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Nureni v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 24, 2019




         This case arises from an isolated error that occurred 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, plaintiff Muyideen Nureni was an inmate housed at ECI. See ECF 1. He brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the State of Maryland and Ricky Foxwell, the Warden at ECI at that time. Id. Claiming that consumption of pork is against his religion, plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages for defendants' alleged violation of his First Amendment rights. Id. at 2.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. ECF 15. Their motion is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 15-1) (collectively, the “Motion”) and several exhibits. Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the court informed plaintiff that the failure to file a response in opposition to the defendants' Motion could result in dismissal of his Complaint. ECF 16. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the defendants' Motion. ECF 20. 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). Defendant State of Maryland shall be dismissed from suit. Defendants' Motion shall be construed as a motion for summary judgment as to Foxwell and shall be granted.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiff states that on October 25, 2017, while incarcerated at ECI, he ate breakfast consisting of what he believed to be maple sausage links. ECF 1 at 1. Thereafter, plaintiff discovered that the sausages served at breakfast contained pork. Id. Plaintiff claims that he is a Christian and that consuming pork is against his religion. Id. at 1-2. As a result of eating the sausages, plaintiff claims that he suffered psychologically, mentally, and spiritually. Id. at 2.

         Robert Troxell, Sr. was the Correctional Dietary Manager at ECI during the relevant time. ECF 15-3 (Troxell Declaration), &1. In his Declaration, Troxell avers that plaintiff never submitted any written request for a non-pork diet on the basis of his faith. 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 Christian. Id.

         According to ECI's case management system, plaintiff indicated on July 20, 2016, that his religious affiliation was “Protestant Nondenominational Christian.” ECF 15-2 at 23. During plaintiff'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. Id. at 22. On a form dated May 17, 2017, plaintiff selected “Rastafarian” as his religion. Id. In his response opposing defendants' Motion, plaintiff states that he practices “the same Christian beliefs under Rasterfarian [sic]” ECF 20 at 1.

         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 15-3 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 15-2 at 2. 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 3) indicates an “Item Description” of “Turkey Sausage Links.” Further, the “Receiving Report” describes the “articles” as “Turkey Sausage links.” Id. at 4.

         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 15-3 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. Troxell also expects ECI staff to comply with the Directives and ECI policies regarding inmate meals. Id. at ¶7. However, Troxell does not dispute that “sausage that contained 2% or less dehydrated pork stock” was served to ECI inmates on October 25, 2017. See ECF 15-1 at 3.[1]

         On November 22, 2017, plaintiff filed ARP complaint ECI-3059-17. ECF 15-2 at 5. Plaintiff asserted that by serving pork at breakfast on the date in question, ECI staff violated his First Amendment right to practice his religion. Id. Plaintiff also stated that “pork consumption is and has always been against my religion as it has and always been an unclean food.” Id. Therefore, he sought, inter alia, monetary compensation. Id.

         When responding to an ECI inmate's ARP complaint, defendant Foxwell relies on the review and investigation by the staff. ECF 15-4 (Foxwell Declaration), ¶4. During the investigation of plaintiff's ARP complaint by ECI staff, 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. ECF 15-2 at 21.

         On January 5, 2018, Foxwell provided the following response to plaintiff's ARP complaint, 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.

         Plaintiff appealed his ARP complaint, stating he was affected “spiritually and mentally.” Id. at 14. The Commissioner of Correction dismissed the appeal, stating: “You were advised in the warden's response that staff has been advised to check labels prior to serving.” Id. at 13. The ...

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