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Scott v. Erdogan

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 25, 2015

JAMAL SCOTT, Plaintiff
v.
BILGAN ERDOGAN, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

EDWIN M. KOSIK, District Judge.

This civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, was filed by Jamal Scott, an inmate currently confined at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon ("SCI-Huntingdon"). He alleges violations under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. Presently pending is a motion for summary judgment filed by remaining Defendants John Wetzel, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"), and Bilgan Erdogan, the Muslim Chaplin ("Imam") at SCI-Huntingdon. (Doc. 46.) For the reasons which follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Standard of Review

Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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). "Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a genuine dispute as to any material fact' and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality." Goudy-Bachman v. U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, 811 F.Supp.2d 1086, 1091 (M.D. Pa. 2011) ( quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)).

The moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). With respect to an issue on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof, the moving party may discharge that burden by "showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325.

Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleading; rather, the nonmoving party must show a genuine dispute by "citing 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 "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence... of a genuine dispute." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). If the nonmoving party "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 at trial, " summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Summary judgment is also appropriate if the nonmoving party provides merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative evidence. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "[S]ummary judgment is essentially put up or shut up' time for the non-moving party: the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument." Berckeley Inv. Group, Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006).

When "faced with a summary judgment motion, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.'" N.A.A.C.P. v. N. Hudson Reg'l Fire & Rescue, 665 F.3d 464, 475 (3d Cir. 2011)( quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007)). The judge's function is not to weigh the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter; rather it is to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

II. Statement of Undisputed Material Facts[1]

Except where expressly noted as disputed, the following facts of record are undisputed.

Plaintiff proceeds in this matter only with respect to the portions of the Original and Amended Complaints, Document Nos. 1 & 12, as they relate to his claim for First Amendment free exercise of religion requesting money damages against Defendants' in their individual capacities, and his RLUIPA claim requesting injunctive relief. (Doc. Nos. 42, 43.) Plaintiff is an adherent of Orthodox Sunniyy Islam, and claims that Defendants are inhibiting his ability to meaningfully practice his sincerely held "Orthodox Sunniyy Islamic" religious beliefs. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 1.) Defendant, John E. Wetzel, is the current Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. He oversees the administration, management and supervision of penal and correctional facilities programs and services within the DOC. (Doc. 53, Ex. C.) Defendant, Erdogan, has been employed at SCI-Huntingdon as the Muslim Chaplin since approximately 2005. Prior to that time, he served as Muslim Chaplin at SCI-Smithfield and SCI-Rockview, and volunteered at SCI-Muncy. (Doc. 53, Ex. A, Erdogan Decl. ¶¶ 2, 3.) Erdogan holds a Master Degree in Social Sciences and has studied Religion Psychology, Islamic History and Quranic Studies and Interpretations at Private Foundations. ( Id., ¶ 4.) As Muslim Chaplain, he supports the religious needs of all inmates, but specifically supervises the religious needs of Muslim inmates. ( Id., ¶ 5.) According to Erdogan, he promotes the basic principles of Islam to all Muslim inmates without concentrating on, influencing or showing any preference to any specific Muslim sect activities. ( Id., ¶¶ 10, 11, 13, 14.) Plaintiff disputes Erdogan's qualifications to serve as the Muslim Chaplin, citing to his "unofficial education, not with faculty" and because he does not hold a degree or diploma in Islamic studies. (Doc. 56 at 37.) However, Erdogan has been ordained as a Muslim chaplain by the Islamic Society of State College.

Prayer

Plaintiff claims that he has been denied various religious prayer rights including prayers during daily Jama'ah (congregational prayer), Jumu'ah (Friday prayer services), Eid'ul Fitri & Eid'ul Adha (feasting celebrations) and sunset prayers during Ramadan. (Doc. 1 ¶ 1(a).)

"Opportunities for religious activities are open to the entire inmate population, without regard to race, color, nationality, sexual orientation, or creed." (Doc. 53, Ex. B, DC-ADM 819, Section 1.A.1, P. 1-1.) "Religious services and programs [are] centralized for General Population status inmates. Participation or non-participation in religious programs is voluntary on the part of each inmate." ( Id., Section 1.A.3, p. 1-1.)

When Erdogan came to SCI-Huntingdon, he combined the Masjid Bilal Jiha, the Sunni community, and the Salafee Muslims into one Islamic community with one prayer service for all of them. Each group comes with their differences, but under the teaching of one Quran, one Prophet Muhammad. ( Id. at 38-39.) It is impossible for the DOC to accommodate services for every school of Muslim thought, as they are numerous and time and space are limited within the institution. (Doc. 53, Erdogan Decl. ¶ 15; Klemm Decl. ¶ 11.) Islamic services (daily Jama'ah, Jumu'ah, Eid'ul Fitri & Eid'ul Adha, and sunset Jama'ah) are open for all Muslim inmates. (Erdogan Decl. ¶ 6.) SCI-Huntingdon does not provide sect-oriented services. The above services emphasize basic Muslim teachings and are available to all Muslims. ( Id., ¶ 7.)

Defendants maintain that Plaintiff's religious beliefs and practices are unique and not shared by the majority of the SCI-Huntingdon Muslim population. ( Id. ¶ 19.) He desires separate services for himself, but the DOC cannot accommodate the individual religious preferences of each inmate. ( Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff considers his doctrinal perspective to be the generally-held Muslim perspective, and he is treated no differently than any other Muslim at the prison. (Erdogan Decl. ¶ 9.) He is not restricted from adhering to his personal doctrinal perspective, such as the direction of prayer, in the privacy of his cell. ( Id. ¶ 22.)

Plaintiff disputes the above and claims that Erdogan has worked to funnel him to the Wahabiyy sect of the Muslim faith, and that the Wahhabi/Salafi services and teachings offered by Erdogan run contrary to the Sunni Islamic faith and practices. He further disputes that his religious position is "unique" at SCI-Huntingdon, and cites to at least nine (9) other Sunni Muslim inmates who share his beliefs and contest the Muslim services offered by the prison. (Doc. 56 at 44-45, Scott Decl. ¶ 29; 24-33, 41-45.) Moreover, SCI-Huntingdon provides services for the Jewish and the Jehovah's witness communities, which have approximately ten (10) members each. (Doc. 56 at 35, SCI-Huntingdon Facility Narrative Summary 2009-2010.)

Denial of the Ability to Perform Rewardable Prayers

Plaintiff alleges he is being denied the ability to perform rewardable prayers, specifically, the "use of prayer robe, prayer oil, head gear, foot gear, Siwak (mouth cleansing) branch for prayer, reciting the Quran, and ritual purification, consuming halal (Islamically permissible) foods." (Doc. 1, ¶ 1(b).) Defendants maintain that rewardable prayers are "optional", are performed by Muslim inmates during services and in their own cell, and are never prohibited by the DOC. (Doc. 53, Erdogan Decl. ¶¶ 23-27.) Plaintiff states that the rewardable prayers are based upon obligatory prayers fulfilled by doing certain acts.

The wearing of prayer robes is not mandatory in Islamic tradition, including orthodox. Prayer robes are restricted to being worn during ceremonial services by outside religious leaders and are not available for purchase by inmates at the commissary. ( Id. ¶ 28; Ex. D, Mirarchi Decl. ¶ 10; Ex. B, DC-ADM 819, Section 3.A.1.t.1.b, p. 3-3.) Wearing of robes creates a variety of security concerns including the ability to: create a hierarchical system amongst the inmates; conceal weapons, contraband and impermissible food; be modified to resemble civilian dress; frustrate the regimented inmate color-coded clothing system. ( Id. Mirarchi Decl. ¶ 13.)

The DOC permits the use of prayer oil during services. (Erdogan Decl. ¶ 29.) The DOC restricts the use of oils, allowing practicing Muslims to apply a very small drop of scented oil to their wrist prior to attending Jumu'ah. ( Id. ¶ 8.) Inmates are permitted to use oils during Juma'ah services. If Plaintiff attends the services, he may partake of the oils. (Erdogan Decl. ¶ 30.) Distribution is closely monitored by the supervising Chaplain and no inmates are permitted to be in possession of the bottles. (Mirarchi Decl. ¶ 9.) Inmate-possessed oils present a security issue in that they have the potential to be flammable. Based upon the number of inmates in each unit, a fire and safety issue is presented. (Mirarchi Decl. ¶ 5.) Another security concern is with respect to the use of oils on the wrists and/or ankles to slip the cuffs and/or shackles, and the smell of oils to mask the scent of illegal substances. ( Id. ¶ 6.) Related sanitation issues also present a concern, and can affect offenders outside the Muslim faith. ( Id. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff disputes the security concerns cited by Defendants. He claims that the prayer oil he seeks for purification is not flammable, and that other items sold in the commissary have the potential to be flammable and/or could be utilized as slipping and/or masking agents such as shampoos, conditioners, hair grease, after-shave and petroleum jelly.

Inmates can order headgear (kufis) from the commissary that are either white or brown. These are the only colors available for purchase, as other colors could be affiliated with gangs. This applies to all religious headgear including the hijab, yarmukke, etc. ( Id. ¶ 14.)

The footgear desired by Plaintiff refers to a type of leather sock. ( Id. ¶ 19.) The DOC does not permit the sale of these items as they could easily be used as an implement of escape to climb over a protective fence. ( Id., ¶ 20.) Inmates are not permitted to possess leather gloves inside the prison for the same reason. The majority of Muslims in the DOC do not require footgear or accept socks for said purpose. The least restrictive means by which inmates may keep their feet clean for prayers is to wash their feet in the sinks of their cells; the DOC has been advised that leather socks are not necessary for inmates to conduct their prayers. (Erdogan Decl. ¶ 31; Mirarchi Decl. ¶ 22.) Wearing of footgear is not mandated by the religion. (Erdogan Decl. ¶ 32.) Plaintiff disputes the security concern advanced by Defendants with respect to leather footgear claiming that the commissary sells leather sneakers, shoes and items purchased by the Native Americans which could be used for the same purpose.

Siwaks are fibrous products used by some Muslims for hygiene, mainly for teeth cleaning. (Mirarchi Decl. ¶ 15.) Their use is not mandated by the religion. The prison has a significant concern with respect to keeping the Siwak sanitary in that the root is subject to humidity and must be soaked in rose water when it is dry. Inmates are not permitted to possess rose water. ( Id. ¶ 16.) Inmates are provided with toothbrushes, and replacements when necessary, which serve as an adequate alternative. ( Id. ¶¶ 17, 18; DC-ADM 815.)

All inmates are permitted to recite the Quran. Defendant Erdogan has provided Plaintiff with a Quran, Arabic dictionary and Islamic literatures. (Erdogan Decl. ¶¶ 34, 36.)

The DOC makes many accommodations for religious diets. (Doc. 53 at 62, DC-ADM 819, Section 4(C).) An inmate must be approved for a religious diet program. ( Id., Ex. H, Religious Diet in the Department.) Many Muslims prefer to maintain a Halal diet. (Doc. 53, Ex. F, Klemm Decl. ¶ 12.) The least restrictive means for a Muslim inmate to maintain a Halal diet is to elect either the Alternative Protein option or to seek an accommodation for the No Animal Products Diet. ( Id. ¶ 14.)

In 2008, Plaintiff requested to pick and choose when he would receive a kosher diet. This request was refused because an inmate cannot choose which days he wishes to practice dietary religious practices. ( Id. ¶¶ 15, 16.) Religious accommodations are made to accommodate sincerely held beliefs, and an inmate either adheres to a diet change or he does not. Daily whims ...


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