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Muhammad v. Mayfield

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 13, 2019

Abdulhakim Muhammad Plaintiff - Appellee
Joshua Mayfield, Religious Services Administrator, Arkansas Department of Correction (originally named as Mark Wheeler); Jeremy Andrews, Warden, East Arkansas Regional Max Unit (originally named as Randy Watson); Wendy Kelley, Director, Arkansas Department of Correction (originally named as Wendy Kelly) Defendants - Appellants Muslim Advocates Amicus on Behalf of Appellee

          Submitted: April 17, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Pine Bluff Division

          Before SHEPHERD, MELLOY, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.

          Grasz, Circuit Judge.

         Abdulhakim Muhammad ("Muhammad"), an inmate at the Arkansas Department of Corrections ("ADC"), filed suit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc-1 to 2000cc-5, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments. He sought injunctive relief against various ADC officials ("Officials") for allegedly refusing to provide him with a daily serving of "halal" meat in accord with his personal religious beliefs. The district court held a bench trial and then granted an injunction in favor of Muhammad. Because we conclude Muhammad failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, we reverse.

         I. Background

         A. Factual History

         Muhammad has been serving eleven life sentences and an additional 180 months of imprisonment at ADC since 2011. He is a Sunni Muslim and believes he must observe a halal diet based on the example of the Prophet Muhammad. He says halal foods include meats from herbivorous animals (e.g., chickens, cows, sheep, and goats) which have been slaughtered according to a particular ritual, as well as kosher meats, fish, vegetables, and fruit. Muhammad particularly believes he must eat halal meat at least once daily as part of his religious observance. This belief is not required by Islam's texts, according to the trial testimony of Imam Mahmoud Hassan, a professor of Islamic studies and spiritual leader of a Muslim community in Arkansas.[1]Rather, it is a personally distinct interpretation by Muhammad.

         As this case turns on ADC's policies and procedures, we briefly summarize them here. ADC offers five categories of meals to all inmates: (1) standard, (2) pork- free, (3) vegetarian, (4) vegan, and (5) common fare. The standard option includes meat which has not been certified as halal. ADC's "master menu" indicates it serves fish-based meals as part of its standard option approximately twice per week.[2] The common fare option does not include meat but instead serves a meat substitute which is intended to satisfy kosher standards.

         ADC developed the meatless common fare option with the assistance of a chaplain in an attempt to satisfy the dietary requirements of multiple religious groups. The common fare option replaced an earlier plan that had served pre-packaged kosher meats to inmates requesting a kosher diet. The earlier plan had been implemented in 2003 after a federal district court ordered ADC to satisfy an inmate's request for a kosher diet under RLUIPA and the First Amendment. See Love v. Evans, No. 2:00-CV-00091, (E.D. Ark. Nov. 20, 2001), aff'd, Love v. McCown, 38 Fed.Appx. 355, 357 (8th Cir. 2002) (unpublished). In 2006 the same district court ordered ADC, in light of Love, to pay damages to a different inmate who temporarily failed to receive a requested Kosher diet. See Fegans v. Norris, No. 4:03-CV-00172, 2006 WL 6936834, at *2 (E.D. Ark. Aug. 25, 2006), aff'd, 537 F.3d 897, 908 (8th Cir. 2008). ADC switched to the meatless common fare plan in 2008 with the intent of maintaining compliance with Love and Fegans while also satisfying other types of religious diets.

         ADC also maintains a procedure for requesting "special religious diet[s]" under Administrative Directive ("AD") 13-83 ("Religious Diet Policy"), which was made effective on November 22, 2013. The Religious Diet Policy allows an inmate to submit an accommodation request to ADC's chaplain. If approved by the chaplain, the request will be forwarded to ADC's supervisor of food services.

         ADC maintains a separate procedure for inmate grievances under AD 12-16, which is titled "Inmate Grievance Procedure" and was effective as of May 28, 2012. This procedure states it is ADC's policy "to provide inmates in its custody an administrative mechanism for the resolution of complaints, problems and other issues." The Inmate Grievance Procedure specifically provides for grieving, among other things, "[a] policy applicable within [an inmate's] unit/center of assignment that personally affects the inmate." The Inmate Grievance Procedure provides a three-step process for resolving inmate complaints. If no one responds at Steps One and Two - or if the responses at those steps are dissatisfactory - an inmate may appeal to the level of ADC's "Chief Deputy/Deputy/Assistant Director" at Step Three.

         Since arriving at ADC in 2011, Muhammad has submitted four grievances alleging ADC's dietary options violate his religious beliefs. These grievances include: (1) Varner Super Max number ("VSM") 13-00336, complaining the pork-free option's servings of non-halal bologna and salami[3] actually contained pork; (2) VSM 13-03225, complaining the common fare and other non-pork options were cooked with the same utensils used to serve pork and thus were cross-contaminated; (3) VSM 13-03485, raising the identical cross-contamination issue; and (4) VSM 14-00491, citing Love and Fegans and complaining ADC engaged in discrimination by failing to provide "us Muslims with . . . the Halaal diet"[4] while providing Jewish inmates with a kosher diet. Muhammad fully appealed only the first and fourth grievances. As to the first, the Director's office responded that neither the salami nor bologna contain pork. As to the fourth grievance, an ADC official affirmed the warden's response that ADC provides the common fare option for inmates with religious diets.

         Muhammad also submitted three accommodation requests to the chaplain under the Religious Diet Policy, although the record contains only the chaplain's responses to these requests. At trial, Muhammad testified his first request asked for "the halal diet, "[5] his second request asked if he could supplement vegetarian meals with fish, and his third request asked for a "[h]alal diet, halal meat in particular."[6] The chaplain rejected each request.

         B. Procedural History

         Muhammad filed this lawsuit pro se in 2015 after the chaplain's response to his last accommodation request. He raised claims under RLUIPA and the First and Fourteenth Amendments, arguing ADC refused to provide him with a "Halaal and Adequate Diet" and required him to eat "unlawful meat." For relief, Muhammad requested "pre-packed halaal food" and that the district court order "ADC to provide Halaal meals or to transfer [him] to a prison which does."

         The Officials answered and raised the affirmative defense that Muhammad failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") of 1995, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Muhammad then filed an amended complaint alleging, in part, he had exhausted his administrative remedies because his ...

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