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Chichakli v. Samuels

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

September 27, 2017

CHARLES E. SAMUELS, JR., Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons, et al., Defendants.


          Timothy D. DeGiusti, United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (“Report”) issued August 15, 2017 [Doc. No. 121], by United States Magistrate Judge Bernard M. Jones pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Judge Jones recommended the Court grant in part and deny in part Defendant Shane Wyatt's[1] Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 89]. Judge Jones also recommended the Court deny Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 91] and dismiss Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(1).

         The time for filing objections to the Report expired on September 5, 2017.[2]Defendant Jim Gerlach (“Defendant”) timely objected [Doc. No. 123]. The Court, having conducted a de novo review[3], overrules Defendant's objections and adopts the Report in its entirety.


         Plaintiff, a former federal prisoner appearing pro se, seeks monetary relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[4] Alleging a violation of his First Amendment right to religious exercise, Plaintiff asserts that during his confinement[5] he was denied kosher meals, access to religious materials, and the ability to engage in daily prayer.

         Defendant raises the affirmative defense that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). He also claims § 1997e(e) of the PLRA, limiting a prisoner's recovery of damages for mental or emotional injury, bars Plaintiff's claims. Alternatively, Defendant moves for summary judgment on the following grounds: (1) Plaintiff has failed to show that his religious beliefs are sincere; (2) Plaintiff has failed to show that his religious exercise rights were substantially burdened; and (3) Plaintiff has failed to show that the violation of his religious exercise rights resulted from an unconstitutional policy or custom. [Doc. No. 89].

         Plaintiff responded to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 100] and filed a separate motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 91] on his § 1983 claims, contending that he had established a violation of his First Amendment rights. Plaintiff separately moves for summary judgment pursuant to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 et seq. Judge Jones correctly noted Plaintiff did not bring a claim pursuant to RLUIPA in his Complaint nor sought leave to amend the Complaint to assert such a claim. Thus, review is limited to the § 1983 claims alleging a violation of Plaintiff's First Amendment rights.


         In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, the relevant inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-252 (1986). Before the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, the moving party must meet its “initial responsibility” of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists and it is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Reed v. Bennett, 312 F.3d 1190, 1194 (10th Cir. 2002); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247 (court shall grant summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law”). “[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         When the moving party meets its burden, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., LTD., et al., v. Zenith Radio Corp., et al., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-250 (internal citations omitted); see also Rice v. United States, 166 F.3d 1088, 1092 (10th Cir. 1999) (non-moving party “must present more than a scintilla of evidence”). The adverse party must identify “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., LTD, et al., 475 U.S. at 587. Moreover, unsupported conclusory allegations are not sufficient to defeat summary judgment. Matthiesen v. Banc One Mortgage Corp., 173 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 1999). Finally, in evaluating a motion for summary judgment, a court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and “resolve all ambiguities and disagreements” in favor of that party. Bee v. Greaves, 744 F.2d 1387, 1389 (10th Cir. 1984).

         A. Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

         Defendant asserts in his objections that Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment does not meet the parameters of Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2) or the Local Rules. Specifically, Defendant contends that Plaintiff did not refer with particularity to those portions of the record upon which he relies, and therefore, Defendant's statement of material facts should be deemed admitted. [Doc. No. 123] at 2-3. Under Rule 56(e)(3), the Court has an independent duty, even in the absence of a response by the adverse party, to determine that summary judgment is appropriate. See Reed v. Bennett, 312 F.3d 1190, 1194-1196 (10th Cir. 2002); Murray v. City of Tahlequah, 312 F.3d 1196, 1200 (10th Cir. 2002). The Court is not limited to the materials cited in Plaintiff's response, but rather may consider other materials in the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). Moreover, a pro se litigant's pleadings are to be liberally construed and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). For reasons discussed below, the Court finds Judge Jones properly assessed the facts and evidence of record in the light most favorable to Plaintiff's position, as required by Rule 56.

         B. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         Judge Jones concluded that Defendant defeated his exhaustion defense by his own summary judgment submissions. Specifically, Judge Jones noted that Defendant “disingenuously relies on the grievance procedures of the Grady County Jail and limits the exhaustion defense to Plaintiff's failure to submit grievances pursuant to those procedures, ” while acknowledging elsewhere in the motion that Plaintiff, as a federal inmate, was required to comply with a different procedure. See Report [Doc. No. 121] at 7-8. Judge Jones further noted, and the record reflects, that Plaintiff submitted “paperwork” to Federal Liaison Eric Forsythe and subsequently met with him, consequently resulting in some relief to Plaintiff. Id. at 8; see also Gerlach's Aff. [Doc. No. 89-1] at ¶¶ 15-20; Forsythe's Aff. [Doc. No. 89-3] at ¶¶ 12-17. Judge Jones indicated some uncertainty as to whether Plaintiff had sufficient time to grieve issues relating to kosher meals served given his transport from the Grady County Jail on February 24, 2015. See Report [Doc. No. 121] at 9. Finally, Judge Jones called attention to the conflicting provisions in the Grady County Jail Inmate Handbook [Doc. No. 89-15] and the 9.01 Inmate Grievances Policy [Doc. No. 89-16] concerning jail grievance procedures and noted some concern in the lack of evidence demonstrating that the policies and procedures were disseminated to inmates or jail employees. See Report [Doc. No. 121] at 9, n. 7.

         Defendant continues to maintain in his objections to the Report that it is “undisputed” that Plaintiff never submitted a formal grievance pursuant to the Inmate Handbook. See Def.'s Objections [Doc. No. 123] at 4. Failing to address the conflicting grievance procedures, Defendant asserts administrative remedies were available and Plaintiff should have exhausted them. Id. Although Defendant points to nothing in the record to show that Plaintiff was aware of the grievance procedures or that he was required to follow both procedures, Defendant maintains unawareness does not excuse the exhaustion requirements under the PLRA. Id. at 5.

         The Court is not persuaded by Defendant's arguments. Administrative exhaustion is an affirmative defense on which Defendant bears the burden of proof. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007); Roberts v. Barreras, 484 F.3d 1236, 1241 (10th Cir. 2007). According to Defendant, when a federal detainee, like Plaintiff, has an issue or concern at the Grady County Jail, he must submit a Federal Detainee's Request for Services to Federal Liaison Forsythe. [Doc. No. 89] at ¶ 31; Gerlach's Aff. [Doc. No. 89-1] at ¶ 12; Forsythe's Aff. [Doc. No. 89-3] at ¶ 9. Forsythe will generally respond to the Federal Detainee's Request for Services as soon as practicable. Id.

         By Defendant's own submissions, that is exactly what transpired here. Federal Liaison Forsythe “received paperwork from [Plaintiff] regarding his request to use the prayer materials contained in his property box.” Gerlach's Aff. [Doc. No. 89-1] at ¶ 12; Forsythe's Aff. [Doc. No. 89-3] at ¶ 9. Forsythe subsequently met with Plaintiff. After their meeting, Plaintiff's prayer materials were placed in the central control room, so he could have access to them, and he was given his Hebrew bible to keep in his cell. Gerlach's Aff. [Doc. No. 89-1] at ¶¶ 16-17; Forysthe's Aff. [Doc. No. 89-3] at ¶¶ 13-14. Plaintiff and Forsythe also discussed the fact that Plaintiff had not been receiving kosher meals, and Forsythe corrected the information on Plaintiff's book-in sheet, which erroneously indicated he was allergic to “Kosher.” Gerlach's Aff. [Doc. No. 89-1] at ¶ 20; Forysthe's Aff. [Doc. No. 89-3] at ¶ 17.

         Although Defendant recognizes that this was the procedure Plaintiff was required to follow as a federal detainee, to support his exhaustion defense Defendant asserts that Plaintiff failed to follow the procedures outlined in the Grady County Inmate Handbook (“Inmate Handbook”) and supplemental 9.01 Inmate Grievances Policy. Absent from the record is any evidence that Plaintiff was required as a federal detainee to also follow the Grady County Jail policies and procedures for initiating a grievance. Nonetheless, it appears Plaintiff also complied with those procedures.

         The Inmate Handbook provides that “[b]efore submitting a ‘Request to Staff' form, an inmate shall attempt to resolve the issue by talking with a responsible authority or other appropriate staff member.” [Doc. No. 89-15] at 8. “If the issue is not resolved by verbal communications … the inmate shall submit a ‘Request to Staff' form.” Id. The Inmate Handbook further provides that “[b]efore filing a formal grievance, the inmate must try to resolve the complaint by communicating issues to a Detention Officer.” Id. at 9. Plaintiff met with Forsythe on February 14, 2015[6], and verbally communicated his issues. Because the issues continued to persist, Plaintiff requested a Request to Staff form on February 21, 2015.[7] [Doc. No. 89-10]; Gerlach's Aff. [Doc. No. 89-1] at ΒΆ 29; Forsythe's Aff. [Doc. No. 89-3] at ...

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