United States District Court, D. Delaware
DAVID M. WATSON, Plaintiff,
GUS CHRISTO, et al., Defendants. DAVID M. WATSON, Plaintiff,
JOSEPH SIMMONS and CHRISTOPHER SENATO, Defendants.
S. Kraft, Brian A. Biggs, Kaitlin M. Edelman, DLA PIPER LLP
(US), Wilmington, DE. Attorneys for Plaintiff.
C. Handlon, Stuart B. Drowos, Deputy Attorneys General,
DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Wilmington, DE. Attorneys for
ANDREWS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary
judgment. (D.I. 62). I have reviewed the parties' briefing.
(D.I. 63, 67, 74), I. BACKGROUND
is, and was at all relevant times, an inmate at James T.
Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC"), a Delaware
prison. (D.I. 31 ¶ 2).
filed a first pro se action on June 13, 2016, under
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff named the following VCC
Defendants: Chaplain Gus Christo, Grievance Chairperson
Katrina Burley, former Food Service Supervisor Joseph
Simmons, former Food Service Administrator Michael Knight,
Major John Brennan, Warden David Pierce, and Deputy Warden
James Scarborough. Plaintiff alleged violations of his civil
rights for being denied access to tefillin, a religious
object, and for being temporarily denied a kosher diet. (D.I.
filed a second pro se action on March 31, 2017, also
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleged that, in
response to his first suit, Simmons and current VCC Food
Services Director Christopher Senato retaliated against him
by reducing the variety of kosher meals at VCC. (C.A. No.
17-351-RGA, D.I. 3).
Court appointed counsel for Plaintiff in both actions. (D.I.
The Court consolidated the cases, for pre-trial purposes,
based on Plaintiffs amended complaints. (D.I. 34). Between
the two actions, Plaintiff brings claims related to
Defendants' (1) ongoing denial of tefillin, (2) denial of
a kosher diet for approximately ten weeks, and (3)
retaliation by reducing the variety of kosher meals.
Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that (1) by denying him
tefillin, Defendants Christo, Burley, Pierce, Brennan, and
Scarborough are violating his rights under the First
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the Religious Land
Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"),
42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-l et seq. (D.I. 31
¶¶ 32-37, 46-52), (2) by having denied him a kosher
diet for ten weeks, Defendants Christo, Simmons, and Knight
violated his rights under the First and Eighth Amendments of
the U.S. Constitution (id. ¶¶ 38-45), and
(3), by reducing the variety of kosher meals in retaliation
for his first suit, Defendants Simmons and Senato violated
his rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
(CA. No. 17-351-RGA, D.I. 20 H32-40).-
discovery ended November 15, 2018. (D.I. 57). All parties
except Knight were deposed. Plaintiff has also deposed
current Food Services Administrator Wendal Lundy. (D.I. 63 at
2). The pretrial conference is scheduled for April 11, 2019.
Jury trial is set to begin May 6, 2019. (D.I. 37, 72).
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts are those "that could
affect the outcome" of the proceeding. Lamont v. New
Jersey, 637 F.3d 177, 181 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986)). "[A] dispute about a material fact is
'genuine' if the evidence is sufficient to permit a
reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving
party." Id. The burden on the moving party may
be discharged by pointing out to the district court that
there is an absence of evidence supporting the non-moving
party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
burden then shifts to the non-movant to demonstrate the
existence of a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
586-87 (1986); Williams v. Borough of West Chester,
Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989). A non-moving
party asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed must
support such an assertion by: "(A) citing to particular
parts of materials in the record, including depositions,
documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or
declarations, stipulations .. ., admissions, interrogatory
answers, or other materials; or (B) showing that the
materials cited [by the opposing party] do not establish the
absence ... of a genuine dispute . . . ." Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c)(1). The non-moving party's evidence "must
amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in
the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance."
Williams, 891 F.2d at 461.
determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists,
the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in
that party's favor. Wishkin v. Potter, A16 F.3d
180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). If the non-moving party fails to
make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case
with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See
Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.
Denial of Tefillin
is a religious item normally worn by adult Jewish males
during their weekday morning prayers. A pair of tefillin
consists of two small leather boxes containing parchment
inscribed with verses from the Torah. Each box is attached to
thick leather straps several feet in length. The straps are
used to bind the boxes to the head and arm during prayer.
(D.I. 68, Ex. 3 ¶¶ 11-14; D.I. 23, Ex. A; see
also D.I. 63 at 7-8).
have twice denied Plaintiffs request for tefillin. Plaintiff
made his first request on April 9, 2016, in a letter to
Chaplain Christo. (D.I. 64, A-98, A-7 at 32:3-6). Warden
Pierce and Deputy Warden Scarborough discussed Plaintiffs
request in a senior staff meeting.The request was rejected for
security reasons. (Id., A-109 at 8:8-9:23, A-238).
According to Pierce, they were concerned that the
tefillin's long leather straps could be misused,
including "to tie up someone, either another inmate or
staff member," "to secure a door or a fence,"
"for self-harm attempts," "to affix another
weapon to one's body," or "to defeat razor wire
in an escape attempt." (Id., A-l 10 at
10:21-12:6). Further, Plaintiff was housed in the
maximum-security Residential Treatment Unit
("RTU"). (Id., A-l 12 at 11:15-12:23,
A-98, A-7 at 32:7-21). The RTU is designated for mentally ill
inmates requiring inpatient treatment. Inmates in the RTU are
at a higher risk for misconduct than other inmates, including
those in maximum security. (Id., A- 113 at
13:13-19). Plaintiff is in the RTU to receive treatment for
schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. (Id., A-2 at
filed a grievance on May 9, 2016, after his initial request
was denied. The grievance was handled by Grievance
Chairperson Burley. (Id., A-239,
2018, Defendants Scarborough and Brennan revisited Plaintiffs
tefillin request in a meeting with current Warden Metzger.
(Id., A-100 at 18:16-20:2, A-l 12 at 9:18-11:6). The
request was denied because Plaintiff was still housed in the
RTU and had recently escaped. (Id., A-101 at
21:7-22:16). There was again concern about the tefillin
leather straps, as well as use of the boxes as a weapon or to
conceal contraband. (Id., A-102 at 35:2-23).
Defendants considered possible accommodations to provide
Plaintiff with limited access to tefillin, but ultimately
determined that the security and staffing concerns were too
great. Due to its maximum-security setting and uniquely
challenging population, the RTU is "a very hectic and
very labor-intensive unit." (Id., A-103 at
a whole, is also significantly understaffed, averaging over
800 overtime positions (8-hour shifts) a week to meet
"minimum manning" requirements. (Id.,
A-106 at 61:16). Brennan explained that it would be
unmanageable to dedicate two of his eleven RTU staff members
for Plaintiffs daily use of tefillin. (Id., A-103 at
30:13-31:6). According to Plaintiffs religious beliefs, he is
required to pray with tefillin each weekday morning for
approximately ten to twenty minutes. (D.I. 68, Ex. 3 ¶
16). Scarborough stated that if Plaintiff was flexible in
when he used the tefillin, VCC "could probably find a
time frame to make it happen," but there would be no
guarantee because "things happen that cause a security
alert [and] cause [the] staff to be diverted."
(Id., Ex. 5 at 86:24-87:13).
a suitable location to store and to use the tefillin would
also be difficult. The chapel, where other religious devices
are stored and used under supervision, is in the lower
security part of VCC and not equipped for maximum-security
inmates like Plaintiff. (D.I. 64, A-104 at 33:13-34:5). The
RTU has some secure rooms, but they are primarily used by
mental health professionals to treat inmates in distress.
(Id., A-103 at 29:18-30:4). VCC would not allow the
tefillin to be stored in Plaintiffs cell for concern of
misuse. (Id., A-103 at 29:5-17, 32:4-20).
gives religious exercise heightened protection against
government burdens. Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S.
709, 714 (2005). Section 3, which ...