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Gonzalez v. Rivera

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Eastern Division

August 17, 2018

GABRIEL GONZALEZ, REG. #30515-112 PLAINTIFF
v.
CARLOS RIVERA, Former Warden, FCI-FC, et al. DEFENDANTS

          RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

         The 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.

         An 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.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff 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”), [1] 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] (2) to receive “Catholic ‘Good Friday' meal provisions [so he could] participate in ... Catholic fasting activities” on March 25, 2016;[3] 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.[4] Gonzalez seeks monetary damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.

         Defendants have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, a Brief in Support, and a Statement of Facts. (Doc. 72, 73, and 74).[5] 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.

         Before addressing the merits of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court will summarize the relevant facts surrounding Gonzalez's constitutional claims[6]:

         1. Gonzalez is a Catholic prisoner in the Federal Correctional Institution in Forrest City, Arkansas (“FCI-FC”). (Gonzalez's Amended Complaint, Doc. 4, ¶ 3, 7).

         2. Chaplain Landers was a chaplain at FCI-FC in March of 2016. (Declaration of Peter Landers, Doc. 73-2, p. 2-3).

         3. In 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).

         4. In 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. 2).

         5. 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.

         6. 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 celebration[.]”
(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 time.”

         (Gonzalez's Response to Summary Judgment, Doc. 82, pp. 23-24).

         7. As 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).

         8. At 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.[7] (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)[8]

         9. The 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).[9]

         10. 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.[10]

         11. In 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 denied access.

(Doc. 73-1, pp. 2-3).[11]

         12. For 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.

         13. 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, p. 3).

         14. 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). ...


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