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Mackell-Bey v. Troxell

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 14, 2019



          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge

         These consolidated cases arise from an isolated error on October 25, 2017, at Eastern Correctional Institution (“ECI”), a prison in Westover, Maryland. The error resulted in the provision of sausages to inmates at breakfast that contained 2% or less of pork stock.

         At the time of the incident, plaintiffs Jamal Travial Mackell-Bey, Howard Eugene King Solomon Scott, and Samuel Williams were inmates housed at ECI. They brought separate suits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against ECI Warden Ricky Foxwell, Dietary Manager Robert Troxell, and Sergeant Terri Gould, a correctional dietary officer. See Mackell-Bey, ELH-18-1507, ECF 1-2; ECF 10; ECF 18; Scott, ELH-18-1800, ECF 1; Williams, ELH-18-2267, ECF 1.[1]Claiming that consumption of pork is against their religion, each plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages for defendants' alleged violation of their First Amendment rights.

         By Order of August 10, 2018, I consolidated plaintiffs' cases and designated Mr. Mackell-Bey's case as the lead one for filing and docketing purposes. See ELH 18-1507, ECF 9. Following consolidation, submissions were docketed only in the lead case. Hereinafter, I shall refer to the lead case, unless otherwise noted.[2]

         Defendants have moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. ECF 20. Their motion is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 20-1) (collectively, the “Motion”) and several exhibits. Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the court informed plaintiffs that the failure to file a response in opposition to the defendants' Motion could result in dismissal of their Complaint. ECF 21. Williams and Mackell-Bey filed responses in opposition to the defendants' Motion (ECF 22; ECF 26), while Scott filed a “Motion To Grant Or, In the Alternative, Motion For Summary Judgment.” ECF 27. Defendants did not reply.

         Upon review of the record, exhibits, and applicable law, the court deems a hearing unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). Defendants' Motion shall be construed as one for summary judgment and shall be granted. Scott's Motion to Grant or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment shall be denied.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiffs state that on October 25, 2017, [3] while incarcerated at ECI, they ate breakfast, consisting of what they believed to be maple sausage links. See Mackell-Bey, ECF 10 at 2; Williams, ECF 1 at 2; Scott, ECF 1 at 2.[4] Thereafter, plaintiffs discovered that the sausages served at breakfast contained pork. Mackell-Bey, ECF 1-2 at 2; ECF 10 at 2; Williams, ECF 1 at 2; Scott, ECF 1 at 2. Mackell-Bey claims that he is a practicing member of the religious group known as Moorish Science Temple of America, Inc. Mackell-Bey, ECF 8. Scott claims that he is a devout member of the Nation of Islam. Scott, ECF 1 at 3. Williams claims that he is a Rastafarian. Williams, ECF 1 at 2. All three plaintiffs claim that consuming pork is against their religion. See Mackell-Bey, ECF 1-2; ECF 10 at 3; ECF 18; Williams, ECF 1 at 2; Scott, ECF 1 at 3.

         As a result of eating the sausages, Mackell-Bey claims that he suffered stomach pains that prompted him to request an appointment with medical staff. Mackell-Bey, ECF 1-2 at 2. According to defendants, Mackell-Bey originally complained of diarrhea on October 22, 2017, which was at least three days before he ate the sausages, and he refused medical treatment on November 2, 2017. See ECF 20-6 at 2.

         Scott claims that he suffered stomach pains and vomiting spells, and submitted a Sick Call Request form. ECF 10 at 2; ECF 20-5 at 4. When he was seen by medical staff on October 31, 2017, Scott reported that he was “starting to feel better.” ECF 20-5 at 2.

         Williams submitted a Sick Call Request form dated October 26, 2017, in which he stated that he returned to his cell from eating breakfast on October 25, 2017, and began to vomit starting at 5:15. See ECF 20-4 at 2. He subsequently received a nurse medical visit on October 31, 2017, at which time he reported he was “slowly getting better.” Id. at 3.

         Troxell was the Correctional Dietary Manager at ECI during the relevant time. ECF 20-3 (Troxell Declaration), &1. In his Declaration, Troxell avers that none of the plaintiffs ever submitted any written request for a non-pork diet on the basis of their respective religious faiths. Id. at &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 being a Rastafarian. Id.

         In his response opposing defendants' dispositive motion, Mackell-Bey acknowledges that he did not “make known his religious preference.” ECF 26 at 1. According to ECI's case management system, Scott indicated on December 17, 2011, that his religious affiliation was both “Protestant Apostolic” and “Nation of Islam-Farrakhan.” Id. at 34. During Williams's incarceration at ECI, he signed and dated a Religious Preference Registration form that included a staff witness signature, informing ECI staff of the faith group that he intended to practice. ECF 20-2 at 32-33. On a form dated August 17, 2015, Williams selected “Rastafari” as his religion. Id.

         Troxell maintains that, in accordance with Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (“DPSCS”) policy, “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[.]” ECF 20-3 at ¶3. Moreover, “[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.

         Notably, 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 20-2 at 3. Of import here, 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 4) indicates an “Item Description” of “Turkey Sausage Links.” Further, the “Receiving Report” describes the “articles” as “Turkey Sausage links.” Id. at 5.

         Also 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 20-3 at ¶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. Defendants also expect ECI staff to comply with the Directives and ECI policies regarding inmate meals. Id. at ¶7; ECF 20-7 at ¶3. 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 20-1 at 5.[5]

         On October 27, 2017, Williams filed ARP complaint ECI-2874-17, and on October 28, 2017, Scott filed ARP complaint ECI-2789-17. ECF 20-2 at 6-7, 17-18. Both plaintiffs asserted that by serving pork at breakfast on the date in question, ECI staff violated their First Amendment right to practice their religion. Id. Both plaintiffs also stated that based on their respective religions, they are “not allowed to eat any ...

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