Thursday, July 23, 2015

Inmate's prison advocacy is protected by the First Amendment

The plaintiff in this case was an inmate at Fishkill Correctional Facility, where he was a member of the prison's Inmate Liaison Committee, advocating on behalf of other inmates. He claims he suffered retaliation for his advocacy in the prison. Although the district court dismissed the case under Rule 12, the Court of Appeals says he has a case.

The case is Dolan v. Connelly, decided on July 23. Dolan wins this appeal pro se. He says that, because of his advocacy, the guards "searched and confiscated Dolan’s prison law library computer" and "filed a false misbehavior report against Dolan for use of unauthorized password‐protected files." This landed Dolan in solitary confinement, where he stared at the wall. In the end, Dolan was cleared of this misconduct, prompting this Section 1983 lawsuit.

The question here is whether plaintiff's advocacy as a member of the Inmate Liaison Committee is protected First Amendment activity for which he cannot suffer retaliation. The Court of Appeals (Pooler, Hall and Jacobs) puts it this way:

While we have not held specifically that a prisoner engages in constitutionally protected conduct by carrying out the duties of a member of an ILC, it is well established that “retaliation against a prisoner for pursuing a grievance violates the right to petition government for the redress of grievances guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments and is actionable under § 1983.”
The Court rules in plaintiff's favor on this issue. "Dolan’s alleged actions as an ILC representative are similar, if not identical, to the grievance‐related activity already established as constitutionally protected conduct. Accordingly, we now hold that retaliation against a prisoner for filing or voicing
grievances on behalf of a prison population as a member of an inmate grievance body, such as the ILC, 'violates the right to petition government for the redress of grievances guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.'”

The case is therefore remanded to the district court. The Court of Appeals also says plaintiff is entitled to counsel to litigate his claims. 

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