Taylor v. Warden
Allegations that American prisoners receive greater telephone privileges than an English prisoner may be insufficient to allege a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The plaintiff inmate, David Taylor, sued the commissioner of the Department of Correction and various corrections officials, alleging they denied Taylor the right to make telephone calls to relatives in the United Kingdom. Taylor requested a court injunction, to obtain the same telephone privileges as American prisoners. Domenick Pisano, a corrections officer, filed an affidavit alleging inmates are permitted to make international telephone calls using an advance pay system, in which the inmates' families establish an account. Department of Correction records indicate that between January 2011 and February 2012 Taylor made 70 international telephone calls. In response, Taylor admitted that he made international telephone calls and complained that the telephone calls were five minutes or less and of poor quality. The plaintiff failed to prove that he arranged to serve individual defendants, and the court found it lacked jurisdiction over the defendants in their individual capacities. Absent a waiver, the doctrine of sovereign immunity barred the plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against the state and the defendants in their official capacities. Prisoners do not possess the right to unrestricted telephone use, pursuant to Benzel v. Grammar, a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Taylor's claims that his telephone calls were of poor quality were insufficient to allege a constitutional violation. Taylor did not prove American prisoners received greater telephone privileges, or that he was similarly situated to American prisoners in terms of his telephone calls. The court found that he failed to prove a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. "[G]iven that the plaintiff now has an adequate opportunity to call his family," wrote the court, "any remaining differences between his phone calls to his family and those of American inmates do not rise to the level of an equal protection violation." Taylor's complaint failed to allege wrongful conduct that promotes an illegal purpose. The defendants were entitled to sovereign immunity, and the court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment.