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Holcomb v. Styrling

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

June 28, 2019

Dean A. Holcomb, #369696, Plaintiff,
Bryan Styrling, Commissioner of the South Carolina Dept. of Corrections, Defendant.



         Dean A. Holcomb (“Plaintiff”) is an inmate incarcerated in the custody of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (“SCDC”). He filed this action in the Court of Common Pleas, Richland County, South Carolina, on April 3, 2018, against SCDC director Bryan Styrling (“Defendant”). [ECF No. 1-1]. On May 14, 2018, Defendant removed the case to this court. [ECF No. 1]. This matter is before the court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. [ECF No. 22]. Having been fully briefed [ECF Nos. 28, 32, 44, 54], the motion is ripe for disposition.

         All pretrial proceedings in this case were referred to the undersigned pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e) (D.S.C.). Because the motion is dispositive, this report and recommendation is entered for review by the district judge. For the following reasons, the undersigned recommends the district judge grant Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         In his complaint, Plaintiff alleged he is a Jewish inmate and SCDC denied his request for kosher meals, instead placing him on a vegetarian diet. [ECF No. 1 at 4-5]. Plaintiff asserted SCDC's vegetarian menu imposed a substantial burden on his religious exercise. Id. On October 4, 2018, Defendant moved for summary judgment. [ECF No. 22]. In response to Defendant's motion, Plaintiff alleged for the first time he is diabetic, SCDC's diabetic diet is not kosher, and the diet SCDC provided does not meet his medical or religious needs. [ECF No. 28 at 1]. On January 3, 2019, the undersigned recommended the district judge grant Defendant's motion for summary judgment. [ECF No. 35]. Plaintiff objected, again asserting SCDC's meals did not meet his medical needs as a diabetic. [ECF No. 38 at 2-3]. In an abundance of caution, the district judge construed Plaintiff's new claim as an attempt to amend his complaint, granted Plaintiff leave to amend, vacated the report and recommendation, and remanded the case to the undersigned. [ECF No. 40].

         On February 15, 2019, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. [ECF No. 44]. Plaintiff's amended complaint alleges SCDC's kosher-compliant diet, the alternate entry diet, is not prepared under kosher standards and does not meet his needs as a diabetic. Id. at 1. In addition, he asserts the supplemental snack he receives as a diabetic contains non-kosher items and items the American Diabetes Association (“ADA”) recommends diabetics avoid. Id. at 3. Plaintiff alleges the failure to provide a kosher-diabetic diet substantially burdens his religious exercise and is not the least-restrictive means of furthering any compelling government interest. Id. at 2. He seeks “declaratory judgment relief and injunctive relief from the refusal of SCDC to make their menus for Diabetic Inmates who have religious needs, to meet kosher standards.” Id. at 1-2.

         On April 5, 2019, Defendant filed a supplement to its motion for summary judgment addressing the additional issue of whether SCDC provides a diet that meets both kosher and diabetic requirements. [ECF No. 54].

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard on 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 a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating that summary judgment is appropriate; if the movant carries its burden, then the burden shifts to the non-movant to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). If a movant asserts that a fact cannot be disputed, it must support that assertion either by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials;” or “showing . . . that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the evidence of the non-moving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. at 248. Further, while the federal court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case, see, e.g., Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972), the requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege facts that set forth a federal claim, nor can the court assume the existence of a genuine issue of material fact when none exists. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).

         B. Analysis

         Plaintiff asserts a claim pursuant to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). [ECF No. 44 at 1]. RLUIPA provides as follows:

No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution, as defined in section 1997 of this title, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the ...

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