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Haskins v. Bietzel

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 6, 2017



          James K. Bredar United States District Judge

         In this civil rights case, plaintiff Ronald Haskins claimed that he was being denied food for 90 days; had gone without food for 14 days; and that he was being denied food in retaliation for his complaints against Chaplain Bietzel and prison dietary staff. ECF 1. This court issued an order to show cause why injunctive relief should not be granted to plaintiff given the seriousness of the allegation raised and granting plaintiff an opportunity to file a supplemental complaint. ECF 2.

         Counsel for the Division of Correction (DOC) filed a response indicating that plaintiff was not being denied food, nor was he improperly denied placement on a roster for a religious, kosher diet. ECF 4. Because the response included evidence in the form of a declaration under oath and verified business records establishing valid non-retaliatory reasons for the actions taken by correctional staff, this court construed the response as a motion for summary judgment and granted plaintiff 21 days to file a reply addressing the allegations raised. ECF 8. Plaintiff filed a reply (ECF 9) which he supplemented (ECF 10). Plaintiff also filed an amended complaint (ECF 6) and a motion to proceed in forma pauperis.[1] ECF 7. The court finds a hearing unnecessary for the resolution of the matters pending before it. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons set forth herein, the complaint shall be dismissed and judgment entered in favor of defendant.

         Complaint Allegations

         In the supplemental complaint filed by plaintiff pursuant to this court's order, he claims violations of his First and Eighth Amendment rights. He claims that his right to freely practice his religion was violated when he was denied the right to receive a kosher diet; that denying him a kosher diet forced him to go without food; and that he was denied a kosher diet in retaliation for filing complaints against Chaplain Beitzel. ECF 6 at p. 3.

         Plaintiff alleged that for three weeks he survived “off a couple boxes of little debbies and some cookies that someone gave me.” ECF 6-1 at p. 1. He further states that, “I have a jar of peanut butter but I am afraid to open it at this moment (not knowing how long they would deny me food).” Id.

         Plaintiff claims Beitzel engaged in retaliation because “somebod[y] or someone . . . filed complaints against Chaplain Beitzel and [the] Dietary Dept.” ECF 6-1 at p. 1. He asserts that Beitzel then retaliated for those complaints by “denying food for all the Jews that bought non-kosher items from the commissary.” Id. He concludes that he was denied food for 90 days. Id. As relief he seeks $100 for each meal he missed. ECF 6 at p. 3.

         Plaintiff includes with his supplemental complaint an administrative remedy procedure request (ARP) with a response from the Warden of Western Correctional Institution (WCI), where plaintiff is incarcerated, that states in pertinent part as follows:

[Y]ou have continuously purchased non-kosher items from Keefe Commissary. Only items marked with the letter “K” are considered kosher items. You admitted to this being your second violation to the agreement. Therefore, you have been temporarily removed from your religious diet in accordance with the Religious Diet agreement, which you signed. This agreement states that for your second offense of violation of the agreement you will [be] removed from the program for a total of 90 days. After the 90 day time frame has expired you may submit a request to the Chaplain for readmission into the program.

ECF 6-1 at p. 3.

         Response to Show Cause

         Chaplain Galen Beitzel provides a declaration under oath in support of the response to show cause. ECF 4-1 at pp. 1-2. He states that on July 30, 2009, plaintiff signed a Maryland Division of Correction Religious Diet Agreement stating that he agreed to abide by all requirements of this program. Id. at p. 1. The provisions of that agreement designate the following as violations of the Religious Diet Program that may result in temporary removal from the program (60 or 90 day suspension) or permanent removal with a third offense: the inmate fails to pick up a minimum of 75% of meals served per month; the inmate is seen eating or trading unauthorized food items from the main line; and the inmate purchases or is seen eating food items from the Commissary that are inconsistent with the dietary requirements of the Religious Diet Program. Id. at p. 9.

         Beitzel states that on January 18 and 25, 2016, and February 8, 2016, plaintiff bought non-kosher items in the prison commissary. ECF 4-1 at p. 1. On February 3, 2016, plaintiff was suspended from receiving the kosher diet for 90 days because he purchased non-kosher food and because this was his second such offense. Id., see also p. 9 (designating 90-day suspension for second offense) and p. 10 (noting plaintiff bought 19 non-kosher items from commissary). Following his suspension from the religious diet, plaintiff continued to eat regular meals with his housing unit in the inmate dining hall; there is no record of plaintiff engaging in a hunger strike. ECF 4-1 at p. 1.

         Plaintiffs ARP, filed February 11, 2016, was investigated by Chaplain Paul Demers and Rabbi Tobesman, who interviewed plaintiff as part of the investigation. ECF 4-1 at pp. 6 - 8. When plaintiff was interviewed, Demers and Tobesman noted that plaintiff could not explain what kosher means; failed to identify the “lacto-ovo diet” as an alternative to the kosher diet despite having a job in the kitchen; and was not aware of the Rabbi's role with regard to kosher food. Id. at p. 8. Based on their investigation, Demers and Tobesman recommended that the warden ...

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