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Ali v. Coupe

United States District Court, D. Delaware

December 17, 2019

SHAMSIDIN ALI a/k/a ROBERT SAUNDERS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER ROBERT COUPE, et al., Defendants.

          Shamsidin Ali a/k/a Robert Saunders, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware. Pro Se Plaintiff.

          George Thomas Lees, III, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NOREIKA, U.S. District Judge

         Plaintiff Shamsidin Ali a/k/ Robert Saunders (“Plaintiff), an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (“JTVCC”) in Smyrna, Delaware, filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983[1] and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. (D.I. 2). He appears pro se and has paid the filing fee.[2] Defendants Robert Coupe (“Coupe”), David Pierce (“Pierce”) and Ronald Hosterman (“Hosterman”)[3](“Defendants”) move for summary judgment. (D.I. 61). Plaintiff opposes. The matter has been fully briefed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, along with nine other inmates, file an action in this Court on February 3, 2010, against former Delaware Department of Correction (“DOC”) Commissioner Carl Danberg (“Danberg”), then JTVCC Assistant Warden Pierce, Hosterman, and several other individuals alleging violations of RLUIPA and raising claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Cole v. Danberg, CA. No. 10-088-CFC (“2010 action”); (D.I. 62-1 at 3-11). The claims raised in the 2010 action included the denial of pre-Ramadan meals; the denial of halal meals; disparate treatment because Jewish inmates received halal (kosher) meals; and the denial of two feasts, the feasts of EID al-Fatr and EID Al-Adha. (Id.). Plaintiff who has “three strikes” under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) was ordered to pay the required filing fee and, when he did not, his claims in the 2010 action were dismissed without prejudice on February 24, 2010. (D.I. 62-1 at 13-22).

         Plaintiff commenced this action in November 2015. (See D.I. 2). The instant Complaint names former DOC Commissioner Coupe, Pierce (who had been promoted to warden), and Hosterman and raises claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, RLUIPA, and other Constitutional and state law claims. The Complaint alleges the denial of halal meals (D.I. 2, ¶ 12); the denial of the feasts of EID al-Fatir and EID Al-Adha (D.I. 2, ¶ 13); and disparate treatment because Jewish inmates received halal (kosher) meals (D.I. 2, ¶¶ 14, 15). Upon screening, the Court dismissed the claims against the DOC, the official capacities claims against Defendants under 42 U.S.C § 1983, the Delaware constitution claims that sought injunctive relief, and the RLUIPA claims that sought monetary damages. (D.I. 10 at 6-7). The remaining claims are: individual capacity damages claims under 42 U.S.C § 1983; official capacity injunctive relief claims under 42 U.S.C § 1983; individual capacity damages claims under Delaware's constitution; and official capacity injunctive relief claims under RLUIPA. (Id.)

         Requests for admissions were served upon Plaintiff on December 10, 2018. (D.I. 44). Plaintiff belatedly responded to the requests for admissions on February 1, 2019, without seeking or receiving an extension of time from the Court. (D.I. 53). Plaintiff was deposed on March 27, 2019. (D.I. 57; D.I. 62-1 at 24). At his deposition Plaintiff clarified his responses to the requests for admissions and testified that many of his responses should have been deemed admitted. (See D.I. 62-1 at 81-82, 84-100, 103-106, 236-243).

         Plaintiff has been incarcerated more than 40 years and has been housed at the JTVCC, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution (“HRYCI”), Sussex Correctional Institution (“SCI”), and correctional facilities in Florida and Pennsylvania. (D.I. 62-1 at 32-34). Plaintiff was housed at SCI from July 2001 until he returned to JTVCC in June 2005. (Id. at 50-52).

         Plaintiff converted to Islam in 1961 and is a practicing Muslim. (Id. at 48-49). Pork products have not been served at the JTVCC since 1977. (Id. at 53). Plaintiff is a diabetic and testified that he had been receiving the kosher meal plan for approximately a year and a half. (Id. at 54). In 2006, Plaintiff submitted a grievance over the issues of the kosher meal plan, halal foods, and disparate treatment of Islamic inmates.[4] (Id. at 56, 86-88, 236-243). Plaintiff testified that he first requested the kosher meal plan in 2007-2008 because that meal was considered halal under the tenets of Islam, but his request was denied. (Id. at 55). Muslim inmates began receiving kosher meals during the first quarter of 2016. (Id. at 59).

         Plaintiff testified that the general meal plan is not haram (i.e., forbidden by Islamic law). (Id. at 59). He testified that the kosher meal plan offered at JTVCC satisfies Islamic dietary requirements, as does the vegetarian meal plan. (Id. at 66). Plaintiff has no information on the cost of providing halal meat at JTVCC, no information if it is more expensive to provide halal meat, and no information on the DOC food services budget for JTVCC. (Id. at 66).

         Plaintiff testified that when he began his incarceration at JTVCC in 1976 and through the early 2000's, both the EID al-Fatir and EID al-Adha feasts were offered. (Id. at 70-71). Inmates were allowed to have outside family members bring in food and attend the feasts. (Id. at 71). Plaintiff had been housed at SCI, and when he returned to JTVCC in 2005, the feast celebrations with family members in attendance and outside food had stopped and those who wished to celebrate the two feasts were allowed cake and juice. (Id. at 72-73). The feasts with cake and juice stopped in the latter part of 2006. (Id. at 72).

         Plaintiff was part of a group that appealed the discontinuance of the feasts in 2006. (Id. at 74). In 2009, Plaintiff was part of a group who wrote to then JTVCC Warden Perry Phelps (“Phelps”) about the feasts. (Id. at 74-75). Inmate Donald Cole (“Cole”), who remains a plaintiff in the pending 2010 action, was part of that group. (Id. at 75).

         When questioned about the 2010 action, Plaintiff admitted in responses to requests for admission and during his deposition, that he signed the 2010 Complaint. (Id. at 76, 247 at Nos. 1-5). The claims Plaintiff asserted in the 2010 action included denial of halal food; providing Jewish inmates, but not Muslim inmates, with halal food; denial of pre-Ramadan meal; and denial of EID al-Fatir and EID al-Adha feasts. (Id. at 77-78, 247-248 at Nos. 9-13). Plaintiff testified that the claims in paragraphs 2(a) and 2(b) of the instant Complaint are the same halal food claims and EID al-Fatir and EID al-Adha feasts claims raised in the 2010 action. (Id. at 78). Plaintiff testified that at the time of the filing of the 2010 Complaint, he was aware the feasts with outside food and family had stopped sometime prior to 2005 as he discovered upon his transfer from SCI to JTVCC in 2005 and, while housed at JTVCC when the feasts with cake and juice stopped in 2006. (Id. at 78-79, 83).

         At his deposition, Plaintiff provided testimony and compared the alleged actions of Defendants in 2010 Complaint with the 2015 Complaint. (Id. at 106-116). Plaintiff testified that the 2015 Complaint “does not include any new or additional claims beyond those previously asserted in 2010.” (Id. at 130). He testified that he sued Pierce in 2010, because of Pierce's alleged involvement in denying halal food, denying the two feasts, and different treatment of Muslim inmates compared to Jewish inmates. (Id. at 108-109). Plaintiff testified ...


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