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Redmond v. Birrenkott

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

August 20, 2019

GRACE BIRRENKOTT, C.D.P., in her individual and official capacity; VAN JOHNSON, Sargent, in his individual and official capacity; and DONNA BYRNES, C53, in her individual and official capacity, Defendants.



         BEFORE THE COURT, without oral argument, is a Motion for Summary Judgment on Qualified Immunity, ECF No. 33, by Defendants Grace Birrenkott, Van Johnson, and Donna Byrnes. Having reviewed the briefing and supporting documents submitted by Defendants, Plaintiff Phillip Dennis Redmond's response and supporting declaration, and the relevant law, the Court grants Defendants' motion and enters judgment in their favor.


         Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Mr. Redmond, the relevant timeline of events is as follows. In fall 2017, Mr. Redmond was enrolled in chemical dependency programming as an inmate at the Airway Heights Corrections Center in Airway Heights, Washington (“Airway Heights”). ECF Nos. 35 at 2; 40 at 1.

         On approximately September 13, 2017, Plaintiff applied for a work proscription from the Airway Heights chaplain. ECF No. 12 at 5. As Plaintiff asserts in his complaint, “The Chaplain approved the ‘work proscription on 9/15/2017 and [subsequently] sent out e-mails to Education and Chemical Dependency informing them of my ‘work proscription' days.” Id. It is undisputed that prison staff excused Mr. Redmond from participating in programming to observe the Jewish holiday of Sukkot on October 5 and 6, 2017. See ECF No. 34 at 1.

         On September 28, 2017, chemical dependency program staff assigned Mr. Redmond to complete a “Learning Experience” exercise and to turn in his work by October 5, 2017. See ECF No. 35 at 2. On October 6, 2017, Mr. Redmond attended the Chemical Dependency “group.” ECF No. 39 at 1. Chemical Dependency Program counselor, “Ms. Orazko”[1] asked Mr. Redmond if he was ready to present his “Learning Experience” that she had assigned to him earlier in the week. ECF No. 38 at 1-2. According to Mr. Redmond, he informed Ms. Orazko that he did not bring his work with him “due to the day being a movie day and work proscription holiday.” ECF No. 38 at 2.[2]

         Ms. Orazko allowed Mr. Redmond to return to watch the remainder of the movie with the group. Mr. Redmond recalls, “I finished the movie and popcorn with the rest of the group and returned to the unit without further incident.” ECF No. 38 at 2.

         On approximately October 9, 2017, Chemical Dependency Counselor Grace Birrenkott issued Mr. Redmond a “105 infraction” for “failing to perform a work, training, education, or other programming assignment as directed.” ECF No. 35 at 2. Ms. Birrenkott's general infraction report notified Mr. Redmond that a hearing on the alleged infraction would occur on October 13, 2017. ECF No. 35-1 at 2. Although Mr. Redmond signed the general infraction report on October 10, 2017, he did not attend the hearing. Id.

         Correctional Sergeant Van Johnson conducted the infraction hearing that Mr. Redmond did not attend and, finding that Mr. Redmond had committed the 105 infraction, sanctioned Mr. Redmond to five days of cell confinement. ECF No. 35 at 2. Plaintiff appealed Sergeant Johnson's decision to Airway Heights Hearings Officer Donna Byrnes. ECF No. 38 at 2. Ms. Byrnes contacted the chaplain who had approved Mr. Redmond's work proscription to ask whether he supported a reversal. ECF No. 35-1 at 6. Ms. Byrne's written decision affirming the sanction recounts that the chaplain “indicated that there would be no excuse for [Plaintiff] not to have completed [Plaintiff's] program assignments as they were assigned on 09/28/17 which left [Plaintiff] plenty of time to get them done.” ECF No. 35-1 at 6.

         Plaintiff subsequently filed this lawsuit stating claims for damages under Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants in their individual and official capacities. See ECF No. 12. Plaintiff seeks $1, 000 in compensatory damages against each of the three Defendants, jointly and severally, punitive damages of $2, 500 against each defendant, “enhanced damages” of $10, 000, Plaintiff's costs incurred in pursuing this lawsuit, and “[a]ny additional relief this Court deems just.” ECF No. 12 at 8.


         Defendants seek judgment in their favor on the basis that Mr. Redmond's claims fail as a matter of law and need not proceed to a factfinder. Defendants maintain that they are entitled to qualified immunity from suit. Plaintiff responds that disputed issues of material fact preclude summary judgment. ECF Nos. 38, 39, and 40.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A genuine dispute exists where “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material if it “might affect the ...

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