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Varsanyi v. Piazza

United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania

April 9, 2015

ARIEL EPHRAIM VARSANYI, Plaintiff
v.
JOSEPH J. PIAZZA, et al, Defendants

MEMORANDUM

Kosik, Judge

Plaintiff, Ariel Ephraim Varsanyi, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging the violation of his right to free exercise of his religious beliefs under the First Amendment. At the time, he was an inmate confined at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility ("LCCF"), Pennsylvania. He was released from prison on or about November 24, 2010. Remaining as Defendants in this action are the following LCCF current or former employees: Warden Piazza, Food Supervisor Jack Renko and Major James Larson. Pending is Defendants' supplemental motion for summary judgment.[1] (Doc. 77.) For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Background

In his complaint, Plaintiff sets forth two claims. He first contends that Defendants failed to provide him with an Orthodox Jewish kosher diet. He further claims that he was refused visits from an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi and access to religious materials.

On March 6, 2013, a Memorandum was issued addressing a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants. The court found no disputed issue of fact with respect to the sincerity of Plaintiff s Orthodox Jewish beliefs, or that the dietary laws of his faith were an important, integral part of his beliefs. (Doc. 71, Memorandum dated 3/6/13.) It was also undisputed that the standard kosher food provided by LCCF for the Jewish inmates did not meet the strict requirements of Orthodox Judaism. While Defendants set forth reasons why their conduct was rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest, and why alternative means existed for Plaintiff to exercise his First Amendment rights, the court found that they failed to submit evidentiary materials in support of their position. (Id.) The court also found disputed issues of fact to exist with respect to the alleged denial of visits from an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi and the denial of religious reading materials. As such, Defendants' motion for summary judgment was denied, and the parties afforded thirty (30) days in which to submit any further dispositive motions. The failure to file any properly supported supplemental motions would result in the matter being scheduled for trial.

Pending is Defendants' supplemental motion supported by a second affidavit from Defendant Larson along with supporting exhibits, and an affidavit from Defendant Wilbur.[2] Plaintiff has filed his opposition to the motion. The matter is ripe for disposition.

II. 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., 475 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., 477 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'I 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.

III. Statement of Facts

In filing the instant supplemental motion for summary judgment, Defendants incorporate by reference their original statement of undisputed material facts submitted in support of their initial motion for summary judgment. In addressing the earlier motion, the court set forth the undisputed facts as follows, but noted where any facts were in dispute:

Plaintiffs allegations center around the period of time from his arrival at LCCF on May 7, 2010, through the filing of this action on October 6, 2010. He alleges two (2) violations of his First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion: (1) the failure of LCCF to provide him with a kosher diet which adhered to Orthodox Jewish standards and (2) the denial of a visit from Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Perlman and the denial of access to religious services and reading materials. Plaintiff states that he first notified LCCF through a request slip submitted during the week of May 7, 2010 that he was dissatisfied with the kosher food provided by the prison. He states that he did not receive a response until June 10, 2010, wherein a chaplain informed him that his needs would be ...

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