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Bynum v. Poole

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

November 13, 2017

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


          Joe L. Webster United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Katy Poole's motion for summary judgment. (Docket Entry 58.) Plaintiff Olander R. Bynum has filed a response. (Docket Entry 65; see also Docket Entry 68.) For the reasons stated herein, the Court will recommend that Defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted.


         Plaintiff, a pro se prisoner and devout Muslim, filed this action against Defendant 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, a prison administrator, approved the cancellation 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 that Defendant violated his religious rights while at SCI. (Id.) The Clerk entered an entry of default against Defendant 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 violated his Eighth Amendment, Equal Protection, and Due Process Clause rights by canceling Jumah Service. (Docket Entry 30.) The undersigned entered a recommendation that Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment be denied (Docket Entry 61), and on September 18, 2017, the Court adopted the recommendation. (Docket Entry 67.) Defendant's motion for summary judgment is now pending before the Court.


         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); Zabodnick v.. Int'l Bus. Machs. 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 v. 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 patty 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. Zabodnick, 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, 477U.S. at 248-49.

         Here, in support of her motion for summary judgment, Defendant incorporates the affidavits and attached exhibits submitted in response to Plaintiffs motion for summary judgement. (Docket Entry 60 at 1; see also Docket Entries 52-3, 52-4, 52-5, 52-6.) According to her affidavit, Defendant asserts that she is not responsible for scheduling religious services or any programs at SCI, but she is assured that SCI staff makes a good faith effort to ensure all scheduled programs are provided to the inmate populations in accordance with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety ("NCDPS") policies and procedures. (Katy Poole Affidavit ¶¶ 8, 10, Docket Entry 52-6.) Charlie Locklear, correctional program director, was responsible for overseeing facility programs at SCI during the relevant time period, including "ensuring that the facility Chaplain and program staff organized, supervised, and facilitated inmate religious services at [SCI]." (Charlie Locklear Aff. ¶ 8, Docket Entry 52-5.) In April 2015, Jumah services were schedule to be held on Friday from 1:00 p.m. through 2:00 p.m. (Id. ¶ 11; Ex. 4, Docket Entry 52-5 at 38.) April 3, 2015, was Good Friday which was a State holiday; thus, the Chaplain and program staff were not scheduled to work. (Locklear Aff. ¶ 12.) Prior to holidays, Locklear usually communicated with correctional staff that the Chaplain and program staff would be off work, but religious services should still be held for inmates. (Id. ¶ 13.) Religious materials remained in the Chapel for programs and services. (Id.)

         On April 6, 2015, Locklear was informed that Jumah services from the previous Friday had been canceled. (Id. ¶ 14.) Locldear states that the services were canceled "in error by correctional staff because the Chaplain and program staff were off." (Id. ¶ 14.) Locldear immediately notified Defendant of the error. (Id. ¶ 15; Poole Aff. ¶ 14.) Locklear apologized to inmates for the mistake, and followed up with correctional and program staff to ensure that future Jumah services would be held in accordance with prison policies. (Locldear Aff. ¶¶ 16-17.)

         Defendant also submitted evidence of the Administrative Remedy Procedure. 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.[1] (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).

         In support of her motion, Defendant argues that: (1) Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies; (2) the cancellation of a single Jumah service is insufficient to establish a constitutional violation of Plaintiffs religious rights; (3) Plaintiff does not state a claim for supervisory liability; (4) Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity; (5) Defendant is entitled to Eleventh Amendment protection in her official capacity; and (6) Plaintiff should not be awarded punitive damages as no evidence of aggravated conduct is present. (Docket Entry 60 at 6-14.) For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's motion should be granted.

         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 6-8.) 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. Nussk, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). It is well-settled 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 Or. 2005) (citing Porter, 534 U.S. at 524).

         A review of evidence demonstrates that Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies. As previously noted, the NCDPS grievance procedure is comprised of three distinct steps. Moore, 517 F.3d 717 at 721. Defendant does not dispute Plaintiffs allegations that he engaged in step one of the grievance process. On May 18, 2015, prison officials accepted a grievance by Plaintiff (Grievance No. 4860-15-0653) alleging that the intentional cancellation 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; Poole Aff. ¶ 22; Locldear Aff. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff has presented no evidence to refute this contention and his self-serving affidavit is not sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact. Evans, 80 F.3d at 962; Jones v. Metis, No. 5:11-CV-00122-RBH, 2012 WL 630180, at *3 (D.S.C. Feb. 27, 2012) (unpublished) ("[Unsubstantiated allegation[s], wholly lacking in evidentiary support, [are] insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether [prisoner] did, in fact, exhaust his administrative remedies."). Thus, it is clear that Plaintiff never continued further in the grievance process to exhaust his administrative remedies.

         It was not until after this lawsuit was filed did Plaintiff submit another grievance on December 28, 2015. (Wall Aff. ¶ 18; see also Docket Entry 52-4 at 12.)[2] The law is settled that Plaintiff "may not exhaust (or attempt to exhaust) his administrative remedies during the pendency of a lawsuit." Thomas v. Slater, No. CA 9:10-0028-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) (citation omitted); see also Seamons v. Guise, No. 3:16-CV-649-FDW, 2017 WL 190101, at *2 (W.D. N.C. Jan. 17, 2017) (unpublished) ("The law is settled that a plaintiff must exhaust administrative remedies before filing a claim, and a prisoner is not entitled to exhaust administrative remedies during the ...

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