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Smith v. Kyler

February 20, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Vanaskie


I. Introduction

Robert T. Smith, an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon ("SCI-Huntingdon"), Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, filed this pro se action to seek injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § § 2000cc et seq.. Smith, a Rastafarian, alleges that Defendants violated his free exercise and equal protection rights, as well as rights accorded to him under RLUIPA, by denying his requests for weekly group prayer service led by a prayer leader. Named as defendants are Kenneth Kyler, the former Superintendent of SCI-Huntingdon, and Ray Earlston, the former Facility Chaplaincy Program Director at SCI-Huntingdon.*fn1 Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Because the undisputed facts of record show that Defendants have not imposed a substantial burden on Plaintiff's exercise of religion and have not otherwise violated his constitutional rights, the motion will be granted.

II. Statement of Facts

Pursuant to DC-ADM 819, Religious Activities, the Department of Corrections ("DOC") has established a policy and procedure for accommodating inmates' religious practices. (Dkt. Entry 67, Defendants' Revised Statement of Material Undisputed Facts ("DSMF") at ¶ 1; Dkt. Entry 66-2 at R. 11.)*fn2 For the major faith groups within a facility, the DOC will hire a full or part-time chaplain or contract with a religious leader to conduct religious services. (DSMF at ¶ 7; Klemm Decl. at ¶ 9.) The DOC has either hired a chaplain as a DOC employee, or contracted with religious leaders, to provide Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Native American services for inmates at SCI-Huntingdon. Approximately 60 Catholics, 125 Protestants, 175 Muslims, and 25 Native Americans regularly attend weekly religious services at SCI-Huntingdon. (DSMF at ¶ 10; Klemm Decl. at ¶ 9.)

The DOC does not have the financial resources to pay for faith group leaders for those inmate religious groups which consist of a few inmates. (DSMF at ¶ 14.) Smaller religious groups may obtain the services of a volunteer faith group leader. The volunteer religious leader must provide all services, programs, education, and other assistance at his or her own cost. (DSMF at ¶¶ 11-12; Dkt. Entry 66-2, DC-ADM 819 at RR. 12 and 13; Klemm Decl. at ¶ 10.) The following religious services are provided by a volunteer religious leader at SCI-Huntingdon free of charge to the DOC: Jewish services that are regularly attended by approximately 12 inmates; Jehovah Witnesses services attended regularly by approximately 7 inmates; Buddhist services attended regularly by approximately 6 inmates; and a Messianic Jewish group service regularly attended by approximately by 15 inmates. (DSMF at ¶¶ 15-16; Klemm Decl. at ¶ 11.) Additionally, the DOC allows each inmate to designate a Religious Advisor who may meet with that inmate personally. Visits from a Religious Advisor do not count as a regular visit. (Dkt. Entry 66-2, DC-ADM 819 at R. 17.)

In order to obtain approval and arrange for a religious service for a new religious group, the DOC requires an inmate to submit an Inmate Religious Accommodation Form, also known as a DC-52, to the Facility Chaplaincy Program Director ("FCPD"). (DSMF at ¶ 12; see also Dkt. Entry 66-2 at R. 22, DC-52.) An inmate is also encouraged to obtain written information from his or her outside faith group, including any publications that describe the goals, beliefs, and practices of the faith group, and supply this information to the FCPD. (DSMF at ¶ 18; see also Dkt. Entry 66-2 at R. 18.) The Religious Accommodation Review Committee considers each inmate's request for a group religious service and forwards a recommendation to the appropriate Regional Deputy Secretary.*fn3 (DSMF at ¶ 19.) The Regional Deputy Secretary approves or disapproves the request and then notifies the Director of the Bureau of Inmate Services of the decision. (DSMF at ¶ 21.) The Director of the Bureau of Inmate Services then informs the Facility Manager and the FCPD of the requesting facility of the determination and ensures copies of all final determinations are provided to all Deputy Secretaries and Facility Managers. (DSMF at ¶ 22.) The FCPD informs the affected inmate of the determination. If the request will not be accommodated, the inmate may then file a grievance in accordance with the DOC Grievance Policy, DC-ADM 804. (DSMF at ¶ 23; see also Dkt. Entry 66-2 at R. 19.) Grievances may only be submitted after the inmate has received notification of the decision on the requested accommodation. (Dkt. Entry 66-2 at R. 19.)

Rev. Ulrich Klemm, the DOC Administrator for Religion and Volunteer Services, sits on the Religious Accommodation Review Committee. (Klemm Decl. at ¶ 1 and ¶ 13.) He has asserted that the DOC is aware of only two other inmates besides Plaintiff, Henry Dennison and Jerald Bradley, who have filed DC-52 forms requesting Rastafarian services at SCIHuntingdon. (DSMF at ¶¶ 24 - 26; see also Dkt. Entry 66-2 at RR. 26 and 29.) Both requests were forwarded to the Religious Accommodation Review Committee and denied. (DSMF at ¶ 24 and ¶ 27.)*fn4

As the number of inmates who formally requested Rastafarian services at SCIHuntingdon is so small, the DOC would consider providing a weekly Rastafarian service only if a volunteer religious leader would be willing to offer such a service at its own expense, and if space and appropriate supervision were available. (DSMF at ¶ 28.) A Rastafarian chaplain, Abunda A. Foxe ("Bishop Foxe"), employed by the New York Department of Corrections, advised SCI-Huntingdon officials in April of 2003, that he was willing to travel to SCIHuntingdon if the DOC would pay his unspecified travel expenses. (Klemm Decl. at ¶ 16; DSMF at ¶ 29.) Payment of travel expenses, including meals and lodging, is inconsistent with DOC policy. As the Rastafarian inmates have not identified a religious leader who is willing to serve as a volunteer free of charge, the DOC has refused to accommodate the request for weekly Rastafarian services. (DSMF at ¶ 31.)

In short, the request for weekly services under the direction of a prayer leader has been denied because there has been insufficient interest by SCI-Huntingdon inmates to warrant the expense of paying for such services and a volunteer leader has not come forward. Defendants maintain that the refusal to provide at DOC expense the religious leader necessary to conduct group Rastafarian services does not abridge rights under RLUIPA or the United States Constitution.

III. Standard of Review

Summary judgment will be granted if the record establishes that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001). In considering a summary judgment motion, inferences from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. P.N. v. Clementon Bd. of Educ., 442 F.3d 848, 852 (3d Cir. 2006).

Rule 56(c) imposes a burden on the moving party to point to an absence of evidence supporting the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party. The party opposing summary judgment "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the . . . pleading." Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232. The non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The opposing party must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Issues of fact are "genuine only if a reasonable jury, considering the evidence presented, could find for the nonmoving party." Childers v. Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 693-94 (3d Cir. 1988). Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit will preclude the entry of summary judgment. Id. Unsubstantiated arguments made in briefs are not considered evidence of asserted facts. Versarge v. Township of Clinton, 984 F.2d 1359, 1370 (3d Cir. 1993). Allegations made without any evidentiary support may be disregarded. Jones v. UPS, 214 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2000). The court may not consider evidence on a motion for summary judgment that would not be admissible at trial. Pamintuan v. Nanticoke Mem'l Hosp., 192 F.3d 378, 387 n.13 (3d Cir. 1999). Summary judgment must be entered in favor of the moving party "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 5887(citations omitted).

IV. Discussion

A. Smith's RLUIPA ...

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