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Munt v. Minnesota Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 26, 2018

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, Office of the Minnesota Attorney for Defendants



         This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of Magistrate Judge Steven E. Rau dated December 19, 2017 [Doc. No. 115]. In the R&R, Magistrate Judge Rau recommended that the Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 69] filed by Defendants Minnesota Department of Corrections (“DOC”), Tom Roy, Gloria H. Andreachi, Bruce Julson, Steve Hammer, and Bruce Reiser (collectively, “Defendants”) be granted in part and denied in part, and that Plaintiff Joel Marvin Munt's (“Plaintiff”) Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 76] be denied.

         Plaintiff filed timely objections to the R&R (“Plaintiff's Objections”) [Doc. No 116]), to which Defendants responded [Doc. No. 117]. Pursuant to federal law, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and local rules, this Court must perform a de novo review of any portion of the magistrate judge's R&R 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, this Court adopts the substance of the R&R in its entirety; however, the Court modifies the ruling of the magistrate judge and grants Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court also denies Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Relevant Facts

         The R&R thoroughly and accurately describes the relevant facts and lengthy procedural background of this case, and the Court incorporates it herein by reference. Briefly stated, Plaintiff is an inmate currently incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility (“MCF”)-Stillwater. (Aff. of John Quist (“Quist Aff.”) [Doc. No. 63] ¶ 2.) Plaintiff is serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole. (Second Aff. of Gloria Andreachi (“Second Andreachi Aff.”) [Doc. No. 72] ¶ 2.) MCF-Stillwater houses offenders who are deemed the highest risk, or classified as “levels” 4 and 5. (Quist Aff. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff holds the highest classification level of 5. (Id.)

         Plaintiff states that his Christian religion “prohibits a wide range of displays it classifies as indecent.” (Aff. of Joel Munt Supp. Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. (“Munt Aff.”) [Doc. No. 78] ¶ 1.) According to Plaintiff, this prohibition extends to the exposure that results from “changing clothes, using the toilet, showering, [and] taking a bird bath, ” presumably while others are watching. (Id.; see also Compl. [Doc. No. 1] at 6).[1] According to Plaintiff, his religion also generally prohibits him from “being exposed to others.” (Munt Aff. ¶ 1.)

         Plaintiff contends that these “deeply held” religious beliefs against “indecent displays” are at odds with the physical layout of MCF-Stillwater and several policies instituted by DOC. (See generally Compl.) Plaintiff contends that the layout and design of the showers at MCF-Stillwater “do not provide sufficient privacy to satisfy [his] religious beliefs.” (Munt Aff. ¶ 10.) For instance, even though all of the shower stalls now have an overhead awning and are considered to be single occupancy, Plaintiff contends that the interior of some of the stalls are still visible from the higher tiers and from the stairs, permitting individuals to look down and observe the inmates showering in the stalls. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21, 23.) Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that the shower's curtain and door “permit showering inmates to be viewed indecently.” (Id. ¶ 21.)

         Because of Plaintiff's belief that the showers provide insufficient privacy, he refrains from showering and instead resorts to taking a “bird bath.” (Id. ¶¶ 7, 9, 10.) And because Plaintiff refrains from showering, he believes that he is being denied a benefit provided to all other inmates. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 9.) Relatedly, Plaintiff takes issue with a policy that he contends empowers DOC staff to “force inmates to shower.” (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff states that if he were forced to shower in the existing MCF-Stillwater showers, the resultant “indecent display” would be “in violation of [his] beliefs.” (Id.) Thus, Plaintiff believes that all the showers at MCF-Stillwater must be modified to provide him with sufficient privacy, or that his cell must be rebuilt to include a personal shower. (Compl. at 16)

         The other policies that allegedly clash with Plaintiff's religious beliefs involve DOC's prohibition against the use “privacy sheets” and DOC's ability to house inmates in double-occupancy cells (“double-bunking”). (See generally Munt Aff.) Plaintiff contends that he hangs a “privacy sheet” in his cell, in violation of DOC policy, when he uses the toilet, changes clothes, and takes a bird bath in order to prevent the indecent exposure prohibited by his religious beliefs. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 22.) Plaintiff avers that “[w]ithout a privacy sheet [he] believe[s] attempting any of these activities in [his] cell [would] result in indecent exposure that is prohibited by [his] religion.” (Id. ¶ 2.) The use of a privacy sheet, however, only ameliorates the risk of indecent exposure when Plaintiff is housed in a single-occupancy cell. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 4.) According to Plaintiff, when he is housed in a double-occupancy cell, “even a privacy sheet is insufficient to maintain required decency” while engaging in the aforementioned activities. (Id. ¶ 4.) Thus, to mitigate these concerns, Plaintiff believes that he must be housed only in a single-occupancy cell, i.e. be issued a “single-cell restriction, ” and that he must be given an exemption to the rule prohibiting inmates from hanging privacy sheets in their cells. (Compl. at 16.)

         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 to raise his privacy concerns and his fear that he would be punished for failing to follow DOC policies. (See Id. at 9-13). In each of the aforementioned communications, Plaintiff stated that his religious beliefs prohibit the “displays” described above, such as those that result from use of “public showers” and “open toilet areas.” (See id.) With respect to the use of a privacy sheet, Plaintiff's kites requested that he either be permitted to hang one up, or that he be given “a reasonable alternative.” (See, e.g., id. at 9 (Kite A to A East Unit Staff).) In his kites, Plaintiff stated that he sought an accommodation under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). (Id.) Plaintiff's kites, however, did not request that a “single-cell occupancy restriction” be instituted for him. (See Id. at 9-10; see also Second Andreachi Aff. ¶¶ 5-6.) It was not until he filed a grievance on February 22, 2016 that Plaintiff mentioned that he expected to be granted a single-cell restriction. (Compl. at 11.)

         In response to Plaintiff's kites and grievance, Defendants offered alternatives consistent with safety and security concerns at MCF-Stillwater (e.g., compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act). (See Id. at 9; see also Id. at 12 (proposing that Plaintiff place a towel over his lap or move the cell chair in front of him when using the toilet).) In the final disposition of Plaintiff's grievance, Defendant Reiser dismissed the appeal. (Id. at 12-13.) 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. at 13.)

         On the basis of the aforementioned facts, Plaintiff initiated this suit.

         B. Procedural History

         On May 5, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint asserting claims against Defendants under RLUIPA and Article 1, § 16 of the Minnesota Constitution. (Id. at 1.) Plaintiff argues that Defendants are in violation of RLUIPA and the Minnesota Constitution because they have failed to accommodate his religious beliefs.[2] (Id.) Except for Defendant Roy, Plaintiff asserts claims against the individual Defendants in both their individual and official capacities. (Id. at 4-6.)

         Specifically, Plaintiff's Complaint contends that MCF-Stillwater's “public” showers fail to accommodate his religious beliefs, forcing him to take bird baths and consequently denying him “the same level of services as other inmates.” (Id. at 14.) Plaintiff contends that DOC has put him in the position of having to choose between following policy or violating his religious beliefs. (Id.) Plaintiff also highlights the policy that he contends could allow guards to force him to take a shower, which he states would result in “a violent, humiliating occurrence that would also force violation of Plaintiff's religious beliefs.” (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff's Complaint also alleges that MCF-Stillwater's policy “prohibiting inmates from hanging objects in their cells fails to reasonably accommodate Plaintiff's religious beliefs, ” (id. at 14), again forcing him to “choose between potential discipline and adhering to his religion, ” (id. at 7). Finally, Plaintiff also alleges that the double-occupancy cells at MCF-Stillwater fail to reasonably accommodate him. (Id. at 14.)

         Plaintiff's Complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as follows. First, Plaintiff asks this Court to declare as violative of Plaintiff's religious beliefs: (1) DOC's policy prohibiting Plaintiff from hanging objects in his cell; (2) the “public showers” at MCF-Stillwater; and (3) double-bunking generally. (Id. at 15.) Plaintiff also asks this Court to order DOC and MCF-Stillwater to: (1) exempt Plaintiff from the prohibition against hanging items inside cells, thus allowing him to hang up a privacy sheet; (2) “provide Plaintiff with a shower that provides him with privacy, either by providing him with a private shower or by upgrading all showers to provide the required level of privacy;” and (3) “accommodate Plaintiff's religious beliefs by placing a single-cell restriction on him.” (Id. at 16.) Plaintiff also seeks reimbursement of costs. (Id. at 16-17.)

         In an Order dated March 29, 2017, this Court denied several motions filed by Plaintiff, including two for preliminary injunctive relief and one for judgment on the pleadings. (See Mem. Op. & Order [Doc. No. 67].) On April 28, 2017, Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment, and on May 1, 2017, Plaintiff also filed his Motion for Summary Judgment. In an R&R dated December 19, 2017, the magistrate judge recommended that Defendants' Motion for Summary ...

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