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Gillen v. Parker

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

February 20, 2018

LAWRENCE GILLEN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER TONY PARKER, et al., Defendants.

          Trauger Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ALISTAIR E. NEWBERN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Lawrence Gillen is a prisoner in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning, Tennessee. Gillen brought this lawsuit to challenge an alleged violation of his religious freedom at his prior place of incarceration, the South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF) in Clifton, Tennessee. Proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, Gillen sued TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker and two of his assistants, as well as the warden, assistant warden, and chaplain of SCCF, for denying him the opportunity to participate in the observance of Ramadan, a month-long period of fasting during daylight hours that is one of the five pillars of Islam. Wall v. Wade, 741 F.3d 492, 501 n.14 (4th Cir. 2014). Gillen brings his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violation of his religious freedoms under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution; the Tennessee Constitution Article I, Section 3; and the Religious Land Use Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Upon screening of the complaint under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Court dismissed Gillen's claims against all defendants except SCCF Chaplain Randall Runions. (Doc. No. 4, PageID# 24- 25.)

         Runions has now filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 25). The motion is supported by Runions's declaration (Doc. No. 25-1), a memorandum of law (Doc. No. 26), and a statement of undisputed facts (Doc. No. 27). Gillen did not file a timely response in opposition to Runions's motion or respond to the statement of undisputed facts. On November 22, 2017, the undersigned issued an order to show cause why she should not recommend that the action be dismissed for the reasons stated in the motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 31.) Gillen responded to the order to show cause with his declaration, supported by the affidavit of inmate Antonio Bonds. (Doc. No. 32.) The Court construes Gillen's declaration as an untimely response in opposition to the motion for summary judgment. Runions has filed a reply. (Doc. No. 36.)

         For the following reasons, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that Runions's Motion for Summary Judgment be GRANTED and that this case be DISMISSED.

         I. Factual Background

         Runions's statement of undisputed facts is supported by his declaration (Doc. No. 25-1) and an excerpt from Gillen's interrogatory responses (Doc. No. 25-2). Gillen did not respond to the statement of undisputed facts and those facts are therefore considered established for purposes of summary judgment under this Court's local rules. M.D. Tenn. R. 56.01(g) (failure to respond). The undisputed facts as asserted in Runions's statement are as follows:

At all times relevant to the allegations in the Complaint, Plaintiff was incarcerated at South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF). SCCF is operated by CoreCivic, a private corporation [that] contracts with the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) to house inmates at SCCF. Before this lawsuit was filed, Plaintiff transferred to West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning, Tennessee.
Defendant Randall Runions was and is the Chaplain at SCCF. As part of its contract with TDOC, SCCF is required to implement and follow TDOC policies and procedures concerning religious programs and accommodations for inmates. At SCCF, if an inmate wishes to identify a religious preference, he must submit a written request to Chaplain Runions. When an inmate changes his religious preference, Chaplain Runions documents the change in the Tennessee Offender Management Information System (TOMIS), a computerized database for the TDOC. Pursuant to TDOC policy, an inmate may change his religious preference no more frequently than once a quarter.
Pursuant to TDOC policy, in addition to regular worship services provided to various religious groups, SCCF also provides extra worship services and group gatherings to accent special observances, religious holidays, and feasts. All special worship services and group gatherings for special observances, religious holidays and feasts, must be conducted in accordance with guidelines approved by the Assistant Commissioner of Rehabilitative Services for TDOC.
Every year, SCCF provides Muslim inmates the opportunity to participate in the Ramadan fast and in the Eid al-Fitr feast at the conclusion of Ramadan. Every year prior to Ramadan, the TDOC's Assistant Commissioner of Rehabilitative Services issues a memorandum setting forth the guidelines that must be followed by SCCF and other Tennessee facilities in offering Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr feast to inmates.
Observance of Ramadan in 2016 lasted from early June to early July. The [Eid al-Fitr] feast occurred on or about July 7, 2016. On April 13, 2016, the Assistant Commissioner issued the guidelines for the 2016 Ramadan fast and the Eid Al-Fitr feast. In implementing and following the TDOC guidelines, SCCF only allows inmates who have identified their religious preference on TOMIS as “Black Muslim, ” “Mohammedan, ” “Islamic, ” “Muslim-Nation of Islam, ” “Muslim-Sunni, ” or “Muslim-not NOI or Sunni” to participate in Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr feast.
Every year, inmates are informed of the policy allowing only inmates identified with an appropriate religious preference on TOMIS to be allowed to participate in Ramadan. One of the purposes of the policy allowing only inmates that have identified an Islamic religious preference in participating in Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr feast is to maintain the order and security of the institution. By limiting participation, the policy prevents non-Muslim inmates from attempting to take advantage of participating in the Eid al-Fitr feast and receiving extra food. If the feast were open to all inmates, numerous inmates could attempt to receive the benefits of the feast even though they do not identify as Muslim. The policy further ensures the efficiency for SCCF in planning and distributing meals to inmates who truly follow and practice Islam and prevents the possibility of SCCF being forced to prepare extra meals for inmates who do not truly practice Islam but simply wish to take advantage of Islam's religious observances. At all times relevant to this matter, Defendant Runions adhered to the applicable policies and procedures concerning religious programs and accommodations for inmates.
Plaintiff had no religious preference identified on TOMIS in June or July of 2016. Plaintiff does not follow “one true faith.” Instead, he “stud[ies] all religions.”[1] In June of 2016, Plaintiff asked Defendant Runions why he had not been allowed to participate in Ramadan. Defendant Runions reminded Plaintiff that pursuant to policy, only inmates identified as Muslim on TOMIS could participate in Ramadan and the Eid-al-Fitr feast and explained to Plaintiff that if he wished to participate, he would need to submit the appropriate request to him changing his religious preference. Defendant Runions never received a request from Plaintiff seeking a change to his religious preference.
As the Chaplain for SCCF, Defendant Runions is not a policy or procedure maker for the TDOC or for SCCF. Defendant Runions does not have the authority to act in contravention to guidelines issued by the TDOC concerning allowing ...

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