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Swygert v. Dickinson

June 30, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur L. Alarcón United States Circuit Judge


Plaintiff Curtis Lee Swygert ("Swygert") is a state prisoner in this civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Kathleen Dickinson ("Dickinson"), Martin Veal ("Veal"), A. Ramirez-Palmer ("Ramirez-Palmer"), T. Reagle (formerly Schwartz) ("Reagle"), S. O'Ran ("O'Ran"), N. Grannis ("Grannis"), and S. Surges ("Surges") (in their individual and official capacities); Swygert also named as defendants the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") and its Secretary, Matthew Cate. Swygert alleged breach of contract and constitutional violations under the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc - 2000cc-5.

On May 29, 2009, defendants Dickinson, Veal, Ramirez-Palmer, Reagle, O'Ran, Grannis, and Surges (collectively, the "moving Defendants") filed a motion for summary judgment ("Mot. Summ. J."), a memorandum of points and authorities in support thereof, and a statement of undisputed facts ("UF") (No. 88).*fn1 On June 10, 2009, Swygert filed an opposition ("Opp'n") (No. 94), a response to the moving Defendants' UF, a separate statement of material facts, and a request for judicial notice (No. 95). On June 18, 2009, the moving Defendants filed a reply (No. 96).

This Court issued an order on June 23, 2009 directing Swygert's counsel to clarify whether he sought damages against any Defendants and, if so, which Defendants (No. 99). Swygert filed a response on June 29, 2009 stating "the Plaintiff does hereby reiterate that any and all claims for damages have been abandoned, and that the Plaintiff wishes to pursue only injunctive relief and recovery of attorneys' fees going forward." (No. 100.)

Accordingly, the moving Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted as to Swygert's claim for damages because it has been withdrawn. The moving Defendants' request for summary judgment is also granted as to Swygert's claim for injunctive relief against Defendants Veal, Ramirez-Palmer, Reagle, and O'Ran because Swygert's claims are moot. The moving Defendants motion for summary judgment is denied as to moving Defendants Dickinson, Grannis, and Surges.


A district court may grant a motion for summary judgment when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Under this standard, "the substantive law will identify which facts are material." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A material fact is genuine for the purpose of summary judgment "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

The movant bears the initial burden of establishing the "absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may satisfy this burden by either "submit[ting] affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim" or "demonstrat[ing] to the Court that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim." Id. at 331. If the movant fails to satisfy this initial burden, this Court must deny summary judgment. Id.

If the movant satisfies this initial burden, the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).



The moving Defendants argue that Swygert's "claims for injunctive relief against [them] are moot" as to Veal, Ramirez-Palmer, Reagle, and O'Ran "because they no longer work at CMF and/or are not in the position to provide injunctive relief." Mot. Summ. J. at 10. The moving Defendants also claim that Swygert's claims against Grannis and Surges are moot because "[i]n their positions at the Inmate Appeals Branch, Grannis and Surges do not make policy decisions concerning religious accommodations . . . [and] do not have te authority to commit CDCR to provided Halal or Kosher foods, or a permanent place of worship to Muslim Inmates." Id. at 10-11. Swygert disputes Grannis's and Surges's statements. Opp'n at 8; response to UF ¶¶ 12, 13, 23. Swygert contends that the individual defendants did have the authority "at one stage or another" to provide Kosher food to Muslim inmates" and that the "decision regarding use of the facilities by religious groups can be made at various levels fo management within CDCR and CMF." Id.

To maintain an action under § 1983, "an actual controversy must be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed." Bernhardt v. City of Los Angeles, 279 F.3d 862, 871 (9th Cir. 2002). A matter is moot if at any time during the course of litigation, the plaintiff ceases to be threatened with or suffer, "an actual injury [that is] traceable to the defendant," and that is "likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision." Spencer v. Kemna, 523 U.S. 1, 7 (1998). A prisoner's claim is moot when the relative positions of the parties change so that there is no longer a case or controversy to which the requested injunction can apply. Johnson v. Moore, 948 F.2d 517, 519 (9th Cir. 1991).

In Swygert's complaint, he prayed for the following injunctive relief: an injunction commanding defendants to cease and desist denying religious beliefs and practices, an injunction commanding defendants not to take any action to disband the established Muslim Community of the CDCR, an injunction prohibiting retaliation for the litigation, and an order requiring defendants to provide a permanent ...

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