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Koch v. Carlisle

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

December 4, 2017

JOHN CARLISLE, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, Christopher E. Koch, a state prisoner appearing pro se and in forma pauperis, has filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) seeking redress for alleged violations of his religious rights [Doc. No. 1]. Chief United States District Judge Joe Heaton has referred the matter for proposed findings and recommendations consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C). Pending before the Court is Defendants John Carlisle and Hector Rios' Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 40]. Plaintiff did not respond. For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the Defendants' Motion be granted.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner confined at the Lawton Correctional Facility (LCF), a private prison operated pursuant to a contract with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC). Compl. at 1.[1] Plaintiff alleges that he is “a faithful and reliable member of the Satanic faith” and has been for many years. Id. at 3, 6. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Carlisle, the LCF Chaplain, and Defendant Rios, the LCF Warden, were responsible for the religious activities at LCF and both willfully and arbitrarily denied him the right to worship and participate in the ceremonies of the “Festival of the Winter Solstice.” Id. at 3.

         On October 15, 2014, Plaintiff submitted a request for the “Satanic / Left Hand Path Faith” to worship and participate in the Festival of the Winter Solstice. Id. at Ex. 3. On November 5, 2014, Defendant Carlisle responded to the request stating: “Every religious group on this facility must celebrate their religious ceremonies on their designated nights, you are no exception. You need to celebrate it on Dec. 17th or 24th. Let me know.” Id. at 7, Ex. 3. In response, Plaintiff filed a grievance to Defendant Rios on November 10, 2014, asserting that Defendant Carlisle's decision was not in accordance with ODOC's policy. Id. at 7, Ex. 4. Plaintiff specifically requested that he be allowed to have his religious festival on its proper day and stated that “altering the date of the rite is not in accordance with the event in the lunar cycle.” Id. at Ex. 4. Defendant Rios' response was:

Your grievance has been reviewed. Your allotted religious day is Wednesday of every week. You must use one of the two days given by the chaplain (December 17th or 24th). With all the other events going on during that time frame, you must concede to the safety and security of the facility. The facility is also doing visitation on the 21st of December which will preclude staff from observing your festivities.

Id. at Ex. 5.

         This lawsuit followed, and the Court denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Docs. 22, 28, 29]. The Court then gave the parties the opportunity to engage in discovery [Doc. No. 32] and Defendants now proceed with their summary judgment motion.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the 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 a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323 (1986). Once a moving party shows it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to point out the specific facts that create disputed factual issues. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         Here, Plaintiff signed his Complaint under penalty of perjury, Compl. at 12, so the Court may consider it an affidavit for purposes of summary judgment. See Abdulhaseeb v. Calbone, 600 F.3d 1301, 1311 (10th Cir. 2010). However, while the Court liberally construes his pro se Complaint, he must adhere to the same rules of procedure binding on all litigants. See Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1218 (10th Cir. 2007). Regarding those requirements, the Supreme Court instructs that:

the plain language of Rule 56[ ] mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be “no genuine issue as to any material fact, ” since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.

Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

         In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the Court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of that party. See Thomson v. Salt Lake Cnty., 584 F.3d 1304, 1312 (10th Cir. 2009).

         III. The ...

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