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Phillip J. Papa v. Chester County Prison

January 31, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'neill, J.


Presently before me is a motion for summary judgment brought by defendants Chester County Prison, Warden D. Edward McFadden, Director Jack Healy and Jack Crans (Dkt. No. 17) and pro se plaintiff Phillip Papa's response thereto (Dkt. No. 19). For the following reasons I will grant the motion.


Papa is currently incarcerated at SCI-Chester. In July 2012, he filed a complaint alleging that when he was at Chester County Prison, a county facility, the prison provided no Jewish religious services, texts or kosher meals and that this denied him his constitutionally protected ability to practice his religious beliefs. See Dkt. No. 5, ECF p. 3-5. His complaint requested placement in a state correctional institute that provides weekly Jewish religious services as well as kosher meals and compensatory damages. Id. at 5. Defendants' answer to Papa's complaint asserts that Papa is being provided with kosher meals, that he has been permitted to see a rabbi and that his worship requests are being met (e.g., defendants claim that Papa has been provided with a Tanakh, as he had previously requested). See Dkt. No. 10 at ECF p. 2. Additionally, defendants question the sincerity of Papa's religious beliefs and allege that his suit is merely a means by which he seeks to achieve a transfer to a different state prison. See Dkt. No. 13 at ECF p. 1.

Defendants now move for summary judgment arguing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and "that the Prison's policies and conduct did not impose a burden on [Papa's] exercise of his religion." Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at ECF p. 23. Defendants argue that the undisputed facts here "are established by Requests for Admission" ("RFA's") to which Papa failed to respond, and thus the requests should be "deemed admitted under Rule 36(a)(3)." Id. at ECF 20-21. The requests for admission required Papa, inter alia, to admit or deny that: 1) he "does not have a sincerely held religious belief," RFA No. 12; 2) he received kosher meals while at Chester County Prison, RFA's No. 4 and 5; 3) he "was and is being permitted to see a rabbi, as requested," RFA No. 6; 4) he is having his worship requests met, RFA No. 7; and 5) he was provided with a Tanakh, as requested, RFA No. 8. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1, p. 1-2. Defendants contend that these admissions "preclude any First Amendment claim." Id. at 23.*fn1

Defendants also argue that these admissions demonstrate that Papa cannot establish a claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) because he can point to no facts demonstrating that any Chester County Prison policy "substantially burdens" his religious exercise. Id. at 24-25.

Papa's response to defendant's motion for summary judgment tracks defendants' requests for admissions, requests to which Papa initially did not respond.*fn2 Papa asserts that while he was at Chester County Prison he never received Kosher meals, he "was seen by a Rabbi only twice . . . [but] not in a private area and . . . not for worship" and that he was not provided with a Tanakh for months after he initially requested one. Dkt. No. 19 at ECF p. 2. Papa contends that this imposed a substantial burden on his ability exercise his religion and asserts that "there are Chester County Prison Policies that inhibited his ability to practice his religion." Id. He also denies that he was using "his religious requests as a means to be transferred" out of Chester County Prison and claims that his religious beliefs are sincere. Id.

I.Standard of Review

Summary judgment will be granted "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. If the movant sustains its burden, the non-movant must set forth facts demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Id.

To establish "that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed," a party must:

(A) cit[e] to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or

(B) show[ ] that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). The adverse party must raise "more than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor" in order to overcome a summary judgment motion and cannot survive by relying on unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions. Williams v. Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989). The "existence of disputed issues of material fact should be ascertained by resolving all inferences, doubts and issues of credibility ...

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