United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Motions for Summary Judgment
filed by the parties. Dkts. #73 and #79. The Court has
determined it can rule on these Motions without oral
argument. For the reasons stated below,
Defendants' Motion is GRANTED and Plaintiffs' Motion
Demario Roberts, Mohamed Mohamed, Jeremy Livingston, Naim
Lao, and John James are inmates at the Monroe Correctional
Complex (“MCC” or “Monroe”), part of
the Washington State Department of Corrections
(“DOC”). The Defendants are individuals
associated with that facility: Stephen Sinclair, the
Secretary of the DOC, Belinda Stewart, DOC Corrections
Program Administrator, Jamie Dolan, DOC Food Services
Administrator, Mike Obeland, Superintendent of MCC, Jeff
Uttecht, Superintendent of Coyote Ridge Corrections Center,
David Sherman, Chaplain at MCC, Mr. Fischer, another chaplain
at MCC, Pete Maxson, Grievance Coordinator at MCC, Sergeant
Parks at the MCC, Sergeant Rose at the MCC, and an
unidentified chaplain at MCC. See Dkt. #59. Some
Defendants are sued in their official capacity, some in their
individual capacity, and some in both capacities.
Id. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated their
rights by denying them access to special meals during the
month of Ramadan in the Islamic Calendar. See Id.
The Amended Complaint lists the following causes of action:
violation of the Eighth (and Fourteenth) Amendment's
right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment,
violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized
Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), violations of the First
(and Fourteenth) Amendment's free exercise of religion
and equal protection clauses, and a civil rights claim under
§ 1983. Id.
DOC's Ramadan Meal Policy in 2018
are practicing Muslims who sincerely believe observing
Ramadan is required by their religious faith. See
Dkt. #80-1 (“Livingston Dep.”), 27:24-30-25; Dkt.
#80-3 (“Mohamed Dep.”), 21:20-22:25; Dkt. #80-2
(“James Dep.”), 8:8-8:13, 20:3-20:11; Dkt. #80-9
(“Lao Dep.”), 24:20-26:5; Dkt. #80-10
(“Roberts Dep.”), 12:18-13:7, 23:5-23:7. In
accordance with their Islamic faith, Muslims worldwide
observe Ramadan as a month of fasting. See Dkt.
#79-3 (“2018 Ramadan Memo”) at 5. During Ramadan,
participating Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from
dawn until sunset. Participating Muslims are permitted to
consume food and liquids during the remaining hours (sunset
until dawn). See id.; see also Dkt. #80-4
(“Obenland Dep.”), 22:5-23:13.
year, the Washington DOC issues a Memorandum from the
Corrections Program Administrator and the Food Services
Administrator addressed to “All Incarcerated
Individuals.” See Dkt. #79-3; Dkt. #79-21
(“Stewart Dep.”), 63:20-25, 64:1-2. The 2018
Ramadan Memo explains the sign-up process that inmates were
required to follow to be added to the Ramadan Meal Program.
The memo sets a sign-up deadline two weeks after the memo is
issued. Stewart Dep. at 32:12-24, 52:19-54:18. Attached is a
Ramadan Meal Request Form the inmates are required to fill
out as part of the sign-up process. Stewart Dep. at
34:17-37:9; Dkt. #79-2 at 1-3.
are eligible to participate in the Ramadan Meal Program if
they satisfy one of two criteria: “Ramadan participant
approval will be based on participation in Islamic/Muslim
religious programming over the past six (6) months or those
currently on a halal meal.” Dkt. #79-3 at 2. Defendant
Stewart states that he added these criteria because he
thought it would “be as inclusive as possible”
while also trying “to weed out individuals who are in
the system who have no religious affiliation to Ramadan of
any kind and… sign up just because they think it's
something different to eat, ” and to ensure that
participants “have some sort of sincerity toward the
faith.” Stewart Dep. at 43:1-21, 50:17-51:17.
2018, Ramadan began on May 16. The Ramadan Memo was issued on
January 16, 2018, and inmates had until 5 pm on January 30,
2018, to sign-up for Ramadan meals. Dkt. #79-2. Facility
chaplains had a separate deadline of February 15, 2018, to
submit a request for an exception to Defendant Stewart's
office for consideration. Stewart Dep. at 69:12-25 to 70:1-
16. Inmates were not notified of the deadline set for
chaplains to submit requests for exceptions. Stewart Dep. at
69:12-25 to 70:1-16.
inmate who failed to jump through the above procedural hoops
would not receive a meal after sunset. Stewart Dep. at
69:2-7. Such an inmate was still eligible to receive normal
meals during the day and may have had access to snacks and
other such food they purchased for themselves from the
commissary. See Dkt. #79-22 at 9.
Ramadan Memo indicates that “Ramadan participants will
not be provided any other alternative meals during this
time.” Dkt. #79-3 at 2. “Alternative” in
this context refers to special dietary meals. See
Stewart Dep. at 63:3-12.
Facts Specific to these Plaintiffs
five Plaintiffs were inmates in DOC's custody during
Roberts has been in DOC custody since May 2017 and was housed
at MCC from June 2017 until May 2019. Dkt. #75-1 at 15-16 and
32. He has not requested a religious diet during his
incarceration. Roberts indicated in deposition that he has
not requested halal meals because he does not like DOC food
and “I just don't eat here.” Roberts Dep. at
20:23-21:5. DOC did not receive a Ramadan meal request form
from Roberts in 2018. Dkt. #16, (“Stewart Dec.”),
¶ 12; Dkt. #77 (“Sherman Dec.”), ¶ 6.
Because DOC did not receive a form, Roberts was not on the
list of approved inmates when Ramadan 2018 began.
21, 2018, DOC received a grievance from Roberts that he was
not receiving Ramadan meals. Dkt. #17, (“Maxson
Dec.”), at ¶ 7 & Dkt #17-1 at 38. Grievance
Coordinator Peter Maxson interviewed Roberts that day and
asked Roberts whether he signed up for the Ramadan meal
program. Dkt #17 at ¶ 7. Roberts responded he had not.
Maxson also asked Roberts whether he had seen the sign-up
information posted in January. Roberts said he had, but that
he did not submit the required form. Id. Maxson
asked Roberts if he agreed to informally resolve the
grievance on that basis, and the grievance was marked
informally resolved at Level 0. Roberts did not appeal or
pursue the grievance further. Id.
Mohamed entered DOC custody in 2015. Mohamed Dep. at 9:13-14.
He was housed at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in 2016
and 2017, where he signed up for and participated in the
Ramadan meal program. Stewart Dec., at ¶ 13; Mohamed
Dep. at 22:19-25. Mohamed transferred to MCC in December 2017
and had an anticipated earned early release date in May.
Stewart Dec. at ¶ 13; Mohamed Dep. at 16:16-18. However,
in April 2018, while housed in the minimum security unit,
Mohamed received an infraction for violating WAC
137-25-030(603), introducing or transferring any unauthorized
drug or drug paraphernalia, based on evidence that Mohamed
had conspired to introduce marijuana and spice into the
prison. Stewart Dec. at ¶ 13. A hearings officer found
Mohamed guilty of the infraction and sanctioned him to a loss
of 30 days of good conduct time. Id. This extended
his early release date past Ramadan, to June 20, 2018, and he
was demoted to the medium custody unit at MCC. Id.
2, 2018, after Mohamed's release date was extended, he
sent an electronic kiosk message to the Chaplain and asked
“Can I get put on Ramadan List? I missed the
deadline...” Dkt. #20-1 at 16. The Chaplain responded
that it was too late to sign up. Id. at 17. Mohamed
responded by saying “I didnt (sic) have a choice
because I lost good time, 30 days. I have to get on that
list. Religious purposes cause I will not go too mainline.
Thank you.” Id. at 18. For whatever reason,
the Chaplain did not pursue the matter further.
filed a grievance on May 16, 2018. Dkt. #17-1 at 41.
Grievance Coordinator Maxson investigated, determined DOC had
no record of Mohamed submitting the Ramadan form, and
concluded that Mohamed could not be given the requested
relief as a result. Id. at 43. Whether that decision
was reasonable or not, Mohamed did not appeal the grievance
response. Defendants note that Mohamed purchased on that same
day a significant amount of food from the commissary,
including ten packages of white rice, ten packages of cheesy
rice and beans, cheese, summer sausages, cookies, Doritos,
potato chips, a hot pickle, and swiss rolls. Dkt. #21-1 at
reentered DOC custody at the Washington Corrections Center
(WCC) on January 18, 2018. Livingston Dep. at 11:11-13;
Stewart Dec. at ¶ 14. He requested a halal diet in
February 2018, after the Ramadan sign up deadline. Stewart
Dec. at ¶ 14. Livingston had previously been
incarcerated with DOC from October 2015 to June 2017 and was
familiar with the Ramadan sign-up process through this prior
incarceration. Livingston Dep. at ¶ 11:17-12:15,
51:16-18. Livingston did not sign up for Ramadan during the
Ramadan sign-up period. Id. at 51:19-52:20.
15, 2018, Livingston sent a kiosk message to the Chaplain
asking to be placed on call out for Ramadan night studies and
stating he had not been placed on the Ramadan List. Dkt.
#20-1, at 6. Livingston sent another message on May 17, 2018,
asking to be put on the Ramadan List. Id. The
Chaplain responded and indicated he had no record of
Livingston signing up for Ramadan and that he (the Chaplain)
had emailed the WCC Chaplain to see if there was a record of
Livingston signing up while at WCC. Id. The Chaplain
asked if Livingston had a record showing he had signed up,
and Livingston responded “I left WCC before I could
sign up plus it was too far before Ramadan even started. Is
there any way you can accomodadate (sic) me for
Ramadan?” Id. In follow up, the Chaplain
confirmed that notice of the Ramadan sign-up process was
posted in all living units at WCC, and that there was no
record of correspondence from Livingston to the WCC Chaplain
requesting participation in the Ramadan meal program.
Id. at 8; Sherman Dec. at ¶ 6.
16, 2018, Livingston submitted an emergency grievance stating
he requested a Ramadan meal in a kiosk message and had not
received the meal. In the grievance, Livingston stated he was
on a halal diet and that he “had received it but not my
meal for when I break my fast after sundown.” Maxson
Dec. at ¶ 9. Maxson interviewed Livingston about his
grievance on May 22, 2018, asking why he did not sign up at
WCC. Id. Livingston said he was in segregation and
never saw a posting. Id. Upon further questioning,
Livingston indicated he knew about the sign up process from
being in prison before. Id. Maxson explained there
was no record of Livingston signing up for Ramadan as was
required and asked Livingston whether he agreed his grievance
was resolved on this basis. Id. Livingston stated
that he “guessed that it was resolved” but
believed DOC still had to feed him. Id. The
grievance was marked informally resolved. Whether this
resolution to the grievance was reasonable or not, Livingston
did not appeal the decision. Id.; Livingston Dep. at
77:22-23. Defendants note that he purchased and received
numerous food items from the inmate store in May and early
June, including summer sausage, corn tortillas, and over a
case of ramen noodles. Dkt. #21-1 at 10 and 19.
Lao entered DOC custody in June 2017 and arrived at MCC in
September 2017. Stewart Dec. at ¶ 15; Lao Dep. at
13:14-24. Chaplain Sherman states he sent Lao a copy of a
Ramadan sign-up form in January 2018 as a member of a list of
inmates participating in Islamic programs. Sherman Dec. at
¶ 4; Dkt #77-1 at 2. Plaintiff contests this assertion
but offers no evidence to create a genuine dispute. Lao did
not sign up for the Ramadan meal program before the deadline.
On May 17, 2018, Lao sent a kiosk message to the Chaplain to
ask to get on the Ramadan List to receive meals. Dkt. #20-1
at 14. The Chaplain responded that he could add Lao to the
daily prayer but not the Ramadan list because Lao needed to
sign up by January 30, 2018. Id. Lao sent a kiosk
message to the Chaplain a few days later complaining he was
not on the daily prayer list and the chaplain responded that
Lao had been placed on the callout list for prayer.
Id. On May 23, 2018, Lao received an exception and
was added to the Ramadan Meal List and began receiving meals.
Stewart Dec. at ¶ 15; Lao Dep. at 57:1-4.
James has been incarcerated since the early 1990s. James Dep.
at 38:24-25. James transferred to MCC on January 2, 2018.
Id. at 8:4-18. Shortly thereafter, James became one
of the inmate leaders for Jummah. Counsel Dec., Id.
at 26:18-22. James has been on a gluten free diet to treat a
medical condition. Id. at 81:16-20, 84:7-9. James
submitted a Ramadan meal request form and was added to the
Ramadan meal program in January 2018. Id. at
8:22-24. James was on the Ramadan list and received Ramadan
meals. Id. at 89:24-90:1. Some of the Ramadan meals
contain gluten. Id. at 55:17-56:25. James traded the
items in the Ramadan meals to other inmates in exchange for
items that he could eat. Id. at 56:23-57:6. James
also supplemented his Ramadan meals with food from the
commissary and the quarterly package program. Id. at
76:25-80:17. On the first day of Ramadan, James spoke to an
unidentified cook about getting a different meal, and this
cook told him that the Ramadan meal was all that he or she
had for James. Id. at 55:17-56:7. The cook was the
only DOC staff person to whom James clearly recalled speaking
during Ramadan 2018. Id. at 57:18-58:19. On June 12,
2018, a couple days after this action was filed, DOC received
a grievance from James regarding this issue. Dkt. #78
(“Second Maxson Dec.”), ¶ 7. James finished
exhausting his administrative remedies after the Amended
Complaint in this case was filed. Id.
Events after Ramadan 2018
Ramadan 2018, three of the Plaintiffs have been released from
custody- Mohamed, Lao, and Livingston. See Dkt. #73
at 11. Plaintiff Roberts is still incarcerated and
successfully signed up and participated in Ramadan 2019. Dkt.
#75-1 at 31. Plaintiff James was given a special
accommodation of gluten free meals during Ramadan 2019. ...