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Grimes v. Tilton

March 11, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Barry Ted Moskowitz United States District Judge



Dennis Grimes ("Plaintiff"), a California state prisoner currently incarcerated at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility located in Tutwiler, Mississippi, is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with a Complaint filed pursuant to the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Currently pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to FED.R.CIV.P. 56 [Doc. No. 129].


On September 5, 2007, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss pursuant to FED.R.CIV.P. 12(b)(6). Specifically, the Court: (1) dismissed Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against Defendants in their official capacities as barred by the Eleventh Amendment; (2) denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failing to allege personal acts or omissions; (3) denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's equal protection claims; (4) denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims; and (5) denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint on qualified immunity grounds. See Sept. 5, 2007 Order at 14-15.

Defendants filed their Answer [Doc. No. 63] and now move for summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) no genuine issues of material facts exist to show that Defendants violated Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights; (2) Defendants did not substantially burden Plaintiff's religious beliefs in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 et. seq; (3) Plaintiff's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief are moot; and (4) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.

The Court has advised Plaintiff of his rights and obligations to oppose Defendants' Motion pursuant to Klingele v. Eikenberry, 849 F.2d 409 (9th Cir. 1988) and Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc).*fn1 Plaintiff filed his Opposition on September 24, 2008 and his Complaint is verified under penalty of perjury. See Schroeder v. McDonald, 55 F.3d 454, 460 (9th Cir. 1995) (holding that a complaint or motion duly verified under penalty of perjury pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746 may be used as an opposing affidavit under FED.R.CIV.P. 56.). Defendants filed their Reply on October 3, 2008.

Having now exercised its discretion to consider the matter as submitted on the papers without oral argument pursuant to S.D. CAL. CIVLR 7.1.d.1, the Court hereby GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c) for the reasons set forth in detail below.


A. Eighth Amendment Outdoor Exercise Claims

Plaintiff claims that Defendants deprived him of outdoor exercise for a period of sixteen (16) weeks while he was incarcerated at Centinela State Prison ("CEN"). (See Compl. at 4.) Defendants indicate that the period of time Plaintiff was deprived of outdoor exercise was actually twenty one (21) weeks. (See Defs.' Memo of Ps & As, Declaration of L. Shipman, Correctional Counselor II, Exhibit "N," Movement History of Plaintiff Dennis Grimes). Both parties agree that Plaintiff was deprived of outdoor exercise from October 12, 2005 until March 7, 2006 with the exception of two days.

However, while Defendants concede that Plaintiff has shown a sufficiently long-term deprivation to satisfy the objective prong of an Eighth Amendment analysis, they have provided several documents to support their position that Plaintiff will be unable to satisfy the subjective prong. These documents show that a race riot occurred between sixty one (61) Hispanic and African-American inmates on July 17, 2005 which resulted in Defendants imposing a "lockdown" on Centinela's Facility "D." (Shipman Decl., Exhibit "A," Crime/Incident Report dated July 17, 2005.) As a result, a "modified program" was implemented which is the "suspension of any operation or procedure to prevent, contain or control an institutional disturbance." (Declaration of G. Giurbino, former Warden of Centinela State Prison, ¶ 5.) According to Giurbino, this modified program was implemented to allow staff to monitor the tensions between the Hispanic and African-American inmates and allow time to investigate the incident that led to the modified program. (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.)

When the modified programming was first implemented, most privileges were suspended including loss of recreational activities, phone calls, religious services and canteen privileges. (Giurbino Decl. ¶ 11.) However, even while Facility "D" was on the modified program, racial incidents between the Hispanic and African American inmates continued to occur. On July 21, 2005, prison officials authorized "MAC"*fn2 Representatives to go to the housing units in an attempt to alleviate the racial tension. (Id. ¶ 12.) While an African American MAC Representative was visiting a housing unit he was attacked by a Hispanic inmate. (Id. ¶ 13.) Soon thereafter, a Hispanic inmate stabbed his Caucasian cellmate. (Id.) Accordingly, the lockdown program was modified to include inmates of all ethnic groups. (Id. ¶ 14.)

The next day, on July 22, 2005, an African American inmate attacked a correctional officer and a Hispanic inmate. (Id. ¶ 15.) In the following weeks, prison officials obtained information that Hispanic inmates were planning to attack African American inmates when the lockdown was lifted and that inmates of other races were being forced to choose sides between the Hispanic and African American inmates. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17.)

In an attempt to return to normal program, on August 5, 2005, prison officials lifted the lockdown as to all inmates other than Hispanic and African American inmates. (Id. ¶ 18.) Staff investigation revealed the source of the riot that occurred on July 17, 2005 and attributed it to rising racial tensions between Hispanic and African American inmates. However, staff began to "de-escalate the modified program" in order to "eventually return D Facility to normal programming" for all inmates. (Id. ¶ 22.) Even though prison officials believed that tensions were still high among Hispanic and African American inmates, they began to allow some privileges, including visits, on August 13, 2005. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 25.)

On August 19, 2005, an African American inmate "ran out of his cell and attacked two newly-arrived Hispanic inmates." (Id. ¶ 25.) Despite this, prison officials continued to reinstate some privileges in August and September of 2005, including allowing visits and distributing packages. (Id. ¶ 29.) Staff continued to meet with the members of MAC for both the Hispanic and African American inmates but confirmed through interviews that the inmates did not consider the racial tensions to be over. (Id. ¶ 30.) In addition, staff continued to discover a number of inmate manufactured weapons while conducting routine searches. (Id. ¶¶ 32-35.)

During October of 2005, privileges began to be reinstated including non-contact visits, canteen privileges, phone calls and some Hispanic and African American inmates were released to work programs. (Id. ¶¶ 40-41.) However, on October 24, 2005, prison officials discovered an "uncontrolled weapon near the handball courts." (Id. ¶ 43.) Despite this, prison officials "developed a modified recreational yard program" while still being aware of the issue that "even when tensions among inmates are not especially high, the yard can be a dangerous place." (Id. ¶ 44.) The reinstatement of yard privileges began on October 25, 2005 and continued through November 8, 2005. (Id. ¶ 45.)

Another riot between Hispanic and African American inmates on Facility "D" occurred on November 8, 2005. (Id. ¶ 46.) Once again, prison officials suspended all yard privileges. (Id.) Following the riot, a Hispanic MAC Representative who was permitted to tour the housing units in an attempt to diffuse the tensions, attacked two African American MAC Representatives. (Id. ¶ 47.) In addition, staff discovered a note which they interpreted as an instruction to other "Hispanic inmates to assault African-American inmates whenever the opportunity presented itself." (Id. ¶ 48.)

Correctional Counselors attempted to interview inmates on Facility "D" in order to "resolve the racial tension and de-escalate the modified program." (Id. ¶ 51.) On January 18, 2006, Hispanic and African American MAC representatives agreed to meet and confer. (Id. ¶ 55.) These inmates informed prison officials that both sides were "willing to program without further incident." (Id. ¶ 55.) Staff began to implement privileges such as phone use, canteen purchases, visits and package distribution. (Id. ¶ 56.) Beginning on February 28, 2006, a gradual reinstatement of yard privileges began and by March 6, 2006, yard privileges were authorized for the entire inmate population of Facility "D." (Id. ¶ 59.) Plaintiff alleges that his yard privileges were restored on March 7, 2006. (See Compl. at 4.)

B. Religious Diet Claims

On November 20, 2005, Plaintiff wrote to the CEN Food Services Manager requesting a vegetarian diet in light of his "sincerely held religious beliefs." (See Compl. at 5, Exhibit "D.") Assistant Food Manager at Centinela, J.G. Corey, responded to Plaintiff's request on December 3, 2005 by informing Plaintiff that he must have the Facility Chaplain or a "Religious Representative" from his faith notify the Food Services Manager that Plaintiff is eligible to receive a religious diet pursuant to CAL. CODE REGS. TIT. 15 § 3054. (Id., Exhibit "E," Memorandum from J.G. Corey to Plaintiff dated December 3, 2005.)

Plaintiff submitted an "Inmate Request for Interview" form to Defendant Francis, the Chaplain at Centinela on January 11, 2006. (Id., Exhibit "F." Inmate Request for Interview dated Jan. 11, 2006.) In this request, Plaintiff wrote "I am a vegetarian due to my religious belief, can you please advise central kitchen/food manager to provide me with vegetarian meals due to my religious belief." (Id.) Plaintiff was interviewed by Defendant Francis on January 20, 2006. (Id., Declaration of S. Francis, ¶¶ 5, 6.) Plaintiff alleges in his verified Complaint that he informed Defendant Francis that he considers himself to be a Christian and his own "sincerely held religious belief" interprets bible scripture to find that the "consumption of animal meat is sinful." (Compl. at 6.)

Defendant Francis declares that he informed Plaintiff that it was his opinion, as a Protestant Chaplain, that Christianity does not require a religious diet. (Francis. Decl. ¶ 6.) He states that he told Plaintiff "because he was not following the beliefs of a particular Christian sect whose religious beliefs required a vegetarian diet, [Francis] could not verify his need for such a diet and, therefore, he did not qualify for a religious diet." (Id. ¶ 10.) Accordingly, Plaintiff's request for a religious diet was denied by Defendant Francis on January 20, 2006. (Comp. at 6, Exhibit "E.")

Plaintiff filed an administrative grievance on January 22, 2006 appealing Defendant Francis' decision to deny him a vegetarian meal. (See Pl.'s Compl., Exhibit "G," Inmate/Parolee Appeal Form dated January 22, 2006, CEN Log. No. D-06-0078.) Plaintiff was, once again, interviewed by Defendant Francis on February 23, 2006. (See Pl.'s Compl, Exhibit "H," First Level Appeal Response, CEN Log No. D-06-0078 dated March 1, 2006.) During this meeting, both Plaintiff and Defendant Francis recall discussing RLUIPA and its implications on the issue of religious diets. (See Compl. at 7; Francis Decl. ¶ 14.) Defendant Francis told Plaintiff that he was bound by the current state of CAL. CODE REGS. TIT. 15 § 3054 which Francis believed required him to verify whether or not Plaintiff had a special religious dietary need by "contacting the religious organization to which the inmate claims to be an observant member." (Id.) In this instance, Plaintiff did not provide Defendant Francis with an identifiable "sect" of the Christian faith and thus, Francis was unable to "verify" Plaintiff's need for a religious diet. (Francis Decl. ¶¶ 14, 15.) Accordingly, at the First Level Appeal Response, Plaintiff's request for a religious diet was denied by Defendants Francis and Juarez because Plaintiff was unable to provide Defendant Francis with information to verify his request. (Id.)

One day prior to the written denial by Defendants Francis and Juarez, a "Notice of Change to Department Operations Manual" was issued in which changes were made as to how the religious diet program was to be implemented. (Shipman Decl., Exhibit "M," Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Notice of Change to Department Operations Manual, Food Service, dated February 28, 2006.) A few weeks later, the regulation which required a Chaplain to "verify" the need for a religious diet was modified to a less restrictive requirement requiring that the Chaplain need only "determine" a prisoner's need for a religious diet. See CAL. CODE REGS. TIT. 15, § 3054 (effective April 24, 2006.)

Plaintiff informed Defendant Francis that he would refuse to eat any food that contained meat. (Francis Decl. ΒΆ 8.) After Plaintiff received the denial at the first level of review, he submitted an appeal to the next level along with a "signed affidavit to demonstrate the sincerity of his religious belief in vegetarianism." (Id., Exhibit "I," Affidavit of Religious diet signed and dated by Plaintiff on March 6, 2006.) Defendant Warden Giurbino denied Plaintiff's appeal at the Second Level of Review on March 22, 2006 by finding that "[Plaintiff] has not presented additional information or documentation to support granting his request for a vegetarian diet." (Compl., Exhibit "J," Second Level Appeal Response, CEN Log No. D-06-0078, dated March 22, 2006.) Plaintiff submitted his appeal to the final level of administrative review. On May 20, 2006, N. Grannis, Chief of the Inmate Appeals Branch, notified Plaintiff that his grievance was being denied at the Director's Level, in part, because "a generic claim of requiring a vegetarian ...

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