United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Eastern Division
GABRIEL GONZALEZ, REG. #30515-112 PLAINTIFF
CARLOS RIVERA, Former Warden, FCI-FC, et al. DEFENDANTS
following Recommended Disposition has been sent to United
States District Judge J. Leon Holmes. Any party may file
written objections to this Recommendation. Objections must be
specific and include the factual or legal basis for
disagreeing with the Recommendation. An objection to a
factual finding must specifically identify the finding of
fact believed to be wrong and describe the evidence that
supports that belief.
original and one copy of the objections must be received by
the Clerk of this Court within fourteen (14) days of this
Recommendation. If no objections are filed, Judge Holmes can
adopt this Recommendation without independently reviewing all
of the evidence in the record. By not objecting, you may also
waive any right to appeal questions of fact.
Gabriel Gonzalez (“Gonzalez”) filed this
Bivens action alleging that former FCI-FC Chaplain
Peter Landers (“Chaplain Landers”), FCI-FC
Supervisory Chaplain Thomas Johnson (“Chaplain
Johnson”), and former FCI-FC Warden Carlos Rivera
(“Warden Rivera”) violated his rights under the
Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First
Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act
(“RFRA”),  and the Equal Protection Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment. Those alleged constitutional violations
arose from the Defendants not allowing him: (1) to attend a
Catholic Easter event on March 24, 2016; (2) to receive
“Catholic ‘Good Friday' meal provisions [so
he could] participate in ... Catholic fasting
activities” on March 25, 2016; and (3) to have the
opportunity to attend a “makeup” Catholic Easter
event on March 28, 2016, which left him, as his only option,
attending the Protestant Easter event on March 28,
2016. Gonzalez seeks monetary damages, as well
as declaratory and injunctive relief.
have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, a Brief in Support,
and a Statement of Facts. (Doc. 72, 73, and
74). Gonzalez has filed two Responses in
opposition. (Docs. 82 and 83). Defendants have filed
a Reply. (Doc. 85). Thus, the issues are fully
joined and ready for disposition.
addressing the merits of Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment, the Court will summarize the relevant facts
surrounding Gonzalez's constitutional
Gonzalez is a Catholic prisoner in the Federal Correctional
Institution in Forrest City, Arkansas (“FCI-FC”).
(Gonzalez's Amended Complaint, Doc. 4,
¶ 3, 7).
Chaplain Landers was a chaplain at FCI-FC in March of 2016.
(Declaration of Peter Landers, Doc. 73-2, p. 2-3).
March of 2016, Rivera was Warden of FCI-FC and Chaplain
Johnson was the Supervisory Chaplain. (Defendants'
Answer, Doc. 29, ¶ 4; Declaration of Thomas
Johnson, Doc. 73-1, p. 2).
2016, Catholic mass at FCI-FC was scheduled each Thursday,
usually at 6:00 p.m. (Declaration of Chaplain Landers,
Doc. 73-2, p. 2-3; Gonzalez's Supplemental
Response to Motion for Summary Judgment, Doc. 83, p.
Easter Sunday fell on March 27, 2016, which meant Easter
Mass. at FCI-FC normally would have been conducted at 6:00
p.m. on Thursday, March 24, 2016.
According to Gonzalez, Father Vu was the Catholic priest who
conducted mass at FCI-FC in 2016. Sometime in March, Father
Vu explained to Gonzalez that:
(1) “[H]e would not be [available to] hold Mass. on
March 24, 2016, and that the prison was going to be having a
special service for the Catholic observation of Easter where
an Easter Feast was going to be served to the [Catholic]
inmates [who] ... could observe Easter during that
(2) “[V]olunteers from the local [Catholic] church
would also not be in attendance at the prison on March 24,
2016[, ] to hold Catholic religious services but that
[Gonzalez and the other Catholic prisoners] could all expect
to attend Mass. the following week at our scheduled
Response to Summary Judgment, Doc. 82, pp. 23-24).
part of the religious celebrations leading up to Easter in
2016, Gonzalez states that Catholic prisoners in FCI-FC were
allowed to participate in “the celebration of
Maundy” and “Father Vu performed a ceremonial
‘washing of the feet' in the prison's
chapel.” (Doc. 82, pp. 4-5).
1:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 24, 2016, the Catholic Easter
event (which Father Vu had previously explained would be held
in lieu of a Catholic Mass) took place in the FCI-FC dining
hall. Catholic prisoners who wished to attend that event were
required to sign up in advance so that the kitchen staff
would know how much food to prepare for the
meal. (Gonzalez's Amended Complaint,
Doc. 4, ¶¶ 7, 15; Declaration of Chaplain
Johnson, Doc. 73-1, ¶ 5, 7; Declaration of
Chaplain Landers, Doc. 73-2, ¶ 9). The Catholic
Easter event included a prayer, a special meal (which Father
Vu previously had described to Gonzalez as an “Easter
Feast”), followed by inmates speaking about the
importance of Easter. (Declaration of Luis Garcia, Doc.
82, p. 22)
Protestant Easter event was scheduled to take place on
Monday, March 28, 2016, in the FCI-FC dining hall.
(Declaration of Ambrosio Medrano, Doc. 82, p. 25).
Because it also included a meal for Protestant prisoners,
those wishing to attend were required to sign up in advance,
just as Catholic prisoners had been required to sign up to
attend the Catholic Easter event on March 24, 2016.
(Gonzalez's Response to Motion for Summary Judgment,
Doc. 83, p. 4).
According to Gonzalez, he signed up to attend the Catholic
Easter event on March 24, 2016. (Doc. 82, p. 23).
Chaplain Louis Ford (“Chaplain Ford”) has
documented that Gonzalez's name appeared on a
“callout list” to be off work on March 24, 2016:
The call out sheet for 3-24-2016 [reflects] inmate Gabriel
Gonzalez #30515-112 was on WORK PRO which was designated as a
religious day off. This was the day for the religious
Catholic meal. There was no other special Catholic observance
on that day.
(Chaplain Ford's Memo in Gonzalez's Inmate Central
File, Doc. 73-1, p. 11). Because it appears Gonzalez arranged
to be off work on March 24, 2016, Chaplain Ford's Memo
provides some support for Gonzalez's claim that he signed
up for and planned to attend the Catholic Easter event at
1:00 p.m. on that date.
his Declaration, Chaplain Johnson states that:
Inmate Gonzalez failed to sign up for the March 24, 2016
Catholic Easter Service ceremonial meal. As a result of not
signing up for the meal, he was not allowed admittance to the
meal only because food service needed to know in advance how
many inmates would attend the complimentary meal. Only
inmates that did not sign up for the ceremonial meal were
(Doc. 73-1, pp. 2-3).
purposes of analyzing Gonzalez's constitutional claims,
the Court will accept as true, Gonzalez's sworn statement
that he properly signed up, in advance, to attend the March
24, 2016 Catholic Easter event. It appears someone then used
the signup sheet to prepare a separate list, which reflected
the names of those prisoners who were to be admitted to the
Catholic Easter event.
According to Chaplain Ford, someone gave him a list with the
names of the prisoners who were to be admitted to the
Catholic Easter event. Chaplain Ford was only allowed to
admit those prisoners to the dining hall whose names appeared
on the list. (See Chaplain Ford's Responses to
Gonzalez Informal Resolution Attempt, Doc. 82, p.
19-20; and Gonzalez's Amended Complaint, Doc. 4,
According to Chaplain Ford, Gonzalez's name was
not on the list. As a result, Chaplain Ford did not
allow Gonzalez and several other Catholic prisoners whose
names were not on the list to enter the dining hall and
participate in the Catholic Easter event on March 24, 2016.
(Chaplain Ford's Responses to Gonzalez's Informal
Resolution Attempt attached to Gonzalez's Response,
Doc. 82, p. 20). ...