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Munt v. Minnesota Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 29, 2017

Joel Marvin Munt, Plaintiff,
Minnesota Department of Corrections, Tom Roy, Gloria H. Andreachi, Bruce Julson, Steve Hammer, and Bruce Reiser, Defendants.

          Joel Marvin Munt, pro se,

          Lindsay LaVoie, Minnesota Attorney General's Office, for Defendants


          SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) of Magistrate Judge Steven E. Rau dated January 27, 2017 [Doc. No. 52]. In the R & R, Magistrate Judge Rau recommended that Plaintiff Joel Marvin Munt's First Motion for Temporary Restraining Order (“Motion for TRO”) [Doc. No. 3] and First Motion for Expedited Preliminary Relief (“Motion for Expedited Relief”) [Doc. No. 5] (collectively, “Motions for Injunctive Relief”) be denied by this Court. In the R & R, Magistrate Judge Rau also recommended that Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. No. 38] be denied. Finally, before the Court is Munt's Motion to Appoint Counsel [Doc. No. 49].

         Plaintiff filed timely objections to the R & R, (Pl.'s Obj. [Doc. No 54]), to which Defendants responded. (Def.'s Obj. Resp. [Doc. No. 58]). Pursuant to federal law, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and local rules, the Court must perform a de novo review of any portion of the magistrate judge's opinion to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); D. Minn. L.R. 72.2(b)(3). Based on that de novo review, the Court adopts the R & R as modified, denies Plaintiff's Motions for injunctive relief, and denies without prejudice Plaintiff's Motion to Appoint Counsel.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff is an inmate currently incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility (“MCF”)-Stillwater. (R&R of July 30, 3015 at 2 [Doc. No. 74].) Plaintiff asserts a claim under U.S.C. § 1983, against the Minnesota Department of Corrections (“DOC”) and Tom Roy, Gloria H. Andreachi, Bruce Julson, Steven Hammer, and Bruce Reiser (collectively, “Defendants”), all of whom are alleged to be employees of the DOC. (Compl. at 1-4 [Doc. No. 1].)[1] Munt contends that Defendants violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”) and article 1, section 16 of the Minnesota Constitution by failing to accommodate his religious beliefs. (Id. at 1). Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that his “deeply held” Christian “religious beliefs include a prohibition against indecent displays, ” including “exposure that results from changing clothes in a public area, sharing a cell with someone, using the toilet in a public area, and showering in a public area.” (Id. at 4). Plaintiff complains of inadequate privacy at the shower facilities at MCF-Stillwater, notwithstanding their designation as “individual occupancy showers” and therefore refrains from showering, instead resorting to “bird baths” because he is “totally exposed to anyone looking down” on him. (Id. at 4-6). Because he refrains from showering, Plaintiff believes that he is “denied the same level of services as other inmates.” (Id. at 6). Additionally, because MCF-Stillwater corrections officers can ordinarily view inmates in their cells, Plaintiff hangs a privacy sheet when changing his clothing, taking a “bird bath, ” or using the toilet. (Id. at 4-6). According to Plaintiff, MCF-Stillwater “inmates frequently hand [sic] things in their cells for privacy. This usually goes unpunished” and often does not elicit comments from guards. (Id. at 6). Plaintiff also states that the lack of privacy at MCF-Stillwater forces him “to choose between potential discipline and adhering to his religion.” (Id. at 5). He understands that hanging a privacy sheet violates MCF-Stillwater policy against hanging such objects in cells, and he fears retaliation for the exercise of his religious beliefs by doing so. (Id. at 12-13.)

         Between January and March 2016-and prior to filing this lawsuit-Plaintiff filed several kites, one grievance, and a subsequent grievance appeal with various Defendants in order to address his privacy concerns and fear of retaliation. (See id. at 7-11). In each of the aforementioned communications, Plaintiff stated his religious beliefs prohibit “indecent displays.” Id.

         In response to his grievances, Defendants offered alternatives consistent with safety and security concerns at MCF-Stillwater (e.g., compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act “PREA”). (See, e.g., id. at 10) (proposing that Plaintiff use a towel to address privacy concerns when using the toilet). In the final disposition of Plaintiff's grievance, Defendant Reiser dismissed the appeal. (Id. at 11.) He indicated that Plaintiff's “religious beliefs are being accommodated, ” citing considerations of staff and inmate safety, noting previous suggestions to address Plaintiff's privacy concerns, and stating that “showers are considered single occupancy and have curtains or doors that cover the body's mid-section.” (Id.)

         B. Procedural Background

         On the basis of the aforementioned facts, Plaintiff filed suit on May 9, 2016, alleging violations of RLUIPA and article 1, section 16 of the Minnesota Constitution due to Defendants' alleged failure to accommodate his religious beliefs. Defendants filed an answer in their official capacities on September 19, 2016. (See Answer of Defs. Minn. DOC, Gloria Andreachi, Bruce Julson, Steve Hammer, Bruce Reiser, and Tom Roy) [Doc. No. 19 at 1, n.1] (“Answer”).)[2] Among their responses to the Complaint, Defendants also assert various defenses. (See id. at ¶¶ 45-54.) For example, Defendants contend that their “conduct was authorized by law, was reasonable, and was taken in good faith” and they also claim entitlement to qualified, official, or discretionary immunity. (Id. ¶¶ 46-47).

         Plaintiff filed his Motions for Injunctive Relief concurrently with the Complaint on May 9, 2016. The Motions for Injunctive Relief seek to enjoin Defendants from taking any disciplinary measures against Plaintiff for observing his religious belief in the prohibition of “indecent displays.” (See Mot. for TRO at 3; Mot. for Expedited Relief at 2.) Munt explains that the Motion for TRO was filed as a provisional measure while the Court evaluated the Motion for Expedited Relief. (See Mot. for TRO at 1.) However, both the Motion for TRO and the Motion for Expedited Relief rest on the same factual allegations and are indistinguishable with respect to the relief Plaintiff seeks. (Compare, e.g., Mot. for TRO at 3 with Mot. for Expedited Relief at 2.) Both seek to enjoin Defendants from disciplining Plaintiff for hanging a privacy sheet, confiscating Plaintiff's privacy sheet, forcing Plaintiff to shower, or moving Plaintiff to a double occupancy cell. (See Mot. for TRO at 3; Mot. for Expedited Relief at 2.)

         For purposes of responding to Plaintiff's motions, Defendants do not dispute the sincerity of Plaintiff's religious beliefs. (Defs.' Opp'n Mem. at 8 [Doc. No. 27].) However, they contend that they have not substantially burdened Plaintiff's religious practice, and that even if they did, their policies are narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling governmental interest. (Id. at 8-9.)

         In his reply memorandum, Munt raises a new issue, asserting a lack of access to a law library and also argues that Defendants' multiple answers were not authorized under the law, that Defendants' factual assertions and affidavits are untruthful, that Defendants' arguments are not properly pleaded as affirmative defenses and are therefore waived, and that there cannot be a compelling security interest when other inmates also use privacy sheets. (Reply at 1-3, 5-7, 11, 15 [Doc. No. 37].)

         C. The Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations

         The magistrate judge first noted that many of the arguments that Munt raised in his reply were unrelated to either the Defendants' response in opposition to Munt's motions or Munt's Complaint. (R&R at 4.) Because they were not properly before the Court, the magistrate judge declined to consider them. (Id. at 6.) The magistrate judge also rejected Munt's contention that Defendants' arguments raised in opposition to his motions were waived because they were not raised as affirmative defenses. (Id. at 7-10.) As to the Motions for Injunctive Relief, Magistrate Judge Rau applied the factors set forth in Dataphase Systems v. CL Systems, Inc., 640 F.2d 109, 113 (8th Cir. 1981) (commonly referred to as the “Dataphase factors”). Because he found that all four Dataphase factors weighed in favor of Defendants, he recommended the denial of the motions. (R&R at 10-17.) The magistrate judge also recommended the denial of Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, finding that Defendants' Answer raised issues of fact. (Id. at 18-19.)

         Munt raises numerous objections to the R&R, which the Court generally categorizes as follows: (1) disagreement with the magistrate judge's determinations that the pleading requirements of Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) (“Iqbal/Twombly”), are inapplicable to affirmative defenses and that Defendants' defenses were appropriately raised and not waived; (2) a related objection to the magistrate judge's determination regarding Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings; (3) concerns regarding access to legal research; and (4) disagreement with the magistrate judge's analysis and assessment of the Dataphase factors.

         Plaintiff also filed two self-styled Supplements to Plaintiff's Objections (“Supplements”) that essentially provide updated factual information. (See Pl.'s Supp. to Obj. [Doc. No. 56]; Pl.'s Second Supp. to Obj. [Doc. No. 59].) Because it appeared from the Supplements that changes had been made to the shower facilities since the initial round of briefing, the Court directed Defendants to submit a supplemental affidavit addressing the new facts in Plaintiff's Supplements. (Order of March 6, 2017 at 3 [Doc. No. 61].) Defendants filed the Affidavit of John Quist [Doc. No. 63] in response to the Court's directive. Shortly thereafter, Munt objected to the filing of the Quist Affidavit (Obj. to Quist Aff. [Doc. No. 64]) and submitted his own affidavit (Munt Aff. [Doc. No. 65].) In light of the updated facts and the Court's directive to the Defendants to provide a supplemental affidavit, the Court has reviewed the supplemental submissions, including the Munt Affidavit and Munt's Objections to the Quist Affidavit.


         A. Affirmative Defenses/Adequacy of Defendants' Pleadings

         1. Defenses and Waiver

         Plaintiff contends that the magistrate judge erred in permitting Defendants to assert certain arguments in response to Plaintiff's motions, specifically arguments regarding Defendants' interests in the safety and security of inmates. (Pl.'s Obj. at 1-2.) Munt argues that because Defendants did not raise these specific arguments as affirmative defenses in their Answer, Defendants waived them. The Court disagrees.

         RLUIPA prohibits federally-funded correctional institutions from placing a substantial burden on a prisoner's religious exercise, unless the government can demonstrate that the burden furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of doing so. 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). The Act defines “religious exercise” to include “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” § 2000cc-5(7)(A). A “substantial burden exists if the prison policy significantly inhibits or constrains religious conduct, meaningfully curtails an inmate's ability to express adherence to his faith, or denies an inmate reasonable opportunities to engage in fundamental religious activities.” Jihad v. Fabian, 680 F.Supp.2d 1021, 1026 (D. Minn. 2010) (citing Van Wyhe v. Reisch, 581 F.3d 639, 656 (8th Cir. 2009)). This protection “extends even to religious practices that are not ‘compelled by, or central to, ' a certain belief system.” Van Wyhe, 581 F.3d 639, 656 (8th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). Thus, the court does not inquire as to whether a particular religious belief or practice is central to a ...

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