff, require additional resources to implement, and also potentially endanger prison inmates satisfies the reasonableness test.
Finally, we consider whether there are reasonable alternatives to the regulation. Appellant contends that the district court erroneously placed upon him the burden to provide feasible alternatives to the policy.
According to Turner,
prison officials do not have to set up and then shoot down every conceivable alternative method of accommodating the claimant’s constitutional complaint. . . . But if an inmate claimant can point to an alternative that fully accommodates the prisoner’s rights at de minimis cost to valid penological interests, a court may consider that as evidence that the regulation does not satisfy the reasonable relationship standard.
Appellant has not proffered any feasible alternatives. Requiring prison mailroom staff to closely scrutinize items such as photographs for the transmission of gang signs or other signals that are not immediately apparent would impose more than a de minimis cost on correctional facilities. Such a policy would require staff training into constantly-evolving gang signs. Item-by-item inspection would place an added burden on DOC employees. In addition, there is a significant risk that mailroom staff may miss dangerous signals.
We conclude that the DOC policy prohibiting inmate-to-inmate property transfers bears a reasonable relation to respondents’ valid interests in maintaining prison security. And as applied here, the policy does not unconstitutionally infringe upon appellant’s First Amendment rights.
Appellant also contends that DOC’s “very intrusive” mail policy results in the “systematic denial” of items sent via mail to prisoners. Appellant claims that “numerous items” have not been delivered. But as previously addressed, DOC’s mail policy allows for mail transfer so long as the transfer complies with the stated conditions. Here, there is no evidence that DOC has failed to deliver a piece of mail that complies with the policy.
The next issue is whether the DOC’s actions in refusing to deliver the photograph deprived appellant of property without due process of law. Specifically, appellant claims that the decision came without a formal hearing or review.
contend that appellant’s due process claim is inappropriate for appellate
consideration because it is raised for the first time on appeal. Generally, we decline to consider matters
neither argued nor raised in the district court. Thiele
v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (
the United States Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution provide that no
person shall be deprived of “life, liberty, or property without due process of
Here, appellant received a written notice that the photograph sent to him by another inmate would not be delivered. The notice informed appellant that he could request a review of this decision. Appellant requested a review. Based on the DOC policy prohibiting inmate-to-inmate property transfers, MCF-Faribault officials informed appellant that the photograph would not be delivered. Appellant filed a civil action in district court and sought this court’s review of the district court’s dismissal of his case. The district court considered appellant’s claim, read the material he submitted, and provided a written decision. We conclude that the process afforded appellant satisfied the requirements of due process.