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Chichakli v. Samuels

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

July 9, 2018

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



         Before the Court is Defendant Jim Gerlach's Second Motion for Summary Judgment[1] [Doc. No. 146], filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Plaintiff responded in opposition [Doc. No. 148], and Defendant Jim Gerlach replied [Doc. No. 151]. The matter is fully briefed and at issue.


         Plaintiff, a former federal prisoner appearing pro se, seeks monetary relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[2] Alleging a violation of his First Amendment right to religious exercise, Plaintiff asserts in his Complaint that during his confinement at the Grady County Jail[3] he was denied kosher meals, access to religious materials, and the ability to engage in daily prayer. The only remaining claim against Defendant Jim Gerlach (“Gerlach”) is Plaintiff's assertion that he was denied kosher meals. Plaintiff's other claims against Gerlach were disposed of on summary judgment on September 27, 2017. [Doc. No. 125].

         Gerlach 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 claim. Alternatively, Gerlach moves for summary judgment on the following grounds: (1) Plaintiff has failed to show that his religious belief in Judaism is sincere; (2) Plaintiff has failed to show that his religious exercise rights were substantially burdened; and (3) Gerlach, in his official capacity, is not subject to municipal liability. [Doc. No. 146].


         Summary judgment is appropriate when “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.” Hiatt v. Colorado Seminary, 858 F.3d 1307, 1315 (10th Cir. 2017) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a)). A dispute is genuine “if there is sufficient evidence on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve the issue either way, ” and it is material “if under the substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim.” Becker v. Bateman, 709 F.3d 1019, 1022 (10th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). At the summary judgment stage, the Court views the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Williams v. FedEx Corporate Services, 849 F.3d 889, 896 (10th Cir. 2017).

         “The movant bears the initial burden of making a prima facie demonstration of the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.” Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670-671 (10th Cir. 1998) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). If the movant meets that burden, the nonmovant must “go beyond the pleadings and ‘set forth specific facts' that would be admissible in evidence in the event of trial from which a rational trier of fact could find for the nonmovant.” Adler, 144 F.3d at 671; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). To accomplish this, the nonmovant must identify facts by reference to the pleadings, depositions, other discovery materials, exhibits or affidavits. See Id. The Court is not limited to the cited materials, but rather may consider other materials in the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). The Court's inquiry is whether the facts and evidence of record present “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). Unsupported conclusory allegations are not sufficient to defeat summary judgment. Matthiesen v. Banc One Mortgage Corp., 173 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 1999).

         “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it 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).


         Born in Damascus, Syria, Plaintiff's birth name is Ammar Chichakli. For nine years, Plaintiff lived in Saudi Arabia and attended the University of Riyadh. He also lived in the United Arab Emirates on several occasions. While living in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Plaintiff said he was Christian because “Jews are not allowed.” [Doc. No. 146-5 at 107].

         Although Plaintiff has admittedly denied their familial relation in the past, Plaintiff now states that Adib Bin Hassan Al-Shishakli[5], the former president of Syria, was his uncle. Plaintiff alleges that the Chichakli family was secretly from a Jewish background.

         From 1996 through 2005, Plaintiff lived in Richardson, Texas, and worked as an accountant. Plaintiff seriously started practicing Judaism and keeping kosher in 2005. Until that time, he had not openly practiced Judaism in the United States. While living in the United States, Plaintiff and his second wife traveled to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Syria to visit family.

         Plaintiff left the United States in 2005 and lived in Russia and Australia. While living in Australia, Plaintiff lived under the false, assumed non-Jewish name, Jehad Al-Mustafa. In 2013, he was arrested in Australia and extradited to the United States on federal charges of conspiracy, money laundering and wire fraud in the Southern District of New York. Plaintiff was convicted by a jury in December 2013 and sentenced on December 4, 2014, to 60 months' imprisonment.

         Gerlach has been the Grady County Jail Administrator since May 26, 2014. As jail administrator, Gerlach is “authorized and directed to have charge of the Grady County Jail and of all persons confined by law therein.” See Gerlach's Aff. [Doc. No. 146-1 at ¶ 3].

         Since May 2005, the Grady County Jail and the U.S. Department of Justice United States Marshals Service Prisoner Operations Division have maintained a Detention Services Intergovernmental Agreement. Pursuant to the agreement, the Grady County Jail is responsible for providing secure custody, safekeeping, housing, subsistence and care of federal detainees. The level and range of care provided to federal detainees must be the same as that provided to state and local detainees.

         Eric Forsythe is the liaison between the Grady County Jail and the federal government regarding the housing of federal detainees. When a federal detainee is brought to the Grady County Jail, “they are processed, and asked about their faith, any medical issues, among numerous other questions.” Gerlach's Aff. [Doc. No. 146-1 at ¶ 7]; Forsythe's Aff. [Doc. No. 146-3 at ¶ 4].

         Before his transport to the Grady County Jail, Plaintiff was housed in several different federal facilities. He arrived at the Grady County Jail at night on February 10, 2015. He was kept in the gymnasium for about four hours until he could be processed. This is standard procedure for new arrivals. Plaintiff did not ask for anything to eat during those four hours.

         During the book-in process, Plaintiff told jailer Mike Fitzpatrick that he is Jewish, and Plaintiff's book-in sheet references “Jewish” under Religion. [Doc. No. 146-4]. Mr. Fitzpatrick also noted on the book-in sheet that Plaintiff kept “kosher, ” but Mr. Fitzpatrick inadvertently placed the kosher reference under “Food Allergies” on the book-in sheet. See Id.

         When a federal detainee has an issue or concern at the Grady County Jail, they are required to fill out a Federal Detainee's Request for Services, which is then provided to Forsythe. Forsythe will generally respond to the request as soon as practicable. Sometime prior to February 14, 2015, Forsythe received paperwork ...

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