United States District Court, D. Maryland
BRUCE W. KOENIG, #288937, Plaintiff,
STATE OF MARYLAND, et al. Defendants.
J. FREDERICK MOTZ, District Judge.
The original complaint for injunctive relief and damages was received for filing on December 26, 2013. The remaining plaintiff alleges that he converted to Judaism and that defendants at the North Branch Correctional Institution ("NBCI") changed the kosher diet menus, by removing all meat and replacing it with a 100% vegetarian diet. He contends that the policy change was made to discourage inmates from signing up for the kosher diet and has acted to limit the number of kosher diet entrees served. Plaintiff further alleges that half of the kosher entrees served are "so foul smelling and tasting as to be inedible" and the meals are never served hot. ECF No. 1. He next claims that the areas where the meals are cooked and trays are prepared at NBCI are unsanitary. Plaintiff additionally asserts that from April to December of 2013, defendants acted to openly voice their hatred of the Jewish religion and have discriminated against Jewish inmates by not serving them desserts and condiments available to other NBCI inmates. Plaintiff also contends that he has been targeted for "desecration" of his religious diet tray. He further claims that his administrative remedy procedure ("ARP") grievance forms were thrown away instead of being given to appropriate staff. In his amended complaint, plaintiff additionally alleges that religious study sessions are only authorized to occur once a month and are often cancelled and religious texts are unavailable. ECF No. 10. He alleges violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the "substantial burdening [of his] religious exercise" under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"). ECF Nos. 1 & 10.
On October 24, 2014, defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 28. Although afforded several extensions of time, plaintiff has not filed a response. The case is ready for consideration and defendants' motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, may be resolved without oral hearing. See Local Rule 105.6. (D. Md. 2014).
Standard of Review
Because matters outside the pleadings will be considered, defendants' motion shall be treated as a motion for summary judgment. Summary judgment is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), which provides that: "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." The Supreme Court has clarified that this does not mean that any factual dispute will defeat the motion:
By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.
See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).
The "party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, ' but rather must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 525 (4th Cir. 2003) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The court should "view the evidence in the light most favorable to... the nonmovant, and draw all reasonable inferences in [his] favor without weighing the evidence or assessing the witness' credibility." Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 644-45 (4th Cir. 2002). The court must, however, also abide by the "affirmative obligation of the trial judge to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 526 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993), and citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986)).
In Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, the Supreme Court explained that in considering a motion for summary judgment, the "judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." A dispute about a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. at 248. Thus, "the judge must ask himself not whether he thinks the evidence unmistakably favors one side or the other but whether a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence presented." Id. at 252.
The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. No genuine issue of material fact exists if the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of his or her case as to which he or she would have the burden of proof. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23. Therefore, on those issues on which the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, it is his or her responsibility to confront the summary judgment motion with an affidavit or other similar evidence showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Defendants assert that NBCI maintains a religious dietary program under which inmates with dietary mandates receive meals that conform to the "minimum dietary requirements" of Jewish orthodoxy. ECF No. 28-1. The requirements include the separation of food items and utensils for food preparation, washing, and storage. Meals under the religious diet program are vegetarian in nature and each inmate working in the kosher food preparation area and all officers are required to review the applicable religious diet program. They state that while confined at NBCI, plaintiff's meals were provided to him in compliance with prison regulations and to ensure compliance with "kosher principles" and sanitary requirements, monthly inspections of the kosher kitchen were conducted. ECF No. 28-2, Kammauf Decl. Moreover, they affirm, that plaintiff's meals were served to him in compliance with the sanitation and uniformity required by prison regulations. Id.
Defendants further explain that since April 29, 2013, NBCI was placed on varying lengths of "modified movements" or lockdown due to an increase in the number of inmate-oninmate assaults, as well as inmate-on-staff assaults. ECF No. 28-4, Gutillo Decl. and ECF No. 28-5, White Decl. Defendants affirm that during this time, inmate meals were often served as bagged lunch or hot trays brought to the housing units. Inmates were provided their meals in their cells. In such cases, all kosher meals arrived in housing unit 4 on Styrofoam trays completely sealed by cellophane wrap. The meals are removed from the dietary cart and then handed to ...