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Pfeil v. Lampert

United States District Court, D. Wyoming

March 31, 2014

ROGER D. PFEIL, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT LAMPERT, in his official capacity as WYOMING DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS DIRECTOR and in his individual capacity, and MICHAEL PACHECO, in his official capacity as WYOMING DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS HONOR FARM WARDEN and in his individual capacity. Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT FOR DEFENDANTS

SCOTT W. SKAVDAHL, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon Plaintiff, Roger D. Pfeil's pro se prisoner civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, asserting a violation of civil rights. [Doc. I.] Robert O. Lampert and Michael Pacheco [Defendants] are each named in their official and individual capacities. [Doc. 1, p. 2.] The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. This Court, having carefully reviewed the parties' pleadings. motions and memoranda and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, FINDS the Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendants should be GRANTED, and Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment should be DENIED.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs original Complaint asserted two causes of action, a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (hereinafter RLUIPA) [Doc. 1 at 3], and a violation of Plaintiffs "First Amendment Right to Freedom of Religion" [Doc. 1 at 10]. The core of these claims alleges Defendants have denied him contact with the priests and ministers of his Catholic faith and precluded him access to bibles and religious books central to his religious practice. [Doc 1 at 3-4.] Subsequently, this Court allowed Plaintiff to amend his complaint to assert a claim of retaliation, which is alleged to have arisen out of his efforts to pursue his original RLUIPA and First Amendment claims in this case [Doc 21 at 4-5 and 11-21], and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). [Doc 32 at 12.] As set forth herein, no genuine issues of material fact exist and Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law in their favor.

When he filed his original Complaint, August 23, 2012, Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Wyoming Honor Farm (WHF). [Doc. 1, pp. 1, 11 ¶ 64; Doc. 1-1, p. 9, ¶ 84.] On October 18, 2012 he was transferred to the Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp. [Doc. 18, pp. 2, 3.]

Plaintiff asserts he was baptized and confirmed as a member of the Catholic Church, and is a practicing Catholic. [Doc. 1, p. 4 ¶ 4; Doc. 1-1. p. 1 ¶ 8.] He attends daily devotional readings and bible study as well as taking communion at weekly Mass. and all special days. He also engages in at least monthly confession to a priest. These activities are central to his religion. [Doc. 1, p. 4 ¶ 6; Doc. 1-1, p. 2 ¶ 10.] Catholic Mass. at the Wyoming Honor Farm (WHF) is, according to Plaintiff, provided on a rotating schedule by two priests and two Eucharist ministers. [Doc. 1, p. 4 ¶ 7; Doc. 1-1, p. 10 ¶ 92.] Plaintiff alleges one of the Eucharist ministers, Bob Brown, was denied admittance to the WHF on May 1, 2012, as he did not have a current application on file at the WHF, as required for all correctional facility volunteers and interns by Wyoming Department of Corrections Policy and Procedure #1.601. [Doc. 1, p. 4 ¶¶ 11, 12; Doc. 1-1 p. 10 ¶¶ 96, 97; Doc. 1-1, p. 25.] As detailed in the affidavit of Tate Thompson, Mr. Brown was denied admission once during the first week of May 2012, after his volunteer status was suspended due to Mr. Thompson's inability to contact him and in accordance with the Correctional Facility Volunteers and Student Interns Policy 1.601. [See Doc. 24-3 at 2.] Plaintiff, asserting the failure to admit Mr. Brown denied him "the ability to practice his religion, " filed a grievance with the WHF Warden, Michael Pacheco, which was denied. [Doc. 1, p. 5 ¶¶ 18, 19; Doc. 1-1, pp. 27-30.] This denial was affirmed on appeal by Robert Lampert, Director of the Wyoming Department of Corrections (WDOC). [Doc. 1, p. 5 ¶ 19; Doc. 1-1, pp. 23-26.][1]

Plaintiff's Complaint also alleges that removal of his hard covered books, specifically a New International Version Life Application Bible, a New American Catholic Bible, a Strong's Concordance and a Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, has denied him the ability to practice his religion. [ See Doc. 1 at ¶¶s 30-41.] The Wyoming Department of Corrections ("WYDOC") implemented a revised Property Control Policy effective June 15, 2012. The revised policy prohibited prisoners from possessing any hardback books, religious or not, in their living quarters, [Doc. 1, p. 6 ¶¶ 23, 24; Doc. 1-1, p. 11 ¶ 106; Doc. 24-6, pp. 2, 34, 50.] Plaintiff once again initiated the grievance process, asserting a denial of the ability to practice his religion based on the prohibition of hardbound books and the fact he was not allowed to retain possession of his bibles, concordance and dictionary. His informal grievance to WHF Associate Warden Thornton was denied, as was his formal grievance to WHF Warden Michael Pacheco. [Doc. 1, pp. 7, 8 ¶¶ 36, 41, 42, 43; Doc. 1-1, pp. 12, 13 ¶¶ 120, 121, 123, 124, pp. 31-37]. Director Lampert affirmed Warden Pacheco's denial. [Doc. 1, p. 8 ¶ 44; Doc. 1-1, p.13 ¶¶ 125, 126, pp. 38-42.]

In light of this new policy. Plaintiffs hardbound books were inventoried on June 12, 2012, and then shipped to his family. [Doc. 1, p. 8 ¶ 48; Doc. 1-1, p. 13 ¶ 128, p. 43.] The policy reasons behind the restrictions on hardbound books is set forth in the Affidavit of Steve Lindly [Doc 24-6, ¶¶ 5-11.] The two primary reasons for this policy are the potential for hiding contraband and/or weapons and the potential actual use of the hardbound cover as a weapon. [Doc. 24-6, Affidavit of Steve Lindly.] This policy change was also done in part to satisfy accreditation with the American Correctional Association [Doc 24-1, Pacheco Attachment 3]. In addition, the elimination of hardbound books also reduced the time and resources necessary to inspect and search any personal property in an inmate's cell. [Doc 24-6 at ¶¶ 6-9.] To accommodate for the loss of hardbound books the WHF purchased a machine to convert hardbound books to soft cover. [Doc 24-1, Pacheco Affidavit at ¶ 10.]

Plaintiff was also allowed to amend his original Complaint to allege violations of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and retaliation for bringing this lawsuit. [Doc. 36 at 3.] These claims were alleged in Plaintiffs Motion to Supplement Pleadings. [Doc 29.] In support of his claims of retaliation Plaintiff alleges refusal to reinstate good time credits by the Wyoming Board of Parole.[2] [Doc 21 at ¶¶ 81-84.] Plaintiff also claims restrictions on all inmate movements were imposed shortly after and in retaliation for his filing of this lawsuit. Id. at ¶¶ 86-98. Plaintiff also claims on October 18, 2012, he was transferred from the WHF to the Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp (WHCC) in retaliation for the filing of this lawsuit. Id. at ¶¶ 99-128. Plaintiff also contends his printing privileges, pillow confiscation and search were also done in retaliation for his filing of this lawsuit. Id. at ¶¶ 142-190. Defendants have denied these allegations and submitted various documents in response to Plaintiffs alleged claims. [See Doc 39 and attached Affidavits thereto.]

As to his Americans with Disability Act (ADA) claim. Plaintiff appears to assert Defendants, by removing his hardbound books, have caused him to be unable to read the smaller font on those soft covered books provided as a substitute. [Doc 20-1 at 6.] Plaintiff has also buried his ADA claim assertion in his Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc 32 at ¶¶ 73-82.] Plaintiff reiterates his contention that Defendants are in violation of the ADA by failing to accommodate him with larger print books to enable him to read his religious materials. Id. Defendants assert Plaintiff did not properly raise this accommodation issue in any grievance and, in any event, Defendants assert they have not violated any ADA requirements. [Doc 35.]

Statute of Limitations

Plaintiff filed his civil rights complaint on August 23, 2012, asserting a claim based on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act [RLUIPA], 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a), and a First Amendment freedom of religion claim, citing 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [Doc. 1, pp. 1, 3, 9.] The limitation period in which a claim under RLUIPA must be filed in order to be timely is four years. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, 541 U.S. 369, 382 (2004). The limitation period in which a §1983 complaint must be filed in order to be timely is determined by the applicable state limitation statute for recovery of damages for personal injury. Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 1947 (1985); Gee v. Pacheco, 627 F.3d 1178, 1189-1190 (10th Cir. 2010). The appropriate limitation period in Wyoming is four years. See Parkhurst v. Lampert, 264 Fed.Appx. 748 (10th Cir. 2008).

Plaintiff, in his complaint and supporting affidavit, asserts numerous[3] actions and inactions allegedly in violation of both RLUIPA and § 1983, which occurred months or years prior to August 23, 2008, the date from which the four year statute of limitations for claims under both statutes is measured [August 23, 2012 minus four years]. Any allegations of actions or inactions occurring prior to August 23, 2008, are untimely and cannot support Plaintiffs RLUIPA and § 1983 claims. Where, as here, there is no showing of a continual unlawful act, the validity of Plaintiffs claims must be measured and based upon those events occurring after August 23, 2008.

In addition to the extent that Plaintiff asserts a RLUIPA claim against Defendants in their individual capacity, it fails as a matter of law. See Stewart v. Beach, 701 F.3d 1322, 1335 (10th Cir. 2012) (holding that there is no cause of action under RLUIPA for individual-capacity claims).

APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

Qualified Immunity

Qualified immunity shields public officials from civil damage liability "as long as their actions could reasonably have been thought consistent with the rights they are alleged to have violated." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 638 (1987). The United States Supreme Court recently reaffirmed this immunity standard.

Qualified immunity shields government officials from civil damages liability unless the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct. See Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 3). In Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009), we held that courts may grant qualified immunity on the ground that a purported right was not "clearly established" by prior case law, without resolving the often more difficult question whether the purported right exists at all. Id., at 227. This approach comports with our usual reluctance to decide constitutional questions unnecessarily. Id., at 241; see also Camreta v. Greene, 563 U.S. ___, ______ (2011) (slip op., at 9-10); al-Kidd, 563 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 3).
To be clearly established, a right must be sufficiently clear "that every reasonable official would [have understood] that what he is doing violates that right.'" Id., at ___ (slip op., at 9) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987)). In other words, "existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate." 563 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 9). This "clearly established" standard protects the balance between vindication of constitutional rights and government officials' effective performance of their duties by ensuring that officials can "reasonably... anticipate when their conduct may give rise to liability for damages.'" Anderson, supra, at 639 (quoting Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183, 195, 104 S.Ct. 3012, 82 L.Ed.2d 139 (1984)).

Reichle v. Howards, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 135 S.Ct. 2088, 2092 (2012).

Government defendants sued under § 1983 in their individual capacities have qualified immunity: "government officials are not subject to damages liability for the performance of their discretionary functions when their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 268, 113 S.Ct. 2606, 125 L.Ed.2d 209 (1993) (quotation omitted).

Brown v. Montoya, 662 F.3d 1152, 1164 (10th Cir. 2011).

Plaintiff in this matter is representing himself, thus his pleadings will be liberally construed. Jordan v. Sosa, ADX, 654 F.3d 1012, 1018, fn. 7 (10th Cir. 2011); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. XXX-XXX-XXX (1972). The Court will not, however, act as his advocate. Cardoso v. Calbone, 490 F.3d 1194, 1197 (10th Cir. 2007).

Summary Judgment

Summary judgment under Rule 56 "is warranted only if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Yousuf v. Cohlmia, 741 F.3d 31, 37 (10th Cir. 2014) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). A dispute is genuine when a reasonable jury could find in the nonmoving party's favor on the issue. Thomas v. Metro Life Ins. Co., 631 F.3d 1153, 1160 (10th Cir. 2011). The Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Eisenhour v. Weber County, 739 F.3d 496, 502 (10th Cir. 2013).

The moving party has "both the initial burden of production on a motion for summary judgment and the burden of establishing that summary judgment is appropriate as a matter of law." Kannady v. City of Kiowa, 590 F.3d 1161, 1169 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting Trainor v. Apollo Metal Specialties, Inc., 318 F.3d 976, 979 (10th Cir. 2003)). If the moving party carries this initial burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on its pleadings, but must bring forward specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial as to those dispositive matters for which it carries the burden of proof." Id. (citing Jenkins v. Wood, 81 F.3d 988, 990 (10th Cir. 1996)). "To defeat a motion for summary judgment, evidence, including testimony, must be based on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or surmise." Bones v. Honeywell Intern, Inc., 366 F.3d 869, 875 (10th Cir. 2004).

A different process for evaluating a motion for summary judgment is required, however, when the issue of qualified immunity is involved:

When a defendant asserts qualified immunity at summary judgment, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that: (1) the defendant violated a constitutional right and (2) the constitutional right was clearly established. Pearson v. Callahan, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 808, 815-16, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009) (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001)).

Martinez v. Beggs, 563 F.3d at 1088.

In determining whether the plaintiff has met its burden of establishing a constitutional violation that was clearly established, we will construe the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff as the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). [Citations omitted]. However, because at summary judgment we are beyond the pleading phase of the litigation, a plaintiffs version of the facts must find support in the record: more specifically, "[a]s with any motion for summary judgment, [w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts[.]'" York v. City of Las Cruces, 523 F.3d 1205, 1210 (10th Cir.2008) (quoting Scott, 550 U.S. at 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769) (second and third alteration in original); see also Estate of Larsen ex ret. Sturdivan v. Murr, 511 F.3d 1255, 1258 (10th Cir.2008).

Thomson v. Salt Lake County, 584 F.3d 1304, 1312 (10th Cir. 2009).

The United States Supreme Court has stated a court has the discretion to determine which of the two prongs of qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first, depending on the facts of each particular ...


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