Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

DEHART v. LEHMAN

June 22, 1998

ROBERT P. DEHART
v.
JOSEPH LEHMAN, DONALD VAUGHN LAWRENCE REID, THOMAS STACHELEK, BESSIE WILLIAMS, AND MARY ANN WILLIAMS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

MEMORANDUM-ORDER

 GREEN, S.J.

 June 22, 1998

 Presently before this court is the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants Joseph Lehman, Donald Vaughn, Thomas Stachelek, Bessie Williams, and Mary Ann Williams, Plaintiff Robert DeHart's response thereto, and Defendants' Reply Memorandum. *fn1" Plaintiff DeHart alleges his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments were violated when (1) Defendants Lehman, Vaughn, Stachelek, B. Williams and Reid denied his request for a vegetarian diet that comported with his Buddhist beliefs and (2) Defendants Lehman, Vaughn and M. Williams denied his request that he be exempt from the requirement that all inmates wear leather shoes while in transport and during court appearances. *fn2" Plaintiff DeHart seeks damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion will be granted.

 I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff DeHart is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution ("SCI") at Greene. From December 21, 1983 until April 24, 1995, Plaintiff was incarcerated at SCI Graterford. In the early 1980s, Plaintiff became interested in Buddhism and now considers himself a follower of Mahayana Buddhism. Plaintiff believes that as a Buddhist, he cannot consume or have any contact with animal flesh, dead animals, or animal byproducts. (Defs.' Ex. 10, p. 118.) Accordingly, in an effort to comply with his Buddhist beliefs, Plaintiff requested two accommodations by the prison system: 1) that he be provided a vegetarian diet totally devoid of animal and dairy products and byproducts; and 2) that he not be required to wear leather shoes.

 A. Diet Request

 On July 18, 1992 in a written letter addressed to Defendant Stachelek, then SCI Graterford's Deputy Superintendent, Plaintiff requested that he be provided a strict vegetarian diet totally devoid of animal product or byproduct, garlic, onion and all dairy products. (Defs.' Ex. 30.) In addition to these foods, Plaintiff stated in his deposition that he cannot have certain vitamin supplements, which may contain calcium derived from pulverized animal bones or sea shells, and he cannot have the bread which is typically served in prison because it may contain a preservative which comes from a dairy product. (Defs.' Ex. 10, p. 75, 82.) Furthermore, Plaintiff cannot use certain soaps if the tallow in them is derived from animals. (Defs.' Ex. 10, p. 25.)

 After consulting SCI Graterford's Administrative Chaplain who, in turn, sought more information from the Philadelphia Buddhist Association, Defendant Stachelek denied Plaintiff's request on the basis that he had no information that Buddhists are prohibited from eating dairy products such as butter, milk and eggs. (Defs.' Ex. 2.) Plaintiff then turned to the Pennsylvania prison system's formal grievance procedure and filed an official grievance on June 8, 1993. (Defs.' Ex. 3.)

 Defendant Bessie Williams, the grievance coordinator who handled Plaintiff's grievance, denied Plaintiff's request for a special diet after consulting the administrative chaplain at SCI Graterford. (Defs.' Ex. 17, p. 8; Ex. 4.) Plaintiff then appealed the decision of B. Williams to Defendant Vaughn, Superintendent of Graterford. (Defs.' Ex. 5.) Vaughn also denied Plaintiff's request after seeking input from the administrative chaplain. (Defs.' Ex. 5, p. 23; Ex. 6.) Plaintiff appealed Vaughn's decision to Defendant Lehman, the Commissioner of Corrections. (Defs.' Ex. 7.) Lehman followed administrative procedure and referred Plaintiff's appeal to the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC"). CORC denied Plaintiff's request after receiving legal input from a staff attorney. (Defs.' Ex. 8.) Lehman designated Defendant Reid, then Executive Deputy Commissioner of Corrections, to review the CORC decision. Reid upheld the previous decisions denying Plaintiff's request. (Defs.' Ex. 8.)

 During the grievance process, Plaintiff refused meal trays that contained animal products or byproducts and was eventually admitted to the prison infirmary for a neuro-muscular problem caused by the peanut butter and rice diet Plaintiff sustained over a six month period. (Pl.'s Ex. B.) On February 24, 1994, Dr. Sewell prescribed a vegetarian diet of no animal products. (Defs.' Ex. 10, p. 33-35; Pl.'s Ex. C.) Once Plaintiff was moved to the general population, he continued to receive the prescribed diet until he was transferred to SCI Greene on April 23, 1995. In June 1995, Plaintiff filed suit under § 1983 challenging the denial of his special diet request as an infringement on his right to freely exercise his religious beliefs.

 B. Footwear Request

 On November 27, 1993 Plaintiff sent a written request to Defendant Lehman asking for an exemption from the requirement that he wear leather shoes. (Defs.' Ex. 21.) After no action was taken on his written request to Lehman, Plaintiff filed a formal grievance in November 1994. (Defs.' Ex. 22.) Defendant Mary Ann Williams, a grievance coordinator, consulted with Defendant Vaughn who told her to deny the request on security grounds. (Defs.' Ex. 20, p. 25.) In Defendant Vaughn's deposition, he states that the security grounds include the fact that a person attempting to escape could get away faster in sneakers as opposed to prison boots and an inmate is more recognizable in prison boots. (Defs.' Ex. 19, p. 47.) Furthermore, Defendant Vaughn stated in his deposition that he knew Plaintiff to have escaped from prison on a prior occasion. (Defs.' Ex. 19, p. 49.) Plaintiff did, in fact, escape from SCI Huntingdon on march 24, 1983. See Commonwealth v. DeHart, 512 Pa. 235, 516 A.2d 656 (1986).

 Defendant Williams ultimately denied Plaintiff's request on two grounds: first, Plaintiff's particular sect probably does not refrain from any apparel made from materials taken from animals, and second, the Department of Corrections had a compelling interest in the care, custody and control of the institution and the inmate population and that the wearing of any other shoes than the type provided would cause a concern of a potential security breach. (Defs.' Ex. 24.) Plaintiff's subsequent appeal of the decision of M. Williams was denied by Vaughn. (Defs.' Ex. 26.) After an appeal to Commissioner of Corrections Horn, Plaintiff was allowed to wear non-leather shoes when transported from the prison for court appearances. (Defs.' Ex. 28.) Plaintiff was, however, transferred on February 8, 1995 in his stockinged feet while his appeal was ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.