United States District Court, D. South Dakota
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
KAREN E. SCHREIER, District Judge.
Plaintiff, Jesse Claude Tiedeman, is an inmate at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. On November 1, 2013 Tiedeman filed a pro se civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendants, while acting in their individual capacities, violated his First Amendment rights by preventing him from accessing the courts. Docket 1 at 3, 6-7. Tiedeman also alleges that defendants conspired to violate his constitutional rights. Dockets 1, 27.
Now pending before the court is a motion for summary judgment filed by defendants Clifton Fantroy, Steve Linniweber, Linda Miller-Hunhoff, Jennie Peterson, Troy Ponto, and Kayla Stekelberg. Dockets 40. Also pending before the court is a motion for joinder for summary judgment filed by defendants Mike Holmes, Thomas Linniweber, Heather Veld, and Douglas L. Weber. Docket 60. Tiedeman objects to the motion for summary judgment. Dockets 46, 47, 49, 50, 61, 63. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants the motion for summary judgment and the motion for joinder for summary judgment.
In the light most favorable to Tiedeman, the nonmoving party, the relevant facts are as follows:
Plaintiff, Jesse Claude Tiedeman, is an inmate in the custody of the South Dakota Department of Corrections (SDDOC). Docket 42 at ¶ 1. Tiedeman was incarcerated at the South Dakota State Penitentiary (SDSP) on or about June 18, 2007, after pleading guilty to and being convicted of aggravated assault and third-degree burglary. Id. ; Docket 40-5. On May 20, 2011, while incarcerated at SDSP, Tiedeman attempted to mail "a large manila envelope containing several legal letters and documents and various other confidential papers... to the Minnehaha 2nd Judicial Circuit Clerk of Courts." Docket 5 at 57. Although the envelope eventually arrived at its intended destination, it took three weeks to get there. Docket 1-1 at 2.
To address the issue, Tiedeman filed a request for administrative remedy on June 20, 2011, demanding answers as to why it took three weeks for the envelope "to get across town[.]" Docket 1-1 at 2. Weber responded to Tiedeman's request on July 7, 2011, notifying Tiedeman that his "mail was sent out by DOC employees and that is the only responsibility [they] have." Docket 1-1 at 7. Tiedeman further addressed his concern over "disappearing" legal mail by filing an informal resolution request on August 7, 2011 (Docket 1-1 at 8), and again on September 29, 2011 (Docket 1-1 at 14). Tiedeman also filed a request for administrative remedy on October 7, 2011, to raise concern with defendants' alleged failure to send out his legal mail. Docket 1-1 at 15. On October 24, 2011, Weber notified Tiedeman that "it was determined that [Tiedeman's] legal mail was processed according to procedure and was sent out by Unit Staff." Docket 1-1 at 16.
Tiedeman also filed informal resolution requests related to the opening of his legal mail by prison staff. Docket 1-1 at 2, 21. More specifically, Tiedeman alleged that defendants had opened and read his outgoing legal mail, and that he had "received no less than 2 letters from the U.S. Dept. Of the Interior" that had been opened outside his presence. Id. In response to Tiedeman's concern regarding outgoing legal mail, Weber assured Tiedeman that his "legal mail was not opened or read after [Tiedeman] sealed it." Docket 1-1 at 7. In response to Tiedeman's concern regarding incoming legal mail, defendants noted that the issue had "already been addressed." Docket 1-1 at 21.
In accordance with SDDOC policy, "[p]rivileged/legal correspondence sent to an adult offender will be opened by unit staff in the presence of the offender." Docket 40-1 at 5. "Staff will not read the content of the privileged/legal correspondence but will inspect incoming and outgoing mail, page-by-page, in the presence of the offender to prevent the introduction of contraband and to confirm the contents has [sic] been sent by addressor." Id. As for outgoing legal mail, SDDOC policy requires unit staff to inspect outgoing mail before it is sealed and sent out. Docket 40-1 at 8. "Staff will not read the privileged/legal correspondence but may inspect the contents page-by-page in the offender's presence to prevent the movement of contraband." Id. Outgoing legal mail must be approved by staff prior to being sent out. Id.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
"Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence,  viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Clark v. Kellogg Co., 205 F.3d 1079, 1082 (8th Cir. 2000); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "Once the motion for summary judgment is made and supported, it places an affirmative burden on the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings and by affidavit or otherwise designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Commercial Union Ins. Co. v. Schmidt, 967 F.2d 270, 271 (8th Cir. 1992) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
"Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Although "the court is required to... give [the nonmoving] party the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts, " Vette Co. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 612 F.2d 1076, 1077 (8th Cir. 1980), the nonmoving party may not "rest upon mere denials or allegations." Forrest v. Kraft Foods, Inc., 285 F.3d 688, 691 (8th Cir. 2002). Instead, the nonmoving party must "set forth specific facts sufficient to raise a genuine issue for trial." Id.
Prisoners who proceed pro se are entitled to the benefit of liberal construction at the pleading stage. Quam v. Minnehaha Cnty. Jail, 821 F.2d 522, 522 (8th Cir. 1987). Nonetheless, the summary judgment standard set forth in Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure remains applicable to prisoners proceeding pro se. Id. The district court is not required to "plumb the record in order to find a genuine issue of material fact." Barge v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 87 F.3d 256, 260 (8th Cir. 1996). Moreover, the court is not "required to speculate on which portion of the record the nonmoving party relies, nor is it obligated to wade through and search the entire record for some specific facts that might support the nonmoving party's claim." Id. The court remains sensitive, however, "to the special problems faced by prisoners attempting to proceed pro se in ...