227 F.3d 47 (3rd Cir. 2000), 99-3072, Dehart v Horn

Docket Nº:99-3072
Citation:227 F.3d 47
Party Name:ROBERT PERRY DEHART, Appellant v. MARTIN HORN, Commissioner of Corrections; JAMES S. PRICE, Supeintendent of SCI Greene; UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Case Date:September 08, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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227 F.3d 47 (3rd Cir. 2000)



MARTIN HORN, Commissioner of Corrections; JAMES S. PRICE, Supeintendent of SCI Greene; UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

No. 99-3072

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

September 8, 2000

Argued: July 27, 1999

Reargued En Banc May 24, 2000

On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Western District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil Action No. 95-cv-01238, District Judge: Honorable William L. Standish

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Edward A. Olds (Argued) 1007 Mount Royal Boulevard Pittsburgh, PA 15223, Attorney for Appellant

J. Bart DeLone (Argued) Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania 15th Floor, Strawberry Square Harrisburg, PA 17120 and Rodney M. Torbic Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania 564 Forbes Avenue 6th Floor Manor Complex Pittsburgh, PA 15219, Attorneys for Appellees

BEFORE: SCIRICA and STAPLETON, Circuit Judges, and GREEN,[*] District Judge



STAPLETON, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-Appellant, Robert P. DeHart ("DeHart"), an inmate at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institute ("SCI") at Greene, commenced this civil rights action against Martin Horn, Commissioner of the Department of Corrections of Pennsylvania, and James Price, Superintendent of SCI at Greene (collectively "the prison" or "prison officials"), as a result of their failure to provide him with a diet consistent with his Buddhist religious beliefs. DeHart appeals the final order of the District Court, granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment. He insists that the

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defendants' failure to accommodate his religious belief, which requires him to follow a vegetarian diet, violates both his right to free religious expression under the First Amendment and his right to equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment. We will reverse the judgment of the District Court and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


DeHart is currently serving a life sentence at SCI at Greene. With the assistance of the City of 10,000 Buddhas, a center of Buddhist teaching, he has taught himself Buddhism during his incarceration. Based on his own reading of the Sutras, which are Buddhist religious texts, DeHart became a vegetarian. DeHart testified before the District Court that the First Precept in Buddhism prohibits the killing of any living thing, and he has interpreted that Precept as requiring that he follow a vegetarian diet. The prison officials do not challenge the sincerity of DeHart's beliefs and acknowledge that many Buddhists practice vegetarianism as part of the exercise of their religion. The prison officials do, however, challenge whether vegetarianism is mandated by any recognized Buddhist sect.

A brief overview of the inmate meal process at DeHart's institution is necessary to understand his request. Pursuant to a master menu, all inmates at SCI Greene receive the same meals. The food for those meals is obtained through bulk purchases. Those inmates whose health requires dietary modifications or restrictions receive a therapeutic diet. In order for an inmate to receive a therapeutic diet, however, it must be prescribed by an institution doctor. The therapeutic diet consists of the same foods (in different proportions) that are served on the master menu. The therapeutic meals are prepared individually, and all inmates who have been prescribed a therapeutic diet eat together in one dining hall after it has been cleared of other inmates.

DeHart proposes that he be served a vegetarian meal when other inmates are served therapeutic meals. DeHart secured the affidavit of a dietician, who averred that DeHart's nutritional needs could be satisfied by doubling the current portions of vegetables and grains and adding an eight-ounce cup of a soy-based milk product at each meal.1 The cost of this supplement, which is not currently purchased by the Department of Corrections ("DOC"), would be $1.71 per day.2

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On June 17, 1995, DeHart submitted a written grievance, requesting a diet that comports with his religious beliefs. That grievance was denied, and DeHart appealed the denial to Superintendent Price, who concurred in the result. The denial was again upheld on appeal by the DOC Central Office Review Committee. DeHart then filed this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. S 1983.

A preliminary injunction hearing was held before a Magistrate Judge, who found that vegetarianism is not mandated by Buddhism and, for that reason, recommended that DeHart be denied preliminary relief. The District Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. DeHart then appealed to this Court, and we affirmed the denial of preliminary injunctive relief. See DeHart v. Horn, No. 97-3048 (3d Cir. Aug. 25, 1997) (hereinafter "Memorandum Opinion"). In the Memorandum Opinion affirming the District Court's decision, this Court admonished the District Court not to interject itself into Buddhist doctrinal disputes: "We agree with [DeHart] that the district court could properly determine only whether he sincerely held his religious beliefs, not whether his beliefs are doctrinally correct or central to a particular school of Buddhist teaching." Memorandum Opinion at 2 (citing Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 886-87 (1990)).

On remand, the parties engaged in additional discovery and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The Magistrate Judge recommended that summary judgment be granted in favor of the prison officials. DeHart filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, arguing, inter alia, that the Magistrate Judge ignored this Court's instructions and again based his opinion on a finding that vegetarianism is not mandated by the Buddhist religion. The District Court adopted the Report and Recommendation over that objection, and this appeal followed.

Following a decision of a panel reversing the judgment of the District Court, a majority of the active judges of this Court voted to rehear the appeal en banc, and the panel opinion was vacated.


We exercise plenary review over the District Court's decision to grant summary judgment. See Wicker v. Consol. Rail Corp., 142 F.3d 690, 696 (3d Cir. 1998). Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. See id. ; Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In our review, we must view all evidence and draw all inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Wicker, 142 F.3d at 696.


The First Amendment provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ." U.S. CONST. amend. I. In Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303 (1940), the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment was incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment and, thus, applicable to the states. Although DeHart is incarcerated, the Supreme Court has made clear that "convicted prisoners do not forfeit all constitutional protections by reason of their conviction and confinement in prison." Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 545 (1979). "Inmates clearly retain protections afforded by the First Amendment, . . . including its directive that no law shall prohibit the free exercise of religion." O'Lone v. Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987) (citations omitted). Nevertheless, the fact of incarceration and the valid penological objectives of deterrence of crime, rehabilitation of prisoners, and institutional security justify limitations on the exercise

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of constitutional rights by inmates. See Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822-23 (1974). Thus, a prison inmate "retains [only] those rights that are not inconsistent with his status as a prisoner or with the legitimate penological objectives of the corrections system." Id. at 822.

In Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987), the Supreme Court articulated the standard for reviewing a prison regulation challenged on constitutional grounds:"[W]hen a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." This test is intended to effect an accommodation between two well-established principles. "The first of these principles is that federal courts must take cognizance of the valid constitutional claims of prison inmates." Id. at 84. The "second . . . is the recognition that `courts are ill equipped to deal with the increasingly urgent problems of prison administration' and [that] separation of powers concerns counsel a policy of judicial restraint." Id. at 84-85 (quoting Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 405 (1974)). Thus, while this standard of review requires a court to respect the security, rehabilitation and administrative concerns underlying a prison regulation, without requiring proof that the regulation is the least restrictive means of addressing those concerns, it also requires a court to give weight, in assessing the overall reasonableness of regulations, to the inmate's interest in engaging in constitutionally protected activity.

Turner goes on to provide guidance on how to apply its reasonableness standard. As we recently explained in Waterman v. Farmer, 183 F.3d 208, 213 (3d Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted):

[Turner] directs courts to assess the overall reasonableness of such regulations by weighing four factors. "First, there must be a `valid, rational connection' between the prison regulation and the legitimate governmental interest put forward to justify it," and this connection must not be "so remote as to render the policy arbitrary or irrational." Second, a court must consider whether inmates retain alternative means of...

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