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Sharp v. Johnson

April 7, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hay, Magistrate Judge


The plaintiff, Shawn Sharp ("Sharp"), an inmate in the custody of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"), initiated this civil rights action in 2000. The action arises out of Sharp's confinement at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh ("SCI-Pittsburgh") and the State Correctional Institution at Greene ("SCI-Greene"). After the disposition of various pretrial motions, the remaining two claims against the remaining eleven defendants*fn1 were tried to the Court on October 16-18, 2007.*fn2 Having heard the testimony and reviewed the exhibits, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a)(1) the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.


1. At Count 1 of the Second Amended Complaint, Dkt. [67], Sharp asserts a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that, while incarcerated at SCI-Pittsburgh and SCI-Greene, the defendants violated his right to the free exercise of his religion, Islam, specifically, Sunni Muslim beliefs, as protected by the First Amendment, as applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, when they denied his request for a religious accommodation.

2. At Count 2, Sharp asserts a claim pursuant to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc, et seq., that, while incarcerated at SCI-Pittsburgh and SCI-Greene, the defendants deprived him of his right to the free exercise of his religion by imposing a substantial burden on his religious exercise when they denied his request for a religious accommodation. Dkt. [67].

3. Plaintiff sued all of the Defendants in both their individual and official capacities. He seeks monetary, injunctive and declaratory relief.

4. Plaintiff Sharp is an inmate in the custody of the DOC, serving a life term following his conviction for first degree murder. Plaintiff's Exhibit 21. On September 18, 1998, Sharp was transferred to SCI-Pittsburgh from SCI-Somerset. Trial Transcript ("TR")-10/18/07, at 67; Defendants' Exhibit D. Sharp was transferred to SCI-Greene on May 23, 2001. Defendants' Exhibit D. On June 13, 2006, Sharp was transferred to SCI-Dallas where he remains to date. Id.

5. Sharp is a member of the faith group known as Ahlus Sunnati Wal Jama'ah, also referred to as Sunni Muslim. TR-10/16/07, at 56, 66-67; see also, Plaintiff's Findings of Fact, Dkt. [159], ¶¶ 24-25.

6. Defendant Philip J. Johnson ("Johnson") served as the Superintendent at SCI-Pittsburgh from "January of 1999 until late 2002." TR-10/17/07, at 63. As Superintendent, Johnson "oversaw the daily operation of the entire facility, [and] all department heads who ultimately were responsible to answer to [him]." TR-10/17/07, at 64.

7. Defendant Mark Krysevig ("Krysevig") served as the Deputy Superintendent for Centralized Services at SCI-Pittsburgh for approximately two and a half years, beginning in July of 1999. TR--10/17/07, at 115.

8. Defendant Joel Dickson ("Dickson") served as the Deputy Superintendent for Internal Security at SCI-Pittsburgh from July of 1998 until "approximately March of 2002." TR--10/17/07, at 94-95. As Deputy Superintendent for Internal Security, Dickson supervised the Security Office and was "concerned with any internal investigations conducted involving inmates and/or staff, contraband control, entering into the institution either through visiting room or whatever, telephone monitoring, monitoring of security threat groups, et cetera." TR--10/17/07, at 95.

9. Defendant William S. Stickman ("Stickman") served as the Deputy Superintendent for Facility Management at SCI-Pittsburgh from January of 1997 until March of 2002, when he was promoted to Superintendent at SCI-Greene. TR--10/17/07, at 138-139. As Deputy Superintendent for Facility Management at SCI-Pittsburgh, Stickman had responsibility for "security, the [corrections] officer force, maintenance department and unit management." TR--10/17/07, at 139.

10. Defendant Rhoda Winstead ("Winstead") served as the Corrections Classification Program Manager at SCI-Pittsburgh from "1997 to about 1999." TR-10/17/07, at 4. As Corrections Classification Program Manager, Winstead "supervised the various treatment programs within the institution, of which chaplaincy was one of them, [also] psychology, inmate employment, inmate records, education activities, volunteer programs." Id.

11. Defendant Father William Terza ("Father Terza"), a Catholic priest, served as the Facility Chaplaincy Program Director at SCI-Pittsburgh beginning in March of 1998. TR--10/16/07, at 143. As such, Father Terza was "responsible for the entire chaplaincy program of the institution" which provided inmates with "[r]eligious practice for a number of faiths that were recognized by the Department of Corrections." TR--10/16/07, at 143.

12. Defendant Imam Tanko Ibrahiym ("Imam Ibrahiym") is an Imam of the Sunni--or Sunni wal Jamaah-- faith; he was employed by the DOC as the Islamic Chaplain at SCI-Pittsburgh from 1998 to 2004 when it closed. TR--10/17/07, at 26-27. His duties included providing "Islamic services to inmates, Muslim inmates, and spiritual counseling . study groups, Islamic study groups, teaching . Islamic literature, books and pamphlets." TR--10/17/07, at 27-28. He would also "visit Islamic Muslims in the RHU." Id.

13. Defendant Brian V. Coleman ("Coleman") served as the Security Captain at SCI-Greene from "late 2000 . until October of '03." TR--10/18/07, at 63.

14. Defendant Jean Mears ("Mears")*fn3 served as the Corrections Classification Program Manager at SCI-Greene from June of 2002 until she left the DOC in December of 2003. TR--10/17/07, at 74. As the Corrections Classification Program Manager at SCI-Greene, Mears supervised the Chaplaincy Department. TR--10/17/07, at 74, 76-77.

15. Defendant Father George J. Moneck ("Father Moneck"), a Roman Catholic priest, served as the Facility Chaplaincy Program Director at SCI-Greene beginning in 1997 and ending when he left the DOC in December of 2004. TR--10/17/07, at 7-8.

16. Defendant Imam Abu Bakr Muhammad ("Imam Muhammad") has been employed by the DOC since April 3, 1995, as the Islamic Chaplain at SCI-Greene. TR--10/18/07, at 32. At SCI-Greene, Imam Muhammad was "in charge of all Islamic programs, specifically for the Sunni Muslims. That includes, among other things, teaching them Islam, Qur'an, Arabic and other related issues with the Islamic teachings. [He] also conduct[ed] the Jumah service, which is held every Friday. [He was] also involved with special events like Ramadan programs, Islamic festivals. [He] also visit[s] the restricted housing units basically as a chaplain, but specifically to also take some Islamic literature to Muslims in general. [He is] also a spiritual advisor, so to speak, for the Muslim group." TR--10/17/07, at 33.

17. The DOC has implemented and maintains a religious accommodation policy, which is codified at DC-ADM 819. Plaintiff's Exhibit 2; TR--10/16/07, at 16-18. See also Defendants' Exhibit A. Included in this policy are procedures for initiating requests for recognition of a religion or religious group. Id. Specifically, the policy provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

2. A request for religious accommodation ... shall be made as follows:

a. Each inmate must use a DC-52, Inmate Religious Accommodation Request Form (See Attachment A) to submit his/her request for accommodation to the FCPD [Facility Chaplaincy Program Director].

c. The inmate shall obtain written information from his/her outside faith group, including any publications that describe the goals, beliefs, and practices of the group and supply this information to the FCPD for review.

d. The Religious Accommodation Review Committee shall review each inmate's request for a religious accommodation within 45 days of receipt and forward a recommendation to the affected Regional Deputy Secretary.

e. The Regional Deputy Secretary shall, within 15 days of receiving the recommendation from the Director of the Bureau of Inmate Services/designee, approve/disapprove the request and notify the Director of the Bureau of Inmate Services of the decision.

f. The Director, Bureau of Inmate Services shall, within 10 days, inform the Facility Manager and the FCPD of the requesting facility of the determination and ensure copies of all final determinations are provided to all Deputy Secretaries and Facility managers. The FCPD shall be responsible for informing the affected inmate of the outcome of his/her request no later than 10 working days from the date that the determination of approval/disapproval is received.

g. If an inmate is informed by the FCPD that the request will not be accommodated, the inmate may then file a grievance in accordance with Department policy DC-804, "Inmate Grievances." Grievances may only be submitted after the inmate has received notification of the decision on the requested accommodation.

DC-ADM 819, Religious Activities Policy, § VI.G. See Defendants' Exhibit A.

18. At SCI-Pittsburgh, the DOC provided religious accommodation for several religious communities within the inmate population, including "Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, [and] Jehovah Witness." TR--10/16/07, at 143. See also TR--10/16/07, at 66-68. Among the Muslims, three groups were recognized at SCI-Pittsburgh: "the Nation of Islam, the Moorish Science Temple and the regular Muslim group." Id.

19. Imam Ibrahiym, the Islamic Chaplain at SCI-Pittsburgh, provided weekly religious instruction ("Taleem") and lead weekly prayer services ("Jumah") for Muslim inmates. Imam Ibrahiym identified himself as Sunni or Sunni wal Jamaah. TR--10/17/07, at 27-28.

20. For a period of time, Sharp attended the Jumah services and the Taleem studies offered by Imam Ibrahiym at SCI-Pittsburgh. TR--10/17/07, at 29, 31-32. Sharp was never excluded or told he was not welcome at these Muslim services and study groups. TR--10/16/07, at 150; TR--10/17/07, at 32.

21. There came a time when Sharp expressed to Imam Ibrahiym that there were ideological differences between Sharp's Sunni "group" and the recognized Sunni group at SCI-Pittsburgh. Sharp believed that because of the differences in beliefs and practices, his "group" could not be accommodated within the Sunni Muslim community at SCI-Pittsburgh. Sharp inquired of Imam Ibrahiym about what could be done to accommodate Sharp's "group." TR-10/16/07, at 11; TR-10/17/07, at 29.

22. Imam Ibrahiym disagreed with Sharp and advised that if Sharp was Sunni Wal Jamaah, as he claimed to be, then there was no reason why Sharp could not be accommodated with the services and programs being offered to the Sunni Muslims at SCI-Pittsburgh. TR-10/17/07, at 30-31.

23. Nevertheless, Sharp submitted a 3-page, typewritten "Religious Accommodation Request for Ahlus Sunnati wal Jama'ah," dated October 14, 1999, requesting recognition and accommodation of the Ahlus Sunnati wal Jama'ah group or sect, comprised of "nearly 50 inmates." Plaintiff's Exhibit 1; see also TR-10/17/07, at 30.

24. Imam Ibrahiym and Father Terza discussed this group request. TR-10/16/07, at 146-47; TR-10/17/07, at 30.

25. Father Terza informed Sharp that his request was improperly submitted. Specifically, Sharp had submitted his request for religious accommodation as a group request instead of an individual request as required by DC-ADM 819. TR-10/16/07, at 147.

26. Sharp never presented an individual request form. TR-10/16/07, at 146-47.

27. There is no credible evidence that any other inmates submitted an individual request for the accommodation addressed in Sharp's group request, i.e., Exhibit 1.

28. On or about November 28, 1999, a meeting was held between Krysevig, Winstead, Imam Ibrahiym, Father Terza and several inmates, including Sharp, to discuss Ramadan. Specifically, discussions were held to determine how Ramadan, a month-long Muslim observance, would be accommodated amongst the various Muslim groups and inmates who wished to participate in the required prayer and fasting. TR--10/16/07, at 20-22; TR--10/16/07, at 150-151; TR--10/17/07, at 46-49; TR--10/17/07, at 118-119.

29. After this discussion, Sharp raised his group request for accommodation; however, no resolution of this request was achieved at this meeting. TR--10/16/07, at 22-25. See also, TR--10/17/07, at 48; TR--10/17/07, at 119.

30. Subsequently, on November 30, 1999, Sharp was placed in Administrative Custody on the order of Lt. Blakey and on December 2, 1999, on the order of Capt. Zurich, it appearing that Sharp's efforts to organize a separate Sunni Muslim group were creating a threat to institutional security. Sharp was attempting to establish himself as the leader of this group of inmates and this group had threatened disruption and violence if they were not recognized. Plaintiff's Exhibit 5; TR-10/17/07, at 97-98, 100-107; TR-10/17/07, at 123-31.

31. Indeed, based on his conversations and interactions with Sharp, defendant Krysevig concluded that Sharp's concern was not religious accommodation but a desire to place himself in a position of leadership over a group of inmates. TR-10/17/07, at 127. As well, other inmates complained to Krysevig that Sharp was being disrespectful of their beliefs and, thus, inciting them to retaliate against Sharp. TR-10/17/07, at 128. "In essence, [Sharp] was fomenting unrest in group activity that was not in keeping with the guidance and rules of the institution." TR-10/17/07, at 98.

32. On December 1, 1999, Sharp filed Grievance No. PIT-0997-99, see Plaintiff's Exhibit 4, and several Inmate's Request to Staff Members forms, see Plaintiff's Exhibit 3, questioning why his group request for accommodation had not been acted upon. Of note, none of these documents references or mentions any individual request for religious accommodation. Id.

33. In response to Grievance No. PIT-0997-99, defendant Winstead wrote on December 20, 1999, as follows:

At the meeting you mentioned on November 28, 1999 it was verified that all staff mentioned received a copy of your proposal [i.e., Plaintiff's Exhibit 1].

In accordance with DC-ADM 819-3 for religious accommodations, you were to submit the proper form requesting such an accommodation for you as an individual. Any other inmates requesting an accommodation must be filed individually. Your form should be forwarded to the chaplaincy coordinator. Your form was improperly filed.

Your concern regarding to attend Talum has been addressed. All inmates requesting to attend are supplied with a pass.

Plaintiff's Exhibit 4.

34. Thereafter, Sharp did not submit a form request for religious accommodation for himself as an individual. See TR-10/16/07, at 147-148, 152, 171-172. See also TR-10/17/07, at 33, 48-49.

35. Instead, Sharp wrote to the Grievance Coordinator, complaining inter alia that his grievances on this matter seemed to be arriving late or not at all - - impliedly through no fault of his own - - and challenging Winstead's statement that his request was improperly filed. Sharp claimed that he and other inmates had submitted individual, handwritten request slips, as well as the group ...

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