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Ogden v. Figgins

United States District Court, D. Kansas

November 2, 2017

RUSSELL K. OGDEN, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
PETE FIGGINS, In his Official Capacity as Sheriff for Wilson County, Kansas, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          JULIE A. ROBINSON, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs 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, [1] the Court preliminarily approved the parties' proposed Settlement Agreement and Consent Decree (“Agreement”).[2] 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.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On 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.

         In an 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.[3]

         On November 8, 2016, the parties filed a Joint Notice of Settlement, [4] and on June 16, 2017, the parties filed a Joint Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement, [5] which included the Agreement reached by the parties.

         The Court reviewed and preliminarily approved the terms of the Agreement on July 19, 2016, with instruction to give notice to the Settlement Class.[6] 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.

         II. Analysis

         Federal 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 considering:

(1) whether the proposed settlement was fairly and honestly negotiated;
(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 ...

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