United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division
REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE
KEVIN F. McDONALD, Magistrate Judge.
This matter is before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment (doc. 23). The plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, seeks relief pursuant to Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983. Pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in cases filed under Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983, and submit findings and recommendations to the district court.
On November 10, 2014, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment (doc. 23). By order filed November 12, 2014, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the plaintiff was advised of the summary judgment dismissal procedure and the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond to the motion. The plaintiff filed his response in opposition to the motion for summary judgment on November 17, 2014 (doc. 28).
The plaintiff is currently incarcerated at Perry Correctional Institution in the custody of the South Carolina Department of Corrections ("SCDC"). He is serving a five year sentence for grand larceny, a twenty year sentence for armed robbery, and a life sentence for murder. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleges that his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") were violated when he did not receive his morning meal prior to sunrise during Ramadan in 2013 at Lee Correctional Institution. The plaintiff claims that eating breakfast after the morning prayer invalidates the fast (doc. 1 at 3-8). The plaintiff further alleges that the defendants' failure to timely serve him breakfast during Ramadan violates SCDC policy PS 10.05, subsections 9 and 9.1 ( id. at 3-4, 8). He seeks $250, 000.00 in damages ( id. at 9). The plaintiff initially filed this matter in state court in Lee County. According to the defendants (doc. 23-1 at 1), the state court case was dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
The plaintiff further alleges that the SCDC took "unfair advantage of the exhaustion requirement by failing to respond to a timely filed grievance thereby preventing the [plaintiff] from exhausting" (doc. 1 at 6). According to the plaintiff, he wrote each of the defendants to complain about the "tardiness of the breakfast trays during Ramadan but to no avail, " and he filed a grievance on August 8, 2013, to which he received a reply on October 15, 2013 ( id. at 2, 4). The response to the grievance stated that the plaintiff had asked to be removed from the Ramadan list ( id. at 4-5; see doc. 1-3 at 2). The plaintiff then filed a Step 2 grievance with supporting affidavits from two inmates who lived in nearby rooms to the plaintiff's; these inmates had asked to be removed from the list, while the plaintiff had not made such a request (doc. 1 at 5). According to the plaintiff, at the time of the filing of his complaint in July 2014, he had received no response to his Step 2 grievance ( id. at 6).
The defendants answered denying all allegations and asserting various affirmative defenses. Defendant Davis, the Associate Warden at Lee, stated in his affidavit that all inmates participating in Ramadan are listed by the Chaplain's Office, and the list is provided to Food Services to prepare early meals for these inmates during Ramadan. When Associate Warden Davis received the plaintiff's grievance that he was denied his morning meal prior to morning prayers during Ramadan in 2013, he investigated the matter and determined that the plaintiff was inadvertently left off of the list. Upon initial investigation, it was believed that the plaintiff asked to be removed from the list; the matter was then corrected. Associate Warden Davis further testified that inmates in the Special Management Unit ("SMU"), where the plaintiff was located, are provided this meal unless there is a disturbance or security concern in SMU that would take precedence over delivering those meals. If inmates are removed from general population and placed in SMU, it is their responsibility to notify the Chaplain that they still wish to participate in Ramadan and that they are on the official list (doc. 23-2, Davis aff. ¶¶ 1-5).
Chaplain Cain, the Senior Chaplain at Lee, who is not a defendant in this case, submitted an affidavit stating that inmates in the general population must go to classes to be eligible to participate in Ramadan. If an inmate stops going, the Chaplain's Office takes them off the Ramadan list. If an inmate is placed in SMU and is unable to attend classes, it is his responsibility to notify the Chaplain's Office of his location and desire to participate. According to Chaplain Cain, it is his understanding that the plaintiff was mistakenly taken off of the Ramadan list because the Chaplain's Office was not aware he was in SMU and that the plaintiff still wished to participate (doc. 23-3, Cain aff. ¶¶ 1-4).
Alpha O. Wilson, Food Service Director II at Lee, who is not a defendant in this case, also submitted an affidavit in support of summary judgment. Wilson testified that during the observance of Ramadan, Food Services makes the breakfast meal available for inmates participating in Ramadan prior to the morning prayer. If for some reason an inmate is not on the Ramadan list provided to Food Services by the Chaplain's Office, Food Services would not have the inmate's meal prepared for him. Wilson further testified that all meals were prepared and delivered to those inmates whose names were given to Food Services in 2013 as participating in Ramadan, and no one in Food Services delayed the plaintiff's receipt of his morning meals in 2013 (doc. 23-4, Wilson aff. ¶¶ 1-5).
The plaintiff also named as defendants Michael McCall, Deputy Director of the SCDC; James Dean, Associate Warden; Thomas Commander, Captain; and Marlon Fedd, Food Services Director.
APPLICABLE LAW AND ANALYSIS
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 states, as to a party who has moved for summary judgment: "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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). As to the first of these determinations, a fact is deemed "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is "genuine" if the evidence offered is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. at 257. In determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities against the movant and in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).
The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the district court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the movant has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings; rather, he must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. at 324. Under this standard, the existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position is insufficient to withstand the summary judgment motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Likewise, conclusory allegations or denials, without more, are insufficient to preclude the granting of the summary judgment motion. Id. at 248. "Only ...