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Goddard v. Alexakos

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division

March 6, 2018

CALVIN LEE GODDARD, Plaintiff,
v.
NICK ALEXAKOS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          KAREN K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Calvin Lee Goddard is an inmate confined at the Federal Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky (“FMC-Lexington”). Proceeding without counsel, Goddard filed a civil rights complaint asserting claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, pursuant to the doctrine announced in Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), 107 Stat. 1488, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1 to -4, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 (2000). [R. 1]. After initial screening of his Complaint by the Court [R. 21], Goddard's remaining claims allege that Defendants Nick Alexakos, Thomas Caldwell, Dave Carpenter, Jose Jiminez, J.G. Hallock, S. Lovett, Francisco Quintana, Chaplain Ortiz, Officer Mundy, S. Kern and PLP (collectively, “Defendants”) have violated the RFRA and the RLUIPA. Also remaining are Goddard's retaliation and free exercise claims under the First Amendment. Goddard is seeking monetary damages and injunctive relief in the form of an order that “a service be granted to The Way on Sundays comparable to other religions being allowed two hour services.” [R. 1 at p. 22].

         Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. [R. 36]. Goddard has filed a response [R. 38] and Defendants have filed a reply [R. 42]. Thus, this matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.[1" name="FN1" id= "FN1">1] Also pending before the Court are Goddard's motion to appoint counsel for discovery [R. 44] and a motion for discovery [R. 45], which he claims are necessary in light of the motion to dismiss and, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants, as well as Goddard's motion for preliminary injunction. [R. 39].

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment [R. 36] and dismiss Goddard's claims.

         I. Factual Background

         According to Goddard, he is a member of “The Way, ” which he describes as a non-Protestant Christian religion. [R. 1, 1-1]. Goddard claims that, while officials at FMC-Lexington allow other religious groups to access and hold their services at the prison's chapel, the officials have prevented members of The Way from worshipping as a group at the chapel. [R. 1 at p. 13-14]. While Goddard acknowledges that the prison offers general Christian services, he argues that those services are Protestant in nature, and he repeatedly emphasizes that he is not a Protestant. Indeed, throughout these proceedings, Goddard had gone to great lengths to distinguish his own faith from what he claims are the beliefs of Protestants. Specifically, he objects to the participation of homosexual inmates and Catholic inmates in the general Christian services, the use of overhead music, and the celebration of holidays. [R. 1 at p. 12, 14-16]. Goddard repeatedly claims that only followers of The Way are “True Christians” and that, although other religions (including what he identifies as Protestants) “claim to be Christian, they are not actually Christian, they are simply denominations that believe in Christ.” [R. 1 at p. 11-12]. Based on his characterization that only followers of The Way are “true” Christians, he argues that the BOP's policies are “diametrically opposed to Christianity.” [R. 1 at p. 13, 14].

         To be sure, Goddard's lengthy complaint, numerous attachments and related amendments, as well as his 66-page response to Defendants' motion, touch on a plethora of issues, including the differences between the beliefs of The Way and “Protestant” religions, Goddard's suspicions regarding the beliefs and motivations of the BOP and prison officials, and Goddard's dissatisfaction with the general Christian Sunday service and with the BOP's administrative remedy process. However, as indicated by the Court's screening Order [R. 21], the only remaining claims before the Court are his claims that Defendants are improperly interfering with his rights under the free exercise clause of First Amendment, the RFRA, and the RLUIPA by failing to allow The Way to have access to and hold their own services in the prison's chapel and that Defendants have retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights.

         Defendants' motion [R. 36] argues that Goddard's remaining claims should be dismissed because: (1) Goddard has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act; (2) Goddard has failed to state a claim under the RLUIPA; (3) Goddard has failed to state a claim under the RFRA; (4) Goddard has failed to state a free exercise claim under the First Amendment; (5) Goddard has failed to state a retaliation claim; and (6) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. In the alternative, Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on all of Goddard's claims.

         II. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint. Gardner v. Quicken Loans, Inc., 567 F. App'x 362, 364 (6th Cir. 2014).

         When addressing a motion to dismiss, the Court views the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accepts as true all ‘well-pleaded facts' in the complaint. D'Ambrosio v. Marino, 747 F.3d 378, 383 (6th Cir. 2014). Because the plaintiff here is proceeding without the benefit of an attorney, the Court reads his complaint to include all fairly and reasonably inferred claims. Davis v. Prison Health Servs., 679 F.3d 433, 437-38 (6th Cir. 2012). In ruling on the motion to dismiss, the Court may also consider the documents attached to Goddard's complaint. Cates v. Crystal Clear Techs., LLC, 874 F.3d 530, 536 (6th Cir. 2017).

         Here, Defendants moved both to dismiss and for summary judgment, attaching and relying upon declarations extrinsic to the pleadings in support of their motion. [R. 36]. Thus, the Court will treat Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); Wysocki v. Int'l Bus. Mach. Corp., 1102');">607 F.3d 1102, 1104 (6th Cir. 2010). See also Ball v. Union Carbide Corp., 13');">385 F.3d 713, 719 (6th Cir. 2004) (where defendant moves both to dismiss and for summary judgment, plaintiff is on notice that summary judgment is being requested, and the court's consideration as such is appropriate where the nonmovant submits documents and affidavits in opposition to summary judgment).

         A motion under Rule 56 challenges the viability of another party's claim by asserting that at least one essential element of that claim is not supported by legally-sufficient evidence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 17');">477 U.S. 317, 324-25 (1986). A party moving for summary judgment must establish that, even viewing the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Loyd v. St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, 766 F.3d 580, 588 (6th Cir. 2014).

         The Court reviews all of the evidence presented by the parties in a light most favorable to the responding party, with the benefit of any reasonable factual inferences which can be drawn in his favor. Harbin-Bey v. Rutter, 420 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2005). If the responding party's allegations are so clearly contradicted by the record that no reasonable jury could adopt them, the court need not accept them when determining whether summary judgment is warranted. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). The Court must grant summary judgment if the evidence would not support a jury verdict for the responding party with respect to at least one essential element of his claim. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986). If the applicable substantive law requires the responding party to meet a higher burden of proof, his evidence must be sufficient to sustain a jury's verdict in his favor in light of that heightened burden of proof at trial. Harvey v. Hollenback, 113 F.3d 639');">113 F.3d 639, 642 (6th Cir. 1997); Moore, Owen, Thomas & Co. v. Coffey, 992 F.2d 1439, 1444 (6th Cir. 1993).

         A. Motion for Discovery and Motion to Appoint Counsel

         Before turning to the merits of Defendants' motion, the Court will address Goddard's motion for discovery pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d) [R. 45] and his motion to appoint counsel to assist with taking discovery. [R. 44]. Rule 56(d) states as follows:

(d) When Facts Are Unavailable to the Nonmovant. If a nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, the court may:
(1) defer considering the motion or deny it;
(2) allow time to obtain affidavits or declarations or to take discovery; or
(3) issue any other appropriate order

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d).

         The trial court's allowance of additional discovery under Rule 56(d) (formerly Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f)) is discretionary. Egerer v. Woodland Realty, Inc., 15');">556 F.3d 415, 426 (6th Cir. 2009). “The affidavit required by Rule 56(f) to support a request for additional discovery must indicate the need for discovery, what material facts may be uncovered, and why the information has not been previously discovered.” Id. (citations omitted). As the Sixth Circuit has explained:

It is not an abuse of discretion for the district court to deny the discovery request when the party “makes only general and conclusory statements [in its affidavit] regarding the need for more discovery and does not show how an extension of time would have allowed information related to the truth or falsity of the [document] to be discovered.” Ironside v. Simi Valley Hosp., 188 F.3d 350');">188 F.3d 350, 354 (6th Cir.1999). It is also not an abuse of discretion to reject a Rule 56(f) affidavit as insufficient to support further discovery when the affidavit lacks “any details” or “specificity.” Emmons v. McLaughlin, 1');">874 F.2d 351, 357 (6th Cir.1989).

Ball v. Union Carbide Corp., 13');">385 F.3d 713, 720 (6th Cir. 2004).

         In his motion, Goddard identifies a list of topics on which he would like to take discovery, but does not offer any explanation as to how any of this information is necessary for him to present facts essential to justify his opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment. In the “affidavit” submitted in support of his motion, Goddard states: “I need this information to show that the Government has formed its own brand of Religion, identified it as Protestant, has removed any designation as a Christian, and prohibited any religious activity outside the governmental ‘watchful eye.'” [R. 45-1]. However, Goddard fails to explain how the information that he claims to be seeking is relevant to the legal questions raised by Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, he has failed to show that he cannot oppose Defendants' motion without taking the discovery he proposes. United States v. One Harrington & Richardson Rifle, 378 F.3d 533, 535 (6th Cir. 2004)(the affidavit must detail the discovery needed and demonstrate specific reasons why the non-movant cannot oppose the summary judgment motion without additional discovery).

         Moreover, Goddard's claimed “need” for this information in order to adequately respond to Defendants' motion is dubious, as he waited nearly six weeks after filing a 66-page response to Defendants' motion [R. 38, filed on September 13, 2017] to file his motion seeking discovery [R. 45, filed on October 24, 2017]. In fact, at no point in his lengthy response does Goddard indicate that he could not respond to any the arguments set forth by Defendants because he had not taken discovery. For both of these reasons, the Court will deny Goddard's motion for discovery [R. 45], as well as motion to appoint counsel to take this requested discovery [R. 44].

         III. Analysis

         A. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         Defendants first argue that Goddard's complaint must be dismissed because of his failure to properly exhaust his administrative remedies before filing this lawsuit as required by federal law. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”), a prisoner may not bring an action under federal law with respect to prison conditions until all available administrative remedies are exhausted. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Jones v. Bock, 199');">549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007) (“There is no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA and that unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court.”). Requiring exhaustion of remedies available within the agency whose actions are being challenged preserves the agency's administrative authority by providing the agency with “an opportunity to correct its own mistakes with respect to the programs it administers before it is haled into federal court.” Woodford v. Ngo, 1');">548 U.S. 81, 89 (2006). A prospective litigant must present their claim for relief in such a manner to “give the agency a fair and full opportunity to adjudicate their claims...” Id. at 90.

         The BOP's Inmate Grievance System requires a federal prisoner to first seek informal resolution of any issue with staff, and then to institute a formal grievance with the warden within twenty days. 28 C.F.R. §§ 542.13, 542.14(a). If the prisoner is not satisfied with the warden's response, he or she must appeal to the appropriate regional office within twenty days, and if unsatisfied with that response, to the General Counsel within thirty days thereafter. 28 C.F.R. § 542.15(a). See BOP Program Statement 1300.16. Because “[p]roper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules..., ” Woodford, 548 U.S. at 90, the prisoner must file the initial grievance and any appeals within these time frames.

         The Sixth Circuit has made clear that a prisoner must take each of these steps and complete the entire prison grievance process before filing suit:

While we recognize that plaintiff made some attempts to go through the prison's grievance procedures, we must dismiss plaintiff's complaint because he filed his federal complaint before allowing the administrative process to be completed. The plain language of the statute makes exhaustion a precondition to filing an action in federal court...The prisoner, ...

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