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Wallace v. STE. Genevieve Detention Center

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

April 15, 2019

WALTER W. WALLACE, JR., Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court[1] on the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Sheriff Gary Stolzer and Sergeant Patti Karol (collectively, “Defendants”). [ECF No. 55] Plaintiff, an inmate formerly housed at the Ste. Genevieve Detention Center (“Detention Center”), filed a pro se complaint against Defendants[2], in their official and individual capacities, seeking declaratory and monetary relief under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 for Defendants' alleged violation of Plaintiff's First Amendment right to exercise his religion. [ECF No. 9] Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that he “is a Sunni Muslim who follows the Harafi school of Sunni law” and Defendants denied his requests for: (1) his “religious headwear specifically a ‘Kufi'”[3]; (2) his “Islamic Prayer Rug”; and (3) “the ability to engage in ‘Congregational Prayer.'” [Id.]

         Defendants deny the allegations and move for summary judgment arguing that: (1) Plaintiff's claims are moot; (2) Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies; and (3) “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact.” [ECF No. 55] Plaintiff counters that: (1) his transfer to a different facility did not moot his claim for monetary relief; (2) he exhausted his administrative remedies; and (3) “the evidence and conflicting testimony from Defendants shows that their decisions were not reasonably related to any legitimate penological interest.” [ECF No. 61]

         I. Background

         Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Detention Center from September 23, 2016 until April 3, 2017. [ECF No. 62 at ¶ 2] During that time, Defendant Karol was the Detention Center's assistant jail administrator and Defendant Stolzer was the Sheriff of Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri. [Id. at ¶¶ 3-4] Defendant Karol's responsibilities as assistant jail administrator included handling “inmate issues such as inmate grievances and requests.” [Id. at ¶ 5] Defendants Karol and Stolzer were “considered decision-makers regarding religious accommodations.” [ECF No. 57 at ¶ 5]

         The Ste. Genevieve County Sheriff's Office Detention Center Operational Procedures & Policy (“Detainee Handbook”) defined “contraband” as “any article that has not been issued to you or approved for possession in this facility.” [ECF No. 57-2 at 2] According to the “Dress Code” set forth in the Detainee Handbook: “Head coverings of any sort are not allowed in this facility without Administration authorization. A facility authorized Hijab or Kippah may be authorized for religious reasons only.” [Id. at 4]

         When Plaintiff arrived at the Detention Center, he had in his possession a woven, Islamic kufi, which he obtained at the Lincoln County Jail, and an Islamic prayer rug, which he purchased from the commissary at the St. Louis County Jail. [ECF No. 62 at ¶¶ 13, 54, 55] Detention Center staff confiscated these items. [Id. at ¶ 15, 58]

         The following day, Plaintiff submitted an “inmate grievance form, ”[4] explaining the religious significance of his kufi and “gracefully asking that my ‘Kufi' and ‘Prayer Rug' be giv[en] back to me.” [ECF No. 57-3 at 16] Two days later, on September 26, Plaintiff submitted an inmate request explaining that, pursuant to “the Islamic school of thought I practice under[, ] it's mandatory that I wear my ‘Kufi' and utilize a ‘Prayer Rug.'” [[Id. at 15] Plaintiff requested the return of these items “as soon as possible.” [Id.]

         Defendant Karol denied Plaintiff's request on September 26, 2016. [Id. at 15, 16] In regard to the prayer rug, Defendant Karol stated: “I will have staff give you an extra towel to serve as your prayer rug.” [Id.] As to the kufi, Defendant Karol advised:

[W]e will allow a solid black or white kufi if your family would like to send one in to my attention for approval. It must be “corrections safe” material (preferably one layer with no double layer sewn areas) fairly sheer. Once I receive inspect it, you will receive it as long as it qualifies for our facility. I will not delay your receipt of it any longer than absolutely necessary.


         On September 28, Plaintiff submitted an inmate grievance form, reiterating his request for his kufi and prayer rug. [Id. at 13-14] Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Karol's decision to withhold these items violated his rights under the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA). [Id.] Defendant warned that, if Defendants refused to return his religious items, he would file a civil lawsuit under section 1983. [Id.] In response, Sgt. Karol referred Plaintiff to her response of September 26 and stated: “I am not denying you any religious materials however we do not allow what you have in your property. I provided you with the remedy to this situation that would allow you to fulfill your observances.” [Id. at 13]

         In an inmate request dated October 6, 2016, Plaintiff again inquired about his prayer rug. [Id. at 12] Defendant Karol responded on October 10, referring Plaintiff to “the process outlined in the Inmate Handbook.” [Id.]

         Plaintiff appealed the denial of his kufi and prayer rug.[5] [ECF No. 57-3 at 9] Defendant Stolzer denied Plaintiff's appeal in a grievance appeal response dated October 20, 2016. [Id. at 11] Defendant Stolzer explained that Plaintiff's prayer rug “was denied due to it being a woven material that we do not allow in this facility for security reasons, ” and stated that Defendant Karol “provided you with an extra towel to serve as your Prayer Rug during your incarceration here….as we have provided to several past detainees.” [Id.] In regard to Plaintiff's kufi, Defendant Stolzer wrote:

Your Kufi was denied for two reasons. It is constructed of woven material that we do not allow in this facility and the fact that the structural integrity of the Kufi has been comprised as a seam has been opened. This lends to the ability to secret[] items and therefore has become a security risk. According to your booking file, Sgt. Karol has also provided you with specific details as to what we do allow and the instructions as to how to go about receiving one that would be allowed.

[Id.] In closing, Defendant Stolzer stated “we are absolutely not denying you access to materials related to the observance of your religion” and “we have given you a reasonabl[e] remedy to be able to receive items to facilitate your observances while maintaining the security and safety of this facility.” [Id.]

         Plaintiff submitted another inmate request the next day, seeking an explanation as to why a woven prayer rug constituted a security concern. [Id. at 7] Defendant Karol responded: “Grievance Appeal was answered closes that issue.” [Id.]

         In an inmate request[6] dated December 21, 2016, Plaintiff informed the Detention Center's administration that Keefe Commissary[7] “has religious wear such as ‘kufis' and ‘prayer rugs' for sale” and they provided these items to the St. Louis County and St. Louis City jails. [Id. at 5] Plaintiff “respectfully request[ed] that these religious items be put on the commissary for purchase.” [Id.] Defendant Karol denied the request, stating: “Arrangements for any religious items must go through Administration. Sincerity of belief must be established prior to allowing head gear or any other items.” [Id.]

         On December 28, Plaintiff submitted his request to engage in congregational prayer with “the other ‘Muslims' that [are] housed in the facility.” [Id. at 4] In particular, Plaintiff wished to pray with other Muslims during the “last prayer, which is the ‘Isha Prayer.'” [Id.] Defendant Karol denied the request because “[d]etainees from different blocks are not allowed to co-mingle.” [Id.] Defendant Karol concluded: “You'll need to perform your observance with those in your block only.” [Id.]

         The next day, Plaintiff submitted an inmate request for Jumu'ah Services on Fridays because “Friday is a holy day for all Muslims across the world to come together and read from the ‘Holy Quran' and worship.” [Id. at 3] Defendant Karol again responded that the Detention Center did “not intermingle blocks, ” but Plaintiff was permitted to pray with inmates in his “own block.” [Id.]

         In his final inmate request, dated January 3, 2017, Plaintiff asked Defendant Karol to transfer him to K-unit because it had “the most ‘Sunni Muslims' that I can practice my religious belief with.” [Id. at 2] Plaintiff wrote:

From my understanding, I was placed in “E-Unit” so I can practice my religious belief with “Said Ali.” He is no longer here thereby leaving me in “E-Unit” without a Muslim that I can reflect the religion with. I am aware there's individual[s] that have received disciplinary infractions and still was able to go to “K-Unit.” Allow me the ability to practice my faith with my brothers.

[Id.] Defendant Karol denied placing Plaintiff “in any block because of any other detainee's religion; you are placed by our designation and what is available.” [Id.] She further stated: “You are either PC[, protective custody, ] or you are GP[, general population]. No. detainee gets to pick choose their housing unit. You claiming you need PC because you aren't allowed to house where you want is unacceptable. You either need PC or you don't.” [Id.] The Bureau of Prisons transferred Plaintiff to a correctional institution in Indiana in April 2017. [ECF No. 14]

         Plaintiff filed his section 1983 complaint in February 2017. [ECF No. 1] In his first amended pro se complaint, Plaintiff alleged Defendants, in their individual and official capacities, violated his First Amendment rights by denying: (1) “my religious headwear specifically a ‘kufi'”; (2) “my ‘Islamic Prayer Rug'”; and (3) “the ability to engage in ‘Congregational Prayer.'”[8] [ECF No. 9 at 6] In addition to monetary relief, Plaintiff requested the courts “instruct [the Detention Center] to allow ‘Muslims' the ability to wear a kufi, use [an] Islamic prayer rug, and [engage in] congregational prayer.” [Id. at 10]

         Defendants deny the allegations and move for summary judgment on all three of Plaintiff's section 1983 claims. [ECF No. 55] Plaintiff opposes the motion. [ECF No. 61]

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper “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); Hill v. Walker, 737 F.3d 1209, 1216 (8th Cir. 2013). The movant “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion” and must identify “those portions of [the record]...which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant does so, the non-movant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (quotation marks omitted).

         “On a motion for summary judgment, ‘facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts.'” Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007)). The court's function is not to weigh the evidence but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)).

         III. Discussion

         Defendants contend that they are entitled to summary judgment because: (1) Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief is moot because Plaintiff is no longer housed at the Detention Center; (2) Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing suit; (3) the Detention Center's policies and Defendants' denial of Plaintiff's request are reasonably related to the safety and security of the Detention Center; and (4) qualified immunity precludes liability because Defendants did not violate any of Plaintiff's clearly established rights. [ECF No. 56] Plaintiff counters that: (1) Plaintiff's claim for monetary relief is not moot; (2) Plaintiff exhausted the administrative remedies available to him; and (3) Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity because they violated his clearly established constitutional right to freely exercise his religious beliefs. [ECF No. 61]

         A. Mootness

         Defendants assert that Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief is moot because Plaintiff is no longer incarcerated at the Detention Center and, therefore, no longer subject to Defendants' allegedly unconstitutional actions. [ECF No. 56 at 3] Plaintiff does not dispute this contention. [ECF No. 61 at 5]

         When a prisoner has been transferred to a different correctional facility, his claims for injunctive and declaratory relief are properly denied as moot. See Gladson v. Iowa Dep't of Corr., 551 F.3d 825, 835 (8th Cir. 2009); Pratt v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 267 Fed.Appx. 482, 482 (8th Cir. 2008). Because Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief are rendered moot by his transfer from the Detention Center, the Court dismisses them.

         B. Exhaustion of Remedies

         Defendants claim they are entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. More specifically, Defendants maintain that Plaintiff completed the grievance process only “as it pertains to” the return of “his Kufi and his prayer rug.” [ECF No. 56 at 4] Plaintiff did not, Defendants argue, request the right to wear any Kufi or possess any prayer rug. Defendants further assert that Plaintiff did not complete the three-step grievance process for congregational prayer. In response, Plaintiff states he properly exhausted his administrative remedies and Defendants' “hyper technical view of the exhaustion of remedies doctrine finds no support in the law.” [ECF No. 61. At 6]

         Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), a prisoner may not bring an action under section 1983 “until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 47 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The purpose of the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is to afford corrections officials “the time and opportunity to address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a ...

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