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Bartlett v. Wengler

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 24, 2014

BILLY RAY BARTLETT, Plaintiff,
v.
TIM WENGLER, TOM KESSLER, COSMO ZIMIK, GRADY ZICKEFOOSE, M. VALLARD, and KEITH THOMAS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

EDWARD J. LODGE, District Judge.

Currently pending before the Court is Defendants Matt Vallard's and Keith Thomas' Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff Billy Ray Bartlett, a prisoner in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC), is proceeding pro se in this civil rights action. Having fully reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record and that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. D. Idaho L. R. 7.1. Accordingly, the Court enters the following order granting Defendants Vallard's and Thomas's Motion for Summary Judgment.

INTRODUCTION

At the time of the events giving rise to Plaintiff's claims, Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC). ICC was at that time operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private company that managed the prison under contract with the IDOC.

Plaintiff, who is Jewish, alleges that ICC prison officials denied him a kosher diet in violation of (1) the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and (2) the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, et seq.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This section includes facts that are undisputed and material to the resolution of the issues in this case. Where material facts are in dispute, the Court has included Plaintiff's version of facts, insofar as that version is not contradicted by clear documentary evidence in the record. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) ("When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.")

In August 2011, Plaintiff filed a grievance complaining of IDOC's and ICC's failure to provide a kosher diet. (Dkt. 32 at 3.) Defendant Thomas, the grievance coordinator, routed the grievance to Cosmo Zimik (a former Defendant in this case), who responded that he did not believe kosher diets were available. (Affidavit of Keith Thomas, Dkt. 23-3, ¶ 3; Dkt. 32 at 3.) Defendant Tom Kessler agreed and denied Plaintiff's grievance, stating that kosher meals were "not an IDOC approved religious diet." ( Id. at 4.) Plaintiff appealed the denial of his grievance, and Defendant Warden Tim Wengler denied the appeal, informing Plaintiff, "At this time we have not received IDOC authorization to change the contract approved menu." ( Id. )

Shortly after Plaintiff's initial grievance was denied, he filed another. This second grievance again complained of the lack of a kosher diet at ICC. Defendant Thomas routed this second grievance to Defendant Vallard, the person who monitored the contract between CCA and the IDOC to ensure compliance with IDOC policy. (Thomas Aff. ¶ 3; Affidavit of Matt Vallard, Dkt. 23-4, ¶ 2.) Defendant Vallard determined that the issue had already been grieved and instructed Defendant Thomas to return the grievance to Plaintiff without action. (Thomas Aff. ¶ 3; Vallard Aff. ¶¶ 4-5; Dkt. 32; Dkt. 33.) Vallard did not process this second grievance because the grievance policy did not allow an inmate "to grieve an issue that they had already complained about and that had been fully addressed and exhausted." (Vallard Aff. ¶ 5.)

Plaintiff filed a third grievance about a week after he filed the second grievance. (Dkt. 33 at 3.) Defendant Vallard again instructed Thomas to return this third grievance to Plaintiff without action because the issue had already been addressed in the two previous grievances. ( Id. )

Other than handling these grievances, Defendants Vallard and Thomas were not involved in denying Plaintiff's request for a kosher diet. Defendants Vallard and Thomas did not participate or have any authority in developing or changing the contract between CCA and the IDOC or any IDOC policy, such as which types of meals are provided to prisoners. (Thomas Aff., ¶¶ 2, 4; Vallard Aff., ¶¶ 2, 7.)

DEFENDANTS VALLARD'S AND THOMAS'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

1. Summary Judgment Standard of Law

Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, "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). One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule "is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). It is not "a disfavored procedural shortcut, " but is instead the "principal tool[] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses ...


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