United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Pine Bluff Division
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Kristine G. Baker United States District Judge.
matter came before the Court for trial. Plaintiff Abdulhakim
Muhammad was represented by counsel, and defendants Joshua
Mayfield, the Religious Service Administrator for the
Arkansas Department of Correction
(“ADC”); Jeremy Andrews, Warden of the ADC's
East Arkansas Regional Unit; and Wendy Kelley, Director of
the ADC, were represented by counsel. Pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), after conclusion of the trial,
the Court makes the following specific findings and
Muhammad, a Sunni Muslim and inmate with the ADC, brings this
action, claiming that the meal plans offered by the ADC
violate the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons
Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C.A. §§
2000cc, et seq., as well as the First and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Muhammad is a lifetime inmate in the custody of the ADC. He
is serving life without parole, 11 life sentences, and an
additional 180 months (Dkt. No. 117, ¶16).
currently is incarcerated in administrative segregation at
the ADC's East Arkansas Regional Unit (Dkt. No. 113, at
Muhammad is seeking injunctive relief from defendants Mr.
Mayfield, Mr. Andrews, and Ms. Kelley.
Specifically, Mr. Muhammad seeks to have the ADC provide to
him halal meals, including meat once per day, and to have the
ADC certify that the food it serves complies with a halal
all times pertinent, Mr. Mayfield, Mr. Andrews, and Ms.
Kelley were acting under color of state law.
Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1343.
Of Administrative Remedies
Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PLRA”), 42
U.S.C. § 1997(e), et seq., requires, as a
pre-condition to filing suit, that a prison inmate first
exhaust all available administrative remedies in accordance
with the applicable procedural rules, including deadlines.
Hammettv.Cofield, 681 F.3d 945, 946 (8th Cir. 2012);
see42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). “[I]t is the
prison's requirements, and not the PLRA, that define the
boundaries of proper exhaustion.” Burns v.
Eaton, 752 F.3d 1136, 1141 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007)).
“Nonexhaustion is an affirmative defense, and
defendants have the burden of raising and proving the absence
of exhaustion.” Porter v. Sturm, 781 F.3d 448,
451 (8th Cir. 2015) (citing Jones, 549 U.S. at
Inmates are excused from exhausting remedies “when
officials have prevented prisoners from utilizing the
procedures, or when officials themselves have failed to
comply with the grievance procedures.” Porter,
781 F.3d at 452.
requirement that inmates exhaust administrative remedies
“hinges on the ‘availability' of
administrative remedies: an inmate, that is, must exhaust
available remedies, but need not exhaust unavailable
ones.” Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1858
(2016). “[A]ccordingly, an inmate is required to
exhaust those, but only those, grievance procedures that are
‘capable of use' to ‘obtain some relief for
the action complained of.'” Id., at 1859
(citation omitted). The Supreme Court in Ross
“made clear, [that] an administrative procedure is
unavailable when (despite what regulations or guidance
materials may promise) it operates as a simple dead end -
with officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any
relief to aggrieved inmates.” Id., at 1859
ADC maintains an inmate grievance policy, described in
Administrative Directive (“AD”)
12-16. This grievance policy applies to all
inmates and provides an administrative mechanism for
resolution of complaints, problems, and other issues.
ADC's grievance policy requires that an inmate submit an
informal grievance in the form of a written complaint that is
specific as to the substance of the issue and describes how
the policy or incident affected the inmate. AD 12-16, at
IV(E). Inmates have 15 days after the occurrence of an event
in which to file an informal resolution. Id. If a
problem solver fails to meet with the inmate regarding the
informal resolution, step two, the formal grievance must be
filed no later than six working days from the submission of
the informal resolution. Id. Once the formal
grievance is filed, an inmate will receive a written response
from the Warden/Center Supervisor Decision within 20 days.
Id., at IV(F). An inmate may appeal the unit level
grievance decision within five working days to the
appropriate Chief Deputy. Id., at IV(G).
Inmates must exhaust their administrative remedies as to all
defendants at all levels of the grievance procedure before
filing suit. Id., at IV(N).
Muhammad filed this lawsuit on April 22, 2015 (Dkt. No. 2),
and prior to filing suit, Mr. Muhammad filed four grievances
concerning his religious diet needs.
a. On or about January 25, 2013, Mr. Muhammad filed grievance
number VSM13-00336. Pl.'s Trial Ex. 1. The Warden and Ms.
Yolanda Clark responded. This grievance was fully exhausted.
Pl.'s Trial Ex. 1.
b. On or about August 23, 2013, Mr. Muhammad filed grievance
number VSM13-03225. Pl.'s Trial Ex. 2. This grievance was
rejected as untimely. Mr. Muhammad filed his informal
resolution on August 12, 2013, and failed to file the Step
Two formal grievance within six days. Defendants failed to
come forward with what would be a complete copy of this
administrative grievance. Testimony from Barbara Williams on
cross examination and redirect examination indicated the
document likely would be housed within the ADC at the unit
level and that Mr. Muhammad likely would have had a copy. The
second page, which is in evidence, states on its face that
the ADC considered and rejected the grievance. Regardless,
based on the requirements of the ADC, this grievance was not
fully exhausted. Pl.'s Trial Ex. 2.
c. The third grievance filed by Mr. Muhammad was grievance
VSM13-03485. Pl.'s Trial Ex. 2. The Unit Level Grievance
Form for this grievance was not produced at trial. From the
Warden/Center Supervisor's Decision, the Court determines
that Mr. Muhammad's complaint in this grievance was
substantially similar to the grievance filed on August 23,
2013. According to the trial testimony on redirect
examination of Ms. Williams, Mr. Muhammad failed to exhaust
fully this grievance.
d. On or about February 6, 2014, Mr. Muhammad submitted a
grievance, grievance number VSM14-491. Pl.'s Trial Ex. 4.
In his grievance, Mr. Muhammad cited the cases of
Love and Fegans, cases he had read about in
the prison law library, and cited the Federal Bureau of
Prisons common fare program. Based on Mr. Muhammad testimony
on direct examination, he understood, based on his reading,
that these sources called for kosher meals, as the
requirements for kosher meals are stricter than for halal
meals, and included some form of meat. In his grievance, Mr.
Muhammad specifically cited Program Statement 4700.4(2) and
4700.4(3), which are references to the Federal Bureau of
Prisons Program Statements regarding the Food Service Manual.
Pl.'s Trial Ex. 4. Mr. Muhammad's grievance
contended, in part, that by “being forced to eat
non-Halaal foods we have been forced to sin against
Allah's laws.” This grievance was fully exhausted,
with the ADC representative signing it April 14, 2014.
Court takes judicial notice of the case of Kelvin Ray
Love v. Marvin Evans, et al., Case No. 2:00-cv-0091 JMM,
and specifically takes judicial notice of docket entries 118
and 183 in that case. In Love, the Court ordered the
ADC to provide to Mr. Love a kosher diet consistent with his
religious beliefs, and the ADC proposed, among other
alternatives, to provide to Mr. Love prepackaged kosher meals
from My Own Meals, Inc.
Court also takes judicial notice of the case of Michael
J. Fegans v. Larry Norris, et al., Case No.
4:03-cv-00172 JMM, 2006 WL 6936834 (E.D. Ark. Aug. 25, 2006),
aff'd 537 F.3d 897 (8th Cir. 2008). In
Fegans, the Court determined in part that the ADC
failed to accommodate Mr. Fegans' request for a kosher
diet, that this failure placed a substantial burden on Mr.
Fegans's religious beliefs, and that defendant Larry
Norris of the ADC knowingly violated established law
requiring kosher diets after the Court's decision in
Before the common fare option was developed, according to the
testimony of Kay Skillen on cross examination, the ADC
utilized My Own Meals, Inc., which included kosher meat and
which is referenced in the Love case. Love,
Dkt. No. 183, at 6. By comparison, according to Ms. Skillen,
the common fare option does not include kosher or halal meat.
addition to the grievance procedure in AD 12-16, the ADC has
also promulgated AD 13-83, religious diets, which states that
“any inmate requesting special religious diet will
complete the Special Religious Diet form at which time all
dietary requirements must be set forth by the inmate and are
not subject to additions or deletions for a period of twelve
(12) months.” Pl.'s Trial Ex. 8, ¶ II.A.
“A request based upon an inmate's sincerely held
religious belief will be accommodated . . . . Requests which
are not matter of a religious belief … will not be
honored.” Id., ¶ II.C.
13-83 is a specific procedure by which inmates can request a
special religious diet. AD 13-83 was promulgated after the
effective date of AD 12-16, the grievance process.
According to the testimony of Ms. Kelley on recross
examination, requests made pursuant to AD 13-83 are received
by the chaplain. AD 13-83 specifies no appeal process. It
does not state that an inmate must initiate the formal
grievance process in order to challenge a decision not to
accommodate the inmate's purported sincerely held
religious belief. Ms. Kelley on cross and redirect
examination and Mr. Mayfield on direct examination testified
generally that, if an inmate is not satisfied with the
response he receives from the chaplain, the inmate can file a
grievance. There is no record evidence to support how this
information, the requirement to file a grievance if
unsatisfied with a response from the chaplain, was
communicated to inmates or whether this information appears
in writing in any ADC document.
Muhammad's trial exhibits contain three memoranda from
his unit's chaplain regarding Mr. Muhammad's requests
for accommodation. Pl.'s Trial Exs. 3, 5, 6. The first
response is dated November 21, 2013. Pl.'s Trial Ex. 3.
The second response is dated August 12, 2014. Pl.'s Trial
Ex. 5. The third response is dated April 1, 2015. Pl.'s
Trial Ex. 6.
Muhammad testified on direct and cross examination that, in
his letters to his unit chaplain, he asked for halal meat,
and in his second letter, he tried to compromise by also
saying he would be satisfied with the vegetarian diet with
the fish added.
one produced Mr. Muhammad's letters to his unit chaplain,
and the unit chaplain or chaplains who received his letters
did not testify.
August 12, 2014, response specifically denies Mr.
Muhammad's request to receive a vegetarian meal in
addition to fish. Pl.'s Trial Ex. 5.
Muhammad testified on cross examination that, after he
received the first response dated November 21, 2013, stating
that the ADC did not provide kosher or halal meals to
inmates, he wrote a grievance, which is grievance number
VSM14-491 and which was fully exhausted.
During the time Mr. Muhammad filed four grievances and
submitted three requests for accommodation pursuant to AD
13-83, no one from the ADC ever spoke to Mr. Muhammad about
his grievances or his requests for accommodation and a halal
diet. The ADC grievance procedure states that “after
receipt of the informal complaint, the problem-solver will. .
. meet with the inmate within three working days to resolve
the issue.” Pl.'s Trial Ex. 7, at 24. Dkt. No. 52,
Ex. 4, at 24.
Based on testimony presented to the Court by Mr. Mayfield on
cross examination and Ms. Skillen on direct and cross
examination, the Chaplaincy Service and the Food Service
Department at the ADC were not able or authorized to grant
pre-suit the relief Mr. Muhammad seeks. See also Pl,
's Trial Ex. 6.
Based on testimony presented to the Court by Ms. Skillen on
redirect examination, the ADC management team would likely
have to review whether to provide new or different foods.
Based on the evidence before the Court, at the pertinent
time, the ADC responded to requests for religious dietary
accommodations only by offering the vegetarian or common fare
options. See Pl.'s Trial Ex. 6.
Muhammad contends that the vegetarian option includes butter
and animal products and that the ...