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Williams v. Bedison

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Amarillo Division

March 3, 2017

MILO WILLIAMS, PRO SE, also known as MILO CRADALE WILLIAMS, also known as JON THOMPSON, also known as CARLOS GOLDEN, TDCJ-CID No. 1223229, NMDC No. 41908, Federal No. 27366-177, Plaintiff,
v.
GERALD E. BEDISON, Chaplain, ET AL. Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO GRANT DEFENDANT BEDISON'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          CLINTON E. AVERITTE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court for consideration is the Defendant BEDISON'S Motion for Summary Judgment filed July 16, 2016 [D.E. 32]. On August 4, 2016, plaintiff filed an objection to the motion for summary judgment [D.E. 35]. Both parties then submitted additional replies. [D.E. 37, 38]. The Court has reviewed all the summary judgment evidence and arguments of the parties.

         OVERVIEW OF THE CASE

         On September 14, 2015, plaintiff officially registered his religious affiliation with TDCJ as "Moorish Science Temple of America" pursuant TDCJ's registry policy. See MSJ Exhibit D, 002. According to competent summary judgment evidence, MSTA has 168 statewide members in TDCJ and 12-13 members at the Clements Unit as of February 2016. See MSJ Exhibit I, 002; MSJ Exhibit J, 002. The MSTA is classified by Chaplaincy Headquarters and TDCJ as a sect of the "Muslim" religion and it is placed under the Muslim/Islam umbrella. See MSJ Exhibit H, 005. There are a vast array of religious faith preferences registered with TDCJ statewide. As of the filing of the motion for summary judgment, records indicate that 312 different faith preferences exist statewide in TDCJ and that 92 separate faith preferences have recognized followers at the Clements Unit. See MSJ Exhibit C, 001. According to TDCJ records, discounting the three most numerous faiths, 89 religious faith groups at the Clements Unit remain, and each of those groups have an average of eighteen members. See MSJ Exhibit C, 002. TDCJ recognizes that offenders can change their faith preference designation once annually and so these designations are fluid and changing. Id.

         The current staffing rate for chaplains and other personnel at the Clements Unit of TDCJ has consistently been over 90% in recent years. See MSJ Exhibit L. TDCJ policy regarding requests for religious services requires TDCJ to consider availability of chaplains and resources, approved volunteers, and other factors when determining whether to offer a particular sect of a religion a separate meeting time. See MSJ Exhibit E, 006. In general, TDCJ has "primary religious programming" which groups religious ceremonies by the commonalities of beliefs in order to provide as many sects as possible with the opportunity to worship. See MSJ Exhibit E.

         Plaintiff alleges that, on September 16, 2015, he wrote to the Chaplain's Department requesting a separate religious service for the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA), arguing that it was different from Islam, and defendant BEDISON responded that the MSTA falls under the umbrella of Islam and advised plaintiff to attend the Muslim services already provided. Plaintiff states he filed a grievance against BEDISON based on this response to his request for separate religious services. TDCJ responded to his step one grievance on October 8, 2015, directing plaintiff that he was also eligible to request Jumah and Taleem services on Friday, presumably in addition to the one hour Muslim service already provided. Plaintiffs Step 2 grievance, answered by the Director of Chaplaincy Operations, was also unsuccessful in securing a separate religious service for MSTA members, and directed plaintiff to submit an additional 1-60 request if needed. In his amended complaint, plaintiff indicates that he has been denied the right to wear a fez during religious ceremonies and that the Jumah and Taleem services are inadequate to address the needs of MSTA members and allow for separate fellowship on Fridays.

         The requirements for an offender to request a separate religious program are provided in TDCJ rules. According to regulation, offenders submit an 1-60 request, the chaplain of the unit reviews that request and interviews the offender, and for religious practices that have not been previously addressed, the chaplain should complete an HQ-150 form and submit that form to Chaplaincy Headquarters. See MS J Exhibit E, 007. The competent summary judgment evidence indicates that MSTA has been determined to fall under the Muslim/Islam umbrella by TDCJ and Chaplaincy guidelines prior to the 1-60 submitted by plaintiff. However, an issue in this case is present regarding whether TDCJ considered plaintiffs request for individual services at the Clements Unit in that it is unclear whether the Clements Unit has specifically considered whether sufficient numbers of MSTA worshipers exist to merit consideration of separate services at the Clements Unit for MSTA members. The Court discusses this issue below.

         CLAIMS AND REQUESTS FOR RELIEF

         Plaintiff MILO WILLIAMS, acting pro se and while a prisoner incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), Correctional Institutions Division, filed suit pursuant to Title 42, United States Code, section 1983 complaining against defendant BEDISON and was granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis. Plaintiff also filed suit against defendant BEACH, but these claims were dismissed with prejudice as frivolous on March 1, 2016. Although plaintiff did not name the State of Texas or the Texas Department of Criminal Justice as defendants to his suit, plaintiffs RLUIPA claims are considered as they relate to TDCJ and Clements Unit policies and applications of those policies in general to determine if injunctive relief is appropriate.

         Plaintiff complains BEDISON denied him the right to practice his religion and has promoted another religion. Additionally, plaintiff states BEDISON failed to follow TDCJ procedures in considering his request for a separate service for his religion. Plaintiff has also asserted that he is not allowed to wear his religious head covering during the religious services he does attend. Plaintiff alleges his rights were violated under the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause, under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

         Plaintiff requests declaratory and injunctive relief stating that the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) is a separate religion from Al-Islam and "can receive a religious service like other religions." Plaintiff also seeks an award of costs of suit and $25, 000.00 in punitive damages.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment may be granted if there is "no genuine issue of material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Guthrie v. Tifco Indus., 941 F.2d 374, 376 (5th Cir. 1991). A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. at 2510. To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party must submit admissible evidence which creates a fact issue concerning the existence of every essential component of that party's case. Unsubstantiated assertions of an actual dispute will not suffice. Celotex Corp. V. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553-54, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). An opposing party cannot establish a genuine issue of material fact based on the mere allegations of the pleadings. Hulsey v. State of Texas, 929 F.2d 168, 170 (5th Cir. 1991). A non-movant cannot manufacture a factual dispute by asking the Court to draw inferences contrary to the evidence. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

         BEDISON claims plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies in regards to wearing a fez during religious ceremonies and any other claims against TDCJ for failing to provide him the opportunity to meet with MSTA members outside of the one hour services offered to Muslims on Fridays. A plaintiffs complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to exhaust his administrative remedies under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), as amended in 1996 by the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), if he failed to pursue all administrative remedies prior to bringing a civil action challenging prison conditions. See Porter v. Nussle,534 U.S. 516, 532, 122 S.Ct. 983, 152 L.Ed.2d 12, (2002) (exhaustion requirement "applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether [those suits] involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether [those suits] allege excessive force or some other ...


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