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Mintun v. Peterson

September 3, 2010

DENNIS MICHAEL MINTUN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LES PETERSON; RANDY BLADES; S. LONG; PAM SONNEN; R. JORDAN; D. DIETZ; K. YORDY; GREG WREN; K. BASSFORD; ROBERT JORGENSON; TERRY KNAPP; M. JOHNSON; SGT. HOUSE; SGT. BILLIE FINLEY; DARRELL TAYLOR; KATHLEEN MCNULTY; SGT. M. WHITE; SGT. D. WILLIAMS; C/O BERTWELL; AND C/O D. JOHNSON; DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

On March 30, 2010, the Court granted Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on some of Plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court denied the Motion with prejudice as to certain claims, but allowed Defendants Petersen, Taylor, and Blades to renew their Motion with respect to Plaintiff's claims under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 et seq.*fn1 Defendants have done so. (Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment, Dkt. 62.) Defendants' Motion for an Extension of Time to File a Reply (Dkt. 71) will be granted, and their Reply (Dkt. 72) is considered timely filed.

The Court has determined that oral argument would not significantly aid the decisional process and shall decide this matter on the written motions, briefs, and record.

D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 7.1(d). For the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to overcome Defendants' evidence that they did not substantially burden Plaintiff's exercise of religion, and the Renewed Motion will be granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Most of the material facts are set forth in the Court's March 30, 2010 Memorandum Decision and Order (Dkt. 59), and, other than the new evidence submitted in connection with Defendants' Renewed Motion, will be discussed only briefly here. The Court assumes for purposes of summary judgment that all of Plaintiff's allegations are true and makes all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).

The Court now has more information on the prison's general policy with respect to religious services. That policy, instituted by the Idaho Department of Correction ("IDOC"), "enumerated a large number of both traditional and non-traditional religious services available to the prison population." (Randy Blades Affidavit ¶4, Dkt. 62-5.) It is undisputed that religious services in the prison are conducted by volunteers from the community or by the inmates themselves -- not by any Defendant. (First Les Petersen Affidavit ¶3, Dkt. 28-6; Blades Aff. ¶4.) In addition to the non-denominational fellowship at the center of Plaintiff's claims, at least eight other Christian worship services are available. Two of these services are Pentecostal, which is how Plaintiff describes himself. (Second Darrell Taylor Affdavit ¶¶5-6, Dkt. 62-3.)

Although Plaintiff states that these other services are even "less accepting of homosexuality than the open fellowship" and showed disapproval of homosexuality "pretty much every time," he acknowledges that he has attended only "a couple of different classes or services." (Second Dennis Mintun Affidavit ¶¶2, 11, Dkt. 69-1.) Plaintiff does not offer any specific allegations about his visits to these other services or their alleged hostile environments, other than to say he felt he was in danger. (Id. ¶11.) He does not claim that he complained to Defendants about any worship service other than the non-denominational fellowship.

Plaintiff does state that among the services he attended, "the open fellowship was the only one where inmates could participate. . . . [A]s a Pentecostal, participation was critical for me."(Id. ¶3.) Plaintiff clarifies, however, that these other services did not actually prohibit inmate participation; rather, the services simply were not led by the inmates. (Id.)

When Plaintiff complained to Defendant Petersen about Inmate Monte Brandt's sermon communicating his belief in the sinfulness of homosexual behavior and about Brandt's alleged "gay-bashing" comments, Petersen and Taylor investigated Plaintiff's concerns. According to Plaintiff, Taylor and Petersen decided to separate the two inmates by keeping Plaintiff out of the fellowship while the investigation was pending.*fn2 (Second Taylor Aff. ¶8; First Dennis Mintun Affidavit ¶23, Dkt. 50.) Plaintiff does not contest that separating inmates during an investigation is required IDOC policy. However, unlike Plaintiff, Brandt was allowed to attend and to lead the fellowship service. (Second Mintun Aff. ¶4.)

In an effort to avoid the allegedly anti-gay environment in the non-denominational fellowship, Plaintiff sought permission to organize "a new fellowship meetings [sic] for gay Christians, so that we could worship without continually being told that our sexual orientation is a sin." (First Mintun Aff. ¶21.) Petersen passed this request up his chain of command. When Plaintiff did not hear back after three weeks, he submitted a concern form to Petersen inquiring about the status of his request. (First Taylor Affdavit, Ex A, Dkt. 29 at 8.) It is not clear from the record exactly when Plaintiff made his request, but on January 13, 2004, Petersen informed Plaintiff that it had been denied. (Id.)

The next day Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding his being barred from attending the fellowship during the investigation, his attempt to start a service for gay Christians, and the continued "gay-bashing" by inmates in the non-denominational fellowship. (Id.) On February 10, 2004, Taylor informed Plaintiff in writing that the investigation was concluded and that Plaintiff could return to the choir. (First Taylor Aff. ¶¶ 10-11.) Taylor also admonished Brandt about his inappropriate comments. (Id., Ex. A, Dkt. 29 at 7. Deputy Warden Michael Johnson concurred with Taylor's handling of the situation and denied the grievance. (Id., Ex. A, Dkt. 29 at 5.) On March 16, 2004, Defendant Blades affirmed that decision, including the denial of Plaintiff's request for a gay Christian service. (Id.) He stated, "To communicate a belief in the ISCI Chapel, the religion must be an IDOC approved religion. I recommend you attend the one that comes closest to your belief." (Id.; Blades Aff. ¶5.) This statement was intended "to reiterate the position that [Plaintiff] could attend any chapel service of his choice including the non-denominational open fellowship." (Blades Aff. ¶5.)

Following the investigation, Plaintiff tried to return to the non-denominational fellowship, but Brandt told him he could not sing in the choir. Plaintiff reported the incident to Taylor. (Second Taylor Aff. ¶10.) Taylor responded, "Monte is not in charge. I am." He then reiterated to both Plaintiff and Brandt that Plaintiff "was allowed to fully participate in the open fellowship" and admonished Brandt once again "for his inappropriate actions surrounding his interpretation of the Bible lesson." (Id.)

In contrast to Taylor's repeated statements to Plaintiff that he could fully participate in the non-denominational fellowship, Plaintiff claims Petersen privately recommended that he not return. Petersen allegedly told Plaintiff that "there 'had been threats' and that it would be better if [he] did not attend . . . the fellowship meetings." (Second Mintun Aff. ΒΆ5.) Plaintiff believed Petersen was referring to threats to ...


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