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Owens v. Whalen

February 8, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Muir

(Complaint Filed 08/19/04)



Plaintiff, Maurice Owens, ("Owens"), an inmate confined in the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution, Frackville, Pennsylvania, ("SCI-Mahanoy"), filed the above captioned civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges that defendants have violated his constitutional right to express his religion by denying him a hair length exemption to the Department of Corrections ("DOC") grooming policy. (Doc. No. 1, complaint). For relief, Owens seeks a hair length exemption to the inmate grooming policy, a return to the general population and $40.00 per month in "back pay" for the time he has spent in disciplinary custody while in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") at SCI-Mahanoy.

Named as defendants are Edward Klem, SCI-Mahanoy

Superintendent; Joseph Whalen, SCI-Mahanoy Chaplain; Jeffrey Beard, Department of Corrections Secretary; David Roberts, Supervisor, Bureau of Inmate Services, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania; and Sharon Burks, Chief Grievance Coordinator, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Presently before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment.*fn1 (Doc. No. 22). The motion is fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted.

I. Summary Judgement Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) requires the court to render summary judgment " . . . forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

A disputed fact is "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the case under applicable substantive law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Gray v. York Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2d 1070, 1078 (3d Cir. 1992). An issue of material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257; Brenner v. Local 514, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, 927 F.2d 1283, 1287-88 (3d Cir. 1991).

When determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682 (3d Cir. 1993); Clement v. Consolidated Rail Corporation, 963 F.2d 599, 600 (3d Cir. 1992); White v. Westinghouse Electric Company, 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). In order to avoid summary judgment, however, the nonmoving party may not rest on the unsubstantiated allegations of his or her pleadings. When the party seeking summary judgment satisfies its burden under Rule 56(c) of identifying evidence which demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party is required by Rule 56(e) to go beyond the pleadings with affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The party opposing the motion "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). When Rule 56(e) shifts the burden of production to the nonmoving party, that party must produce evidence to show the existence of every element essential to its case which it bears the burden of proving at trial, for "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 323. See Harter v. G.A.F. Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 851 (3d Cir. 1992).

II. Undisputed Facts

From the pleadings and exhibits submitted by the parties therewith, the following facts can be ascertained as undisputed.

Owens was convicted in 1991 for robbery and sentenced to a term of incarceration of 16 to 35 years. He was committed to the Department of Corrections on August 16, 1991. (Doc. No. 23, Ex. A).

On April 25, 2003, Plaintiff submitted a DC-52 form, "Inmate Religious Accommodation Request Form", requesting to be exempt from the DOC's hair length regulation.*fn2 (Doc. No. 25, Ex. 3). Plaintiff, however, did not list his religious affiliation. Id. On June 3, 2003, his request was denied. (Doc. No. 25, p. 2). When Owens inquired of Father Whalen as to the denial of his request, he was informed that because his prison records listed him as a Muslim, he was not entitled to an exemption. Id. Father Whalen suggested that Owens write to the records department to request a change in his religious affiliation. Id. On June 12, 2003, Owens wrote to the records department, requesting his religion be changed to Rastafarian. Id.

On August 25, 2003, Owens filed Grievance No. 60382, grieving the fact that he had not been granted a hair exemption. (Doc. No. 23, Ex. C). On September 8, 2003, Grievance Officer Unell responded with the following:

This is in response to your grievance (Grievance # 60382) dated 8/25/03. I note that I met with you on Thursday, September 4, 2003 to discuss your grievance concerns and answer any questions you had. Essentially, you are grieving the fact that you have not been granted a hair exemption. You state that you are a practicing Rastafarian. I note that during our meeting, I explained the existing process and procedure for requesting a hair exemption. I also provided you with a blank copy of a DC-52 form "Inmate Religious Accommodation Request Form", and answered all your questions.

You reported to me that you understood the process and in fact, had earlier submitted an inmate religious request form to Facility Chaplain Program Director Whalen. You stated that you had spoken to Fr. Whalen concerning your hair exemption request. You also reported that your request for accommodation was disapproved. Fr. Whalen advised you that you are claiming to be Rastafarian, although your record/face sheet indicated that you are of the Islamic religion. You then requested to have that indication changed to Rastafarian. Mr. Calkins reported to you, per request slip, that your indicated religion was, in fact changed to Rastafarian. I explained to you that changing your religious preference, as documented in your record, does not in itself, qualify you for a hair exemption. I also advised you that unless a hair exemption is granted, you are expected to abide by ...

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