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Clifton Williams v. Jeffrey Beard

March 30, 2011


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


On January 7, 2008, Plaintiff Clifton Williams ("Plaintiff" or "Williams"), an inmate presently confined at the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution ("SCIMahanoy") in Frackville, Pennsylvania, initiated this civil rights action pro se by filing a Complaint pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This case is proceeding on Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 23), which was filed on April 29, 2008.

Presently before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed on behalf of Defendants. (Doc. 73.) For the reasons set forth below, the Motion will be granted.


At the outset of his Statement of Claim in his Amended Complaint, filed on April 29, 2008, Williams articulates his claim as follows:

The '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' ["RLUIPA"] 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.) Williams alleges that a violation of the above right, as articulated 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-Mahanoy 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 131.) 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.)

On June 16, 2008, Defendants filed an Answer to the Amended complaint. (Doc. 29.) After requesting an extension of time, which was granted, on June 17, 2009, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 73). Williams subsequently filed a Motion for Continuance under the provisions of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f) to allow him to obtain additional discovery in order to oppose Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 83.) By Memorandum and Order dated February 26, 2010, we granted Plaintiff's Motion for Continuance in order to allow him to obtain limited discovery before April 30, 2010 (see Doc. 86 at 9-12), and denied Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment without prejudice to their ability to renew the Motion after April 30. (See Doc. 86.) By Order dated May 17, 2010, we directed that all dispositive motions, together with supporting papers, should be filed or renewed on or before June 18, 2010. (Doc. 87.)

On June 3, 2010, Defendants filed a Motion for Renewal of their previously submitted Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 88.) In their Motion, Defendants represented that they had not been served with any additional discovery requests by Plaintiff. (See id. ¶ 12.) By Order dated June 4, 2010, we granted Defendants' Motion, and the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 73) that presently is before the Court was reinstated. (Doc. 89.) Our Order also reinstated the Statement of Materials Facts (Doc. 74) and supporting brief (Doc. 75) that previously had been filed on behalf of Defendants, and directed Plaintiff to file his opposition to the Motion, as required by Middle District of Pennsylvania Local Rules ("LR") 7.6 and 56.1, on or before June 25, 2010. (Id.)

On June 29, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Motion requesting a ten (10) day extension of time to file his opposition brief. (Doc. 90.) Along with his Motion, he filed a document entitled "Motion in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment" (Doc. 91) and a Statement of Material Facts (Doc. 92) responding to Defendants' Statement. He also submitted supporting exhibits. (Doc. 92-2.) In requesting an extension, Plaintiff explained that he did not have sufficient time in the prison law library to complete his opposition brief by the deadline. (See Doc. 90.) By Order dated June 30, 2010, we granted Plaintiff's Motion, and directed him to file his opposition brief on or before July 6, 2010. (Doc. 93.) Although Plaintiff's opposition brief was filed on July 7, 2010, the attached certificate of service reflects that he placed the document in the mail on July 2, 2010, and thus it was timely filed. (See Doc. 94.) Accordingly, the instant Motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.


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).*fn1 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, we set forth the following facts material to the present motion, drawing any reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, Williams.

At all times relevant to the allegations contained in the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Williams was incarcerated at SCI-Mahanoy. (Doc. 74, Dfts. Statement of Material Facts ("SMF"), ¶ 1; Doc. 92, Pltf. SMF, ¶ 1.) Defendants are the following present or former employees of SCI-Mahanoy: former Superintendent Edward Klem; former Classification and Program Manager James Unell; former Facility Chaplaincy Program Director Reverend Joseph Whalen*fn2 ; current Superintendent John Kerestes; Chaplain Nelson Zeiset; and, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC") employees, Secretary Jeffrey Beard and the Administrator for Religion and Inmate Services, Reverend Ulrich Klemm. (Doc. 74 ¶ 2; Doc. 92 ¶ 2.)

Williams is serving a life sentence for homicide and has been incarcerated in the custody of the DOC since 1990. (Doc. 74 ¶ 3; Doc. 92 ¶ 3.) He has served portions of his sentence at SCI-Graterford, SCI-Rockview, SCI-Dallas, and SCIMahanoy. (Id.) Williams became a Muslim in 1976, and he has practiced his Islamic faith throughout his incarceration in DOC facilities. (Doc. 74-7, Pltf. Dep. Tr., at 10-13, Pages 28-40.)*fn3

In November 2005, Williams was transferred to SCI-Mahanoy. (Id. at 13, Page 40.) Although Williams asserts in opposing the instant Motion that his religious practice has been "burdened" throughout his confinement at SCI-Mahanoy (see Doc. 92 ¶ 4), during his deposition, he testified that, while at SCI-Mahanoy, he has considered himself a member of the Islamic faith and has continued to practice that faith, including by participating in weekly Jumu'ah services held on Fridays in the multi-faith chapel at that facility. (Doc. 74-4, Pltf. Dep. Tr., at 13, Pages 40-41.) Williams also testified that the services are conducted by Imam Hnesh, the Muslim chaplain, or if he is not present, by certain resident prisoners who are permitted to conduct the services. (Id., Pages 41-42; Doc. 74, Dfts. SMF, ¶ 4.) Williams further testified that he goes to the multi-faith chapel at SCI-Mahanoy to participate in other services, including Eid congregational prayers, which occur at the completion of Ramadan and at the completion of the Hajj season. (Doc. 74-7 at 14, Page 42.)

When the members of the Muslim congregation offers prayer during the services, they face the northeasterly direction, which is toward the front of the chapel, and remain focused in that direction for the entire service. (Doc. 74, Dft. SMF, ¶ 6; Doc. 92, Pltf. SMF, ¶ 6; Doc. 74-7, Pltf. Dep. Tr., at 17, Page 57; Doc. 74-7 at 86, Pltf. Dep. Ex. 2, Chapel Floorplan.) The Jumu'ah services last anywhere from forty-five (45) minutes to an hour or hour and a half. (Doc. 74-7 at 18, Page 59.)

Williams also prays in his cell and prays five (5) times per day at a minimum, specifically prior to sunrise; after the sun declines from its zenith, or the noon prayer, which is anywhere from the declining of the sun to mid-afternoon; the afternoon, which is midway between the sun's zenith and its setting; and after the sun sets. (Doc. 74, Dfts. SMF, ¶ 7; Doc. 92, Pltf. SMF, ¶ 7.)

A. DOC and SCI-Mahanoy Policies and Procedures Regarding Diversity of Worship

Defendants Klemm, Whalen, Zeiset, Kerestes, and Klem have declared under penalty of perjury that the DOC and SCI-Mahanoy are committed to providing inmates with the opportunity to practice the basic tenets of their faith through religious programs and services. (Doc. 74-2, Klemm Decl., ¶ 4; Doc. 74-3, Whalen Decl., ¶ 4; Doc. 74-4, Zeiset Decl., ¶ 4; Doc. 74-5, Kerestes Decl., ¶ 8; Doc. 74-6, Klem Decl.,¶8.) DOC Inmates, including those inmates at SCI-Mahanoy, are permitted to follow the tenets of their religious faith group. (Id.) The DOC and SCI-Mahanoy policies and procedures allow for diversity of worship and reasonable accommodation for inmates in a manner consistent with the order, safety, and security of the correctional facility, prison staff, and inmates. (Id.)

Plaintiff disputes that the DOC and SCI-Mahanoy policies and procedures allow for diversity of worship and reasonable accommodation for inmates based on his assertion that when he explained to institutional officials that congregational worship in a place free of all idols, images and symbols of idolatry is "central to the religion of Islam", and that the Christmas decorations in the multi-faith chapel are "in essence" symbols of pagan idolatry and superstition, they made no good faith effort to reasonably accommodate this "central tenet" of the Muslim religion, and instead used a physical show of force and threat of official retaliation to intimate him to forego his pursuit of this central tenet. (Doc. 92 ¶ 8.) Plaintiff cites generally to his deposition testimony and his Amended Complaint as support for his opposing statement of fact.

Williams also cites generally to his deposition testimony and his Amended Complaint to dispute the declarations by Defendants Klemm, Whalen, Zeiset, Kerestes, and Klem given under penalty of perjury that, in correctional institutions, such as SCI-Mahanoy, where religious services are conducted in multi-faith chapels or a common shared space, faith specific sacred symbols are removed or covered after each particular faith group has conducted its worship in order to respect the religious beliefs of all inmates utilizing the multi-faith chapel. (See Docs. 74-2 through 74-6.) Specifically, Williams contends that "no effort" was made to remove or cover faith specific symbols consisting of a Christmas tree and wreahts ...

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