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Cousins v. Rogers

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

August 16, 2019



          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove, Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Recommended Disposition filed by Magistrate Judge Hanly A. Ingram. [R. 72.] The Defendants in this matter moved for summary judgment. [R. 39.] Consistent with local practice, Judge Ingram reviewed the motion, recommending to the Court that the motion be granted in part and denied in part. [R. 72.] Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(2), a party has fourteen days after service to register any objections to the Recommended Disposition or else waive his rights to appeal. In order to receive de novo review by this Court, any objection to the recommended disposition must be specific. Mira v. Marshall, 806 F.2d 636, 637 (6th Cir. 1986). A specific objectionmust “explain and cite specific portions of the report which [defendant] deem[s] problematic.” Robert v. Tesson, 507 F.3d 981, 994 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotations and citations omitted). A general objection that fails to identify specific factual or legal issues from the recommendation, however, is not permitted, since it duplicates the Magistrate's efforts and wastes judicial economy. Howard v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991).

         Both parties filed objections. Defendants filed timely, specific objections on July 26, 2019. [R. 76.] Mr. Cousins also filed objections, some of which were out of time.[1] [R. 80; R. 83.] Accordingly, the Court has an obligation to conduct a de novo review of the Magistrate Judge's findings. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c). The Court has satisfied that duty, reviewing the entire record, including the pleadings, the parties' arguments, relevant case law and statutory authority, as well as applicable procedural rules. For the following reasons, all objections will be OVERRULED, and Judge Ingram's Recommendation will be ADOPTED.


         Judge Ingram's Recommended Disposition accurately sets forth the factual and procedural background of the case. The Court mentions only key facts to frame its discussion and analysis and incorporates Judge Ingram's discussion of the record in this Order. In 2017, Mr. Cousins was a pretrial detainee at the Franklin County Regional Jail. [R. 1 at 1.] He alleges that during his time there, he was not permitted kosher meals, he was jumped by other inmates, he was punished more harshly than other individuals, the Defendants and staff made his time difficult, and that he experienced significant weight loss. [R. 1-1 at 1; R. 9 at 1-2.] Mr. Cousins sued Rick Rogers, jailer of the Franklin County Regional Jail; Robert Abrams, captain of the jail; Garry Lucas, sergeant at the jail; and Joshua Jones, sergeant at the jail. [R. 1 at 1-2.] In this complaint, he alleged violations of the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, along with claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. [R. 1 at 4; R. 9 at 2.] Judge Ingram separated his claims into two incidents: the jail's failure to provide him with kosher meals and the jail's response to an altercation that occurred between himself and another detainee. [R. 72 at 3.]


         Upon his booking at the Franklin County Regional Jail on June 7, 2017, Mr. Cousins told the officers that he was on a kosher diet. [R. 39-19 at 1.] He also informed jail staff the next morning of his dietary restrictions. [R. 39-4 at 3-4.] The staff serving breakfast simply told him to eat what he could, that a kosher meal would be provided for lunch. Id. at 4. But at lunch, the officer told Mr. Cousins that he needed to file a medical grievance in order to receive kosher meals. Id. at 7. So, he filed a medical grievance, but the nurse informed him that he needed to file a regular grievance instead. [R. 39-4 at 7; R. 1-1 at 3.] He did this, but claims he never received kosher accommodations. [R. 39-4 at 8.]

         He then wrote to Defendant Sergeant Garry Lucas to request kosher meals, as Sergeant Lucas ran the kitchen, but he was informed that he would need to first “prove his faith.” Id. at 10-11. Mr. Cousins retorted, “it's impossible to prove that God exist[s], ” at which time Mr. Cousins claimed that Sergeant Lucas essentially “cussed [him] out.” Id. at 11. Sergeant Lucas indicated he would speak to someone about the request for kosher meals, but Mr. Cousins maintains that never happened. Id. at 12.

         Mr. Cousins filed another grievance on June 23, 2017. [R. 39-20.] He was then informed by Defendant Sergeant Joshua Jones and Defendant Captain Robert Adams that he needed verification of his eligibility for kosher meals by a religious authority. [R. 39-4 at 15- 16.] Sergeant Jones permitted Mr. Cousins use of the phone, as well as paper and envelopes, to contact such religious authority. Id. at 18. He attempted to contact synagogues in the area, but he did not receive a response. Id. at 18-20. Meanwhile, he ate as best he could, representing to the Court that he ate meat on only two occasions. Id. at 6. He also spoke to the medical staff about his diet and weight loss, even asking them to place him on a vegan diet. Id. at 37-39.


         Shortly thereafter, on August 6, 2017, Mr. Cousins and a fellow detainee, Stephen Wendling, were involved in an altercation. [R. 39-4 at 23.] Apparently, Mr. Wendling confronted Mr. Cousins and another inmate about trying to steal his possessions. Id. at 24. Mr. Cousins alleges that he fought back, but only after he was punched twice. Id. at 25. Mr. Wendling and the other inmate are both white, while Mr. Cousins is black. Id. at 26. He claimed his finger was broken during the fight and he was denied hospital treatment, but x-rays taken a week later indicated that nothing was broken. Id. at 26, 36.

         Mr. Cousins was placed “in the hole” for ninety days as punishment for the altercation. Id. at 28. Captain Abrams allegedly told Mr. Cousins he was never letting him out of the hole. Id. at 28-29. Mr. Wendling also received ninety days of disciplinary confinement for the altercation [R. 39-27; R. 39-28], though Mr. Cousins initially thought Mr. Wendling was there for only twenty days [R. 39-4 at 35].

         After his lockdown, Mr. Cousins attended a church service, where he was confronted by Captain Abrams. [R. 39-4 at 29-33.] At this point, Captain Abrams denied being racist and told Mr. Cousins that his filed grievances were fruitless. Id. So, on September 7, 2017, Mr. Cousins submitted another grievance alleging that he was “being racially hated on in this jail.” [R. 39-29.] In the grievance, Mr. Cousins alleged mistreatment by Captain Abrams, that he had not received his mail, and that his calls were being cut. Id. The grievance was denied for failure to allege a time and date of the occurrence. Id.


         Judge Ingram first recommended the Court dismiss Mr. Cousins's claims pursuant to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). [R. 72 at 7.] Specifically, RLUIPA does not permit monetary damages against state prison officials, and because Mr. Cousins only seeks monetary relief, he cannot succeed under RLUIPA. See Haight v. Thompson, 763 F.3d 554, 560 (6th Cir. 2014). Next, before considering the constitutional claims, Judge Ingram noted that the complaint did not indicate whether Mr. Cousins intended to sue the defendants in their official or individual capacities. [R. 72 at 9.] Using the “course of proceedings” test, Judge Ingram found that Mr. Cousins intended to sue the Defendants in both their official and individual capacities. Id. at 9-12.

         Then, Judge Ingram determined that a genuine issue of material fact existed for Mr. Cousins's Free Exercise Claim, thus precluding summary judgment in favor of Captain Abrams and Sergeants Jones and Lucas in their individual capacities. Id. at 12-17. Specifically, these Defendants were unable to provide evidence as to why they had denied Mr. Cousins's requests for kosher meals, leaving unanswered whether their denial was based on a legitimate penological interest or whether it was based on an arbitrary or impermissible reason. Id. at 16-17. Judge Ingram found that Captain Abrams, Sergeant Lucas, and Sergeant Jones were also not entitled to qualified immunity because they knew their denial of Mr. Cousins's request must be supported by a legitimate penological interest. Id. at 17-18.

         However, Judge Ingram determined that Jailer Rick Rogers could not be held liable for any violation of the Free Exercise Clause in his individual capacity, as the theory of respondeat superior does not apply to these claims. Id. at 18. Further, Judge Ingram recommended the Court grant summary judgment as to the Defendants in their official capacities. Id. at 18-21. Official-capacity claims are treated as suits against the state, and to succeed, Mr. Cousins must demonstrate that a municipal policy or custom was responsible for any alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Id. at 18-19; Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978). Mr. Cousins, however, was unable to present any evidence for this, and Judge Ingram found the official defendants are entitled to summary judgment for his Free Exercise Claim. [R. 72 at 18- 20.]

         Next, Judge Ingram addressed Mr. Cousins's retaliation claims. Id. at 21-24. Based on his complaint, Judge Ingram construed this claim as being made only against Sergeant Lucas and Captain Abrams in both official and individual capacities. Id. at 21. However, Judge Ingram recommended only permitting the retaliatory claim against Captain Abrams individual to continue, finding Mr. Cousins failed to establish the required evidence against Sergeant Lucas or against Captain Abrams in his official capacity. Id. at 21-24.

         As to Mr. Cousins's claims regarding the jail's failure to provide kosher meals, harassment by Captain Abrams and Sergeant Jones, placement in the same dorm as Mr. Wendling, and the jail's failure to provide adequate medical care following his altercation, Judge Ingram construed these as claims for violations of his Fourteenth Amendment rights, rather than his Eighth Amendment rights. Id. at 24. Though his complaint asserted Eighth Amendment claims, as a pretrial detainee, the Fourteenth Amendment applies to his claims of deliberate indifference, not the Eighth. See Roberts v. City of Troy, 773 F.2d 720, 723 (6th Cir. 1985) (“However, the eighth amendment rights of prisoners are analogized to those of detainees under the fourteenth amendment, to avoid the anomaly of extending greater constitutional protection to a convict than to one awaiting trial.”). After thoroughly analyzing these claims, the Magistrate Judge recommended granting summary judgment for the Defendants on Mr. Cousins's Fourteenth Amendment Claims. [R. 72 at 24-28.]

         Judge Ingram also found that Mr. Cousins's Due Process claim concerning the handling of filed grievances did not state a constitutional violation. Id. at 28. And finally, Judge Ingram determined that Mr. Cousins's Equal Protection claim based on Mr. Wendling's punishment for the altercation would warrant summary judgment against him, as he had failed to demonstrate the Defendants acted with discriminatory intent or purpose. Id. at 28-29. In summary, Judge Ingram recommended denying Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to Mr. Cousins's First Amendment Free Exercise Claim against Captain Abrams, Sergeant Jones, and Sergeant Lucas in their individual capacities, as well as to his retaliation claim against Captain Abrams in his individual capacity. Id. at 30. However, Judge Ingram recommended granting the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to all other claims. Id. at 30-31.

         Additionally, Judge Ingram construed Mr. Cousins's pro se motion “for reason to set jury trial or ask the judge to grant case in favor of the plaintiff” [R. 64] as a motion for summary judgment [R. 72 at 29-30]. In response, Defendants filed a motion to strike this pleading [R. 65] and Judge Ingram agreed, finding Mr. Cousins's motion to be untimely, as it was filed more than three months after the deadline to file dispositive motions [R. 72 at 29-30]. Because neither party objected to these recommendations, the Court is not required to “review . . . a magistrate's factual or legal conclusions, under a de novo or any other standard . . . .” Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985). Parties who fail to object to a Magistrate's Report and Recommendation are also barred from appealing a district court's order adopting that Report and Recommendation. United States v. ...

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