The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge
Plaintiff Daniel Heleva ("Heleva") commenced this civil rights action on June 6, 2005. (Doc. 1.) Thereafter, he filed an amended complaint (Doc. 18) which, on January 27, 2006, was dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). (Doc. 27.) A timely appeal followed. On January 29, 2007, the United States Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the matter for further proceedings. (Doc. 46.) The remand was based on the finding that Heleva stated a free exercise of religion claim under the First Amendment. (Doc. 46-2, at 5.) Further, the Court of Appeals stated that "[w]e express no opinion on whether Heleva states a RLUIPA [Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000] claim, but, as his First Amendment claim proceeds on remand, the District Court should evaluate it under RLUIPA as well." (Doc. 46-2, at 4 n.2 (citation omitted).) Presently before the court is defendants' motion seeking summary judgment on Heleva's First Amendment and RLUIPA claims. (Doc. 66.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted.
At all times relevant, Heleva was housed in a maximum security unit at the Monroe County Correctional Facility ("MCCF"). MCCF policy mandates that packages containing books shall be accepted only if sent directly from the publisher. (Doc. 68-3, at 46.) According to David Keenhold, who was the MCCF Warden at the time, "[i]f the origin of the publication is not the publisher, the books are not destroyed. They are merely placed into the inmate's personal effects which are turned over to him upon release from our facility." (Affidavit of David Keenhold ("Keenhold Affidavit," Doc. 68-3, at 2, ¶ 6.) The policy was enacted to ensure that contraband was not smuggled into MCCF. (Keenhold Affidavit, Doc. 68-3, at 2, ¶ 5.) This policy has been reviewed each year by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and has been approved in its current form. (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 8.) Heleva does not dispute the policy or its purpose. (Doc. 15, at 2, ¶¶ 18-20.)
On October 31, 2002, two books were delivered to the MCCF via UPS, as a gift to Heleva from his sister, and were received by Betty Roncone, a secretary at MCCF. (Doc. 18, at 2; Doc. 77, at 3, 4.) The first book was entitled "Survival Kit: 5 ways to Spiritual Growth," and the second was "The Power of a Praying Parent." (Doc. 18, at 2.) When defendant Joseph Kramer ("Kramer"), a sergeant at MCCF, came into possession of the books, there was no wrapping on the books and they were not accompanied by an invoice from the publisher. (Affidavit of Joseph Kramer ("Kramer Affidavit"), Doc. 68-2, at 2.) Consequently, he did not give the books to Heleva.
Heleva filed a grievance on November 24, 2002. (Doc. 20, at 6.) It does not appear from the record that the grievance was pursued beyond initial review. Thereafter, he filed numerous "requests" concerning the whereabouts of his books. (Doc. 20, at 7-14, 16-18.) Defendant Kramer advised him that the books were "oversized" and would be held with his personal belongings until they were pre-approved. (Id. at 8.) At some point, it became clear that the issue was the lack of invoices from the publisher, not the size of the books. According to the record, his sister sent correspondence to defendant Deputy Warden Michael Tabery ("Tabery") in January 2003, enclosing copies of the invoices from the publisher. (Id. at 2.) Heleva still did not receive the books. When Heleva inquired via an inmate request as to why he still was not able to obtain the books, Tabery advised him that defendant Deputy Warden Paul Jennings ("Jennings") was conducting an investigation into the matter. (Id. at 11.) His sister also forwarded correspondence, along with the publisher invoices, to the Chaplain on January 24, 2003. (Id. at 7.)
On April 2, 2003, he filed a second grievance, "grieving the lack of response to his requests concerning the status of Mr. Jennings' investigation in the matter of the Religious books that were denied by Sgt. Kramer." (Id. at 15.) On May 30, 2003, he directed an appeal to defendant Keenhold. (Id. at 18.) Defendant Keenhold's investigation revealed that delivery of the books was temporarily delayed because the packaging materials and invoice that accompanied the books were separated and staff members were prevented from ascertaining their origin. (Keenhold Affidavit, Doc. 68-3, at 2, ¶ 9.) After the invoices were located and it was confirmed that the books were sent by the publisher, defendant Keenhold directed his staff to give Heleva the books. (Id. at ¶ 12.) On June 16, 2003, Keenhold responded to the grievance as follows:
This afternoon, I had contacted Sergeant Kramer to hear his experience on this matter and he informed me that from the time that Deputy Warden Jennings had replied to you at his level of the grievance procedure to the time that you moved the grievance up to my level your family had produced documentary evidence that the books did in fact come from the publisher. He also informed me that he examined the books and had already given them to you on Friday, June 13, 2003. (Id. at 19.)
Defendant Kramer states that when he learned that the books were sent from the publisher, he "immediately gave Heleva his books" and that he "did not in any way intend to deprive Heleva of his books." (Kramer Affidavit, Doc. 68-2, at 3, ¶ 12.) Defendant Keenhold also states that there was no intent to deprive Heleva of his books. (Keenhold Affidavit, Doc. 68-3, at 3, ¶ 14.) Further, MCCF staff "certainly did not intend to limit his exposure to his chosen religion or limit his ability to worship in accordance with his religion." (Id.) Rather, defendant Keenhold represents that the administration of MCCF respects all religions and encourages inmates to practice their religion and accommodates their needs by making religious services available, permits the wearing of religious medals, affords inmates the right to freedom of religious affiliation and voluntary religious worship, provides special religious needs diets, makes a chaplain available and grants access to religious materials and books through the chaplain. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16.) In addition, there is an onsite branch of the Eastern Monroe Public Library which contains a number of books with religious themes and also provides access to other branches of the Eastern Monroe Public Library System. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-21; 49-62.)
Heleva denies that MCCF respects all religions and encourages inmates to practice their religions. (Doc. 74, at 2, ¶ 26.) He also denies that inmates' religious needs are accommodated. (Id. at ¶ 27.) He neither admits nor denies the statement that "[n]one of the defendants did anything to prevent Mr. Heleva from practicing whatever religion he claims to have adopted." (Doc. 68, at 9, ¶ 28.)
"Summary judgment serves as a minimal but important hurdle for litigants to overcome before presenting a claim to a jury." Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 314 (M.D. Pa. 2004). Faced with such a motion, the adverse party must produce affirmative evidence, beyond the disputed allegations of the pleadings, in support of the claim. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Corneal v. Jackson Township, 313 F. Supp. 2d 457, 464 (M.D. Pa. 2003), aff'd, 94 Fed. Appx. 76 (3d Cir. 2004). "Such affirmative evidence--regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial--must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance." Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989). Only if this ...