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Sutton v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

May 29, 2014

OLAF SUTTON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants.

AMENDED MEMORANDUM [1]

EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

Table of Contents

I . INTRODUCTION.............................................. 3

II . STANDARD OF REVIEW........................................ 8

III. MOOTNESS.................................................. 9

IV. ARAMARK DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT .......... 13

A. State Action Analysis .................................. 14

B. Plaintiff s First Amendment Claims ..................... 16

1. Claims Against Aramark ................................ 17

2. Claim Against Flaherty in Official Capacity........... 21

3. Claim Against Flaherty in Individual Capacity ......... 23

C. Fourteenth Amendment Claims ............................ 25

1. Claim Against Aramark................................. 25

2. Claim Against Flaherty in Official Capacity........... 31

3. Claim Against Flaherty in Individual Capacity ......... 31

D. RLUIPA Claims Against Aramark Defendants ............... 34

1. Claim Against Aramark................................. 34

2. Claim Against Flaherty in Individual Capacity ......... 38

3. Claim Against Flaherty in Official Capacity ........... 39

V. CITY DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ............. 40

A. First Amendment Claims ................................. 40

1. Claims Against the City............................... 41

2. Claims Against All Defendants in Official Capacities .. 44

3. Claims Against All Defendants in Individual Capacities 45

B. RLUIPA Claims .......................................... 48

1. Claims Against the City............................... 49

2. Claims Against All Defendants in Official Capacities .. 51

3. Claims Against All Defendants in Individual Capacities 52

VI . CONCLUSION............................................... 52

I. INTRODUCTION

Olaf Sutton ("Plaintiff") is an inmate in the Philadelphia Prison System ("PPS") and a practicing Muslim. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 21, ECF No. 30. As a Muslim, Plaintiff's religion prohibits eating meat unless the meat is Halal.[2] Plaintiff was incarcerated in the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility ("CFCF") on March 26, 2010, and transferred to Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center ("PICC") on or about January 2, 2012. Compl. ¶ 20; PL's Resp. Aramark Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 8, Sutton Mem. 104. Both facilities are in the PPS.

A brief overview of the PPS's religious alternative meal system is necessary to understand Plaintiff's claims. The PPS offers two types of religious diets: vegetarian and kosher. PL's Resp. Aramark Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 9, PL Dep. 28:9-12, ECF No. 68. Muslim inmates are offered vegetarian meals and Jewish inmates are offered kosher meals that occasionally contain meat. Compl. ¶ 28; Aramark Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 21 ("The prisons accommodate the free exercise of Judaism by providing Kosher meals, which occasionally include Kosher meat.") .

The prison's chaplain is responsible for deciding which inmates are entitled to receive religious diets and creating a list of those inmates for the prison's food provider. See PL's Resp. City Defs.' Mot. Partial Summ. J. 5, ECF No. 70. Aramark is the food provider for the PPS and is tasked with preparing meals for each prisoner in compliance with the chaplain's list. See Aramark Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 8-9, ECF No. 59.

On September 21, 2010, following a request by Plaintiff, the prison's chaplain placed Plaintiff on a special diet to accommodate his religious practice. Compl. ¶ 28. Plaintiff is not a vegetarian and desires to eat meat. Compl. ¶ 29. According to Plaintiff, his religion permits him to eat the meat contained in the kosher meals.[3] Aramark Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 8. The prison's chaplain, however, denied Plaintiff's request to be placed a kosher diet and instead placed him on a vegetarian diet. Id.; Compl. ¶ 28. As a result, Plaintiff's approved diet does not contain any meat. Compl. ¶ 55.

Although Plaintiff was placed on a vegetarian diet, he claims that on several occasions during his incarceration at CFCF and PICC, he was not served vegetarian meals. Compl. ¶ 33. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that he was not served several religious alternative breakfasts in October 2010, any vegetarian meals from January 2, 2012, to January 9, 2012, and any vegetarian meals from December 20, 2012, to January 1, 2013. Compl. ¶ 31; PI. Dep. 40:16-22. According to Plaintiff, during the first and last weeks of 2012, he was forced to choose between eating and violating the tenants of his religion. PI. Dep. 42:10-23; PL's Resp. Aramark Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 8, Sutton Mem. 104.

Lastly, in May 2011, Plaintiff commenced a hunger strike to protest what he believes to be a discriminatory religious alternative meal system. See PI.' s Resp. City Defs.' Mot. Partial Summ. J. 4. Plaintiff alleges that his free exercise rights were violated by the conduct of two prison officials in relation to his hunger strike. Compl. ¶¶ 50, 51. In the early morning hours of May 12, 2011, Plaintiff was brought to the prison's mental health unit by a prison employee. Compl. ¶ 50. Later that morning, another prison employee entered Plaintiff's cell, allegedly with food that violated Plaintiff's religious dietary restrictions, and told Plaintiff to stop his hunger strike or be brought to the "hole."[4] Compl. ¶ 51. Plaintiff drank some of the orange juice that was on the tray and the prison employee left Plaintiff's cell. Compl. ¶ 50. Plaintiff was never brought to the RHU. Compl. ¶ 50.

Plaintiff commenced this litigation by filing a pro se complaint. ECF No. 3. After obtaining counsel, Plaintiff filed two amended complaints. ECF Nos. 6, 30. The second amended complaint contains six counts.[5] The counts include civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 (Count I), violations of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count II), violations of the First Amendment (Count III), violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") (Count IV), intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count V), and conspiracy to deprive Fourteenth and First Amendment rights (Count VII) . Plaintiff names several defendants. For organizational purposes, the Court will divide the defendants into two groups: City Defendants[6] and Aramark Defendants.[7]

On May 18, 2012, the Aramark Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. ECF No. 9. Following the motion, the Court dismissed Counts I, V, and VII. Order, Sept. 6, 2012, ECF No. 40. The City Defendants did not file a motion to dismiss.

On March 20, 2014, the Aramark Defendants informed the Court that Plaintiff was transferred from PICC to SCI Graterford on November 27, 2013. Aramark Defs.' Supp. ¶. 6, ECF No.74. As of March 12, 2014, however, Plaintiff has been incarcerated at SCI Camp Hill, which is located on the outskirts of Harrisburg.[8]PI.'s Resp. Aramark Defs.' Supp., Ex. A, 4. Plaintiff argued that he would likely be incarcerated again in the PPS because he had an upcoming trial in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. Id. at 2. Plaintiff has since pled guilty to those charges and was transferred back to a Pennsylvania Department of Corrections facility. Plaintiff's sentence stemming from this new guilty plea will run concurrent to his previous sentence and will not require him to serve any time within the PPS.

Pending before the Court are Aramark Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and the City Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Plaintiff has filed responses to both motions (ECF Nos. 68, 70, 75) and the Aramark Defendants have filed a reply (ECF. 72) to Plaintiff. The motions are ripe for disposition.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate if there are no genuine disputes of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by 'the mere existence' of some disputed facts, but will be denied when there is a genuine issue of material fact." Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or non-existence might affect the outcome of the litigation, and a dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

In undertaking this analysis, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. "After making all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor, there is a genuine issue of material fact if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party." Pignataro v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 593 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Reliance Ins. Co. v. Moessner, 121 F.3d 895, 900 (3d Cir. 1997)). While the moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, meeting this obligation shifts the burden to the non-moving party who must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

III. MOOTNESS

The Aramark Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief are moot because Plaintiff is no longer incarcerated in the PPS.[9] Plaintiff initially responded that his claims for injunctive relief are not moot under the "capable of repetition" doctrine. PI.'s Resp. Aramark Defs.' Supp. 2-3. Plaintiff claimed that the "capable of repetition" doctrine is applicable because he will likely be incarcerated in the PPS during the adjudication of his upcoming trial in Philadelphia. Subsequently, however, Plaintiff pled guilty and has been transferred out of the PPS. Status Report, May 7, 2014, ECF No. 76. Plaintiff's counsel indicate that as a result of Plaintiff's guilty plea his "sentences will be served in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections system, and not at all in Philadelphia." Status Report.

It is well settled that this Court may only adjudicate "live" cases or controversies. Abdul-Akbar v. Watson, 4 F.3d 195, 206 (3d Cir. 1993). "[A] case is moot when the issues presented are no longer 'live' or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome." Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496 (1969). Nonetheless, the "capable of repetition" doctrine holds that a claim is not moot if "(1) the challenged action was in its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to its cessation or expiration, and (2) there was a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party would be subjected to the same action again." Weinstein v. Bradford, 423 U.S. 147, 149 (1975) .

The first element of the "capable of repetition" doctrine is satisfied here because the challenged action—service of meat-containing religious alternative meals to Jewish inmates, but not Muslim inmates—was "in its duration too short to be fully litigated." Id. Nonetheless, the Court must still determine whether there is a reasonable ...


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