895 F.3d 180 (2nd Cir. 2018), 15-1018, Williams v. Annucci

Docket Nº:15-1018
Citation:895 F.3d 180
Opinion Judge:John M. Walker, Jr., Circuit Judge:
Party Name:Deandre WILLIAMS, a/k/a David Williams, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Anthony J. ANNUCCI, Commissioner of N.Y.S. Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Cheryl V. Morris, Director, Ministerial, Family and Volunteer Services, N.Y.S. Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Omega Alston, Assistant Director, Ministerial, Family...
Attorney:Rajeev Muttreja, (Meir Feder, Lauren Pardee Ruben, on the brief), Jones Day, New York, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant. Zainab A. Chaudhry (Andrew D. Bing, Barbara D. Underwood, on the brief), for Barbara D. Underwood, Attorney General of the State of New York, New York, NY, for Defendants-Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before: Walker, Pooler, Circuit Judges, and Crawford, District Judge.
Case Date:July 10, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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Page 180

895 F.3d 180 (2nd Cir. 2018)

Deandre WILLIAMS, a/k/a David Williams, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Anthony J. ANNUCCI, Commissioner of N.Y.S. Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Cheryl V. Morris, Director, Ministerial, Family and Volunteer Services, N.Y.S. Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Omega Alston, Assistant Director, Ministerial, Family and Volunteer Services, Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, D. Rock, Superintendent, Upstate Correctional Facility, M. Lira, Deputy Superintendent, Upstate Correctional Facility, Timothy C. Hawk, Chaplain, Upstate Correctional Facility, a/k/a J. Hawk, Don Haug, Food Administrator, Upstate Correctional Facility, Karen Bellamy, Director, Inmate Grievance Program, N.Y.S. Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Kenneth S. Perlman, Deputy Commissioner, Program Services, N.Y.S. Department of Correctional Services, Alec Friedmann, Jewish Chaplain, Upstate Correctional Facility, Defendants-Appellees.1

No. 15-1018

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

July 10, 2018

ARGUED: OCTOBER 11, 2017.

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, No. 11 Civ. 379— Norman A. Mordue, Judge, Therese Wiley Dancks, Magistrate Judge .

Rajeev Muttreja, (Meir Feder, Lauren Pardee Ruben, on the brief), Jones Day, New York, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Zainab A. Chaudhry (Andrew D. Bing, Barbara D. Underwood, on the brief), for Barbara D. Underwood, Attorney General of the State of New York, New York, NY, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: Walker, Pooler, Circuit Judges, and Crawford, District Judge.2

OPINION

John M. Walker, Jr., Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-Appellant DeAndre Williams appeals from a memorandum and order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Mordue, J .). The district court, adopting the recommendation of the magistrate judge (Dancks, M.J. ), granted summary judgment to the defendants, various officials of the New York State Department of Corrections ("DOC"), on Williams’s claim that the DOC’s policy of not accommodating the dietary restrictions imposed by his Nazarite Jewish faith violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). The district court, adopting the reasoning of the magistrate judge, denied Williams’s request for a permanent injunction because it found that, assuming Williams’s beliefs were "sincerely held" and "substantially burdened" by the DOC’s policy, the DOC’s refusal to modify the menu for Williams furthered a compelling state interest in minimizing costs and administrative burdens, and the DOC’s policy constituted the least restrictive means of furthering those interests. Special App’x 45-47.

We conclude that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the DOC because it failed to appreciate, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Holt v. Hobbs, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 853, 190 L.Ed.2d 747 (2015), the substantial showing that the government must make to justify burdening an individual plaintiff’s practice of a sincerely held religious belief. We therefore VACATE the district court’s grant of summary judgment on Williams’s claim for injunctive relief under RLUIPA, and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. The DOC’s motion to vacate the judgment and remand is DENIED as moot.

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BACKGROUND

Plaintiff-Appellant DeAndre Williams is a practicing Nazarite Jew and a prisoner of the New York State DOC. As part of his faith, Williams believes he must consume a grape-free, egg-free, vegetarian diet that is also kosher. Williams also has a dairy intolerance.

At the time this appeal was filed, the DOC prepared meals for inmates in two steps: first, it processed food at a central production center; then, it shipped that food to each prison facility where meals were prepared and served to inmates. The DOC makes two different menus available to prisoners: the general confinement menu ("GCM"), and the Cold Alternative Diet ("CAD"). The GCM meals, which are not certified kosher, include an entrée, side dishes, and a beverage. Many items on this menu include meat, dairy, or grapes. The DOC also typically offers an alternative entrée that does not contain meat, but that may contain dairy or grape products. The CAD menu, on the other hand, provides kosher food, but it includes meat, dairy, and grapes.

The DOC allows inmates to submit requests to substitute food for medical reasons, which the DOC then reviews on a case-by-case basis. The DOC generally does not permit substitutions for religious reasons. Instead, the DOC’s policy is to advise inmates to "refrain from eating those food items which are contrary to [their] religious beliefs." App’x 250.

The DOC accommodates Williams’s dairy allergy, but often in ways that conflict with his religion’s requirements. For example, the DOC frequently replaces Williams’s cream cheese with grape jelly or his cheese with meat. As a result, Williams cannot eat much of the food the DOC offers him. His diet is largely confined to hot cereal, bread, fruit, vegetables, soup, and peanut butter. Sometimes he tries to trade the food he cannot eat with other inmates, even though trading food is discouraged.

Since 2002, Williams has filed multiple grievances based on the DOC’s refusal to accommodate his religiously required diet. Over the years, he has asked for a variety of accommodations, including transferring him to a facility that serves full kosher meals, providing him with a kosher vegetarian meal that does not include grapes, replacing the items he cannot eat with other items on the CAD, or removing the items he cannot eat from his tray.3 These requests were denied in accordance with the DOC’s policy regarding religious diets.

In April 2011, Williams, acting pro se, brought this action. Williams alleged that the DOC violated his rights under the First Amendment and RLUIPA by refusing to accommodate his religious dietary restrictions, and he sought an injunction ordering the DOC to provide him with the meals his religion required. The district court denied Williams’s motion for a preliminary injunction in March 2012, but denied the DOC’s motion to dismiss the following February.

In May 2014, the DOC moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had a compelling interest in controlling costs and avoiding administrative burdens. By way of support, the DOC proffered a sworn declaration from Robert Schattinger, the DOC’s Director of Correctional Food and Nutritional Services. Schattinger claimed that the DOC’s experience with a kosher food line at its Green Haven facility had taught it that running such a program is "extremely expensive and administratively

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burdensome" and that such a service "[could] not be provided" statewide. App’x 392. The declaration stated that "maintaining the integrity of kosher [food] at the facility level is problematic." Id. To make kosher meals available to inmates statewide, Schattinger anticipated that the DOC would have to prepare meals at a kosher site, seal them, and ship them to each facility, which would require purchasing new equipment and hiring more staff. Additionally, Schattinger anticipated that extra time and energy would be required to figure out how to provide inmates adequate nutrition in a menu without meat. Due to these "fiscal and practical considerations," Schattinger declared, "the Department has determined that a [kosher vegetarian] menu will not be provided," since doing so is "not financially or administratively feasible." App’x 392-93.

The district court assigned the motion for summary judgment to a magistrate judge. The magistrate judge determined that there was no dispute that Williams’s religious beliefs were "sincerely held" and that those beliefs were "substantially burdened" by the DOC’s policy. Special App’x 45-47. Nevertheless, the magistrate judge found that the DOC’s refusal to modify the menu for Williams furthered a compelling state interest in minimizing costs and administrative burdens and was the least restrictive way of furthering those interests. The magistrate judge thus recommended that the district court grant summary judgment to the DOC. Shortly before the district court decided the motion, the Supreme Court handed down Holt v. Hobbs, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 853, 190 L.Ed.2d 747 (2015), clarifying the standard applicable to RLUIPA claims. The district court adopted the magistrate’s recommendation and entered summary judgment for the DOC without considering Holt . Williams timely appealed.

After the district court granted summary judgment, the DOC reported that it had made significant changes to its kosher meal program. In fact, the day after the DOCs brief was due in...

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