Hayes v. Idaho Correctional Center, No. 14-35078 (9th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging four instances of prison employees delivering legal mail addressed to him that had been opened before delivery, and that prison and prison officials maintained a policy or custom of ignoring the improper handling of legal mail. The district court dismissed the complaint at the pre-screening stage pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1915A. The court recognized that prisoners have a protected First Amendment interest in having properly marked legal mail opened only in their presence; a plaintiff need not allege a longstanding practice of violating his First Amendment rights in order to state a claim for relief on a direct liability theory; a plaintiff need not show any actual injury beyond the free speech violation itself to state a constitutional claim; the district court properly dismissed two counts of alleged improper mail opening; the other two instances, however, do state a First Amendment claim; the district court erred in dismissing these two claims at the pre-screening stage; on remand, Defendant Burke may offer a legitimate penological reason for opening plaintiff's legal mail at either summary judgment or trial; and plaintiff waived any challenge to the dismissal of his policy-based claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.