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FORD v. MCGINNIS

June 14, 2002

WAYNE FORD, PLAINTIFF,
V.
JOHN MCGINNIS, SUPERINTENDENT; PATRICK MCGANN, SUPERINTENDENT OF ADMINISTRATION; GORDON LORD, ASSISTANT DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shira A. Scheindlin, United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Wayne Ford brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against John McGinnis, Patrick McGann and Gordon Lord, all of whom are officials of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") at Downstate Correctional Facility ("Downstate"). Plaintiff alleges that while he was incarcerated at Downstate, defendants failed to provide him with a religious celebratory meal in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

Defendants now move for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). Defendants contend that there was no First Amendment violation and, even if there were such a violation, they are immune from suit under the doctrine of qualified immunity. For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion is granted.

I. FACTS

Ford has been a practicing Muslim since 1993. See Declaration of Wayne Ford ("Ford Decl.") ¶ 3; Deposition of Wayne Ford ("Ford Dep."), Ex. F to the Declaration of Rachel G. Skaistis, plaintiff's attorney ("Skaistis Decl."), at 16. In September 1997, Ford submitted a religious designation form, officially notifying DOCS that he is a follower of Islam. See Religious Designation Form, Ex. A to Ford Decl.

A. Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr

In Islam, there are two major religious observances: the Eid ul Fitr and the Eid ul Adha.*fn1 See Umar Dep. at 26. The Eid ul Fitr, a joyous occasion, celebrates the successful completion of the observance of Ramadan.*fn2 See Rahim Dep. at 61- 62. The Eid ul Fitr celebration comes at the end of Ramadan and signifies its successful completion. See Umar Dep. at 32-33. The Eid ul Fitr is of great significance to Muslims who view it as a "religious instruction". See Rashada Dep. at 62; Rahim Dep. at 62.

The Eid ul Fitr celebration consists of an Eid ul Fitr prayer and an Eid ul Fitr feast. See Rashada Dep. at 63; Umar Dep. at 38. On the morning of the first day of the Eid ul Fitr, Muslims congregate for the Eid ul Fitr prayer. See Rahim Dep. at 63. Before leaving for the prayer, however, Muslims eat a small, sweet breakfast. See Umar Dep. at 32, 34. Following the Eid ul Fitr prayer, Muslims partake in the Eid ul Fitr feast.*fn3 See id. at 34. The Eid ul Fitr feast is a substantial meal that typically comprises halal meat, fish, vegetables, breads, cakes, pies and beverages. See Id. at 38-39.

B. Observance of Eid ul Fitr Within DOCS

1. Religious Faith's Holy Day Calendar

DOCS issues an annual "Religious Faith's Holy Day Calendar" setting forth an "outline of the fea[s]ts and fasts for the various religious faith groups represented and verified in the New York State Department of Corrections facilities". See Year 2000 Religious Faith's Holy Day Calendar ("Calendar"), Ex. J to Skaistis Decl.

The Religious Faith's Holy Day Calendar indicates January 7 as the date of the Eid ul Fitr which it describes as follows:

Id-UI-Fitr: Family Holy Pay celebration. This is an observance of thanksgiving, gift giving, etc. On the first day following the end of Ramadan, a communal prayer and feast are celebrated with family. When this day falls on a weekday, the festivities may be moved to a weekend day in order to accommodate the families who will be participating. There will be a special Id prayer and there is to be no work on the day of the Id. (Inmates may be permitted refreshments on the day of the Id, if it occurs during a weekday). Additional information on this celebration will be distributed at a later date.

Calendar at 38. According to superintendent of Downstate John McGinnis, events listed on the Calendar, including the Eid ul Fitr family holy day celebration, are observances recognized by DOCS as holy days. See Deposition of John McGinnis ("McGinnis Dep."), Ex. L to Skaistis Decl., at 27, 47.

2. 1999/2000 Ramadan Menu

Bach year, the Director of Nutritional Services sends a memorandum to all DOCS facilities setting forth a standardized, state-wide menu for the Ramadan meals and the Eid ul Fitr feast. See 9/13/99 Memorandum from Howard Dean, Director of Nutritional Services, to Correctional Facility Superintendents, Ex. B to Ford Decl. All DOCS facilities are directed to follow the state-wide menu. See McGinnis Dep., at 38-39. For 1999-2000, the Ramadan Menu included provisions for both Sahoor (pre-dawn) and Iftar (evening) meals. See Ramadan Statewide Menu 1999-2000, attached to 9/13/99 Dean Mem. DOCS facilities are directed to serve all observant Muslims, including Muslims in Special Housing Units ("SHU"), with the Sahoor and Iftar meals. See Umar Dep. at 43- 44, 48.

The Ramadan Menu also sets forth the items comprising the Eid ul Fitr feast. Under a heading entitled "Id-Ul-Fitr January ____, 2000," the menu lists Halal Chicken, Whiting, Rice, Sweet Potatoes, Tossed Salad w/ Dressing, Fruit Salad, Banana, Broccoli, Bean Pie and Beverage. This menu comports with the traditional Eid ul Fitr feast consumed by Muslims outside the prison system. See Umar Dep. at 38-39; Rahim Dep. at 64. DOCS facilities are directed to serve observant Muslim inmates — including Muslim inmates in SHU — the Eid ul Fitr feast set forth in this state-wide menu. See Deposition of James O'Connell, Deputy Superintendent of Downstate ("O'Connell Dep."), Bx. K to Skaistis Decl., at 44-45.

3. Memorandum from Imam Umar

The Division of Ministerial Services is responsible for planning and coordinating religious observances and activities for DOCS. See DOCS Directive 4200, Ex. M to Skaistis Decl. Specifically, "[t]he mission of the Division is to . . . [e]nable inmates to practice their religious faith and fulfill their religious obligations in accordance with the provision of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing all citizens the right to free exercise of their religion". Id. at 1.

The Ministerial Program Coordinator for Islamic Affairs oversees all Islamic chaplains that work for DOCS and coordinates Islamic observances, prayers and classes. See Rahim Dep. at 11; Umar Dep. at 9. From 1985 through August 2000, Imam Umar was the Ministerial Program Coordinator for Islamic Affairs. See Umar Dep. at 8. The current Ministerial Program Coordinator for Islamic Affairs is Shaykh Rahim.

A major concern of Muslim prisoners in special housing units and keeplock status is their accommodations during the month of Ramadan fast. With Ramadan and the two Ids coming soon, this is a good time to remind you and advise you to include the service of confined Muslims in your ministerial plans for Ramadan and the Ids. These inmates, more than often, will participate in the fast. Arrangements should be made for them to receive ...

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