Brandon v. Kinter

Citation938 F.3d 21
Decision Date10 September 2019
Docket NumberDocket No. 17-911-cv,August Term 2018
Parties Chamma K. BRANDON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Suzanne KINTER, Lawrence Bedard, Robert Webb, Joshua Wingler, Thomas Perry, Eric Blaise, Kevin Laurin, Margaret Clancy, Defendants-Appellees, Glenn Schroyer, Jim Alger, Clinton County Jail, Defendants.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)

Sarah E. Hsu Wilbur, Thomas A. Zelante, Jr., and Jon Romburg, Seton Hall University School of Law, Newark, NJ, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Gregg T. Johnson, Lemire, Johnson & Higgins, Malta, NY, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: WALKER, CALABRESI, and CHIN, Circuit Judges.


Chamma Brandon, a Muslim inmate at the Clinton County Jail (CCJ), sued CCJ and several of its employees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Brandon claimed, inter alia , that the defendants denied his right to the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment by routinely serving him meals containing pork in violation of his Muslim diet, and that they retaliated against him for filing meal-related grievances. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all counts. In relevant part, the district court held that the evidence showed only that Brandon was served 10 noncompliant meals, which the court held was not a substantial burden on his religious beliefs.2

We vacate in part and affirm in part the district court’s decision. First, as to Brandon’s free exercise claim, we hold that there is sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute of material fact about the number of noncompliant meals Brandon received. A reasonable jury could find that Brandon was served significantly more than 10 meals containing pork. While that, in itself, would be sufficient to justify reversal, we further hold that the district court also erred in concluding that 10 noncompliant meals was not a substantial burden.

Second, as to Brandon’s retaliation claim, the defendants argue that no reasonable jury could find that they retaliated against Brandon. We hold that a genuine dispute exists as to facts underlying the alleged retaliation, and we therefore vacate the district court’s dismissal of that claim.

Because liability under § 1983 requires personal involvement, we, however, vacate and remand for Brandon to proceed against only those defendants who were personally involved in the violations. And we affirm the dismissal of the claims against those defendants as to whom there is no evidence of personal involvement.


Brandon was incarcerated at CCJ on January 14, 2012. He avers that he declared upon intake that he was a Muslim, but CCJ records do not contain any declaration of religious status on that date. On March 2, 2012, Brandon was released, re-arrested, and returned to CCJ—all on the same day. There is no dispute that, upon re-arrest, Brandon declared that he was a Muslim and that he did not eat pork. Brandon remained at CCJ until December 25, 2012.

The defendants-appellees3 were all CCJ employees at the time of the events in this case. Suzanne Kinter, the Jail Healthcare Coordinator, supervised CCJ nurses and oversaw inmate medical treatment. Lawrence Bedard, the Food Service Manager, supervised the cooks in the CCJ kitchen "to ensure that the food [wa]s being prepared in compliance with the menu, recipes, and any special diets that the inmates ha[d] on file with the kitchen." J.A. 323. Lieutenant Kevin Laurin was responsible for overseeing CCJ’s grievance program, supervising sergeants, and managing the day-to-day activities of the jail. Sergeant Margaret Clancy4 was responsible for supervising correctional officers, documenting reports, and maintaining safety. The remaining defendantsEric Blaise, Thomas Perry, Robert Webb, and Joshua Wingler—were correctional officers (COs).

A. Religious Meals

Brandon’s Amended Complaint claims that the defendants denied him religiously appropriate meals by repeatedly serving him meals containing pork.5 The allegedly noncompliant meals fall primarily into two categories. First, Brandon claims that CCJ failed to notify the kitchen about his religious diet until several months after he had informed the jail that he was a Muslim and did not eat pork. He attests that, during the period in which the kitchen was unaware of his diet, he was "routinely and continuously" served pork whenever it was scheduled on the menu. J.A. 30. Second, Brandon claims that, even after the kitchen was notified of his diet, he was still served pork on a number of occasions, which are specifically identified by date in his Amended Complaint. See J.A. 28-40. The defendants dispute both sets of allegations.

While the parties agree that Brandon requested a Muslim diet on March 2, 2012, the record contains conflicting evidence as to when the CCJ kitchen was notified of that dietary restriction. Laurin’s affidavit states that, after Brandon made his March 2 request, a notification was placed in his file that he should be provided with a no-pork diet. Bedard’s response to Brandon’s interrogatories similarly state that "[t]he Kitchen staff was notified of Plaintiff’s religious diet from the booking officer on or about March 2, 2012." J.A. 356.

Other evidence, however, indicates that the kitchen was not aware of Brandon’s religious diet until September or October 2012. On September 27, in response to a grievance filed by Brandon, Laurin noted that the kitchen "did not have that [Brandon was] Muslim" and that it had now been so informed. J.A. 101. Then, on October 5, Laurin wrote, "Brandon was not marked in the kitchen as [M]uslim diet. That was corrected 10/5/12." J.A. 389. Corroborating this account, a CO not involved in the case noted on October 10 that "until recently they had nothing stating that inmate Brandon was a no pork diet." J.A. 114.

Brandon’s Amended Complaint states that, before the kitchen was notified of his religious diet, he was "routinely and continuously" served meals containing pork. J.A. 34. He introduced into evidence a schedule of CCJ’s menus by day from January 8 to December 29, 2012. J.A. 470-519. On these menus, Brandon identified examples of items that he believed contained pork, such as, inter alia , grilled ham and cheese sandwich, barbeque ribs, pepperoni pizza, baked ham-steak, and Italian sausage.

On May 28, 2012, Brandon filed his first grievance with CCJ, claiming that his meals contained pork and thereby violated his religious diet. Brandon filed additional complaints on June 21, July 4, and July 6, again alleging that his meals did not comply with his religious beliefs. To these grievances, Kinter responded that medical staff were not responsible for religious diets and that Brandon would need to "ask security staff to submit [a] diet slip for pork." J.A. 84 (emphasis omitted). Brandon claims that he then spoke with the security staff, who told him instead to ask the medical staff. He contends that neither group resolved his complaints.

Brandon argues that he continued to be regularly served pork until the kitchen was finally notified of his religious diet in September or October 2012. Using the earlier September 27 date, see supra at 26, and the schedule of CCJ menus for this time period, Brandon’s counsel calculates that he was served pork at least 63 times. Brandon’s Amended Complaint, however, does not include any specific dates between July 6 and September 9 on which he alleges that he was served a noncompliant meal. Nor does the record contain any religious meal-related grievances during this period.

After July 6, the next recorded incident in which Brandon claims to have received pork occurred on September 9. Brandon attests that he was served ham steak on that date. Brandon’s Amended Complaint claims that he was served pork again on September 24 (BLT sandwich for lunch and salad with bacon strips for dinner), October 9 (ham sandwich), October 10 (salad with ham strips), October 17 (pork inside "meatless" salad), October 29 (pork inside "vegetarian" bean soup), November 5 (pork inside "meatless" salad), and December 25 (BBQ pork ribs). Brandon concedes that, besides these dates, he generally received religiously appropriate meals after October 5, the last date on which Laurin claims to have notified the kitchen of Brandon’s religious diet.

Regarding several of the above incidents—those on October 17, October 29, and November 5—Brandon attests that the meals were labeled "meatless" or "vegetarian." But, according to Brandon, when he inspected the meal, he discovered small pieces of pork inside. He claims that, on each occasion, he compared his meal to that given to other Muslim inmates and discovered that his meal was the only one containing small pieces of meat. Based on the differences only in his meals, Brandon concluded that he was being specifically targeted and decided that he needed to inspect carefully each meal prior to eating it.

The defendants dispute Brandon’s allegations and argue that he was never deprived of a religiously appropriate meal. Rather, they claim that each time Brandon complained about pork in his meal, the meal either did not actually contain pork or was replaced. According to the defendants, Brandon’s continued grievances resulted not from continued violations, but from Brandon’s refusal to accept the defendants’ explanations. There is some evidence to support the defendants’ claim that, beginning in September, a number of the complained-of meals were either explained or replaced.6 There is also, however, contradictory evidence in the form of Brandon’s sworn statements.

According to the defendants, six of the meals specifically grieved by Brandon—those on September 9, September 24 (lunch and dinner), October 9, October 10, and November 5—did not actually contain pork. On September 9, Brandon complained that his ham steak contained pork. A CO not involved in this case checked with the kitchen and informed Brandon that the ham steak was made with turkey, not pork. He...

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