United States District Court, D. Kansas
RUSSELL K. OGDEN, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
PETE FIGGINS, In his Official Capacity as Sheriff for Wilson County, Kansas, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
A. ROBINSON, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Russell K. Ogden, Beatrice Hammer, and John Smith filed this
class action asserting claims, individually and on behalf of
others similarly situated, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for
declaratory and injunctive relief against Defendant Pete
Figgins in his official capacity as Sheriff of Wilson County,
Kansas. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant's postcard-only
mail policy is an unconstitutional violation of the First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights of inmates at the Wilson County
Correctional Facility and their friends and family members.
In an Order dated July 19, 2016,  the Court preliminarily
approved the parties' proposed Settlement Agreement and
Consent Decree (“Agreement”). After notice to
Settlement Class members and a fairness hearing, the Court
now considers the Agreement for final approval and entry.
Because the Court finds that the Agreement is fair,
reasonable, and adequate, it adopts and enters the Agreement.
Factual and Procedural Background
April 28, 2016, Plaintiffs filed this class action suit
challenging Defendant's postcard-only mail policy as an
unconstitutional violation of the First and Fourteenth
Amendment rights of inmates and their friends and family
members. Plaintiffs, whose family members are incarcerated at
the Wilson County Correctional Facility in Fredonia, Kansas,
allege that the jail's policy of prohibiting inmates and
their correspondents from sending letters enclosed in
envelopes and requiring them to instead conduct all
correspondence on pre-paid U.S. Postal cards impermissibly
restricts inmates and their outside correspondents from
exercising their right to communicate in writing in violation
of the First Amendment. Plaintiffs further contend that the
jail's postcard-only policy violates the due process
protections of the Fourteenth Amendment because it does not
afford either the sender or the intended recipient any notice
of a rejected communication or provide them with an
opportunity to challenge that determination.
Order dated August 4, 2016, the Court certified the
Settlement Class as follows:
All current and former outside correspondents who wish to
write letters to, and/or receive letters from, inmates in the
Wilson County Correctional Facility and who are subjected to
or affected by the Postcard-Only Mail Policy.
November 8, 2016, the parties filed a Joint Notice of
Settlement,  and on June 16, 2017, the parties filed a
Joint Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action
Settlement,  which included the Agreement reached by
Court reviewed and preliminarily approved the terms of the
Agreement on July 19, 2016, with instruction to give notice
to the Settlement Class. The Notice proposed by the parties and
adopted by the Court included a brief explanation of the
lawsuit, a description of the proposed terms of the
Agreement, instructions for objecting, and the date of the
final fairness hearing. Members of the Settlement Class
received notice by a posting in each pod and visitation area
at the Wilson County Detention Center, publication in the
Wilson County Citizen, and by posting on a website
associated with the Wilson County Sheriff's Department.
Notice was posted and published in both English and Spanish.
Settlement Class members were given 60 days to object. The
Court received no objections. Following the end of the
objection period, the Court held a fairness hearing under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e)(2) on October 25, 2017.
Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e) authorizes a court to approve a
class action settlement after notice, a hearing, and "on
finding that [the settlement] is fair, reasonable, and
adequate." Tenth Circuit courts determine whether a
proposed settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate by
(1) whether the proposed settlement was fairly and honestly
(2) whether serious questions of law and fact exist, placing
the ultimate outcome of the litigation in doubt;
(3) whether the value of an immediate recovery outweighs the
mere possibility of future relief after protracted and