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Cates v. Foxwell

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 15, 2019



          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge

         This case arises from an isolated error at a Maryland prison on October 25, 2017, which resulted in the provision of sausages to inmates at breakfast that contained 2% or less of pork stock.

         The self-represented plaintiff, Michael Cates, is a State inmate currently housed at Eastern Correctional Institution (“ECI”) in Westover, Maryland. He brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 against ECI Warden Ricky Foxwell, Dietary Manager Robert Troxell, [1] Officer Dale Childers, and Captain Antoinette Perry (collectively, “Correctional Defendants”), and Wexford Health Sources, Inc. (“Wexford”).[2] ECF 1. Claiming that consumption of pork is against his Christian religion, Cates seeks compensatory and punitive damages of $3, 000, 000 for defendants' alleged violation of his First Amendment rights. Id. at 3.

         The Correctional Defendants have moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. ECF 12. Their motion is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 12-1) (collectively, “Correctional Motion”) and exhibits. Wexford has moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim (ECF 13), supported by a memorandum. ECF 13-1 (collectively, “Wexford Motion.”). Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the court informed Cates that the failure to file a response in opposition to the defendants' motions could result in dismissal of the Complaint. ECF 14; ECF 15. Cates filed a response in opposition to the Correctional Motion but did not respond to the Wexford Motion. ECF 16. The Correctional Defendants did not reply.

         Upon review of the record, the exhibits, and the applicable law, the court deems a hearing unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). The Correctional Motion shall be construed as a motion for summary judgment and shall be granted. I shall also grant Wexford's Motion.

         I. Factual Background

         Cates states that on October 25, 2017, while he was incarcerated at ECI, he ate breakfast, consisting of what he believed to be maple sausage links. ECF 1 at 2.[3] Later that day, Cates was informed by an inmate who had prepared breakfast that the sausages were “pork sausages.” Id. Cates claims that he “has been a Christian his entire life, ” and consuming pork is against his religion. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff acknowledges that he did not file an Administrative Remedy Procedure (“ARP”) about the incident, explaining that he was trying to get a job in the ECI kitchen and did not want to ruin his chances by filing an ARP against the dietary officers. Id. at 3. As a result of the occurrence, Cates claims that he has suffered psychologically, mentally, and spiritually. Id.

         Troxell was the Correctional Dietary Manager at ECI during the relevant time. ECF 12-3 (Troxell Declaration), ¶ 1. In his Declaration (ECF 12-3), Troxell avers that Cates never submitted any written request for a non-pork diet on the basis of his Christian faith. Id. &5. To Troxell's knowledge, during the 27 years of his tenure in the “Correctional Dietary department, ” no inmate has ever requested a non-pork diet on the basis of a purported Christian faith. Id.

         Troxell maintains that, in accordance with the policy of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”), “no prison inmate food items of any kind may contain any pork or pork by-products out of general consideration of established Muslim and Jewish religious dietary restrictions, which forbid consumption of any pork[.]” Id. at ¶3. Rather, “[c]ertified Halal and Kosher diets are provided for Muslim and Jewish inmates, respectively, on the basis of widely recognized and established Muslim and Jewish religious convictions.” Id. at ¶4. However, those religious diets are “only provided to inmates who submit a written dietary request and have been approved by the prison chaplain once the chaplain has interviewed them individually to ascertain the veracity and sincerity of their respective religious faiths to warrant accommodation of a religious diet rather than the general population meals.” Id.

         It is clear that, at the relevant time, the DPSCS did not order sausages with any pork. An Invoice dated September 27, 2017, reflects that ECI contracted to purchase 192 cases of turkey maple sausage links from a commercial food vendor. ECF 12-2 at 2. Notably, the Invoice expressly states, in part: “Sausage, Turkey Maple Link . . . .” Id. Payment was due by October 27, 2017. Id. And, the Purchase Requisition (id. at 3) indicates an “Item Description” of “Turkey Sausage Links.” Further, the “Receiving Report” describes the “articles” as “Turkey Sausage links.” Id. at 4.

         Of relevance, all commercial vendors supplying inmate food items to ECI are explicitly informed prior to sale that any food items must not contain any pork or pork by-products, in accordance with DPSCS policies. See ECF 12-3, ¶6. Troxell avers that ECI relies on the commercial food vendors to comply with this policy with respect to the inmate food items supplied to ECI. Id. The Correctional Defendants also expect ECI staff to comply with the Directives and ECI policies regarding inmate meals. Id. ¶ 7; ECF 12-5, ¶ 3. Correctional defendants do not dispute, however, that “sausage that contained 2% or less dehydrated pork stock” was served to ECI inmates on October 25, 2017. See ECF 12-1 at 3.[4]

         ECI staff investigated the incident after a formal complaint was lodged by another inmate. See ECF 12-2 at 5-7. During the investigation, a correctional officer assigned to the “feed up” meal duty for October 25, 2017, provided a statement indicating that, to the officer's knowledge, no pork products were purchased or served in the DOC [Division of Correction], that the food item in question was turkey sausage, and that eggs were available if any inmate wanted a substitute. Id. at 7. Thus, Foxwell responded to the inmate's complaint as follows, id. at 5:

Your request for Administrative Remedy has been investigated and is Meritorious in Part; upon review of reports from staff and supporting documentation, it has been determined that sausage that contained 2% or less dehydrated pork stock on 10/25/17. This was served as an oversite [sic] by multiple departments and the vendor. This product has been pulled and will not be served in the future. Eating of pork products does not cause health issues. Staff has been advised to check labels prior to serving.

         II. Standards of Review

         A. Motion to Dismiss

         Wexford has filed a motion to dismiss. ECF 13. A defendant may test the legal sufficiency of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). In re Birmingham, 846 F.3d 88, 92 (4th Cir. 2017); Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016); McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010), aff'd sub nom., McBurney v. Young, 569 U.S. 221 (2013); Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the facts alleged by a plaintiff are true, the complaint fails as a matter of law “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

         Whether a complaint states a claim for relief is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). That rule provides that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” See Migdal v. Rowe Price-Fleming Int'l Inc., 248 F.3d 321, 325-26 (4th Cir. 2001); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 513 (2002) (stating that a complaint need only satisfy the “simplified pleading standard” of Rule 8(a)). The purpose of the rule is to provide the defendants with “fair notice” of the claims and the “grounds” for “entitlement to relief.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).

         To survive a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (citation omitted) (“Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions' . . . .”); see also Willner v. Dimon, 849 F.3d 93, 112 (4th Cir. 2017). But, a plaintiff need not include “detailed factual allegations” in order to satisfy Rule 8(a)(2). Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, federal pleading rules “do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.” Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., 574 U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014) (per curiam).

         Nevertheless, the rule demands more than bald accusations or mere speculation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). If a complaint provides no more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” it is insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rather, to satisfy the minimal requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), the complaint must set forth “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” a cognizable cause of action, “even if . . . [the] actual proof of those facts is improbable and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint” and must “draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see Semenova v. MTA, 845 F.3d 564, 567 (4th Cir. 2017); Houck v. Substitute Tr. Servs., Inc., 791 F.3d 473, 484 (4th Cir. 2015); Kendall v. Balcerzak, 650 F.3d 515, 522 (4th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 565 U.S. 943 (2011). But, a court is not required to accept legal conclusions drawn from the facts. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). “A court decides whether [the pleading] standard is met by separating the legal conclusions from the factual allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual allegations, and then determining whether those allegations allow the court to reasonably infer” that the plaintiff is entitled to the legal remedy sought. A Society Without a Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th. Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 566 U.S. 937 (2012).

         Courts ordinarily do not “‘resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses'” through a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Edwards, 178 F.3d at 243 (quoting Republican Party v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992)). However, “in the relatively rare circumstances where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are alleged in the complaint, the defense may be reached by a motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6).” Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007) (en banc); accord Pressley v. Tupperware Long Term Disability Plan, 553 F.3d 334, 336 (4th Cir. 2009). Because Rule 12(b)(6) “is intended [only] to test the legal adequacy of the complaint, ” Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. Forst, 4 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir. 1993), “[t]his principle only applies . . . if all facts necessary to the affirmative defense ‘clearly appear[ ] on the face of the complaint.'” Goodman, 494 F.3d at 464 (quoting Forst, 4 F.3d at 250) (emphasis added in Goodman ).

         B. Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment

          The Correctional Defendants' Motion is styled as a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. A motion styled in this manner implicates the court's discretion under Rule 12(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Kensington Vol. Fire Dept., Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436-37 (D. Md. 2011). Ordinarily, a court “is not to consider matters outside the pleadings or resolve factual disputes when ruling on a motion to dismiss.” Bosiger v. U.S. Airways, Inc., 510 F.3d 442, 450 (4th Cir. 2007). However, under Rule 12(b)(6), a court, in its discretion, may consider matters outside of the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(d). If the court does so, “the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, ” and “[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); see Adams Housing, LLC v. The City of Salisbury, Maryland, 672 Fed.Appx. 220, 222 (4th Cir. 2016) (per curiam). But, when the movant expressly captions its motion “in the alternative” as one for summary judgment, and submits matters outside the pleadings for the court's consideration, the parties are deemed to be on notice that conversion under Rule 12(d) may occur; the court “does not have an obligation to notify parties of the obvious.” Laughlin v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 261 (4th Cir. 1998).

         A district judge has “complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept the submission of any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion, or to reject it or simply not consider it.” 5C Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1366, at 159 (3d ed. 2004, 2011 Supp.). This discretion “should be exercised with great caution and attention to the parties' procedural rights.” Id. at 149. In general, courts are guided by whether consideration of extraneous material “is likely to facilitate the disposition of the action, ” and “whether discovery prior to the utilization of the summary judgment procedure” is necessary. Id. at 165-67.

         Ordinarily, summary judgment is inappropriate “where the parties have not had an opportunity for reasonable discovery.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448-49 (4th Cir. 2011); see Putney v. Likin, 656 Fed.Appx. 632, 638 (4th Cir. 2016); McCray v. Maryland Dep't of Transportation, 741 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2015). However, “the party opposing summary judgment ‘cannot complain that summary judgment was granted without discovery unless that party had made an attempt to oppose the motion on the grounds that more time was needed for discovery.'” Harrods Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names, 302 F.3d 214, 244 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting E ...

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