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Hunt v. Wilson County Jail Administrator

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

January 23, 2015

MITCHELL HUNT, Plaintiff,
v.
WILSON COUNTY JAIL ADMINISTRATOR et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ALETA A. TRAUGER, District Judge.

Before the court is the plaintiff's objection (ECF No. 47) to the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") filed by Magistrate Judge Juliet Griffin (ECF No. 44). Magistrate Judge Griffin recommends that the defendants' motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 35) (which is actually a motion for partial summary judgment) be granted and that this action be dismissed.

When a party files objections to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation regarding a dispositive motion, as in this case, the district court must review de novo any portion of the report and recommendation to which objections are properly lodged. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) & (C). In conducting its review, the district court "may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

For the reasons set forth herein, the court will accept the R&R and dismiss this action in its entirety.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The original complaint names as defendants Jail Administrator Doug Whitefield and Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan in their official capacities only. The court conducted an initial review of the complaint and found that the plaintiff stated arguable legal claims for relief based upon allegations that his religious rights were violated at the jail. The plaintiff alleges that his request to speak to his Muslim Imam was denied because he was told that "Islamic Clergy cannot visit for religious reasons because they are not part of the Wilson County Jail Ministry" (ECF No. 1, at 5); he was also told that "Holy Qur'ans cannot be sent to inmates or donated because they are sold on the commissary." ( Id. ) The plaintiff seeks punitive damages from each defendant.

The plaintiff was later allowed to amend his complaint to assert that the defendants denied him access to law books in retaliation for his filing the instant lawsuit. In his amendment, the plaintiff states:

Between May 5, 2014 and July 22, 2014 I have been denied access to the legal material (state law books) of this jail. On numerous occassions I have requested access, my request has went unanswered. When questioned, the C.O.s (Correctional Officers) states that "all" requests must go through Lt. Whitefield and be sent back to the units control tower before an inmate can be given access to the law books. Before the month of May 2014 I was regularly granted access to the law books. The civil case that I am adding this pleading to began in late April 2014, therefore, I believe denying me access to the law books is retaliation by Lt. Doug Whitefield and Sheriff Robert Bryan.

(ECF No. 22, at 1-2.)

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment requesting an order "dismissing all claims against them with prejudice." (ECF No. 35, at 1.) The motion, however, is actually a motion for partial summary judgment because it addresses only the plaintiff's First Amendment claims and not the retaliation claim. The motion is supported by declarations in which the defendants attest that, pursuant to Wilson County Jail policy, (1) the jail does not provide free copies of the Quran, but if a copy of the Quran had been donated or mailed to the plaintiff, he would have been allowed to have it (Whitefield Dec. ¶ 5); and (2) ministers of all faiths, including Muslim imams, are allowed to visit jail inmates during standard visiting hours and are not required to become part of the Wilson County Jail Ministry unless they seek to do more than visit during normal visiting hours. ( Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) Becoming part of the Wilson County Jail Ministry entails undergoing a background check and orientation process in order to permit the jail administration to ensure that clergy in the jail ministry are legitimate ministers and not using the ministry for an improper purpose. ( Id. ¶¶ 9-10.)

The defendants point out that the plaintiff sues them in their official capacity only and does not allege that they were personally involved in the actions giving rise to the claims in his complaint. Instead, the plaintiff asserts that an unnamed jail officer, who is not a defendant, told the plaintiff that he would not be permitted to receive a donated Quran and that his imam would not be permitted to visit him. The defendants argue that, even if the plaintiff's factual allegations are accepted as true, he has not shown that he suffered a constitutional violation as a result of an official policy or custom of the jail. The defendants also argue that the plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and that the defendants are entitled to judgment in their favor on that basis as well.

The plaintiff responded to the motion for summary judgment by filing his own statement of disputed facts (ECF No. 42-1, at 1-2), a copy of the defendants' answer ( id. at 3-5), and copies of his responses to discovery requests served on him by the defendants. He argues that jail inmates are not allowed to speak directly to the defendants, and that the defendants should be liable for the words and actions of the correctional officers because they represent the jail's customs and because the statements from the correctional officers are "the same as coming from Lt. Whitefield or Sheriff Bryan." (ECF No. 42, at 1.) He further asserts that he filed a grievance in February 2014 about the denial of a Qur'an and religious visits but never received a response to his grievance. In his response to the defendants' discovery, the plaintiff stated:

Unidentified C.O. did say that a Holy Qur'an mailed to me would "be refused and mailed back."
The same C.O. did not say that Islamic clergy could go through a process for visitation only that "they couldn't visit because... they are not ...

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