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Munt v. Minnesota Dapartment of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 19, 2017

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



         This matter comes before the undersigned on Defendants Minnesota Department of Corrections, Tom Roy, Gloria H. Andreachi, Bruce Julson, Steve Hammer, and Bruce Reiser's (“Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 69] and Plaintiff Joel Marvin Munt's (“Munt”) Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 76]. This matter was referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and District of Minnesota Local Rule 72.1. For the reasons stated below, the Court recommends that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be granted in part and denied in part, Munt's Motion for Summary Judgment be denied and this case be dismissed.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         Munt is an inmate at Minnesota Correctional Facility Stillwater (“MCF-STW”). See (Compl. at 1). In his Complaint, Munt asserts a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 grounded on allegations that the Defendants failed to reasonably accommodate his religious beliefs in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”) and article 1, section 16 of the Minnesota Constitution. See (id.). In particular, Munt asserts that as a member of the Christian faith, his “deeply held religious beliefs include a prohibition against indecent displays.” (Id. at 4). Indecent displays include changing clothes in front of others, sharing a cell, and using a toilet or shower in a public area. (Id.). Because the prison cells at MCF-STW allow corrections officers to view inmates in their cells, Munt hangs a privacy sheet in his cell when changing, using the toilet, or using the faucet to give himself a “bird bath.” See (id. at 4-6). Furthermore, Munt refrains from using the showers as he is “totally exposed to anyone looking down” on him. See (id. at 5). Munt understands that hanging his privacy sheet is a violation of MCF-STW policy, and fears that he will be retaliated against for the exercise of his religious beliefs. See (id. at 5-6, 12-13) (alleging that “[f]ailure to accommodate has caused a great deal of fear of punishment and has forced this suit”). As part of his Complaint, Munt asserts that Defendants' stated security concerns are unfounded because Minnesota Correctional Facility Oak Parts Heights (“MCF-OPH”)-another facility in which Munt has been incarcerated-“has private showers.” See (id. at 13). Munt seeks declaratory judgment and injunctive relief regarding these issues and that Defendants be ordered to pay unspecified damages to Munt on the basis of Munt bringing this lawsuit. See (id. at 13-15) (asking that Defendants “jointly and separately . . . reimburse” Munt for bringing this lawsuit).

         Before bringing this action-and in an attempt to allay his fears of retaliation-Munt filed various kites, a grievance, and an appeal with Defendants regarding the use of his privacy sheet and shower access. See (id. at 7-11). In response, Defendants proposed alternatives that would prevent indecent displays and comport with safety and security considerations at MCF-STW. See, e.g., (id. at 10) (suggesting the use of towel to address modesty concerns when using the toilet). The end result of this grievance process was Defendants' statement that Munt's religious beliefs were accommodated, that the safety and security interests of the institution prevented them from making any additional accommodations, and that proposed alternatives addressed his religious beliefs against indecent displays. (Id. at 11). Munt alleges that his concerns regarding indecency are exacerbated by being in a cell with another inmate (i.e., double-bunking). (Id. at 4) (stating that “[w]hen sharing a cell, it is one room and there is no privacy . . . (even with a privacy sheet it is inadequate in this situation)”). That being said, Munt did not appear to raise his double-bunking concerns through kites and first raises the issue in a grievance to Defendant Steve Hammer. See (id. at 7-8) (submitted kites); (id. at 9) (grievance); (id. at 10-11) (appeal).

         A. Prior Motions for Injunctive Relief

         Munt filed his First Motion for Temporary Restraining Order Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 65(b) (“Motion for TRO”) [Doc. No. 3], and First Motion for Expedited Preliminary Relief Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 65(a) (“Motion for Expedited Relief”) [Doc. No. 5] (collectively “Motions for Preliminary Relief”). This Court analyzed Munt's allegations under Dataphase Systems, Inc. v. C L Systems, Inc., 640 F.2d 109, 113 (8th Cir. 1981), in recommending that Munt's Motions for Preliminary Relief be denied.[3] See (R&R Dated Jan. 27, 2017, “R&R”) [Doc. No. 52 at 6-17]. This Court concluded that “all Dataphase factors weigh against granting Munt's Motions for Injunction Relief” and “recommend[ed] denying his Motion[s].” (Id. at 17).

         More specifically, this Court determined that Munt's claims were too speculative to demonstrate irreparable injury and that the probability of success on the merits did not warrant the relief sought. See (id. at 10-11, 13-16). With respect to success on the merits, this Court concluded that Munt had failed to substantiate a substantial burden under RLUIPA, which “is fatal to his ability to show success on the merits.” (Id. at 16). Munt objected to the Report and Recommendation. See (Pl.'s Objs. to Magistrate's Jan. 27, 2017 R&R) [Doc. No. 54]. In addition to objecting, Munt submitted two self-styled supplements that Munt asserted provided updated factual information relevant to the adjudication of his objection. See (Suppl. to Pl.'s Objs. to Magistrate's Jan. 27, 2017 R&R) [Doc. No. 56]; (Suppl. 3 to Pl.'s Objs. to Magistrate's Jan. 27, 2017 R&R) [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.” (Mem. Opinion & Order Dated Mar. 29, 2017, “Judge Nelson's Order”) [Doc. No. 67 at 7].

         As requested, Defendants submitted a supplemental affidavit to which Munt filed an objection and his own affidavit. See (Aff. of John Quist, “Quist Aff.”) [Doc. No. 63]; (Objs. to Quist Aff.) [Doc. No. 64]; (Aff. of Joel Munt) [Doc. No. 65]. John Quist (“Quist”), currently the Program Director at MCF-STW, avers that Munt's request to allow Munt to shower in another unit could not be accommodated because Munt is housed based on work assignment. See (Quist Aff. ¶¶ 1, 16). Specifically, Quist asserted, based on MCF-STW's policy of “controlled movement, . . . where inmates from one unit move at a time, ” that Munt's request to shower in another unit “would require additional staff and time to move one offender to another unit to shower.” (Id.). With respect to Munt's request for individualized shower time, Quist states “[t]his special treatment would place a burden on officer schedules, officer postings, controlled movements, and other offenders' flag time. If Munt wants to shower in a different unit, he can bid for another job and move units.” (Id. ¶ 17). Lastly, Quist unequivocally states “[a]n individual shower in Munt's cell is not an option. None of the units at MCF-STW have this option. Remodeling one cell in A-East would go against MCF-STW policy and place a substantial burden on personnel and costs.” (Id. ¶ 18). Quist also avers that staff at MCF-STW do make some showering accommodations-namely for transgendered inmates-on the basis of safety and security concerns, because “[t]ransgender offenders have a significantly higher risk of being attacked in the shower.” (Id. ¶ 20).

         Munt's objections to the Quist Affidavit range from objections regarding his ability to adequately address the contents of the Affidavit, disagreements with Quist regarding the nature of whether the shower stalls adequately obstructs inmates from being observed by prison staff, and arguing that Defendants have provided nothing beyond bare assertions with respect to this issue. See generally (Objs. to Quist Aff.). Furthermore, Munt disclaims Quist's proposed accommodations of showering in a different unit because this alternative does not “meet [his] privacy needs.”[4] (Id. ¶ 12).

         Conducting a de novo review, Judge Nelson adopted the Report and Recommendation as modified in light of the original briefing and supplemental submissions by the parties. See (Judge Nelson's Order at 1-2, 7). In particular-agreeing with the Report and Recommendation-Judge Nelson concluded that Munt's allegations of shower access and double-bunking were too speculative to constitute irreparable injury. See (id. at 14-16). Judge Nelson disagreed, however, that Munt has not established a threat of irreparable harm with respect to his privacy sheet. See (id. at 13-14, 16). With respect to likelihood of success on the merits-sustaining Munt's objection in part-Judge Nelson determined that Munt was substantially burdened by the Defendants' policy regarding privacy sheets but that “while this case is in its early stages, Defendants are likely to establish that prohibiting Munt from hanging a privacy sheet in his cell is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest in his safety and security.” See (id. at 18, 23).

         B. Motions for Summary Judgment[5]

         1. Munt's Submissions

         Munt asserts that his beliefs against indecent displays are sincerely held and that if he is not allowed to maintain his privacy sheet, is forced to shower, or is moved into a multiple-occupancy cell, his beliefs would be substantially burdened. See (Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. at 9-16). Munt further argues that because he has substantiated his burden with respect to his beliefs being sincerely held and that his beliefs are substantially burdened, the burden shifts to Defendants to demonstrate a compelling governmental interest. See (id. at 17-18).

         With respect to the prohibition against privacy sheets, Munt argues that Defendants have not alleged any facts to support their argument that privacy sheets prevent conduct that Defendants suggest the policy is designed to mitigate, such as tattooing, making alcoholic drinks, engaging in sexual behaviors, or attempting escape. See (id. at 18-19). In particular, Munt asserts that “[Defendants] can show no incident where a privacy sheet furthered any of these activates.” (Id. at 19). With respect to tattooing, Munt alleges that “if they actually sought to prevent tattooing they would have to be rid of double bunking” because “[t]hat is a common method by which prisoners appear to get tattoos.” (Id. at 19) (emphasis omitted). Regarding the making of alcoholic drinks, Munt asserts that this rationale is “so absurd” that he does not know what to say. See (id.). Munt therefore believes “[t]here has to be a rational connection and it just isn't there.” (Id.). With respect to preventing sexual behavior, Munt asserts this reasoning “is just a post hoc rationalization to try and justify the policy.” (Id. at 20). Here, Munt raises arguments similar to those related to tattooing; that if the Defendants really wanted to prevent sexual activity they would prevent double-bunking. See (id.). Lastly, as it relates to preventing attempts at escape, Munt asserts that hanging a sheet would be counterproductive because “[a] raised sheet draws attention . . . . Certainly a lookout would be more practical.” (Id.).

         As evidence in support of his Motion for Summary Judgment, Munt submitted an affidavit. See (Aff. of Joel Munt in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J., “Munt Aff. in Supp.”) [Doc. No. 78]. Munt's affidavit is almost identical to portions of his supporting brief. Compare (Munt Aff. in Supp.) (containing twenty-three paragraphs), with (Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. at 7-9) (including nineteen paragraphs that are either identical to or differ slightly when compared with the first nineteen paragraphs in Munt's Affidavit in Support). In particular, much of his affidavit is devoted to establishing his religion; that his beliefs are sincerely held; that Defendants' policies substantially burden his sincerely held religious beliefs; and Defendants have indicated through the grievance process that they will not accommodate his religious beliefs. See (Munt Aff. in Supp. ¶¶ 1-9, 13-14, 19). Munt also states that certain showers at MCF-OPH will accommodate his modesty concerns, which demonstrates that showers at MCF-STW can be modified while still maintaining the safety and security interests of the prison, that the use of “privacy sheets are already widely used” at MCF-STW and the widely used “practice of guards asking if [an] inmate is okay when a privacy sheet is up” has led to no incidents of which Munt is aware and that “Defendants have disavowed knowledge of such incidents.” (Id. ¶¶ 11, 15-17). Munt also asserts that he only uses his privacy sheet as needed “to use the toilet, change clothes, and bath[e]” and that when he is done with these tasks, “the obstruction is removed.” (Id. ¶ 22). The remaining portion of Munt's Affidavit discusses recent changes to the showers at MCF-STW and how those changes do not address his sincerely held religious belief against indecent displays because the interior of the stalls remain visible from certain vantage points within the prison.[6] (Id. ¶¶ 20-21, 23).

         Munt also filed multiple self-styled supplements to his Motion for Summary Judgment: one each on July 20, 2017, August 21, 2017, November 20, 2017, and the last on November 29, 2017.[7] See (Suppl. to Summ. J. Aff., “Privacy Sheet Suppl.”) [Doc. No. 103]; (Suppl. Two to Summ. J. Aff., “Double Cell Suppl.”) [Doc. No. 105]; (Emergency Suppl. to Summ. J. Aff. “Second Double Cell Suppl.”) [Doc. No. 112]; (Second Emergency Suppl. to Summ. J. Aff., “Third Double Cell Suppl.”) [Doc. No. 114]. With respect to the Privacy Sheet Supplement, Munt provided a copy of a memo sent by Defendant Gloria Andreachi (“Andreachi”) to all inmates, which Munt asserts demonstrates that “the privacy sheet ban was not previously enforced” because Andreachi's memo states that the new policy will be “[e]ffective immediately.” See (Privacy Sheet Suppl. at 1); see also (Memo, Attached to Privacy Sheet Suppl.) [Doc. No. 103-1].[8] Munt further provides a sworn statement that he asserts reveals “less restrictive alternative[s], ” although these statements appear to evidence occasions in which certain guards did not allegedly require that Munt take down his privacy sheet. See (Privacy Sheet Suppl. at 1, 2).

         With respect to the Double Cell Supplement, Munt asserts that he has limited job opportunities (primarily working for building management as a “swamper”) due to his poor eyesight and “inability to work on Saturdays due to my religious beliefs.” See (Double Cell Suppl. at 1). Furthermore, Munt “had been told that Building Maintenance workers will be moving to another unit.” (Id.). Munt asserts this “means that [he] will almost certainly be placed in a double cell again-which [he] will refuse.” (Id.).

         Lastly, in his emergency supplements, Munt asserts that he is now double-bunked and will be “for at least 30 days.” (Third Double Cell Suppl. at 1); see also (Second Double Cell Suppl. ¶ 2). Furthermore, Munt asserts that he is “frequently forced to take my privacy sheet down and even when up [he] almost always ha[s] a cellmate in the room, making it indecent even with the sheet.” (Third Double Cell Suppl. at 2). Lastly, Munt asserts that when he asked Quist about the single-cell-occupancy request, Quist “had no knowledge such a procedure existed.” (Id. at 1).

         2. Defendants' Submissions

         Defendants argue that the Eleventh Amendment bars Munt's claims for damages against Defendants in their official capacities and that those claims should be dismissed. (Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., “Defs.' Mem. in Supp.”) [Doc. No. 70 at 9-10]. In support, they assert that a suit against an individual in their official capacities is a suit against the state and that “Congress did not abrogate immunity to claims for damages in passing RLUIPA, and Minnesota had not consented to suit.” (Id.). Defendants also argue that RLUIPA does not provide a cause of action against Defendants in their individual capacities and so those claims should also be dismissed. (Id. at 10-12).

         On the merits of Munt's remaining claims in his Complaint, Defendants assert that Munt failed to establish violations under RLUIPA or the Minnesota Constitution. (Id. at 12-24). As it relates to Munt's claims regarding the use of a privacy sheet, Defendants argue that Munt failed to establish any viable alternatives and “[t]he least restrictive means to further the safety and security of offenders, officers, and the facility is prohibiting offenders from obstructing the fronts of their cells with sheets.” (Id. at 16-17).

         Regarding access to the showers, Defendants assert that the presence of shower stalls at MCF-OPH that allegedly meet Munt's criteria are only one consideration and not dispositive as to whether the Defendants have failed to demonstrate that the design of the shower doors at MCF-STW are the least restrictive means of satisfying their compelling governmental interests of safety and security. (Id. at 18-19). To that end, Defendants argue they have substantiated their compelling interest related to prison safety and security because the showers are designed to meet the mandated standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (“PREA”). See (id. at 4-6, 19). Furthermore, Defendants argue that Munt's request for a private shower in his cell presents a number of concerns, ranging from violations of prison policy against the remodeling of one cell, to safety and security concerns regarding the staffing of individualized shower time, to logistical issues if Munt were to move. See (id. at 20-21).

         With respect to Munt's requirements regarding single-cell occupancy, Defendants argue that Munt has not exhausted his administrative remedies in this regard. (Id. at 22-24). Specifically, Defendants argue that Munt failed to follow the proper procedure for exhausting his claim because he did not follow the proper chain of command, and instead “first asked for a single cell restriction in his second kite to Defendant [Steve] Hammer.” (Id. at 23). In this respect, Defendants also assert that Munt's grievances were improper. See (id. at 23-24). For these reasons, Defendants assert that Munt's claims related to single- and double-bunking should be dismissed.

         To the extent Munt's Complaint could be construed to raise more generic claims arising under the First Amendment, Defendants argue that RLUIPA provides a more strict test than traditional First Amendment analysis and therefore anything that is deemed to meet RLUIPA standards must necessary pass constitutional muster under general First Amendment principles.[9]See (id. at 24).

         In support of their Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants submitted three additional affidavits. See (Aff. of Steven Ayers, “Ayers Aff.”) [Doc. No. 71]; (Second Aff. of Gloria Andreachi, “Second Andreachi Aff.”) [Doc. No. 72]; (Aff. of Bruce Julson, “Julson Aff.”) [Doc. No. 73].[10] The Ayers Affidavit discusses the nature of the showers at MCF-OPH. See generally (Ayers Aff.). In particular, Ayers asserts that

MCF-OPH shower doors are not full length doors. The shower doors have openings at the top and bottom of the door. Officers must be able to see offenders' feet when they are showering. Being able to see offenders' feet is to ensure that only one offender is in a shower stall at a time.

(Id. ¶ 5). The Andreachi Affidavit addresses Munt's single- and double-bunking history while at MCF-STW. See generally (Second Andreachi Aff.). Andreachi avers that “[s]ince September 23, 2015, Munt has resided in a single-occupancy cell.” (Id. ¶ 3). Furthermore, Andreachi asserts that Munt “currently does not have a single-cell occupancy restriction. If Munt wants to have a single-cell occupancy restriction, he would need to submit a request. MCF-STW staff review offender requests for single-occupancy restrictions” and that “Munt has not requested a single-cell occupancy restriction since he arrived at MCF-STW.” (Id. ¶¶ 5-6).

         The Julson Affidavit addresses a number of different topics including Munt's requests for exceptions to the privacy sheet policy, MCF-STW's single- and double-bunking policy, and the shower remodel conducted to comply with PREA's standards. See generally (Julson Aff.). With respect to the privacy sheet policy, Julson stated that

Before MCF-STW implemented the DOC and PREA privacy sheet policies, part of offender cells used to be partially blocked. During this time, I recall numerous incidents when offenders engaged in self-injurious behavior such as cutting, offenders were attacked, raped, and some offenders committed suicide by hanging themselves directly behind the portion of the cell bars that were blocked.

(Id. ¶ 5). Furthermore, Julson asserted

As Program Director I also had concerns about the safety and security risks privacy sheets posed to officers such as an offender attacking an officer and bringing him or her into his cell and out of view of the cameras and other officers. If officers saw a privacy sheet and did not instruct the offender to remove it and ensure that offender removed it, the officer would be disciplined.

(Id. ¶ 7). With respect to the shower remodel, Julson averred

The A-East showers were remodeled to conform to PREA standards. I was on the MCF-STW PREA Committee as we were preparing for the required PREA audits. PREA is a federal act with the purpose of protecting, reducing, and eliminating prison rape. PREA requires that all correctional facilities comply with certain standards. The MCF-STW PREA Committee reviewed the PREA standards, discussed any changes or additions to standards, implemented the standards, and participated in the PREA auditing process. . . . MCF-STW's A-East shower design and remodel were completed and approved by the DOC to comply with PREA's purpose and its standards.

(Id. ¶ 12). Finally, as it relates to the bunking policy at MCF-STW, Julson stated he does not recall “Munt ever [sending him] a kite on his single ...

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