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Powers v. Jones

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

March 27, 2018

JULIE JONES, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, an inmate of the Florida penal system, is proceeding on a pro se Amended Civil Rights Complaint (Doc. 26), in which he alleges a violation of his right to freely exercise his sincerely-held religious beliefs. Plaintiff desires to have his Saturday meals delivered to him on Friday so that he does not benefit from others' work on Saturday (the Shabbat). He names as Defendants Julie Jones, the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC); Alex Taylor, Chaplaincy Services Administrator for the FDOC; John Palmer, Warden of Florida State Prison (FSP);[1]Joseph Edwards, former Assistant Warden of FSP; and Ernest Wynn, a Chaplain at FSP.

         Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on March 6, 2017 (Doc. 61) (Pl. Motion), with exhibits (Pl. Ex.). On April 19, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, including a response to Plaintiff's Motion (Doc. 67) (Def. Motion), with exhibits (Def. Ex.). Plaintiff filed a response to Defendants' Motion on May 19, 2017 (Doc. 68) (Pl. Response).[2] The parties' Motions are ripe for review.

         I. Summary of Parties' Positions

         A. Plaintiff's Position

         Plaintiff sues Defendants in their official capacities under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act (FRFRA), seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Pl. Motion at 9.[3]Plaintiff also bring a § 1983 action against Defendants in their individual capacities under the First Amendment and Article 1, section 3 of the Florida Constitution, seeking nominal damages. Id. According to his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff “is an observant practicing Messianic Jewish male who strictly adheres to the traditionally established doctrine of Judaism.” Amended Complaint at 5. While Plaintiff has participated in the Religious Diet Program (RDP)[4] since 2014, Pl. Ex. 10J at 2, he maintains that his religious exercise is substantially burdened by Defendants' denials of his grievances and inmate requests to be served his Shabbat meals on Friday.

         Amended Complaint at 3; Pl. Motion at 7, 15. According to Plaintiff, the Torah proscribes the Shabbat is a day of rest and “[t]he observant Jew does not work on the Sabbath.”[5] Pl. Ex. 1A at 30. See also Pl. Exs. 2B, 8H, 17Q, 18R. Plaintiff believes that he may not consume meals prepared or served by others on the Shabbat because the Torah provides that meals should be cooked in advance or “while Shabbat is still tomorrow.” See Pl. Ex. 18R at 39. Plaintiff also requested that Defendants, when providing him his Shabbat meals a day in advance, substitute the perishable food items with non-perishable food items so he may safely store them in his cell. Pl. Motion at 19; Def. Ex. A (Pl.'s Depo.) at 6-7.

         In response to Defendants' assertions that accommodating his requests will result in security and staffing concerns, Plaintiff submitted general affidavits of fellow inmates who swore that Muslim and Jewish inmates have received meals in their cells on fast days. Pl. Ex. A1-A3. The Department, in response to a grievance Plaintiff submitted, [6] acknowledged that food is provided to inmates of certain faith groups in accordance with approved holidays, which are recognized on the religious calendar:

In accordance with the 2016 Religious Calendar approved and distributed by the Chaplaincy Services Administrator in Central Office[, ] Ramadan is a recognized set of Holy Days involving fasting. Food to break the fast is being provided to the followers of that faith group to break that recognized fast just as food is provided to the members of your faith group to break fasts that are recognized by the Department on the same Religious Calendar.

Pl. Ex. 12L at 2. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants have placed him in the untenable position “to either accept his meals on the Shabbat (Saturday) or go without eating.” Pl. Motion at 16. According to Plaintiff, either option would violate his religious beliefs because the Torah also states that fasting on the Sabbath is forbidden. Pl. Ex. 17Q at 3; Def. Ex. 1 at 10. Thus, Plaintiff has been storing food in his locker, in violation of prison rules, to observe the Shabbat. Def. Ex. A at 8. In observance of the Shabbat, Plaintiff has refused all Saturday meals since he has been housed at FSP. Id. at 9.

         B. Defendants' Position

         Defendants argue Plaintiff has not stated individual capacity claims against them under RLUIPA and FRFRA and they are entitled to qualified immunity under § 1983. Defendants Edwards, Taylor, Wynn, and Palmer further maintain that Plaintiff's official capacity claims against them are duplicative as to those against the Secretary of the FDOC (Defendant Jones). Def. Motion 10, 19-20. With respect to the substantive claims, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not established a substantial burden on his religious practice and, even if he has, compelling governmental interests support the denial of his request. Id. at 4-6. With regard to the substantial burden, Defendants assert that the denial of Plaintiff's request has resulted in a mere inconvenience in light of Plaintiff's admission that he observes the Shabbat by holding food in his cell in violation of administrative rules. Id.; Def. Ex. A at 8. The compelling governmental interests Defendants argue override Plaintiff's request are security and staffing. Defendants support this argument with the unsworn declaration of Wes Kirkland, Bureau Chief of Security Operations at FDOC, who is responsible for coordinating security operations. See Def. Ex. F.

         According to Kirkland, Plaintiff's request is problematic because he is seeking an exception to the prohibition of storing food in one's cell. Id. at 2. Because food is an “important aspect of prison life, ” granting Plaintiff's request could result in perceptions among other inmates of preferential treatment, resulting in morale problems, violence, and opportunities for theft and bartering. Id. at 2, 4. Kirkland also states that Plaintiff's request, if granted, could result in other inmates making similar requests and would divert staff who would be responsible for serving Powers his Shabbat meals “outside of the established [meal] schedule.” Id. at 3-4. Kirkland provides two specific examples of confrontations between inmates and staff in 2014 (at other correctional facilities), which involved food service. Id. at 4. One instance involved an inmate attack on an officer who approached the inmate to prevent him from taking a second tray of food. In a second instance, two guards were severely injured by an inmate who became “agitated because he felt he did not receive enough cheese on his food tray.” Id.

         II. Standard of Review

         “The court shall grant summary judgment 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). “[W]hen the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (footnote omitted). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court is required to “pierce the pleadings and [to] assess the proof” to determine whether the non-moving party has presented specific facts to proceed to trial. Id. at 587. Any inferences to be drawn from the facts presented by the parties “must be viewed in the light most favorable” to the non-moving party. Id. at 588. When parties file cross-motions for summary judgment, if the Court finds factual disputes regarding issues of material fact, then it must deny both motions. Griffis v. Delta Family-Care Disability, 723 F.2d 822, 824 (11th Cir. 1984) (“[B]efore the court can consider the legal issues raised by the parties on cross-motions for summary judgment, it must have no doubt as to the relevant facts that are beyond dispute.”)

         III. Law ...

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