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Mota v. Medeiros

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 28, 2018

FRANK MOTA, Plaintiff,
v.
SEAN MEDEIROS, THOMAS TURCO III, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Denise J. Casper United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Frank Mota (“Mota”) brings claims against Defendants Sean Medeiros, the Superintendent of Massachusetts Correctional Institution - Norfolk (“MCI-Norfolk”), a medium security prison in Norfolk, Massachusetts, and Thomas Turco III, the Commissioner for the Department of Corrections, related to his request for a special religious diet. The Defendants moved for summary judgment and Mota filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment with respect to his claims under the First Amendment and Section 1983. D. 29, D. 33. For the foregoing reasons, Mota's motion for partial summary judgment, D. 33, is DENIED and the Defendants' motion for summary judgment, D. 29, is ALLOWED.

         II. Factual Summary

         The following facts are undisputed.[1] The Massachusetts Department of Corrections (“DOC”) maintains a standard operating procedure (“SOP”) pertaining to special dietary requests by inmates. D. 31 ¶ 6; D. 34 at 2. From 2003 until January 19, 2016, the SOP in place provided as follows. D. 31 ¶ 4. Inmates requesting a special diet were to submit a request form and the superintendent of the facility, or the designee of the superintendent, would review the request and forward the request to the Religious Service Review Committee (“RSRC”) for a formal decision. D. 30-5 at 15. Once a request for a special diet was approved by the RSRC, the superintendent, or the designee of the superintendent, would notify the food services director, who would place the inmate on the list of inmates to receive that particular special diet. Id. Inmates who received approval for their special diet were to show their identification and sign for their special diet at each meal. Id. If a staff member witnessed an inmate on the special diet list accessing a meal from the “mainline” menu (the menu for inmates not on any special diet), the staff member was to write an Incident Report and forward it to the superintendent or the designee of the superintendent. Id. If a particular inmate received three Incident Reports within a thirty-day period reflecting that the inmate had accessed meals from the mainline menu, the inmate would be removed from the special diet list for a minimum of sixty days, after which the inmate could re-apply for a special diet. D. 30-5 at 16. If an inmate was removed from the special diet list for this reason twice within a twelve-month period, the DOC would remove the inmate from the special diet list indefinitely. Id. The special diet policy was to “continue without break upon transfer to another facility.” Id.

         Effective January 19, 2016, the DOC revised the SOP. D. 31 ¶ 18. The revised SOP matched the prior SOP, except that an inmate removed twice from the special diet list for accessing meals from the mainline menu - in any span of time, not just within a twelve-month window - would be removed from the special diet list for six months, after which the inmate could re-apply for a special diet. D. 30-7 at 3. If an inmate did re-apply for a special diet, receive access, and subsequently get removed from the special diet list for accessing meals from the mainline menu, the inmate would have to wait six months before being eligible to re-apply for the special diet. D. 30-7 at 3-4.

         Mota is currently incarcerated at MCI-Norfolk, D. 31 ¶ 1, D. 34 at 2, and was previously incarcerated at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts (“SBCC”). D. 31 ¶ 19-21. While at SBCC, Mota requested the “halal” diet, a special diet reflecting Mota's religious requirements, and was approved for such diet on May 13, 2010. D. 31 ¶ 19. Mota was removed from the special diet list on June 14, 2011, due to his getting three meals from the mainline menu within a thirty-day period. D. 31 ¶ 20, D. 34 at 3. On June 16, 2011, Mota was transferred from SBCC to MCI-Norfolk. D. 31 ¶ 21. In August 2011, Mota requested that he receive access again to the special diet and was placed on the special diet list on August 31, 2011. D. 31 ¶ 23, D. 34 at 3. On November 23, 2011, Mota was removed again from the special diet list because of getting meals from the mainline menu. D. 31 ¶ 24, D. 34 at 3. On February 19, 2012, Mota submitted a grievance requesting that he be reinstated to the special diet list. D. 30-2 at 5. On March 2, 2012, the DOC denied that grievance because Mota's termination from the special diet list complied with the terms of the then-operative SOP. Id. On March 12, 2012, Mota appealed the denial of his grievance and his appeal was denied because Mota was now “ineligible for a special diet meal due to the fact that [Mota was] terminated twice within one year.” D. 30-2 at 7. On July 14, 2015, Mota filed a new grievance requesting that he be reinstated on the special diet list. D. 30-2 at 8. On August 6, 2015, the new grievance was denied on the ground that it was duplicative of the prior grievance. D. 30-2 at 8. On August 11, 2015, Mota appealed and his appeal was denied on September 8, 2015. D. 30-2 at 10. On September 12, 2016, Mota was advised by the Director of Treatment at MCI-Norfolk, Bruce Pires, that, based on the change in the SOP, Mota was eligible to reapply for reinstatement on the special diet list. D. 31 ¶ 32. Mota has not submitted such a request yet. D. 31 ¶ 34.

         III. Procedural History

         On March 28, 2016, Mota filed his complaint. D. 1. On April 28, 2017, Mota filed the amended complaint. D. 28. In the now-operative amended complaint, Mota requested relief under the First Amendment of the Constitution, the Fourteenth Amendment, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. D. 28 at 1. He requested injunctive relief; a declaratory judgment that the Defendants' actions violated his constitutional rights; and damages against each defendant in their personal and official capacities. D. 28 at 7.

         The Defendants have now moved for summary judgment, D. 29, and Mota has filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment with respect to his claims under the First Amendment and Section 1983, D. 33. The Court has heard argument on the motions and took the matter under advisement. D. 40.

         IV. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

          A movant is entitled to summary judgment where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts are those that carry the potential “to affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law.” Santiago-Ramos v. Centennial P.R. Wireless Corp., 217 F.3d 46, 52 (1st Cir. 2000) (quoting Sánchez v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir. 1996)). The movant bears the burden of demonstrating that there exists no genuine issue of material fact. Carmona v. Toledo, 215 F.3d 124, 132 (1st Cir. 2000); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets its burden, the non-moving party may not rely exclusively upon the allegations or denials in her pleadings. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). Instead, the nonmoving party “must, with respect to each issue on which she would bear the burden of proof at trial, demonstrate that a trier of fact could reasonably resolve that issue in her favor.” Borges ex rel. S.M.B.W. v. Serrano-Isern, 605 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2010). “As a general rule, that requires the production of evidence that is ‘significant[ly] probative.'” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249). In conducting this inquiry, the Court “view[s] the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing reasonable inferences in his favor.” Noonan v. Staples, Inc., 556 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2009).

         To prevail on a claim under RLUIPA, a plaintiff must show “(1) that an institutionalized person's religious exercise has been burdened and (2) that the burden is substantial, ” and if the plaintiff does so, the burden then shifts to the defendant(s) to show “(3) that the burden furthers a compelling governmental interest and (4) that the burden is the least restrictive means of achieving that compelling interest.” Spratt v. R.I. Dept. of Corrections, 482 F.3d 33, 38 (1st Cir. 2007). To prevail on a Section 1983 action asserting a First Amendment violation, “a prison regulation which restricts an inmate's First Amendment rights is permissible if it is ‘reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.'” Kuperman v. Wrenn, 645 F.3d 69, 74 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)). The factors to consider in determining whether a regulation meets that standard include “(1) whether there is a valid, rational connection between the ...


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