Consequences of Legal Documents Not Received at the Prison Mailroom

In Kutnyak v. Department of Corrections, 748 A.2d 1275 (Pa. Cmwlth.), appeal denied, 566 Pa. 688, 784 A.2d 121 (2000) (Kutnyak I), Kutnyak filed an amended complaint with the Board of Claims, alleging that: (1) a federal court dismissed a claim that Kutnyak had filed, and Kutnyak petitioned the court for a rehearing; (2) Kutnyak later learned that the court never received his petition; (3) to prove that he filed the petition, Kutnyak requested and received pertinent legal documents from the prison's restricted housing unit storage area and gave the documents to a corrections officer to be sent through the prison's in-house mail system to the prison's librarian for photocopying; (4) although the Department and Kutnyak had entered into a power of attorney agreement requiring that the Department provide Kutnyak with a receipt for his mail, the corrections officer did not give Kutnyak a receipt; (5) Kutnyak later learned that the prison's mailroom never received the legal documents and that the documents were missing; (6) as a result, Kutnyak was unable to prove that he filed a petition for rehearing in federal court, and, in addition, Kutnyak lost the money he spent to photocopy, mail and file the petition for rehearing. This court determined that the Board made no ruling on Kutnyak's power of attorney claim and remanded the case for disposition of that claim. Id. On remand, the Board held a hearing. Afterward, the Board determined that: (1) the power of attorney agreement applies only to inmate mail received by the prison through the United States Postal Service (USPS); (2) the agreement is intended to comply with section 115.97 of the USPS Domestic Mail Manual, which requires that prison officials obtain inmate consent to the prison's receipt of mail so that prison officials can open, inspect and censor incoming mail, Guyer v. Beard, 907 F.2d 1424 (3d cir. 1990); (3) Kutnyak merely placed his legal documents in a spot where he believed they would be picked up and transmitted internally to the prison librarian for copying and returned to Kutnyak; (4) Kutnyak did not place his documents in the U.S. mail. Thus, the Board concluded that, in losing Kutnyak's legal documents, the Department did not breach its power of attorney agreement with Kutnyak.