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Smith v. Godfrey

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

June 24, 2019

BENJAMIN KARL SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
D.J. GODFREY, WARDEN FLETCHER, ASST. WARDEN POWELL, MR. HENSON, CHAPLIN DE LELLA, and MR. MADRID, Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          John Johnston United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Benjamin Smith filed a Complaint alleging he has been denied his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. (Doc. 2) and a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 4). Mr. Smith alleges Defendants refused to allow him to attend Jumah services (Muslim congregational prayer service) at the Crossroads Correctional Center. He seeks injunctive relief and monetary damages.

         I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Under summary judgment practice, “[t]he moving party initially bears the burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” In re Oracle Corp. Sec. Litig., 627 F.3d 376, 387 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The moving party may accomplish this by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials” or by showing that such materials “do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), (B).

         “Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party need only prove that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Oracle Corp., 627 F.3d at 387 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B). Summary judgment should be entered, “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 323. In such a circumstance, summary judgment should be granted, “so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied.” Id.

         If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the allegations or denials of its pleadings but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 n.11. “A plaintiff's verified complaint may be considered as an affidavit in opposition to summary judgment if it is based on personal knowledge and sets forth specific facts admissible in evidence.” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1132 n.14 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987).

         “In evaluating the evidence to determine whether there is a genuine issue of fact, ” the court draws “all inferences supported by the evidence in favor of the non-moving party.” Walls v. Cent. Costa Cnty. Transit Auth., 653 F.3d 963, 966 (9th Cir. 2011). It is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. See Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines, 810 F.2d 898, 902 (9th Cir. 1987). Finally, to demonstrate a genuine issue, the opposing party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 (citations omitted).

         II. FACTS

         Mr. Smith originally filed the claims raised in this action on January 16, 2018. (Civil Action No. 18-cv-00008-GF-BMM, Doc. 2.) That case, however, was dismissed without prejudice for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Id. at Doc. 24.

         In his current action filed December 6, 2018, Mr. Smith refiled the same or similar claims as those raised in Civil Action 18-cv-0008-GF. (Doc. 1). On December 19, 2018, Mr. Smith filed his Motion for Summary Judgment arguing Defendants knowingly and willfully denied his constitutional rights. (Doc. 4.)

         Much of the factual information provided by Mr. Smith pertains to his efforts to exhaust his administrative remedies. The CoreCivic Defendants have not raised a failure to exhaust administrative remedies defense (CoreCivic Answer, Doc. 13; CoreCivic Response Brief, Doc. 15 at 4) and Defendant Godfrey does not contest that Mr. Smith exhausted his administrative remedies as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). (Godfrey Answer, Doc. 18 at 10.)

         Mr. Smith was housed at Crossroads Correctional Center from August 21, 2017 to January 30, 2018. For purposes of this Order, the Court will assume that Mr. Smith was not allowed to attend communal Jumah services with other inmates. Mr. Smith alleges this was a violation of his constitutional rights.

         Defendants explain that Mr. Smith was housed as a Close Custody inmate which is the highest custody level in general population. According to Defendants, inmates classified to this custody level pose a threat to the safety and security of the facility, staff, and other inmates and the public and as such they require additional supervision based upon criminal history, institutional adjustment, severity of offense, and sentence length. (CoreCivic SDF at ¶ 6.) Defendants have provided evidence that during the time Mr. Smith was requesting to participate in Jumah services, no other inmate, regardless of custody level, had come forward requesting to participate in Jumah services. (Henson Affidavit, Doc. 16 at ¶ 9; September 19, 2017 Informal Response by Chaplain Di Lella, Doc. 14-1.) Mr. Smith contends that at least four other inmates in addition to himself, were Muslims who wanted to attend Jumah services. (Reply, Doc. 23 at 2-3.)

         On January 8, 2018, Mr. Smith filed an informal resolution form stating that he was being denied the right to practice his religion. The response indicated that, “Mr. Godfrey (Corrections Service Manager MDOC) informed you in Dec 2017 that you were not going to be able to attend the Jumah ...


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