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Maier v. Pall

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 13, 2014

PHILIP MAIER, Plaintiff,
REVERAND JAMES PALL, et al., Defendants.


SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

Plaintiff Philip Maier, an inmate presently confined at the State Correctional Institution in Dallas, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Dallas"), commenced this civil rights action on July 23, 2009, with a complaint filed pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as supplemented on April 1, 2011.[1] (Doc. 1; Doc. 49.) Named as Defendants are various officials from SCI-Dallas and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC").[2] In the amended complaint, Plaintiff claims that Defendants are violating his constitutional rights and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc-2000cc-5, by refusing to give him access to certain religious materials and not granting him an exemption from the DOC's grooming policy on hair and beard length.

Presently before the court is a motion for summary judgment filed on behalf of Defendants. (Doc. 110.) For the reasons that follow, the motion for summary judgment will be granted in favor of Defendants.

I. Background

The following facts are related to Plaintiff's claims. The court notes any factual disputes between the parties by presenting both parties' contentions.

At all times relevant, Plaintiff was confined at SCI-Dallas. ( See Doc. 111 ¶ 1.) The Defendants and their positions at all times relevant are as follows. Defendant Reverend W. James Pall is a former Associate Pastor who is presently employed by the DOC as the Facility Chaplaincy Program Director at SCI-Dallas. ( Id. ¶ 2.) Defendant Norman Demming is presently employed by the DOC as the Corrections Classification Program Manager and Acting Deputy Superintendent for Centralized Services at SCI-Dallas. ( Id. ¶ 3.) Defendant Michael D. Klopotoski is presently employed by the DOC as the Deputy Secretary for the Eastern Region. ( Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff adds that at the time he filed his complaint, Defendant Klopotoski was SCI-Dallas's Superintendent and was a member of the Religious Accommodation Review Committee. (Doc. 117 ¶ 4.) Defendant Reverend Ulrich Klemm is presently employed as the Administrator of Religion and Volunteer Services. (Doc. 111 ¶ 5.) Defendants Vincent Mooney and Lawrence Mahally both served as Deputy Superintendents for SCI-Dallas's Facilities Management. ( Id. ¶¶ 6, 9.) Plaintiff adds that in 2007 and 2008, Defendant Mahally served as one of two Major-of-the-Guards at SCI-Dallas, and was a member of the RARC when a decision as to Plaintiff's request for religious accommodation was issued in September 2007, prior to Plaintiff's January 22, 2008 request at issue in this case. (Doc. 117 ¶ 9.) Defendant Jerome Walsh served as SCI-Dallas's Deputy Superintendent for Centralized Services. (Doc. 111 ¶ 7.) Defendant Gary Davis served as SCI-Dallas's Facility Food Manager. ( Id. ¶ 8.) Defendant James T. Wydner has been substituted for former Defendant John Doknovitch, now deceased. ( Id. ¶ 10.) Defendant David Wakefield was employed by the DOC from February 19, 1982 until June 12, 1999, when he retired. ( Id. ¶ 11.) While employed with the DOC, Defendant Wakefield served as SCI-Huntingdon's Superintendent from January 28, 2007 until July 2007, at which time he was appointed Deputy Secretary of the Eastern Region. ( Id. ¶¶ 12, 13.) Defendant Wakefield served in that position until his retirement. ( Id. ¶ 13.) And, lastly, Defendant Andrea Priori Meintel served as the Director of the DOC's Bureau of Treatment Services. ( Id. ¶ 14.)

Plaintiff is a practitioner and follower of Odinism, a polytheistic, nature-based faith that worships a variety of gods and goddesses. ( Id. ¶¶ 15, 16.) Plaintiff adds that he is an ordained Apprentice Godhi of the Temple of Wotan. (Doc. 117 ¶ 15.) In support of their motion, Defendants assert that the DOC and SCI-Dallas are committed to providing inmates with the opportunity to practice the basic tenets of their faith through religious programs and services, while guarding against the misuse of inmates claiming religious beliefs as a means of obtaining special privileges or breaching security. (Doc. 111 ¶ 17.) Plaintiff claims that Defendants have never asserted that he was claiming a religious belief or a request for accommodation as a means of obtaining special privileges. (Doc. 117 ¶ 17.) He adds that Defendants have granted "special privileges" to Protestant or Catholic followers by granting their requests for palm fronds in the past. ( Id. )

The policies and procedures regarding accommodation of an inmate's religious beliefs are set forth in the DOC's Administrative Directive 819 ("DC-ADM 819"), effective July 19, 2005. (Doc. 111 ¶ 18; Doc. 112-2, Ex. 2, Attach. A.) An inmate with any concerns regarding accommodations of a particular faith group is directed to express his concerns to the Religious Accommodation Review Committee ("RARC") by completing an Inmate Religious Accommodation Request Form. (Doc. 111 ¶ 19.) Pursuant to DC-ADM 819, an inmate must submit the Form initially to the Facility Chaplaincy Program Director ("FCPD"). ( Id. ¶ 20.) The inmate is encouraged to obtain written information from his outside faith group, including any publications that describe the goals, beliefs and practices of the group and supply this information to the RARC for review. ( Id. ¶ 21.) Staff at the particular institution also evaluate the inmate's request for religious accommodation and then forward it to the RARC. ( Id. ¶ 22.) The RARC then reviews the request and makes a recommendation to the Regional Deputy Secretary.[3] ( Id. ¶ 23.) It is the Regional Deputy Secretary who makes the decision to grant or deny a request for a religious accommodation. ( Id. ¶ 24.) After a religious accommodation is either approved or denied, the Facility Manager and the FCPD are notified. ( Id. ¶ 25.) If an inmate is informed that his request will not be accommodated, he may then file a grievance in accordance with the DOC's Inmate Grievance policy, DC-ADM 804. ( Id. ¶ 26.)

The DOC also has an inmate Hygiene and Grooming Policy, DC-ADM 807, effective January 15, 2004. ( Id. ¶ 33; Doc. 112-2, Ex. 2, Attach. B.) DC-ADM 804 provides, in pertinent part, as follows: "Hair that does not fall below the top of the collar (afro styles no longer than four inches) shall be permitted[.]" ( See Doc. 111 ¶ 34.) Section A 2(d) of DC-ADM 807 provides that "an inmate request for a hairstyle exemption based on religion shall be in accordance with DC-ADM 819." ( See id. ¶ 35.) Defendants assert that the Grooming Policy is important to institutional security because items of contraband have been found in inmates' hair, including, but not limited to, drugs and small sharp items that could be used as weapons. ( Id. ¶ 36.) In addition, the Grooming Policy is important for purposes of being able to identify inmates. ( Id. ¶ 37.) Plaintiff denies these assertions, claiming they are conclusions of law to be determined by the court, and also noting that in spite of these averments, in the past inmates have received hair and beard length exemptions pursuant to DOC policy. (Doc. 117 ¶¶ 36, 37.)

On January 22, 2008, Plaintiff submitted a religious accommodation request seeking an exemption from the Grooming Policy with respect to his hair and beard length. (Doc. 111 ¶ 27.) In that same request, Plaintiff requested permission to possess runestones and a Thor's hammer, as well as permission to observe holy days outside. ( Id. ) In support, Plaintiff submitted a nine-page written statement outlining his request, along with two attached exhibits. ( Id. ¶ 28.) The first exhibit is a letter from John Post, an Allsherjargodhi from the Temple of Wotan. ( Id. ¶ 29; Doc. 112-2 at 45.) In the letter, Dr. Post states that "it is a common practice amongst the clergy of our faith community to allow their hair to grow long, as well as to encourage the growth of facial hair, i.e., a beard." (Doc. 111 ¶ 30; Doc. 112-2 at 45.) He also states that the "reasons for this may vary from denomination to denomination, but the basic principal applied is that of growing closer to the ancestors and our deities with whom we share common bonds of kinship." (Doc. 112-2 at 45.) The second exhibit is an excerpt from a lecture entitled "Hairy Northern Heathens, " given by a man named Strider Rognirhar in 2002. (Doc. 111 ¶ 31; Doc. 112-2 at 46-49.) In it, Mr. Rognirhar, purportedly a member of the Odinist faith, states, "There are no commandments' in the Northern Tradition [of Odinism]. No thou shalt do' this or thou shalt not do' that. In the greater span of things, you are responsible for your own conduct." (Doc. 111 ¶ 32; Doc. 112-2 at 46.) He stated that while he himself was seeking a religious justification for not growing his hair under the Odinist faith, he "only found examples of how contemporary devotees of Odin shave their heads due to the skinhead experience and culture." (Doc. 112-2 at 46.) However, he also states, "Because hair was a gift of the Gods, our Ancestors recognized its import and value. Hair was the seat of their might and magic." ( Id. at 47.)

On January 23, 2008, Defendant Deputy Secretary Wakefield informed Defendant Meintel, the Director, Bureau of Treatment Services, that the RARC was denying Plaintiff's Religious Accommodation Request, explaining:

Upon further research by Central Office, including input from pagan scholars, regarding the request for hair-length and beard-length exemption requests by inmates who associate with pagan religions, these requests are denied. Thor's Hammer is denied because it is a symbol used by Security Threat Groups and thus is not permitted in the PA DOC.
Runes are denied because they can be used by inmates to manipulate others and thus pose a security concern. Inmate provides insufficient detail as to what the holy days noted entail in order for the Religious Accommodation Review Committee to make an informed decision. Thus observance of holy days is also denied at this time.

(Doc. 111 ¶ 38; Doc. 112-2 at 51.) On February 23, 2009, Defendant FCPD Pall sent Plaintiff a memorandum informing him of the decision reached by the Deputy Secretary and the RARC. (Doc. 111 ¶ 39; Doc. 112-2 at 55.)

On March 17, 2009, Plaintiff filed Grievance No. 265631, appealing the denial of his January 2008 request for religious accommodation. (Doc. 111 ¶ 40; Doc. 112-2 at 57-58.) In the grievance, Plaintiff stated, in part, "I've been z-coded for more than 15 years; so, there is no basis to conclude that performance of the blotar ritual/ceremony in my cell as prescribed by the elements of my faith group could have any security concern. Blotar is a simple ceremony that last[s] at most 20 minutes." (Doc. 112-2 at 57.)

On March 25, 2009, Defendant Demming responded to Plaintiff's grievance as follows:

You reference an ongoing receipt of Odinist Religious literature - gungnir. You haven't been denied the receipt of that literature - so that appears to be a non-issue in your grievance.
You include the notion that you have had the runes in your possession for years without any security concern. It certainly is conceivable that you would limit your usage of the runes to your own personal religious expression, but the DOC can't take the chance that you would use them as a tool to gain advantage over weaker inmates. If you were to be successful at convincing a gullible inmate that your runes gave you a connection with the divine, then you could coerce that inmate to do anything in the name of the gods/goddesses. The fact that you possessed the runes illegally is not a viable argument for saying you should be able to continue to possess them. This argument is a legitimate penological rationale despite your objection to the contrary.
You contend that you are being denied freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression. No one is ordering you to stop talking about Odinism and you are being given freedom of speech in expressing your views in the grievance. Also, you are permitted to be an Odinist if you wish, you just can't practice the elements that could bring potential harm to other inmates.

(Doc. 111 ¶ 42; Doc. 112-2 at 60.) On April 13, 2009, Defendant Klopotoski upheld Defendant Demming's denial of Grievance No. 265631, explaining to Plaintiff, in pertinent part:

Mr. Demming, CCPM, was assigned as Grievance Officer and has adequately addressed your grievance. As you have been informed the denial decision consisted of seven professional/administrative staff who reviewed your request at the institutional level and no less than four who reviewed it at the Central Office level. It is also noted, for an accommodation to be granted, the applicant must show that the practice he is requesting is a major tenet of their religion's doctrine.
The rationale for denying your possession of your runes that was given by the Religious Accommodation Committee is that one inmate may use runes to manipulate another inmate. Again, as Mr. Demming noted, you have ample opportunities to interact with other inmates via dayroom, meal time, exercise yard, work, etc.
Your allegation that a "kindred" is allowed to exist along with the practice of Boltar ritual at SCI Graterford is unfounded.
It is noted you continue to receive Odinist Religious literature, and you have not been denied the receipt of this literature.
Your claim that you are being denied freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression is founded. You are permitted to be an Odinist, you just cannot practice the elements that could bring potential harm to other inmates. Again, your religious request was denied ...

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