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Simpson v. County of Cape Girardeau, Missouri

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

January 2, 2018

Cheryl Simpson Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
County of Cape Girardeau, Missouri Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: September 20, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - Cape Girardeau

          Before LOKEN, ARNOLD, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          SHEPHERD, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Cheryl Simpson brought a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against the County of Cape Girardeau, Missouri ("Cape Girardeau"), alleging that the Cape Girardeau County Jail's postcard-only incoming-mail policy for non-privileged mail violated her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by impermissibly restricting her ability to communicate with her son, Trey Simpson, who was then an inmate. At trial, Ms. Simpson attempted to introduce incoming-mail policies from other institutions that permit inmates to receive multi-page letters in envelopes as evidence that Cape Girardeau's postcard-only policy was unreasonable. The district court[1] excluded those policies as irrelevant and held that the postcard-only policy did not violate Ms. Simpson's constitutional rights. We affirm, holding that the district court's exclusion of the other institutions' mail policies was harmless error and the postcard-only incoming-mail policy is constitutional.

         I. Background

         When Trey Simpson was first imprisoned at Cape Girardeau County Jail, the jail had no restrictions on the length or number of letters that inmates received. Ms. Simpson wrote Trey several lengthy letters a week that included family photos, drawings by his nephew, and various pieces of personal information. On January 1, 2014, during Trey's imprisonment, Cape Girardeau implemented a new incoming-mail policy requiring non-privileged mail to be sent on postcards:

         All non-privileged correspondence entering the Jail Facility must be post cards [sic]

a) All postcards must be standard white postcards, no index cards or photographs.
b) Postcards must be no larger then [sic] 5" X 7".
c) Postcards will have their stamps removed and discarded prior to delivery to the inmate.
d) Postcards must be addressed with the return address clearly readable.
e) There will be no limit on how many postcards inmates can receive but inmates will be limited to ten postcards in their cell at any one time.
f) Unacceptable postcards will be returned to sender
1) Defaced or altered postcards are unacceptable
2) No plastic/wrappings on postcards.
3) No labels or stickers will be ...

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