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Low v. Stanton

January 21, 2009

TONY RICHARD LOW, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GARY R. STANTON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action containing claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)*fn1 , and state law. Before the court is a motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's RLUIPA and First Amendment claims brought on behalf of defendants Stanton and Jackson .*fn2 In addition, defendant Stanton seeks summary judgment in his favor on plaintiff's claims alleging violation of his rights under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

I. Summary Judgment Standards Under Rule 56

Summary judgment is appropriate when it is demonstrated that there exists "no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

Under summary judgment practice, the moving party always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any," which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). "[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the 'pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file.'" Id. Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See id. at 322. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. In such a circumstance, summary judgment should be granted, "so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied." Id. at 323.

If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the allegations or denials of its pleadings but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 n.11. The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, see Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1433, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987).

In the endeavor to establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that "the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 631. Thus, the "purpose of summary judgment is to 'pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) advisory committee's note on 1963 amendments).

In resolving the summary judgment motion, the court examines the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The evidence of the opposing party is to be believed. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. All reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. Nevertheless, inferences are not drawn out of the air, and it is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. See Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines, 602 F. Supp. 1224, 1244-45 (E.D. Cal. 1985), aff'd, 810 F.2d 898, 902 (9th Cir. 1987). Finally, to demonstrate a genuine issue, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citation omitted).

OnDecember 8, 2006, the court advised plaintiff of the requirements for opposing a motion pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952, 957 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc); Klingele v. Eikenberry, 849 F.2d 409 (9th Cir. 1988). II. Parties' Arguments Defendant Stanton is the Sheriff/Coroner of Solano County and held that position while plaintiff was a pretrial detainee confined at the Solano County Jail. Defendant Jackson is the custody chaplain at that facility. Although defendants have raised several arguments in support of their motion, the court will turn to their contention that plaintiff's claims under the RLUIPA, the First Amendment's Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause have all been rendered moot.

In this regard, defendants refer to plaintiff's complaint and point out that the sole relief plaintiff seeks for the alleged violations of his rights is a declaratory judgment. Defendants argue that a declaratory judgment can only issue if there remains an actual case or controversy before the court. (Mem. of P. & A.*fn3 (P&A) at 11.) Since plaintiff is no longer incarcerated at the Solano County Jail, defendants contend that plaintiff's claims are now moot. (Id.)*fn4

Plaintiff opposes the motion, arguing that the mootness doctrine does not apply here because he has raised a "policy claim[,] not a conditions claim[.]" (Pl.'s Mem. of P. & A. (Pl.'s Mem.) at 6.) Plaintiff contends that there was an "unwritten policy of not providing Qurans in Arabic to Muslims . . . ." (Id.) Plaintiff argues that a case is not moot "if the action that the plaintiff has challenged has a continuing effect after a transfer or release." (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff asserts that because the Solano County Jail's unwritten policy remains in effect and there is a "reasonable likelihood that plaintiff will return to the custody of defendant Sheriff Stanton and defendant Jackson" either for re-sentencing if his appeal is successful or following the granting of parole, his action is not moot. (Id. at 8-9.) Next, plaintiff argues that the court should consider his claims on the merits, apparently contending that the court should do so even if his claims have technically been rendered moot. (Id. at 9.) Lastly, plaintiff argues that he does not seek merely declaratory relief but rather also requested that the court "[g]rant such other relief as it may appear that plaintiff is entitled." (Id. at 10) (quoting Compl. at 46). Plaintiff argues that the relief he has requested could include nominal damages. (Id.)

III. Analysis

In his complaint, plaintiff asserts that on June 29, 2005, he was arrested and detained at the Solano County Jail. Although plaintiff presents several claims in his complaint, the motion before the court concerns plaintiff's claims that he was not provided a Quran in the Arabic language.*fn5 Plaintiff alleges that non-Christian inmates at the Solano County Jail do not have equal access to religious books and that funds are used to purchase Bibles and other Christian literature, but not Qurans because they are more expensive. Plaintiff claims violation of his rights under the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and RLUIPA. In his complaint plaintiff requests that the court "issue a declaratory judgment stating," among other things, that:

Defendant Stanton and Jackson's action of restricting plaintiff and all other non-Christians from obtaining religious books and literature from Solano County sources violates the plaintiffs [sic] ...


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