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Williams v. Beard

August 30, 2010


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



Plaintiff Clifton Williams ("Plaintiff" or "Williams"), an inmate presently confined at the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution ("SCI Mahanoy") in Frackville, Pennsylvania, initiated the above action pro se by filing a Complaint under the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Complaint names the following administrative personnel as Defendants: Dr. Jeffrey Beard, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"); Ulli Klemm, Administrator of Religious and Volunteer Services for the DOC; and Robert Bitner, Chief Hearing Examiner for the DOC. The Complaint also names the following current or former employees of SCI Mahanoy as Defendants: John Kerestes, Superintendent; Edward J. Klem, former Superintendent; Patti Ramer, School Principal; Mike Vuksta, Unit Manager; Richard Spaide, Unit Manager; Robert Yarnell, Food Services Supervisor; and Cheryl Stanitis, Food Services Supervisor.

In his Complaint, filed on October 17, 2008, Williams asserts claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA") and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. (Doc. 1, Complaint, at 6.) Williams, who identifies himself as a Muslim, alleges that, on October 23, 2006, while he was on break from his shift as a kitchen worker at SCI Mahanoy, he was offering the noon prayer in the far corner of the diet room within the kitchen complex when Defendant Stanitis entered the room, saw Williams, and directed him to stop immediately. (Doc. 1 at 6-8.) However, Williams continued praying. (Id. at 8.) Williams alleges that, after he finished praying and returned to the general break area within the kitchen complex, Defendant Yarnell summoned him and instructed a staff member to escort Williams back to his housing unit. (Id.) Although Williams pleaded guilty to the resulting misconduct, which charged him with failing to obey an order and presence in an unauthorized area, and was sanctioned with the loss of his kitchen job, he alleges that the sole reason that he lost his job was because he was exercising his constitutional right to practice his religion. (Id. at 9.)

Williams further alleges that, in appealing from the loss of his job, he requested review of the prison policies, which he describes as being unethically oppressive to the constitutionally protected right to practice the religion of Islam. (Id. at 10.) However, he alleges that Defendants Ramer, Vuksta, Spaide, Edward Klem, and Bitner failed to address the illegality of these policies in disposing of his appeals, and merely upheld the guilty finding because Williams pled guilty to the charges. (Id. at 10-14.) He further alleges that, when he sent correspondence in October 2007 to Defendant Beard requesting that he remedy these constitutional violations, Beard failed to remedy the violations and instead improperly referred the matter to Defendant Ulli Klemm. (Id. at 15-17.)

As relief, Williams seeks a declaratory judgment explaining his right to offer obligatory prayers at the prescribed times and in the prescribed manner and the legal duty of prison staff to accommodate this protected right in a reasonable manner. (Id. at 18.) He also seeks an injunction directing Defendant Beard to order all DOC employees to cease their illegal conduct against Plaintiff and his property now and in the future and to refrain from any retaliatory acts against Plaintiff for utilizing the judicial process to uphold his Constitutional rights. (Id. at 19.) He seeks the same form of injunctive relief as to Defendant Kerestes with respect to SCI Mahanoy employees, and in particular as to SCI Mahanoy kitchen staff. (Id. at 19-20.) He also requests that Kerestes be ordered to provide him with Z-code status (single cell status). (Id. at 20.) Finally, Williams seeks compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. at 21-22.)


Service of the Complaint was directed by Order dated November 25, 2008. (Doc. 8.) After obtaining an extension of time, Defendants filed an Answer to the Complaint on February 17, 2009. (Doc. 15.) The parties engaged in discovery, after which a Motion for Summary Judgment was filed on Defendants' behalf on September 4, 2009. (Doc. 30.) A supporting brief (Doc. 34), a Statement of Material Facts (Doc. 32) and supporting exhibits (Doc. 33) were filed on September 23, 2010.

Plaintiff has filed his opposition to the Motion, including a document entitled "Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment" (Doc. 38), which consists of a seven (7) paragraph statement of his reasons for opposing the Motion; a Statement of Material Facts (Doc. 39); supporting exhibits (Docs. 39-2 through 39-9); an opposition brief (Doc. 41); and additional supporting exhibits (Doc. 41-2). Accordingly, the Motion for Summary Judgment is fully briefed and ripe for review.


Summary judgment is appropriate if the record establishes "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant meets this burden by pointing to an absence of evidence supporting an essential element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325. Once the moving party meets its burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the action under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986).

In opposing summary judgment, the non-moving party "may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleadings; rather, its response must . . . set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). The non-moving party "cannot rely on unsupported allegations, but must go beyond pleadings and provide some evidence that would show that there exists a genuine issue for trial." Jones v. United Parcel Serv., 214 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2000). Arguments made in briefs "are not evidence and cannot by themselves create a factual dispute sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Twp. of Lacey, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109-10 (3d Cir. 1985). However, the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom 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).

Summary judgment should not be granted when there is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences that a factfinder could draw from them. Peterson v. Lehigh Valley Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d Cir. 1982). Still, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.


With the above standard of review in mind, the following are the facts material to the present motion, drawing any reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, Williams.

Williams is a state inmate who has been incarcerated at SCI Mahanoy since November 3, 2005. (Doc. 32, Defs. SMF, ¶ 1; Doc. 33-5, Williams Dep., at 5, Page 15.) He has been a practicing Muslim since 1975, and therefore had been practicing his religion for the twenty-two (22) years during which he was incarcerated prior to the October 23, 2006 incident that forms the basis for this action. (Doc. 33-5 at 3, Page 9; Doc. 39, Pltf. SMF, ¶ 2.) Williams' Muslim faith requires, among other observances not relevant to this lawsuit, that he engage in prayer five (5) times each day. (Doc. 32 ¶ 2; Doc. 33-5 at 4, Page 10.) There is flexibility in the timing of the five (5) daily prayers. (Doc. 32 ¶ 3; Doc. 33-5 at 4, Page 12.) Specifically, as explained by Williams in his deposition testimony, from the time that a prayer becomes due, there may be about forty-five (45) minutes to an hour, or sometimes a little more, in which the prayer may be made in a timely fashion. (Doc. 33-5 at 4, Page 12.)

On October 23, 2006, the time for saying the "noon" prayer commenced at around 1:00 p.m. or 1:02 p.m. (Id., Page 13.) Williams was assigned to a job in the kitchen at SCI Mahanoy, and on that date, he was scheduled to work a shift in the kitchen from 1:00 p.m. until 6:45 p.m. (Doc. 32 ¶¶ 5, 6; Doc. 39 ¶¶ 5, 6.) At the beginning of his shift on October 23, Williams did not have an immediate job assignment. (Doc. 32 ¶ 7; Doc. 39 ¶ 7.) Because the time to offer the "noon prayer" had commenced, Williams began searching for an area where he could offer the prayer. (Doc. 39 ¶ 7.) When he found that other areas in which he usually offered prayer were occupied, he remembered that he had seen other Muslim kitchen workers ...

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