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Fuqua v. Ryan

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 18, 2018

Michael Ray Fuqua, AKA Michael Fuqua, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Charles L. Ryan, Warden, Director of ADC Central Office; CAMIT, Correctional Officer II at Special Management Unit #1; Francisco, CO III at SMU #1; Sterns, Sgt. at SMU #1; Clark, Kitchen Manager at Trinity Food Services; Dance, Disciplinary Coordinator Sgt. at SMU #1; Schitter, Disciplinary Captain at SMU #1; Pekco, CO II Kitchen Security at SMU #1; James O'Neil, SMU #1 Eyman Complex Deputy Warden; Jeff Rode, SMU #1 Eyman Complex Associate Deputy Warden; Jennifer Hernandez, COIV at SMU #1 Eyman Complex; Carson McWilliams, ADOC Divisional Director; Unknown Parties, ADOC Correctional Officers employed at ADOC - in their official and individual capacities, Central Office COIII, Central Office COIV, Central Office Deputy Warden, CO II Kitchen Security at SMU #1, Defendants-Appellees.

          Submitted February 7, 2018 San Francisco, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona D.C. No. 2:15-cv-00286-NVW Neil V. Wake, District Judge, Presiding Argued and

          James A. Sonne (argued), Supervisor; Kelsey A. Woodford (argued), Jane E. Kessner (argued), Charles E.T. Roberts, and Gilbert G. Walton, Elizabeth A. Callahan, Kevin C. Eaton, and William C. Griscom, Certified Law Students; Zeba A. Huq, Attorney; Religious Liberty Clinic, Stanford Law School, Stanford, California; for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Gregory D. Cote (argued), McCarter & English LLP, Boston, Massachusetts; Joseph E. Dylo (argued), Assistant Attorney General; Mark Brnovich, Attorney General; Liability Management Section, State Government Division, Office of the Attorney General, Phoenix, Arizona; for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge, and A. Wallace Tashima and Morgan Christen, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[*]

         Prisoner Civil Rights

         The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of certain defendants pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and reversed the district court's summary judgment and remanded in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action brought by an Arizona prison inmate alleging violations of his right to religious liberty under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, and the denial of due process.

         Plaintiff is a devout Christian who was convicted of a disciplinary violation and terminated from his kitchen job assignment after he refused to work on a religious holiday. The district court found that plaintiff did not satisfy the exhaustion requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act because he initiated, but failed to complete, the grievance procedure by filing two inmate letters requesting an adjustment in his work schedule. The district court further determined that plaintiff's appeal of his disciplinary conviction did not satisfy the exhaustion requirement because his religious accommodation claim was not within the scope of, nor addressed on the merits by, his disciplinary appeal.

         The panel held that although plaintiff's letters requesting a work schedule adjustment did not suffice to exhaust administrative remedies, plaintiff sufficiently exhausted his administrative remedies through the disciplinary process. The panel noted that plaintiff had completed every step of the disciplinary appeal process and repeatedly voiced his need for religious accommodation. There was nothing ambiguous about plaintiff's request; defendants were clearly on notice of the relief he sought. The panel concluded that on this record, the purposes of the exhaustion requirement had been fully served, and that plaintiff was not required to pursue a separate administrative grievance on his religious accommodation claim while simultaneously pursuing his disciplinary appeal.

         The panel affirmed the district court's decision to dismiss certain defendants at the screening stage pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, holding that plaintiff's complaint had not explained how the dismissed defendants violated his rights under the First Amendment or the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

          OPINION

          CHRISTEN, Circuit Judge

         Plaintiff-Appellant Michael Ray Fuqua is an Arizona inmate and a Christian who was scheduled to work in the prison kitchen on a religious holiday. Fuqua filed two inmate letters requesting that the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) reschedule his kitchen shifts to accommodate the holiday, but his shifts were not rescheduled. When Fuqua refused to work on the holiday, he was returned to his cell and notified that he was charged with a disciplinary violation. After this incident, Fuqua was no longer scheduled to work as part of the kitchen crew.

         At his subsequent disciplinary hearing, Fuqua was found guilty of Aggravated Refusal of an Assignment and several sanctions were imposed, including the loss of his job, disciplinary detention, and hours of extra duty.

         Fuqua filed an unsuccessful disciplinary appeal, followed by a pro se complaint in federal district court. His complaint alleged violation of his right to religious liberty under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1. He also alleged that he was denied due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court dismissed the due process claims and a number of defendants at the screening stage, and required the remaining defendants to answer the complaint's other allegations. At summary judgment, defendants argued that Fuqua failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), because he did not seek an accommodation of his religious practice through ADOC's prisoner grievance process. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment to defendants. Fuqua appeals the district court's summary judgment ruling and its decision to dismiss certain defendants at the screening stage pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).

         We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Because we conclude that Fuqua did exhaust his administrative remedies, we reverse and remand.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual History

         Fuqua's complaint alleges that he is a devout Christian whose sincerely held beliefs require that he obey all biblical laws.[1] The exercise of his faith requires him to observe the seventh-day Sabbath on Saturdays and eight High Sabbaths throughout the year, including Passover and the Feast of

         Trumpets.[2]

         On September 21, 2014, prison staff informed Fuqua that he had been assigned a new job in the kitchen. The same day, Fuqua submitted a letter to Defendant Francisco, the Corrections Officer III responsible for all inmate work assignments, requesting that he not be scheduled to work on Saturdays and High Sabbaths, including Wednesday, September 24, the Feast of Trumpets. Fuqua offered to work "all other days, " or "[e]ven more than 5 days a week, " if necessary to allow him to observe his religious holidays.

         On September 21, Fuqua reported to work as scheduled and attempted to deliver a copy of his letter to a correctional officer in the kitchen. He was instructed to give the letter to his kitchen supervisor, Defendant Starns, the next day.

         Fuqua returned to the kitchen for work on Monday, September 22 and tried to give the letter to Sgt. Starns. According to Fuqua, Starns said, "we don't do that shit here, " and refused to accept the letter.

         On Tuesday, September 23, Fuqua again reported to the kitchen for work. He spoke to the kitchen manager, Defendant Clark, about his inability to work as scheduled on the religious holiday, and explained his need for religious accommodation. Defendant Clark instructed him to "do what you have to do, " but cautioned that Fuqua "will not have a job here." Later on Tuesday, Francisco responded to Fuqua's September 21 letter and explained that because Fuqua already had Saturdays and Sundays off, his supervisor (Starns) must address scheduling for "specific days you need off for your various religious needs." Francisco's response also explained, "[o]ur kitchen must run 365 days a year."

         Wednesday, September 24, 2014 was the Feast of Trumpets. Fuqua sent Francisco a second letter asking to trade his shift with a fellow inmate. He professed that he "want[ed] to work" and "[did] not want to get fired because I have to choose between my God's laws and [ADOC]'s rules." Fuqua reported to the kitchen "in order to again attempt to reason with . . . Defendants Sgt. Starns and Kitchen Manager Clark, " but he declined to work. Starns and Clark denied Fuqua's request to switch shifts with another inmate, and he was verbally cited with a disciplinary infraction for refusing to work. Fuqua was returned to his cell, and his complaint alleges that he was suspended from work as of September 24. Fuqua alleges he was orally charged with Aggravated Refusal of an Assignment, a 01B felony, [3] via an Inmate Disciplinary ...


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