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Bynum v. Poole

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

August 17, 2017

OLANDER R. BYNUM, Plaintiff,
KATY POOLE, Defendant.


          Joe L. Webster States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Olander R. Bynum's motion for summary judgment. (Docket Entry 30.) Defendant Katy Poole has filed a response. (Docket Entry 52.) For the reasons stated herein, the Court will recommend that Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment be denied.


         Plaintiff, pro se prisoner and devout Muslim, filed this action against Defendant Poole alleging a constitutional violation of his religious rights. (See generally Complaint, Docket Entry 2.) Plaintiff contends that being a Muslim requires him to attend Jumah Service, a prayer service. (Id. at 3.) He asserts that while at Scotland Correctional Institution ("SCI"), Jumah Service, a Muslim holiday, was hosted on Fridays, but on Friday, April 3, 2015, Jumah Service was canceled. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Poole, a prison administrator, approved the cancelation of all non-Christian religious services, including Jumah Service. (Id.) Further, Plaintiff alleges that he filed three grievances on three separate occasions and never received a response. (Id. at 2-3.) As a result, on November 16, 2015, Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging Defendant Poole violated his religious rights while at SCI. (Id.)

         The Clerk entered an entry of default against Defendant Poole for failing to file an answer or otherwise respond to Plaintiffs Complaint. (Docket Entry 11.) The Court later granted a motion to set aside the entry of default (Docket Entry 22) and Defendant Poole subsequently filed an answer asserting several defenses against Plaintiffs claim. (Docket Entry 23.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment alleging Defendant Poole violated his Eighth Amendment, Equal Protection, and Due Process Clause rights by canceling Jumah Service. (Docket Entry 30.) In response, on February 20, 2017, Defendant Poole filed a motion to dismiss and strike Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment and in the alternative, an extension of time to respond. (Docket Entry 32.) In her motion, Defendant Poole asserted that Plaintiffs summary judgment motion failed to comply with Local Rules 7.2, 7.3, and 56.1, and that Plaintiff filed his summary judgment motion prior to the close of the discovery period. (Id. at 1.) The Court ruled upon Defendant's motion. (Text Order dated 6/8/2017.) Shortly thereafter, Defendant Poole filed another response in opposition to Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment. (Docket Entry 52.)


         Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment in this matter. (Docket Entry 30.) Summary judgment is appropriate when there exists 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); Zahodnick v. Int'l Bus. Mads. Corp., 135 F.3d 911, 913 (4th Cir. 1997). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of coming forward and demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, Temkin p. Frederick County Comm'rs, 945 F.2d 716, 718 (4th Cir. 1991) (citing Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must then affirmatively demonstrate that there is a genuine issue of material fact which requires trial. Matsushita Eke. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). There is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a fact finder to return a verdict for that party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Sylvia Dev. Corp. v. Calvert County, Md., 48 F.3d 810, 817 (4th Cir. 1995). Thus, the moving party can bear his burden either by presenting affirmative evidence or by demonstrating that the non-moving party's evidence is insufficient to establish his claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 331 (Brennan, dissenting). When making the summary judgment determination, the Court must view the evidence, and all justifiable inferences from the evidence, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Zahodnick, 135 F.3d at 913; Halperin v. Abacus Tech. Corp., 128 F.3d 191, 196 (4th Cir. 1997). However, the party opposing summary judgment may not rest on mere allegations or denials, and the court need not consider "unsupported assertions" or "self-serving opinions without objective corroboration." Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 962 (4th Cir. 1996); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49.

         Here, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Poole "admitted to canceling Jumah Service[, ] [thus] violating [Plaintiffs] civil rights." (Docket Entry 30 at 1.) More specifically, Plaintiff contends:

Superintendant Katy Poole did admit she cancelled Jumah Service on [April 3, 2015]. Petitioner was clearly denied freedom of religion. Freedom of Religion is provided to prison inmates by [Eighth Amendment, Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses]. Petitioner argues that Defendant(s) did not even think of canceling Christian service on that same date. Petitioner now argues, no rational reason exist for prison staffs differential treatment of prison inmate class.

(Id. at 1-2.) Defendant Poole argues that Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment should be denied for several reasons:[1] (1) Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies; (2) single or isolated incidents do not place a substantial burden on an inmate's exercise of his religion; (3) Plaintiff does not state a claim for supervisory liability; (4) Defendant Poole is entitled to qualified immunity; (5) Defendant Poole is entitled to Eleventh Amendment protection as to money damages in her official capacity; and (6) Plaintiff should not be awarded punitive damages. (Docket Entry 52 at 9-18.) For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiffs motion should be denied.

         I. Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

         Defendant Poole contends that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing the instant action. (Id. at 14-16.) The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), requires inmates to properly exhaust administrative remedies before filing civil actions challenging the conditions of their confinement. See Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 84 (2006); Moore v. Bennette, 517 F.3d 717, 725 (4th Cir. 2008). The exhaustion requirement applies "to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). It is well-settled by now that Section 1997e's exhaustion requirement is mandatory. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007); see also Woodford, 548 U.S. at 90-91 (stating that the PLRA requires "proper exhaustion, " which "demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules"); Anderson v. XYZ Correctional Health Servs., Inc., 407 F.3d 674, 676-77 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Porter, 534 U.S. at 524).

         The North Carolina Department of Public Safety ("NCDPS") has a three-step Administrative Remedy Procedure ("ARP") which governs the filing of grievances in each of its correctional facilities.[2] (See ARP Manuel, Docket Entry 23-1; see also Moore v. Bennette, 517 F.3d 717, 721 (4th Cir. 2008)). The ARP first encourages inmates to attempt informal communication with responsible officials at the facility where the problem arose. ARP § .0301(a). If informal resolution is unsuccessful, the ARP provides that "any aggrieved inmate may submit a written grievance....." Id. § .0310(a)(1). If the inmate is not satisfied with the decision reached at the above-described step one of the grievance process, he or she may request relief from the facility head. Id. § .0310(b)(1). If the inmate is not satisfied with the decision reached at the second step then he or she may appeal to the secretary of public safety through the inmate grievance examiner ("IGE"). Id. § .0310(c)(1). The decision by the IGE or a modification by the secretary of public safety constitutes the final step of the Administrative Remedy Procedure. Id. § .0310(c)(6).

         A review of Plaintiffs complaint and the exhibits attached to Defendant Poole's opposition brief demonstrates that Plaintiff did not exhausted his administrative remedies. The NCDPS grievance procedure is comprised of three distinct steps. Moore,517 F.3d 717 at 721. Defendant Poole does not dispute Plaintiffs allegations that he engaged in step one of the grievance process. For instance, on May 18, 2015, prison officials accepted a grievance by Plaintiff (Grievance No. 4860-15-0653) alleging that the intentional cancelation of Jumah Service was a direct violation of his freedom of religion. (Docket Entry 2-1.) Thereafter, prison officials responded informing Plaintiff that the service was canceled in error, and that management was notified "to ensure that all religious services are held according to policy." (Docket Entry 23-2.) The response also included Plaintiffs signature and a check mark that indicating that Plaintiff agreed with the grievance response. (Id.) The record, however, does not further indicate that upon completing Step 1 of the grievance process and receiving a response from prison officials, Plaintiff further appealed to Step 2. In fact, Defendant Poole and several prison officials, including the Grievance Officer at SCI, contend that Plaintiff did not appeal to Step 2. (Shaquanna Wall Aff. ¶ 18, Docket Entry 52-4; Katy Poole Aff. ¶ 22, Docket Entry 52-6; Charlie Locklear Aff. ¶ 20, Docket Entry 52-6.) It was not until after this lawsuit was filed did Plaintiff submit another grievance on December 28, 2015. (Wall Aff. ¶ 20; see also Docket Entry 52-4 at 12.)[3] Even if Plaintiff wanted to appeal at this point in the proceeding, "he may not exhaust (or attempt to exhaust) his administrative remedies during the pendency of a lawsuit." Thomas v. Slater, No. CA 9T0-0028-DCN-BM, 2010 WL 4822407, at *3 (D.S.C. Nov. 3, 2010) (unpublished), report and recommendation adopted, No. CA 9:10-0028 DCN, 2010 WL 4823071 (D.S.C. Nov. 22, 2010) ...

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