The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLaughlin, J.
The Court held a bench trial in this prisoner civil rights case on the plaintiff's remaining claims: (1) Eighth Amendment claims based on allegations that certain prison officials physically assaulted the plaintiff and placed substances in the plaintiff's food; (2) claims under the First Amendment and under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") based on allegations that certain prison officials interfered with the plaintiff's ability to practice his religion; and (3) Fourteenth Amendment claims that certain prison officials mistreated the plaintiff on the basis of his religion.
The Court finds for the defendants and against the plaintiff on all of these claims.
After the Court granted the plaintiff's request for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, the plaintiff filed his initial complaint against Lt. Medden, Officer Wright, Superintendent Vaughn and an unnamed corrections officer on June 25, 2004. In that complaint, the plaintiff alleged that, on January 8, 2003, while he was an inmate at SCI-Graterford, Officer Wright and an officer later identified as "Officer Chickoviact" assaulted him. He alleged that Lt. Medden, later identified as Lt. Madden, supervised and was later assigned to investigate the incident. Based on these allegations, the plaintiff asserted that his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated.
The plaintiff filed his complaint pro se. He moved for the appointment of counsel, and the Court granted the motion on July 8, 2004. The Court, however, was unable to find counsel willing to represent the plaintiff at that time.
On October 12, 2004, the plaintiff moved for a temporary restraining order. On October 20, 2004, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss. The defendants' motion was granted as to Superintendent Vaughn and denied as to the other defendants on January 7, 2005. Also on January 7, 2005, the Court denied the plaintiff's request for a temporary restraining order.
On February 18, 2005, the plaintiff filed another complaint in case number 05-773. The plaintiff amended that complaint and, on March 31, 2005, the Court consolidated case number 05-773 with this case. Several defendants were added to the docket.*fn1 The Court also ordered that the two complaints would be consolidated and together would function as the operative pleading in this case. The plaintiff filed another request for a temporary restraining order on April 8, 2005.
The defendants responded to the consolidated complaint with a partial motion to dismiss on August 12, 2005. The defendants filed a response in opposition to the plaintiff's request for a temporary restraining order on August 15, 2005. The defendants also filed an amended partial motion to dismiss on that date. The plaintiff responded to both filings by the defendants on August 31, 2005.
On February 23, 2006, the Court denied the plaintiff's request for a temporary restraining order and granted in part and denied in part the defendants' partial motion to dismiss.*fn2 The case was then placed in suspense while the Court made a second attempt to obtain counsel for the plaintiff. That attempt was also unsuccessful.
The plaintiff appealed several of the decisions rendered against him to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on September 15, 2006. The Court of Appeals dismissed the plaintiff's appeal for lack of jurisdiction and pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) on July 6, 2007.
The Court then vacated its Order placing the case in suspense, and, after holding a telephone conference with the plaintiff and the defendants' counsel, the Court set a discovery deadline of February 28, 2008. After the discovery period had ended, the defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment on March 28, 2008.
The plaintiff then filed several motions to compel discovery. He also filed another motion for a preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order and a motion to have the Court withdraw as presiding judge over this matter. The Court denied all of these motions, but allowed the plaintiff's motions to compel discovery to be filed as affidavits to his response to the defendants' motion for partial summary judgment. Additionally, the Court held an on-the-record status conference on March 3, 2009, to allow the plaintiff the opportunity to present his response orally to the defendants' motion for partial summary judgment.
The Court granted the defendants' partial motion for summary judgment in part and denied it in part in an Order dated April 30, 2009.*fn3 The Court then scheduled a bench trial*fn4 to hear the remaining issues against the remaining defendants, as follows: claims of assault against Lt. Madden, Officer Wright, "Officer Chickoviact"/Officer Jancoviak, Officer Andrews, Officer Sivera and Lt. Radle; claims of food tampering against Lt. House, Officer Hand and Officer Parks; and claims of interference with the practice of religion and discrimination on the basis of religion against Lt. Wilt, Lt. House, Officer Hand and Officer Parks.
The bench trial was held in two parts. The first part of the trial occurred on July 15 and 16, 2009, and concerned the four surviving assault claims. The second part of the trial was held on October 13, 2009, and concerned the claims involving food tampering, interference with religious practices and discrimination on the basis of religion.
The Court will present its findings of fact in three categories: (1) the assault claims, (2) the claims of food tampering, and (3) the claims of interference with religion and discrimination on the basis of religion.
A. Assaults in Violation of the Eighth Amendment
The Court will set out the facts of the four alleged assaults in chronological order.
The first alleged assault occurred on January 8, 2003, and involved the plaintiff and Officer Wright. The plaintiff claims that Officer Wright and "Officer Chickoviact" pulled his hair, removing a lock of hair from his head, and pinched his side.
The plaintiff was taken to the dispensary in SCIGraterford on January 8, 2003, for medical reasons. Mr. Young believed that he was scheduled to receive treatment for a breathing problem. Officer Wright, accompanied by an unidentified corrections officer, escorted the plaintiff from his cell to the prison's medical wing. When Mr. Young was in the medical unit, he was told that the staff had no order from a physician calling for breathing treatment. The nurse informed the plaintiff that he would not be receiving the breathing treatment. The plaintiff became agitated and refused to leave, even after he was ordered to do so by Officer Wright.
Lt. Madden was then called to the unit. At the time, Lt. Madden was the officer in charge of F, G, H and I housing blocks, as well as the infirmary and dispensary. When he arrived, the plaintiff was either sitting on a chair or on the floor and refused to be escorted out of the dispensary. Lt. Madden ordered Officer Wright and the other officers present to remove Mr. Young from the unit.
The plaintiff alleges that "Officer Chickoviact" was one of the officers present. No officer by that name worked at SCI-Graterford at the time. The defendants submitted the testimony of Officer David Jancoviak at trial. The defendants' counsel explained that Office Jancoviak was the corrections officer with the name closest to "Chickoviact" working at SCIGraterford during the relevant time.
Officer Jancoviak, however, credibly testified that he was not one of the officers present on January 8, 2003. The plaintiff also stated that Officer Jancoviak was not the officer who allegedly assaulted him that day. The Court, therefore, finds that Officer Jancoviak was not one of the officers present. The parties were unable to identify another officer who may have been the "Officer Chickoviact" named in the complaint.
Upon Lt. Madden's order, Officer Wright and three other officers lifted the plaintiff by his legs and arms. The plaintiff began twisting and turning to get out of the officers' grip. The plaintiff alleges that one of the officers pinched him on his right side, causing him pain, and that Officer Wright and another officer pulled his hair, removing a lock from his scalp. The Court finds that, while Mr. Young was being carried out of the medical unit, an officer did pull the plaintiff's hair as the plaintiff kicked and struggled to escape the grasp of his handlers. The Court similarly finds that the plaintiff was pinched while the officers attempted to hold on to him.
The plaintiff also began spitting at the officers. His spit struck Officer Wright. Officer Wright then began to recoil, and Lt. Madden ordered Officer Wright to step away so another officer could take his position.
Concerned that the officers would have to carry the plaintiff through an area with other inmates present, Lt. Madden ordered the officers to take the plaintiff to the infirmary and place him on the ground until the plaintiff calmed down. The officers complied with the order and placed the plaintiff face down on the floor. An infirmary nurse brought in a spit mask, which was placed on the plaintiff's head.
When the spit mask was secured, the officers then brought the plaintiff back to the dispensary to check for injuries. The nurse checked the plaintiff and noted a laceration on his wrist.
The plaintiff, accompanied by the officers and Lt. Madden, began to walk to his cell. Along the way, the plaintiff complained of breathing problems caused by the spit mask. Lt. Madden asked the plaintiff to promise not to spit anymore. The plaintiff gave his word that he would not spit anymore, and Lt. Madden removed the mask.
After being ordered to step away, Officer Wright reported to the operations center for further instruction. The operations center was in the vicinity of the plaintiff and the accompanying officers' path to the plaintiff's cell. The plaintiff then made threatening comments about Officer Wright to Lt. Madden, stating that he would "split his wig so you can see the white meat." The plaintiff made other threatening comments at that time, saying that "[t]he first chance I get, whether it is somebody innocent or not, they're gonna eat my shit" and that "[y]ou better transfer me out of Graterford or this will never end." See Defs' Ex. D-3.
The second alleged assault occurred on November 20, 2003, and involved the plaintiff and Officer Aaron Sivera. The plaintiff claims that Officer Sivera slammed the plaintiff's face into a wall while he and Officer Robert Cox escorted the plaintiff to a judicial hearing.
The plaintiff was to be taken to the Montgomery County Court for a hearing on November 20, 2009. Due to a fight with another inmate, the plaintiff suffered from a dislocated shoulder. Because of this injury, he requested that Officers Sivera and Cox handcuff him in front. The officers hesitated to do so without approval, because prison policy requires inmates being transported from the RHU to be handcuffed in the back.
The officers called Lt. Madden, who talked to the plaintiff and ordered that the plaintiff be handcuffed behind the back. The officers then handcuffed the plaintiff behind his back. This upset the plaintiff because he believed that a medical order related to his shoulder injury excepted him from the general policy.
Officers Sivera and Cox escorted the plaintiff from his cell and out of the restricted housing unit ("RHU"). The plaintiff remained agitated, complaining about his handcuffs and cursing at the officers. While escorting the plaintiff up a flight of stairs leading to the main prison, Officer Sivera told the plaintiff to watch his step.
The plaintiff alleges that, at this point, Officer Sivera slammed his face into the wall and started to pull him up the stairs. Officers Sivera and Cox claim that the plaintiff either tripped or slipped on the stairs, most likely as a result of his being distracted and agitated while walking. The Court accepts the testimony of Officers Sivera and Cox. That testimony is supported by the records of the injuries sustained by the plaintiff. See Defs' Ex. D-2, D-12-14, D-17-19.
Photographs of the plaintiff's face were taken shortly after the incident. The photographs show what appears to be a small abrasion on the plaintiff's cheek. This is corroborated by the two medical reports prepared on November 20, 2003. See Defs' Ex. D-2; Defs' Ex. D-17. The Court finds that this abrasion is the result of the plaintiff scraping his face upon the wall adjoining the stairs when he fell.
After the fall, the plaintiff was delivered to another officer, who dismissed Officers Sivera and Cox and escorted Mr. Young to the medical unit for treatment.
The third alleged assault took place on January 17, 2004, following a mandatory DNA extraction at SCI-Graterford.
The plaintiff alleges that Officer (now Lieutenant) Charles Andrews pulled the back of his hair during the extraction and placed him in a choke-hold. Mr. Young also claims that Officer Sivera hit him on the back of his head with a towel. The plaintiff also alleges that Officer Andrews attacked him on the way back to his cell. The plaintiff alleges that Officer Andrews threw him to the floor, picked him up, and threw him into the wall and then into a trash can.
On July 17, 2004, the superintendent of the prison ordered that all of the inmates from the RHU be escorted to the Assessment Unit for DNA extraction. The officers were permitted to use whatever force necessary to accomplish this goal.
Lt. Madden and several officers, including Officer Sivera and Officer Andrews, went to the plaintiff's cell to take him to the Assessment Unit. When the plaintiff asked where they were taking him, Lt. Madden told the plaintiff that they were taking him "up top," which is a general reference used to describe the medical unit, the dispensary, the general population housing units, intake, and other areas outside the RHU. The officers cuffed the plaintiff and placed him in leg irons and escorted him without incident to the Assessment Unit.
The plaintiff's DNA was taken in the dispensary without incident. At the dispensary, the plaintiff was forced to sit in a chair and held down with minimal force while a syringe was inserted into his arm. The DNA was also extracted without incident. The plaintiff was then fingerprinted and escorted back to his cell. Lt. Madden was present during the DNA extraction, along with Officer Andrews. Mr. Young was cooperative after the extraction was completed, and Lt. Madden escorted Mr. Young back to his cell without incident. Lt. Madden was with Mr. Young the entire time during the escort back to his cell.
The defendants' testimony is consistent with a video shot in the assessment unit that captures Mr. Young's DNA extraction. Defs' Ex. D-21. In the video, the room contains several officers observing a medical staff person extracting blood. Mr. Young is seated in a chair, and it appears that Officer Andrews is standing behind him. Although Mr. Young is obscured for a portion of the video, at no point does there appear to be anything that would indicate any physical assault on Mr. Young, including hair pulling or choke holds.
The Court accepts the testimony of Officer Sivera that he did not hit Mr. Young with a towel and of Officer Andrews that he did not hit the plaintiff, put him in a choke hold or ...