Georgia prison asks court to dismiss Avid Bookshop’s lawsuit over First Amendment rights

Avid Bookshop in the Five Points neighborhood of Athens.  Avid filed a lawsuit against the Gwinnett County Jail in March 2024, alleging that officials had violated their First Amendment rights by not allowing them to send books to inmates.

Avid Bookshop in the Five Points neighborhood of Athens. Avid filed a lawsuit against the Gwinnett County Jail in March 2024, alleging that officials had violated their First Amendment rights by not allowing them to send books to inmates.

The Gwinnett County sheriff and jail administrator are asking that a complaint filed against them in federal court in March by Avid Bookshop, an independent bookseller in Athens, be permanently dismissed.

In short, the lawsuit against Avid Bookshop alleges that a Gwinnett County jail policy that effectively prohibits brick-and-mortar bookstores like the Five Points company from shipping books directly to inmates violates the bookstore’s First Amendment rights.

Under the terms of the postal policy challenged by Avid Bookshop, books will only be accepted for delivery to the Gwinnett County Jail if “they are shipped by the publisher or authorized retailer.” In practice, as confirmed in the May 31 dismissal motion, this means that books can only be sent to the prison through the direct online fulfillment services offered by Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In a March interview after filing the complaint, Avid Bookshop operations manager Luis Correa said he asked Gwinnett County officials how Avid Bookshop could become an authorized retailer, only to be told that “it is not possible .”

In the motion to dismiss, counsel for Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor and Jail Administrator Benjamin Haynes argue that the county jail’s policy is a reasonable restriction that does not unduly impact Avid Bookshop’s freedom of expression.

Earlier: Athens bookstore Avid is suing the Gwinnett prison for denying books to inmates

According to the motion to dismiss from the Atlanta law firm Hall Booth Smith, “the Supreme Court has held that prison officials may reasonably limit who can send books to the prison, as long as the prison rules are not an overreaction to unwarranted security concerns.”

On that point, counsel for Taylor and Haynes note in the motion to dismiss that limiting the shipment of books to Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s online ordering portals “reduces the risk of contraband entering the prison by eliminating potential sources of contact.” reducing people handling shipments outside the prison.” prison walls.”

But in a March interview after the filing of the bookstore’s federal action, Correa countered that if a book were ordered and shipped directly from Avid Bookshop, the company would have better control over who handled the shipping than it likely would with Amazon or Barnes & Edele.

In the motion to dismiss, counsel for the sheriff and jail administrator concede that “…it may be entirely true that Avid’s internal controls would protect against impermissible contraband or hidden communications” that would be introduced into the book shipments. But, the motion further states, “…the prison need not take Avid’s word for it, nor may the Court ignore common sense.”

The motion further argues that if prison officials were to inspect Avid Bookshop’s internal controls and operations and allow it to become an authorized retailer despite being a brick-and-mortar store, they would have to make exceptions for other brick-and-mortar stores. facilities and inspect them no matter where in the country they are located.

“… (W)here does the prison draw the line?” Counsel for Taylor and Haynes ask this in the motion to dismiss. “Should staff inspect and approve a bookstore in Miami? What about a bookstore in Oregon?

Building on this argument, the motion argues that Avid Bookshops’ complaint “provides the Court with no discernible standard for the type of brick-and-mortar store it believes should be housed versus the out-of-state basement bookstore that the jail must inspect and investigate before recognizing that it is nothing more than a cover for nefarious activities.”

The motion to dismiss further alleges that Gwinnett County jail policy regarding the shipment of books “is not as draconian as Avid would make it out to be.” The motion suggests that the bookstore, like anyone else, could simply order books from publishers and have those publishers ship the books to prison inmates.

Elsewhere, the motion to dismiss claims that Avid Bookshop’s statement in its complaint that “…the prison cannot point to instances in which contraband has entered the prison to justify limiting” which entities can ship books to the prison is not a valid argument.

“Instead, courts have held that prison officials have the authority to anticipate security problems and enact rational regulations before a threat exists,” the motion argues, citing a 2019 federal lawsuit involving a Florida inmate who was not allowed to distribute an inflammatory newsletter. written.

The motion to dismiss Avid Bookshop’s complaint further notes that both Taylor and Haynes are entitled to “qualified immunity.” Qualified immunity is a doctrine that protects government officials from legal action related to the performance of discretionary duties, such as establishing postal policies for a prison.

In response to a March query from the Athens Banner-Herald following Avid Bookshop’s filing of a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, an email from the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office stated only that the sheriff’s office “does not limit the contents” or subject matter…” of books sent to the jail, “…but only the origin of the shipment.”

This article originally appeared in Augusta Chronicle: Athens’ Avid Bookshop suing Gwinnett Prison over book orders