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Rodriguez v. Ulliklemm

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 16, 2020


          MEMORANDUM ORDER RE: ECF NOS. 73, 74 AND 75


         Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs Motion for Relief .from Judgment, Order or Proceeding ("Motion for Relief), ECF No. 73; Plaintiffs Motion for Extension of Time to File Brief in Support of Motion for Relief from Judgment, Order or Proceeding ("Motion for Extension"), ECF No. 74; and Plaintiffs Motion to Stay to File Brief in Support of Motion for Relief from a Judgment, Order or Proceeding ("Motion to Stay"), ECF No. 75. For the reasons that follow, the motions are denied.


         Plaintiff Bienvenido Rodriguez ("Plaintiff) is currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Forest ("SCI Forest"). This action arises from Plaintiffs incarceration at State Correctional Institution Pine Grove ("SCI Pine Grove"). Plaintiffs claims arise out of allegations that Defendants, employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"), violated Plaintiffs First Amendment rights and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") by failing to make religious accommodations for the practice of Plaintiffs religion, Yoruba Santeria, and by improperly confiscating consecrated prayer beads that Plaintiff wore in connection with his faith.

         Plaintiff, represented by Attorneys Christy Foreman and Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, filed his Complaint in this action on November 28, 2016. ECF No. 1. The Court conducted an initial case management conference, ECF No. 15, and the case was referred to the alternative dispute resolution in the form of mediation, ECF No. 17. The Honorable Kenneth Benson (ret.) conducted the mediation on April 14, 2017, and Plaintiff attended in person. ECF Nos. 20 and 21. At the conclusion of the mediation, the case was resolved. ECF No. 21.

         Although there was some initial dispute over the language of the settlement agreement and release, ECF Nos. 24, 25, 28 and 29, that required the assistance of this Court, ECF Nos. 30 and 32, the settlement agreement and release was executed by the parties in May 2018. ECF No. 33. The settlement agreement and release provided that a check in the amount of $6, 500.00 was to be deposited in Plaintiffs inmate account. On July 26, 2018, this Court approved the Stipulation of Dismissal with prejudice and closed the case. ECF Nos. 34 and 35.

         Over two years after the settlement was reached at the mediation, this case having been fully resolved and all claims released, Plaintiff, without his counsel of record, [1] filed a Motion to Re-Open Civil Action on July 5, 2019. ECF No. 44. Plaintiff sought leave to reopen the case for what he characterized as a breach of the settlement agreement and for ineffective assistance of counsel. Plaintiff also filed a Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint. ECF No. 46. In these Motions, Plaintiff broadly alleged that Defendants violated his religious freedoms and the terms of the parties' settlement agreement, but only specifically identified two instances of purported breach: (1) Defendants' placement of settlement funds into escrow; and (2) not permitting Plaintiff to purchase his Yoruba Santeria beaded necklaces. ECF No. 53 ¶¶ 10-11. Plaintiff further claimed that, following the execution of the settlement agreement, "more constitutional claims have arisen." Id. at ¶ 12. Defendants filed a Brief in Opposition. ECF No. 57.

         Upon review, the Court found that a settlement of all claims was reached, the settlement agreement was fully executed by the parties and apparently complied with by the parties. ECF No. 61 at 3. With respect to Plaintiffs request for leave to amend his Complaint, the Court further found that Plaintiff had not established the requisite good cause for delay in moving to amend his Complaint. Id. The Court noted that, to the extent Plaintiff wished to bring a new lawsuit alleging new claims, he was free to do so. Id.

         To the extent Plaintiff sought to. have the Court address any issues relative to the handling of settlement funds, however, the Court granted Plaintiff permission to request that the Court schedule a conference with Plaintiffs former counsel and defense counsel, with Plaintiff participating by telephone. Id. at 4. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested, and the Court granted, the scheduling of a video status conference. ECF Nos. 63 and 64.

         The Court held a status conference on November 12, 2019.[2] Plaintiff and Defendants' counsel participated in the conference, with Plaintiff participating remotely from SCI Forest. ECF No. 68. Plaintiff participated by audio conference as a result of technical issues with the video feed at SCI Forest. Id.

         During the conference, the Court addressed two issues that Plaintiff complained about in relation to the previous settlement: that he had not received a consecrated Santeria beaded necklace and his complaint relative to the payment of $6, 500 in settlement proceeds.

         First, as to the necklace, the settlement agreement expressly provided that Plaintiff was "permitted to purchase a consecrated black and red beaded necklace and consecrated yellow beaded necklace." ECF No. 77 at 11:7-9. Plaintiff stated:

It's a little complicated because when you're initiated under the mysteries of Santeria Orisha, which is a saint, the person who initiated you has to reconsecrate the beads all over again, or a priest that is initiated under the same mysteries of the same Orisha saint that I was initiated under. That's probably where the problem comes in because they can't probably find a priest that-because those practices have to be strictly followed.

Id. 7:4-11.

         The Court asked Plaintiff to identify the name and address of the person who could consecrate the beads.

PLAINTIFF: I can't do that, right, but the person who initiated me under those mysteries of Orisha Oshun said the beads were destroyed. They would have to get another chicken and they're not going to permit that on prison grounds. They're going to charge me another $2, 500 just-the beads don't cost nothing, the beads only cost like maybe $5.00, depending what store you buy it from, but just the consecrated thing, they're going to charge me $2, 500 all over again.
THE COURT: Your issue is-the issue is not the cost of the beads themselves, the issue is ...

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