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Prisoner adequately stated First Amendment claim against DOC employees

July 17, 2013

The Indiana Court of Appeals quickly affirmed the dismissal of most of a prisoner’s claims regarding violations under Indiana statute or the state and federal constitutions, but found her First Amendment retaliation claims against several Department of Correction employees should not have been dismissed by the trial court.

Natalie Medley brought her lawsuit against the DOC employees – some who worked at the Rockville Correctional facility and some who reviewed her grievances.

Medley’s visitation privileges were first modified to no-contact for six months after she was found to have violated prison rules by fleeing or resisting prison staff. The no-contact order was extended for another year after she was caught in the bathroom hugging another inmate in an allegedly sexual manner. The restrictions were imposed by a DOC rule – referred to a “three-strikes rule” –  that would permanently restrict certain visitation after the third offense of either fleeing from staff or engaging in sexual conduct.

After filing her grievances, Medley was transferred for several months to the Indiana Women’s Prison before returning to Rockville. Her visitation restrictions have since expired. Medley then brought her civil rights complaint, alleging violations of Indiana law and the state and federal constitutions, as well as that she was retaliated against for filing her grievances.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of all of Medley’s claims related to alleged violations of the Indiana Code and the Indiana Constitution. The trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction regarding the claims arising under I.C. 11-11-5-4 and 11-11-3-9.

The judges also affirmed the dismissal of Medley’s Due Process and Equal Protection claims under the United States Constitution, as well as her claim that the “three strikes” policy infringes upon her First Amendment “right of association.” She failed to state a claim that the policy, as applied to hers and others found to have committed sex-related offense, violates Article 1, Section 23 of the Indiana Constitution.

But they did allow her suit to continue regarding her claims of retaliation against the DOC employees at the Rockville facility.

“We conclude that if prison officials in fact decided to exercise their discretion so as to punish Medley more harshly by revoking her contact visitation privileges and to transfer her to IWP in retaliation for her protected activity and they would not have done so if she had not engaged in that activity, it would be sufficient to state a First Amendment retaliation claim,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote in Natalie Medley v. Bruce Lemmon, Julie Stout, Pam Ferguson, Stacey Milner, Sherry White, L.A. Vannatta, Mike Pavese, Virginia McCullough, 61A01-1209-PL-420.
 

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