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Slack v. Woodbury

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

September 17, 2019

TOMMIE SLACK, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL WOODBURY, et al., Defendant.



         In this civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc- 1(a), plaintiff Tommie Slack, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, names as defendants Michael Woodbury, Namon Merritt, Jr., Eliud Rodriguez, Michael Browning, Cesar Garcia, David Knutzen, Michael Preizz, and James Mattman, all employees of King County at the time of the events giving rise to Mr. Slack's claims.[1] Mr. Slack alleges that defendants violated his rights under 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a) (the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)) and Article I, section 11, of the Washington State Constitution, by exposing him to pork or pork products, as a Muslim, while he was working as an inmate trustee in the kitchen at the King County Regional Justice Center (RJC). Dkt. 2, at 4-29. He further alleges defendant Browning “used a non-violent situation” about an alleged threat Mr. Slack made against another inmate to infract him and that defendant Merritt, as supervisor, upheld the infraction. Id., at 25-27. He alleges he lost his custody status and his job as an inmate trustee over “an alleged threat that never happened” and appears to allege that this was in retaliation for his complaints and grievances related to his exposure to pork in the RJC kitchen. Id. Mr. Slack's claims are brought against all defendants in their individual capacities. Dkt. 2, at 8-10, Dkt. 47, at 23.

         As relief Mr. Slack seeks: a “declaratory judgment” stating that defendants' actions violated his rights under RLUIPA and the Washington State Constitution; an injunction ordering RJC “and their agents” to stop storing, preparing, and cooking pork, pork products, or pork bi-products in the jail; an injunction ordering food services manager (non-defendant) “Mrs. Hendershot” to provide Mr. Slack the food budget record; punitive damages in the amount of $1, 000.00 against defendant Preizz, $2, 500.00 against each of defendants Woodbury, Merritt, and Rodriguez, and $5, 000.00 each against defendants Mattman, Browning, and Garcia. Dkt. 2, at 27-28. Defendants move for summary judgment. Dkt. 38. The Court recommends that the defendants' motion for summary judgment be GRANTED.


         Mr. Slack was booked into the King County Correctional Facility (“KCCF”) on February 27, 2018, and remained through July 24, 2018. Dkt. 41, (Decl.of Andrea Williams) at ¶12. He was housed at the King County Regional Justice Center (“RJC”). Id. At the time of his initial booking in February of 2018, Mr. Slack's classification status was medium security. Id., at ¶13 He was given an override and changed to minimum security status on March 1, 2018. Id. All inmate workers at the KCCF are required to have minimum security status to work as a trustee. Dkt. 39, (Decl. of T. Shane Harrison) at ¶ 4 and Ex. B, (Defendants' Request for Admission) at 3. Mr. Slack began working as an inmate worker in the RJC kitchen on March 6, 2018. Dkt. 40, (Decl. of Sandra Courtway) at ¶7. He worked catching trays, scooping rice, and putting sporks on trays until he was moved to pots and pans on March 15, 2018. Id.

         During the time he was assigned to wash pots and pans, Mr. Slack alleges he was exposed to pork or pork products. Specifically, he states in April 2018, he discovered defendants Mattman, Browning, Rodriguez, and Preizz were cooking Campbell split pea soup, pork and bean soup, and pork meat, along with preparing meals for the jail population. Dkt. 2, at 11-16. The General Policy Manual for the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (which operates King County Correctional Facility and King County Regional Justice Center) provides that “[n]o foods containing pork, pork products, or pork by-products are served to inmates.” Dkt. 41, at Exh. B (King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Adult Divisions General Policy Manual, Policy 7.04.006 “Special Diets”).

         Mr. Slack states he asked these defendants if they were cooking real pork and when this was confirmed asked if cooking these products was allowed. Dkt. 2, at 11-16. Mr. Slack indicates he voiced his concerns to the defendants about being in contact with pork which is prohibited as a Muslim. Id. Mr. Slack alleges these defendants told him they had been cooking pork before he arrived at RJC and if he had a problem with it he could quit. Id. Mr. Slack states he asked to see a rule or policy allowing cooking of pork or pork products in the RJC kitchen. Id. He alleges one of the kitchen staff called defendant Meritt and complained. Id. Mr. Slack states defendant Meritt told him that the kitchen staff had called him and that they liked him and did not want to fire him for inciting or trying to convert other inmates to Islam. Id. Mr. Slack contends defendant Meritt also told him that if he was fired he would lose his custody override and be demoted to closed custody. Id. Mr. Slack states he wrote an inmate classification kite explaining he is a Muslim and that pork and pork products were being cooked in the RJC kitchen along with inmate food. Id. Mr. Slack indicates that classification told him he was following the correct procedure but that if he was fired he would lose his override. Id.

         Mr. Slack states that on June 6, 2018, defendant Mattman was cooking and separating a “very large brisket of pork” and was using the same pots and pans as were used for inmate meals. Id. Mr. Slack states he confirmed with defendant Mattman that the meat was pork. Id. Mr. Slack indicates he was assigned to wash pots and pans, as well as dishes from the “blue room” used by correctional staff and other employees working at the jail. Id. Mr. Slack indicates due to his Muslim beliefs he decided not to wash pots and pans or dishes from the blue room that were contaminated with pork. Id.

         Mr. Slack filed a grievance indicating that he had observed pork meat being cooked in the RJC main kitchen and had voiced his concerns about being Muslim. Dkt. 40, at 5-6. The grievance indicates that his “concerns over this has me feeling threatened to lose my job and classification …I'm not trying to convert other inmates to become muslims, nor incite them against staff over my ambivalence being forced to smell pork, wash pots or pans or staff dishes that once contained pork or the stress of losing my job and classification over pork being cooked along with inmate meals.” Id. The grievance goes on to state that he wants to remain a P.M. kitchen worker and wants to understand if there is a concession in the rules allowing staff to cook pork in the main kitchen at RJC. Id. The initial response to the grievance, which appears to be issued by defendant Knutzen, states “we do cook pork in the RJC kitchen from time to time, however we do not service pork to inmates. As far as washing pots and pan or dishes that may have contained pork, you will no longer be assigned to the dish washing area.” Id. Mr. Slack appealed the grievance stating that “pork steam like second hand smoke settles on inmates food, clothes, hair and skin … [and] Islamic inmates are unaware they are eating pork off contaminated trays of food.” Id. The final response to Mr. Slack's grievance states “no pork is served to population therefore not on trays.” Id.

         Mr. Slack also alleges, on June 7, 2018, while working in the RJC kitchen, he was given pork and beans on his tray. Dkt. 2, at 15-17. Mr. Slack indicates he showed defendant Merritt the pork and beans on his tray and defendant Merritt told him the pork and beans were not real. Id. Mr. Slack indicates he asked officer Perkin to “google Cambel” and see if they made imitation pork and bean soup and learned it is made with real pork fat. Id. Mr. Slack filed a grievance with respect to this incident requesting to see a rule or regulation “that moots 42 U.S.C.A. 200-1” and stating that staff were aware he was a Muslim. Id; Dkt. 40, at 9-10 (Grievance Report Marked “Received” June 15, 2018). The initial response to Mr. Slack's grievance states that “as per kitchen staff - inmates do not get Cambells brand. Inmates get the “pork beans” that is made with non-pork meat. If you received the Cambells brand then you should have not taken it. That brand is only reserved for the officers.” Id. Mr. Slack appealed the decision asking again for a rule or regulation “that moots 42 U.S.C.A. 200-1” and that there is “no such meal made as fake pork and beans, please provide the name of the product.” Id. The final response to Mr. Slack's grievance, dated June 19, 2018, from defendant Woodbury states “pork and beans are not served in this facility. If you were given soup with beans it would be beans and bacon. If you were given this soup you were told it contains pork products. If you ate this soup you did so with full knowledge of its contents.” Id.

         Mr. Slack alleges on June 8, 2018, he was taking the label off a large can of Campbel pork and bean soup when defendant Garcia the baker alleged Mr. Slack was stealing his property. Dkt. 2, at 17-18. Mr. Slack alleges defendant Garcia was attempting to achieve an aggressive response from him to use as grounds to terminate him and that he fabricated the soup being his property. Id. Mr. Slack alleges that May 22, 2018, was the start of Ramadan and that “humidity from cooking pork settled on the muslim community's Ramadan food, sacks that [were] being prepared less than 10 feet away.” Dkt. 2, at 17-20. Mr. Slack alleges defendant Rodriguez attempted to get the inmate kitchen workers to convince him to stop complaining by informing them that due to Mr. Slack's complaints they would no longer be able to get leftover food from what the jail employees brought in addition to their regular inmate food. Id.

         Mr. Slack alleges defendant Browning was aware of his complaints and would follow him around the kitchen pretending not to listen to his conversations while defendants Mattman or Rodriguez would prepare pork food behind Mr. Slack's back. Id., at 20. Mr. Slack alleges defendant Knutzen “reprimanded” him for filing grievances stating that since he was Muslim and concerned about pork contaminating everything he would have to remove him from washing pots and pans. Id., at 21. Mr. Slack indicates he inquired of defendant Woodbury personally if pork was allowed to be cooked in the RJC kitchen and defendant Woodbury responded that it was not. Id., at 22.

         Mr. Slack indicates that on June 11, 2018, another inmate named “Fahey”, was upset over Mr. Slack pressing the pork issue and when Mr. Slack approached screamed for at him to “get away.” Id., at 24-26. Mr. Slack claims he walked away without responding. Id. Mr. Slack contends defendant Browning asked Fahey what had happened and then reported that Fahey had told him Mr. Slack had threatened him. Id. Mr. Slack denied threatening Fahey. Id. Mr. Slack states he called the kitchen staff cowards for their mistreatment of Muslim observance of Ramadan. Id. Mr. Slack indicates that defendant Browning infracted him for this and defendant Merritt approved the infraction. Id. Mr. Slack states defendant Browning told him to sit and eat but that Officer Keller was telling him “let's go” and that Browning then added a “refusing a direct order” to the alleged threat infraction. Id., at 24-26.

         The infraction report contains a description of the incident by defendant Browning which states:

I C/B/ Browning on 6/11/18 on or around 1700 hrs heard inmate Fahey say ‘get away from me'. I went up to inmate Fahey and asked him what was going on, he told me that ‘inmate slack threatened him and they were arguing M-207, Inmate Slack was still in the area. I asked inmate Slack if he threatened inmate Fahey and he said ‘no I did not'. I saw officer Keller walking bye and asked her to remove Slack and Fehey. She entered the kitchen asked the inmates to ‘hurry up and eat your food.' As me and officer Keller were standing there inmate Slack called me a “coward” G-301, officer Keller instructed him to be quiet and inmate Slack responded “I don't have to be quiet” G-301, G-302. I request that inmates Slack and Fahey don't come back to AM or PM crews in RJC or KCFF.

Dkt. 40, at Exh. B (Inmate Infraction Report).

         Mr. Slack denies threatening inmate Fahey but does not deny calling defendant Browning a coward or refusing to comply with Officer Keller's order to be quiet.

         Classification held a disciplinary hearing on June 13, 2018, related to the infraction before Hearing Officer Tomasini (who is not named as a defendant). Dkt. 40, at Exh. B (Inmate Infraction Report). Classification sanctioned Mr. Slack to removal from inmate worker status based on a guilty finding for Nuisance Activity (G309), related to calling defendant Browning a coward, and Refusing Orders (G302), for refusing to obey Officer Keller's order that he be quiet in a timely manner. Id. The decision of the disciplinary hearing officer indicates Mr. Slack was found not guilty of M-207, as this violation does not exist, and that the report narrative did not provide enough information to support a ...

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