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Williams v. Beard

February 26, 2010

CLIFTON WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JEFFREY BEARD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. John E. Jones III

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

THE BACKGROUND OF THIS MEMORANDUM IS AS FOLLOWS:

On January 7, 2008, Plaintiff Clifton Williams, an inmate presently confined at the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution ("SCI-Mahanoy") in Frackville, Pennsylvania, initiated this civil rights action pro se by filing a Complaint pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration (Doc. 70) of this Court's May 8, 2009 Order denying his Motion for an extension of time to conduct discovery. Also pending are Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 73), Plaintiff's Motion for a "Continuance" of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f) (Doc. 83), and Plaintiff's Motion for a fourteen (14) day extension of time to file his opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 82).

For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Reconsideration will be denied. Plaintiff's Motion for a Continuance will be granted under the provisions of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f). Consequently, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied, without prejudice to renew the Motion at a later date, and Plaintiff's Motion for an extension of time will be denied as moot.

In his Amended Complaint, filed on April 29, 2008, Plaintiff alleges as follows:

[t]he 'Free Exercise Clause' of the First Amendment, the 'Equal Protection Clause' of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the 'Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act of 2000' all protect the right of Muslim prisoners to conduct their approved and regularly scheduled congregational worship services in a designated area free of any images, symbols, or artifacts represented or associated with idolatry or idol worship. (Doc. 23 at 5 § IV. ¶ 1.) Plaintiff alleges that a violation of the above right (as stated by him) occurs "each year during the Christmas holiday season" from approximately December 1 through January 7 when the SCI-Mahanoy Chaplaincy Department "erects a twelve (12) to fifteen (15) foot decorated Christmas Tree in the Chapel and hang Christmas wreaths on nails around the Chapel walls." (See id. at 5-6.) Plaintiff further alleges as follows:

The idolatrous history of the Evergreen Tree and Evergreen Wreaths, being erected during the holiday season, as a symbol of God, as wall decor for pagan idol worship, and as artifacts of superstition make them unacceptable and offensive to be present in the Chapel at the time the Muslims are scheduled to conduct their weekly congregational service and offer their congregational prayers in that facility.

However, when this matter was brought to the attention of the Chaplaincy Program Director, thereafter, the Muslim set-up crew, of which plaintiff is a member, was ordered not to touch the Christmas tree or remove the Christmas wreaths from the walls while cleaning the Chapel and setting-up for our congregational services under the threat of disciplinary action. The following year, the threat was upgraded that if we touched the Christmas tree or the Christmas wreaths we would immediately be placed in RHU (Restricted Housing Unit, aka "The Hole") and then issued a misconduct report. This upgraded threat was accompanied with a show-of-force by security personnel and the presence of administrative personnel including the then Superintendent.

This threat to the Muslim set-up crew is still standing. (See id. at 6-7.) Plaintiff alleges that this violation of his constitutional rights occurred during his first Christmas season at SCI-Mahanoy in 2005-2006, during his second Christmas season at SCI-Mahaony in 2006-2007, and during the 2007-2008 Christmas season at SCI-Mahanoy that occurred just prior to the initiation of this action. (See id. at 8-10.)

As relief, Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment explaining the legal rights of Muslims and the obligations of prison officials regarding those rights. (See id. at 13 1.) He also seeks three forms of injunctive relief. First, he seeks an injunction to enjoin Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC") officials from harassing him because he is a Muslim. (See id. at 14-18.) Second, he seeks an injunction to end the practice at SCI-Mahanoy of placing Christmas wreaths and trees in the location where Muslims worship. (See id. at 18.) Finally, he seeks an injunction directing that he be allowed access to his departmental file so that he can challenge any slanderous information in the file and have it expunged. (See id. at 18-19.) In addition, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages. (See id. at 13.)

By Order dated May 8, 2009, this Court denied Plaintiff's Motions for an extension of time to conduct discovery (Doc. 63) and to file dispositive motions (Doc. 64). On May 28, 2009, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion for Reconsideration. (Doc. 70.) On June 17, 2009, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 73) and accompanying papers (Docs. 74, 75). By Order dated July 22, 2009, Plaintiff's first request for an extension of time to file his opposition was granted, and he was directed to file his opposition within thirty (30) days. (Doc. 81.) On August 24, 2009, Plaintiff filed the pending Motion for an extension of time to file his opposition (Doc. 82), and on September 14, 2009, he filed the pending Motion for a Continuance (Doc. 83). We shall discuss each of these Motions in turn.

MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The purpose of a motion for reconsideration "is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." Max's Seafood Café v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir.1999) (quoting Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir.1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1171 (1986)). Such a motion may be granted only if the party seeking reconsideration shows at least one of the following grounds: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court granted the motion for summary judgment; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Id. (citing North River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA Reins. Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir.1995)). "Reconsideration of judgment is an extraordinary remedy; therefore, such motions are to be granted sparingly." D'Angio v. Borough of Nescopeck, 56 F.Supp.2d 502, 504 (M.D. Pa.1999). "A motion for ...


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