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Potts v. Holt

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 8, 2014

RICHARD POTTS, Plaintiff,
v.
RONNIE HOLT, et al., Defendants

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Richard Potts, Plaintiff, Pro se, Waymart, PA.

For Ronnie R. Holt, Wayne Ryan, A.F.S.A. Deshawn China, Defendants: Timothy Judge, U.S. Attorney's Office - Prisoner Litigation Unit, Scranton, PA.

A. Richard Caputo, United States District Judge. MAGISTRATE JUDGE CARLSON.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM

A. Richard Caputo, United States District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Magistrate Judge Carlson's Report and Recommendation (Doc. 51) to Defendants Warden Ronnie Holt (" Warden Holt" ), Wayne Ryan (" Ryan" ), and DeShawn China's (" China) (collectively, " Defendants" ) Motion to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 39.) Plaintiff Richard Potts (" Potts" ), an inmate at USP Canaan and a practicing Muslim, contends that Defendants violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (" RFRA" ), 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq., and deprived him of his constitutional rights under the First and Eighth Amendments when his certified religious meals were discontinued, without notice, for approximately two weeks while the prison was on lockdown following an outbreak of salmonella food poisoning that sickened the inmate population. Because Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on all of Potts' claims, the motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment will be granted.

I. Background

A. Relevant Factual Background

For over ten years, Potts has been provided with certified religious meals by the Bureau of Prisons. ( Am. Compl., ¶ 3(1).) On June 25, 2011, Potts was provided with a certified religious meal that was packaged in accordance with the religious diet program. ( Id. at ¶ 3(2).)

The next day, USP Canaan was placed on lockdown following inmate complaints of stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, fevers,

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and headaches, ( China Decl., ¶ 2), after they ate contaminated meat that was served in the prison dining hall. ( Am. Compl., ¶ 3(2).) Potts, however, was not sickened because he had been provided with a certified religious meal. ( Id. at ¶ 3(2).) That evening, Potts was served a spaghetti and meatball dinner, while other inmates were served satellite hot meals. ( Id. at ¶ 3(4).)

On June 28, 2011, all food service operations at USP Canaan were suspended and moved to the adjacent Federal Prison Camp after Health Services received a preliminary report indicating that the presence of salmonella had sickened the inmate population. ( China Decl., ¶ ¶ 4-5.) Inmates participating in the certified food component were placed on the medical diet that day. ( Id. at ¶ 6; Potts Decl., ¶ 7.) However, none of the religious diet participants had been sickened by salmonella. ( Potts Decl., ¶ 8.)

On June 29, 2011, USP Canaan staff was advised that the Food Service Department would be closed until further notice and meals would be prepared at the Federal Prison Camp. ( China Decl., ¶ 7.) Health Services directed at that time that all inmates would receive the special (bland) diet. ( Id.) The special (bland) diet continued on June 30, 2011. ( Id. at ¶ 9.)

According to China, Assistant Food Service Administrator at USP Canaan, " [o]n July 1, 2011, Health Services approved an enhanced menu beginning with the lunch meal." ( Id. at ¶ 10.) In his declaration, China details the breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu from July 1, 2011 through July 12, 2011 (USP Canaan resumed normal operations on July 13, 2011), with the exception of lunch and dinner on July 5, 2011. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 10-22.) These meals were part of the " modified menu beginning on July 1, 2011." ( Id. at Attach. 1, p.2.)

On July 7, 2011, " USP Canaan Food Service began to be used for food preparation." ( China Decl., ¶ 16.)

China also indicates that the " normal menu was restarted" on July 9, 2011. ( China Decl., ¶ 18.) Documents attached to China's declaration suggest that the modified menu may have continued until at least dinner on July 11, 2011. ( Id. at Attach. 1, p.9.)

Potts objects to China's statement that an " enhanced menu" was approved by Food Services on July 1, 2011. Rather, Potts maintains that " Food Service continued its medical diet meal, but as an option to be fed along side of the regular satellite meals throughout the completion of the lockdown on July 13th, 2011." ( Potts Decl., ¶ 15 (emphasis in original).) Potts relies on a document entitled " Modified Menu Beginning 7/1/2011," which is attached to China's declaration. ( China Decl., Attach. 1, p.2.) That document provides, in pertinent part:

This menu will begin on July 1, 2011 beginning on the Lunch Meal. The 400 Medical Diets will be continued in addition to the meals provided until the Lunch Meal on July 3, 2011.
Unit Officers will be provided the list of inmates that need Medical Diets. Medical Diets are an alternative option to the regular meals; meaning the inmate may choose a Medical Diet vs. the Regular Meal.

( Id. (emphasis added).)

China communicated with other staff members pertaining to issues relating to food service during the lockdown. For instance, on July 6, 2011, he referred to a communication with his foreman about inmate Rankins, " who is allergic to everything to include: Fish, Carrots, Rice, Tomatoes, Beans, Soy, Glutten, MSG, and Processed Meats." ( Id. at Attach. 1, p.6.) China followed up on that issue on July 8,

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2011 with an email to the Food Service Department reminding that they " prepare a meal for inmate Rankins in SHU." ( Id. at Attach. 1, p.7.) That email also instructs staff members to " remember to prepare no flesh alternatives as well. My suggestion is to utilize the Religious Diet Meals (Vegan) to accomplish this." ( Id.)

Potts, however, with the possible exception of dinner on July 3, 2011, ( Potts Decl., ¶ 12), did not receive any certified religious meals from July 1, 2011 through July 12, 2011. ( Id. at ¶ 18.) Thus, during the period the prison was on lockdown, thirty-six or more certified religious meals were withheld from Potts. ( Am. Compl., ¶ 10.)

Pursuant to the Certified Food Component Procedure, " [i]nmates participating in the certified food component are not authorized to consume mainline or hot bar food items, . . ." ( China Decl., Attach. 2.) However, the Bureau of Prisons' Food Service Manual states that an alternate menu may be provided " [i]n emergency situations such as an institution lock down." ( Id. at Attach. 3.) In such emergency situations, " the Certified Food Component of the Religious Diet Program is met as soon as inmates can be located and identified as Certified Food Participants." ( China Decl., ¶ 27.) Potts was never notified that the religious diet program was suspended, and he faithfully adhered to the program and did not eat what was delivered to his housing unit, ( Am. Compl., ¶ 15), because inmates consuming food outside the religious diet program can be removed from it. (Doc. 52, 2-3.) As a result, Potts ate very little and most of the time he did not eat at all during the lockdown. ( Id. at ¶ 14.)

B. Procedural History

Based on the foregoing, Potts commenced this action on July 26, 2012 against Warden Holt and Ryan. (Doc. 1.) On November 8, 2012, Defendants Warden Holt and Ryan filed a motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment. (Doc. 20.) Magistrate Judge Carlson denied that motion as moot on February 26, 2013 (Doc. 35) in view of Potts' request to amend his complaint. (Doc. 31.) Potts' Amended Complaint was docketed on February 27, 2013. ( Am. Compl.) Named as Defendants in the Amended Complaint are Warden Holt, Ryan, and China. ( Id.) The Amended Complaint asserts claims for violation of the First Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, and the RFRA. ( Id.)

On May 13, 2013, Defendants moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. (Doc. 39.) In their motion, Defendants argue that: the Amended Complaint fails to allege personal involvement; Potts fails to state a claim under the RFRA; the undisputed material facts establish that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the First and Eighth Amendment claims; and they are entitled to qualified immunity. (Doc. 44.) Potts timely filed a brief in opposition to Defendants' motion on June 24, 2013 (Doc. 47), and Defendants filed their reply ...


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