United States District Court, D. Delaware
Parson, SCI Chester, Chester, Pennsylvania; Michael Manley
and David Stevenson, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center,
Smyrna, Delaware. Pro Se Plaintiffs.
Patrick Connell, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department
of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants
David Pierce and Christopher Senato.
NOREIKA, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
Ernest Parson ("Parson"), Michael Manley
("Manley"), and David Stevenson
"Plaintiffs"), former and current inmates at the
James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC") in
Smyrna, Delaware, filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized
Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, et seq.
("RLUIPA"). They proceed pro se and have
paid the filing fee. Stevenson moves for summary judgment
(D.I. 75) as do Defendants David Pierce ("Pierce")
and Christopher Senato ("Senato") (together
"Defendants") (D.I. 76). The matters have been
September 12, 2012, Plaintiffs, who identify as Muslim, as
well as other inmates, who identify as Catholic and Jewish,
commenced this action alleging violations of their right to
practice their respective religions. See Desmond v.
Phelps, C.A. No. 12-1120-RGA (D. Del.). In light of the
divergent religions of Plaintiffs in that case, and upon
Defendants' motion, the claims of Parson, Manley and
Stevenson were severed from C.A. No. 12-1120-RGA, and the
severed matter was opened and given a new case number on
April 22, 2015. (See D.I. 1). When C.A. No.
12-1120-RGA was filed, Plaintiffs were housed "in and/on
Max-Death Row," at VCC and Stevenson and Manley were
death sentence inmates. (D.I. 66 at 3).
corrected Amended Complaint (D.I. 66) contains nine counts.
Two counts are brought by all three Plaintiffs, while the
remaining counts are brought by then death row inmates Manley
and Stevenson. Plaintiffs allege Defendants placed
unnecessary burdens on the practice of their religion in
violation of the First Amendment of the United States
Constitution and RLUIPA.
1 and 3 are raised by all Plaintiffs and allege: (1) denial
of a Halal diet (Count 1); and (2) denial of access to
disposable razors and/or allowing Plaintiffs to purchase hair
removal products from the Commissary (Count 3). Counts 2, 4,
5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 are raised by Manley and Stevenson and
allege: (1) prohibition of more than three books in a cell at
one time (Count 2); (2) the lack of congregational worship
opportunities (Count 4); (3) prohibition against possessing
more than two towels, wash cloths, and bars of soap (Count
5); (4) denying nutritionally adequate diet during the holy
month of Ramadan (Count 6); (5) prohibition from engaging in
individual and group prayer outside the cell or in open areas
(Count 7); (6) prison rules prevent the Muslim call to prayer
(Count 8); and (7) the lack of Halal commissary items (Count
9). Plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief.
housing assignments have changed since the filing of the
original complaint. Parson was transferred from VCC to SCI
Chester in Chester, Pennsylvania. (D.I. 78 at 23-24; D.I. 84).
Manley has been moved from the Security Housing Unit
(“SHU”) to the Victor Building which he
understands is a medium/minimum building that houses
medium-classified and minimum-classified inmates.
(Id. at 17). Stevenson was first housed in the
“old max, ” then moved to SHU, then moved to
medium-high housing unit (“MHU”) and is now
housed in minimum security. (D.I. 60 at 24; D.I. 78 at 4).
alleges that a sincerely held belief of the Islamic faith is
the removal of body hair, shortening the mustache, and
clipping the nails, and that the VCC has abandoned its policy
of giving Muslim inmates access to disposable razors and/or
allowing them to purchase hair removal products from the
commissary. (D.I. 66 at 8). In their current VCC housing
assignments, Manley and Stevenson are permitted razors within
prison rules. Prior to his transfer to the Victor
Building, Manley testified that the prohibition of razors was
an issue. (D.I. 60 at A-41). Manley testified that he was
given cream as an alternative, but it burned his skin.
(Id. at A-42). Manley testified that he suggested
the option of providing inmates with bladeless battery
powered trimmers. (Id. at A-43). In their current
housing assignments, Manley and Stevenson cannot possess
trimmers, but they are provided razors three days a week
which they can use for a few hours before returning them.
(D.I. 78 at SA-136). According to Stevenson, that is not done
in SHU or MHU. (Id.). Stevenson testified that Magic
Shave hair removal cream is sold at the commissary, but is
“pretty harsh” and only formulated for the face.
(Id. at SA-137-138).
to former warden Pierce, VCC inmates housed in SHU and MHU
are prohibited from possessing razors. (D.I. 60 at A-78). The
policy to prohibit razors became effective sometime in
2009-2010 after a number of incidents where inmates used
razors to assault other inmates. (Id.). Following
implementation of the policy there was a significant
reduction in the amount of assaults with razors at VCC.
(Id. at A-79). Another reason for the policy is to
reduce self-harm in the facility, including harm from
swallowing dangerous objects such as razors. (Id.).
At the time of Pierce's affidavit, inmates housed on the
compound (i.e., not maximum security housing) were
permitted to have and use razors. (Id.). Inmates in
SHU and MHU are permitted to purchase a depilatory cream from
the commissary. (Id.).
alleges that Plaintiffs were denied the basic necessities of
a nutritionally adequate diet during the holy month of
Ramadan from 2011 through 2015. (D.I. 66 at 11). Stevenson did
not provide any specific testimony regarding the alleged lack
of a nutritionally adequate diet during Ramadan, although he
testified that he wanted Senato to “approve and set up
a Halal program for the Muslims.” (D.I. 60 at A-13).
Manley testified that the “one” deficiency in the
food is that “there's no Halal diet.”
(Id. at A-33). Manley also, however, testified that
“the amount of food served is also a problem” and
“the quality of the food served is a problem.”
(Id. at A-38).
is VCC's food service director and during the relevant
time-frame oversaw the VCC's food service operation.
(Id. at A-83). He did not draft the religious diet
policy or provide input into the policy and lacks authority
to change the religious diet policy at VCC. (Id.).
According to Senato, the DOC offers meal accommodations to
Muslim inmates during Ramadan. (Id. at A-84).
“The Ramadan diet is not a different diet per
se, but a bagged breakfast meal and the regular dinner
meal with additional vegetables added as a supplement.”
(Id.). Ramadan meals are served before sunrise and
after sunset because observant Muslims fast during the day
and during the regular prison lunch and dinner hours.
(Id.). The prison administrator and staff must serve
Ramadan meals after sundown and those meals are prepared and
placed in insulated clamshell trays until they are served.
(Id.). According to Senato, approximately 430
inmates observe Ramadan, and the monthly observance of
Ramadan results in nearly 13, 000 meals that are served
outside of the normal routine of prison food service.
the years Manley and Stevenson have written letters, made
complaints, and submitted grievances raising religious
issues. Stevenson wrote to VCC Chaplain Frank Pennell
(“Pennell”) on February 13, 2011 and requested a
volunteer Imam be allowed to provide Stevenson religious
counseling. (D.I. 46 at 18). The request was denied.
(Id. at 23). Manley and Stevenson also submitted a
petition for an Islamic Imam. (Id. at 19). Stevenson
submitted a grievance on February 20, 2011, No. 220992,
making the request for the volunteer Imam, it was rejected,
Stevenson appealed, and the matter was resolved. (D.I. 46-1
at 1-3; D.I. 60 at A-86-93). Manley submitted two grievances,
No. 236832 and No. 225819, and asked for the use of
electronic hair clippers to shave his body since razors were
unavailable to him. (Id. at A-94-96). Grievance No.
236832, submitted December 18, 2011, was deemed non-grievable
as a duplicate and noted that the issued had been addressed
and ruled on by the Bureau Chief. (Id. at A-95).
Grievance No. 225819 is not contained in the record.
January 3, 2012, Stevenson wrote to VCC Security Housing Unit
(“SHU”) counselor and made a request to serve
Muslim inmates Halal meals and add Halal items to the
Commissary. (D.I. 46 at 24). Pennell responded to the request
on January 10, 2012 and advised Stevenson of the current diet
provided for Muslim inmates and that Halal items were
currently not available in the Commissary. (Id. at
25). The same day Stevenson wrote to then VCC warden Perry
Phelps (“Phelps”) and made the same request.
(Id. at 26). Stevenson received a response on June
6, 2012. (Id. at 27).
20, 2012, inmate Idris Young submitted a group grievance, No.
249492, that include Manley and Stevenson, complaining that
inadequate food portions were being served during Ramadan.
(D.I. 46-1 at 4). The outcome of that grievance is unknown.
22, 2012, Manley submitted a group grievance, No. 249493,
that included Stevenson, complaining that breakfast had
arrived late every day during Ramadan. (D.I. 60 at A-97-109).
The matter was resolved. On July 26, 2012, Stevenson
submitted a grievance, No. 249870, requesting a time certain
for the morning Ramadan meal to be served. (Id. at
A-110-115). The grievance was returned as non-grievable and
as a duplicate noting that Stevenson was included in
grievance No. 249493. (Id. at A-115). On July 29,
2012, Manley submitted another group grievance, No. 249953,
complaining about the lateness of breakfast during Ramadan.
(Id. at A-116-128). The grievance was resolved.
“January 10, 2013” [sic], Coupe advised Stevenson
that his office had received his January 1, 2014
correspondence requesting additional hours to view religious
materials via the institutions' broadcasting network and
advised Stevenson to direct his concerns at the institutional
level. (D.I. 46 at 33).
August of 2013, Stevenson submitted a grievance, No. 272140,
noting that razors are banned for inmates housed in SHU and
Death Row and seeking a way to remove body hair, either by
razor or depilatories. (Id. at 28-29). The grievance
was returned, noting that the grievance exceeded the
seven-day period from the date of occurrence, the request was
not processed through the grievance procedure (i.e.,
non-grievable), and per the Housing Rules inmates “are
to tend to their own spiritual needs” “Chaplain
staff is available for assistance.” (Id. at
30). On January 13, 2014, Stevenson was advised by then