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Cash v. Armstrong

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

February 27, 2017

SAGE ANDREW CASH, Plaintiff,
v.
AUTUMN ARMSTRONG, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          J. RONNIE GREER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This civil matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment by defendants Autumn Armstrong and Donna Carter (“Defendants”) [Doc. 24]. Plaintiff has not filed a response in opposition to the request and the time for doing so has now passed. E.D. Tenn. L.R. 7.1, 7.2. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural

         Plaintiff filed this instant action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Autumn Armstrong, Donna Carter, Butch Gallion, and Brittany Saunders on October 21, 2014 [Doc. 1]. In the complaint, Plaintiff claimed that Defendants failed to accommodate his religious beliefs [Doc. 1]. Defendants were served and filed a timely answer to the complaint on February 27, 2015 [Doc. 11]. On June 17, 2015, Plaintiff requested leave to amend the complaint in order to add another defendant [Doc. 19]. This Court denied Plaintiff's request to add the newly identified defendant because that defendant enjoyed Eleventh Amendment immunity, thus making it futile to add such a defendant to the action [Doc. 22].

         On May 12, 2016, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment claiming the following: Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”); and, regardless, these Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on the merits [Doc. 24]. In support of their request, Defendants filed a memorandum and statement of material facts [Docs. 25, 26]. Notably, Plaintiff has not responded in opposition to summary judgment or submitted any evidence in support of his claims.

         B. Factual[1]

         While housed at Hawkins County Jail, Plaintiff submitted requests related to the Muslim religion on September 2, 14, 18, and 23, 2014 [Doc. 24-1 at ¶ 14]. On September 18, 2014, Plaintiff requested the following items by means of the jail's online kiosk system:

I AM NEEDING A QUA'RAN PRAYER RUG, RELIGIOUS HAT-KUFFIE, PRAYER OIL, RAMADON SCHEDULE, MUSLIM DIET, ADDRESS TO A MUSLIM CHURCH SO I CAN START RECEIVING VISITS SINCE THIS FACILITY DOESN'T HAVE RELIGIOUS MEETINGS FOR MUSLIMS . . . PLEASE GET THESE THINGS TO ME AS SOON AS POSSIBLE - I FEEL WITHOUT THESE THINGS THERE IS NO GOD!!

[Doc. 24-1 at 23, 24-2 at ¶ 4].

         Mr. Cash was provided coffee filters to use as a kufi and a towel to use as a prayer rug [Doc. 24-2 at ¶¶ 5, 6]. The decision to provide coffee filters as a kufi and a towel as a prayer rug was made upon the recommendation of Tonya West, a State Jail Inspector with the Tennessee Corrections Institute (“TCI”) [Id. at ¶ 7]. Inspector West advised Defendants to provide Plaintiff with coffee filters and a towel because that is what the TCI had recommended to other county jails as a solution to similar requests [Id.]. Plaintiff was provided a copy of the Quran and advised that he could have his family bring him a kufi and/or a prayer rug [Doc. 24-1 at ¶¶ 16, 17]. With respect to prayer oil, Plaintiff could not have liquid oil in his cell because of security concern about possible jail contraband [Id. at ¶ 18]. With respect to obtaining a Ramadan schedule, Plaintiff could have written to any family member or friend asking them to look up the 2014 Ramadan schedule or he could have asked any visitor to look it up for him [Id. at ¶ 19]. With respect to contacting someone to consult with about the Muslim religion, Plaintiff could have asked the Jail's Chaplain to provide this information; or he could have asked family or friends to look up this information [Id. at ¶ 20]. Defendant Armstrong met with Plaintiff to discuss his request for a Muslim diet, but Plaintiff was unable to clarify his request because he did not know what the diet consisted of [Doc. 24-2 at ¶ 8]. Since neither Defendants nor Plaintiff were aware of the requirements of a Muslim diet, no further action was taken [Id.]. Defendants deny ever making any “vulgar” or “anti-Muslim” comments to Plaintiff as was outlined in his complaint [Id. at ¶ 10].

         On October 21, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant action against Defendants asserting that Defendants failed to accommodate his religious beliefs [Doc. 1, Doc. 26].

         II. STANDARD

         Summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is proper “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). The motion can be limited to a single claim or part of each claim and the moving party bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issues of material fact exist. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 n.2 (1986); Moore v. Phillip Morris Cos., 8 F.3d 335, 339 (6th Cir. 1993). Summary judgment is proper where “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, together with ...


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