369 F.3d 854 (5th Cir. 2004), 03-10443, Freeman v. Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice
|Citation:||369 F.3d 854|
|Party Name:||William R. FREEMAN, Individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; Carlos Patterson, Class Representative Individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; Sidney Montgomery, Individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; Elisello De La'O, Individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; Travis Smi|
|Case Date:||May 07, 2004|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit|
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Robert Leonadis McKinney (argued), Patrice McKinney, McKinney & McKinney, Houston, TX, Kelly D. Utsinger, Underwood, Wilson, Berry, Stein & Johnson, Amarillo, TX, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.
Marjolyn Carol Gardner and Seth Byron Dennis (argued), Asst. Attys. Gen., Austin, TX, for Defendants-Appellees.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
Before JONES, MAGILL[*] and SMITH, Circuit Judges.
EDITH H. JONES, Circuit Judge:
This lawsuit arises from a longstanding dispute regarding the adequacy of Church of Christ religious services afforded Texas prisoners. A class of disaffected inmates ("the class") filed a civil rights suit alleging that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ("TDCJ") religious accommodations policy violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.1 Also, William R. Freeman,
a member of the class, alleges that he was transferred to another unit in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed the suit. We AFFIRM.
Freeman, a former law enforcement officer, began serving a life sentence for murder in 1987 and was eventually placed in the Price Daniel Unit in Snyder, Texas, where he joined the local 37th Street Church of Christ.2 TDCJ assigned Chaplain Wayne Horton, a Church of Christ member, to the Price Daniel Unit. However, according to Freeman, Chaplain Horton's teachings were "too ecumenical" and departed from established Church of Christ doctrine.
On February 3, 1998, Freeman filed an administrative grievance criticizing Chaplain Horton's performance of the Church of Christ services and TDCJ's decision to reduce the Church of Christ's two-hour service by one half-hour. In his grievance, Freeman requested, inter alia, that the elders from the 37th Street Church of Christ oversee the inmates' religious services, that Church of Christ members be permitted to conduct their services free from Chaplain Horton's interference, and that TDCJ restore their worship time to two hours. TDCJ rejected the grievance and Freeman's administrative appeal.
Freeman later circulated a statement to fellow inmates and non-incarcerated Church of Christ leaders in which he denounced Chaplain Horton as having "departed from the faith" and requested that Chaplain Horton be removed from his leadership position over Church of Christ members in the prison. In his statement, Freeman announced that he, and other inmates, were withdrawing "spiritual fellowship" from Chaplain Horton.3
Freeman asked for, and received, permission to read the statement during a Church of Christ service in the prison.4 Sometime after Freeman began reading the statement, Chaplain Horton ordered him to stop. Freeman complied and was escorted out of the chapel, followed by approximately 50 inmates. The incident was written up as a major disciplinary infraction for causing a disturbance, but was later reduced to a minor disciplinary case. Shortly afterward, Freeman was transferred to the high-security Allred Unit.
Freeman and Carlos Patterson filed this class action suit on behalf of themselves and others against TDCJ.5 A class was certified, comprising TDCJ inmates who subscribe to the Church of Christ faith. In the complaint, the class alleges that TDCJ's failure to provide them an adequate opportunity to practice the Church
of Christ faith violates the Free Exercise and Equal Protection clauses of the Constitution. The class seeks, inter alia, a permanent injunction requiring TDCJ to provide additional religious accommodations.6 Additionally, Freeman filed a personal 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim alleging that he was transferred in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment right to criticize Chaplain Horton publicly.
TDCJ provides weekly religious services for what it considers to be the five "major faith sub-groups" in its prisons: Roman Catholic; Christian/non-Roman Catholic; Jewish; Muslim; and Native American.7 Under the TDCJ policy, the Church of Christ falls within the Christian/non-Roman Catholic sub-group. TDCJ offered evidence that it attempts to place each individual worshiper with the designated sub-group he would choose on his own, while recognizing that not all elements of the individual faiths will be accommodated.
TDCJ also offers a variety of supplemental devotional opportunities for Church of Christ members. In 41 TDCJ units, worship services are conducted by Church of Christ volunteers, who are often able to tailor the services to include communion and a cappella singing. Immersion baptism may be arranged for and performed by a Church of Christ minister at the inmate's request. Finally, TDCJ permits inmates to meet with an approved spiritual advisor twice a month.
The district court denied the class's request for a permanent injunction, finding that TDCJ policy does not violate the Supreme Court's interpretation of inmate free exercise rights.8 The district court also held that the prison officials were entitled to qualified immunity on Freeman's § 1983 retaliation claim.9 The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, and this appeal followed.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
We review the district court's summary judgment decision de novo. Chriceol v. Phillips, 169 F.3d 313, 315 (5th Cir. 1999). Summary judgment is warranted
"if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with any affidavits filed in support of the motion, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). If the moving party meets this initial burden, the nonmoving party is required to set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. FED.R.CIV.P. 56(e). However, the nonmovant cannot satisfy this burden with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc).
This appeal raises three challenges to the district court's summary judgment ruling: the dismissal of the class's free exercise claim; the dismissal of the class's equal protection claim; and the dismissal of Freeman's retaliation claim. We address each in turn.
A. Free Exercise Claim
The class alleges that TDCJ's religious accommodation policy unconstitutionally impinges on the free exercise of their chosen faith. TDCJ counters that its policy is the product of legitimate penological concerns: (1) staff supervision requirements; (2) unit and individual security concerns; (3) the availability of TDCJ-approved religious volunteers to provide assistance; (4) limited meeting time and space; and (5) the percentage of the offender population that the requesting faith group represents. Thus, TDCJ argues that its decision to designate five major religious sub-groups, while providing supplemental Church of Christ services when feasible, should be sustained.
Prison regulations that impinge on fundamental constitutional rights are reviewed under the deferential standard set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987). Under Turner, "a prison regulation that impinges on inmates' constitutional rights ... is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Id....
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