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Tapp v. Stanley

November 17, 2008

SEAN TAPP, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHAPLAIN T. STANLEY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

This is an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in which Plaintiff, a prison inmate, alleges that Defendant, a prison chaplain, violated his federal statutory and constitutional rights to freedom of religion. Now before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment [#26] and Plaintiff's cross-motion [#37] for the same relief. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's application is granted and Plaintiff's application is denied.

BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise noted the following are the facts of this action viewed in the light most-favorable to Plaintiff. At all relevant times Plaintiff was an inmate in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), and was housed at Southport Correctional Facility ("Southport"). At all relevant times, Defendant was employed as a prison chaplain at Southport.

Plaintiff claims that Defendant denied him kosher meals from April 4, 2004 until July 23, 2004. (Tapp Deposition at 17). Actually, though, Plaintiff was not housed at Southport during that entire period. Instead, Plaintiff spent the period of May 7, 2004 to June 8, 2004 at Upstate Correctional Facility ("Upstate"). Id. at 56-57.*fn1 Accordingly, the period that Plaintiff was allegedly denied kosher meals at Southport is seventy-seven (77) days.

Prior to April 4, 2004, Plaintiff did not eat kosher food. Id. at 20. In fact, prior to that date Plaintiff had "no religion." Id. at 24. Accordingly, on prison forms completed prior to April 2004, Plaintiff had indicated that he did not belong to a particular religion. Id. at 24-25. In or about April 2004, Plaintiff decided that he would practice Judaism. Id. at 27 ("I just decided one day that's what I wanted to do."). On April 4, 2004, Plaintiff wrote to Defendant and announced that he was Jewish, and that he wanted his "institutional records . . . properly marked to reflect that." Plaintiff also asked that a "religious designation" form be sent to him so that he could "formally declare" his religious beliefs. Defendant responded by sending plaintiff a "change of religion" form and directing him to complete the form and return it to her. Plaintiff completed the forms and returned them to Defendant. In turn, Defendant forwarded the form to Southport's Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Chill. On April 11, 2004, Plaintiff wrote to Defendant, and stated that he wished to receive "the cold Jewish kosher alternative meal." Defendant responded that Plaintiff's "change of religion" request was "in Rabbi Chill's folder awaiting his visitation to Southport and his approval." On April 20, 2004, Rabbi Chill indicated that Plaintiff could not convert to Judaism, stating: "Refused. W e don't do conversion in NYSDOCS." On May 5, 2004, Defendant wrote to Plaintiff, stating: "This comes in response to your inquiry about your change of religion. Your request for conversion to Judaism has been denied by Rabbi Chill. Conversions to Orthodox Judaism are not allowed."

On May 7, 2004, Plaintiff was transferred to Upstate, and did not return to Southport until June 8, 2004. On July 8, 2004, Plaintiff wrote to Defendant, to reiterate that he was "a follower and practicer of Jud[aism], and that he wanted to "receive the meals that follow [his] faith." On July 12, 2004, Defendant signed the change of religious designation form, despite Rabbi Chill's statement that Plaintiff could not convert to Judaism. In that regard, Defendant described the established procedure as follows:

The procedure to obtain a change of religion is to first have the religious official, in this case the Rabbi, review the request. If the Rabbi does not authorize the request and the inmate still wishes to change his designation, I will change the religion as a 'self-declared' change in religious status.

In this matter, when I learned that the Rabbi denied the change of religion, I notified the inmate. I did not do anything further until I heard from the inmate on July 12, 2004. Once I heard that the inmate wanted to continue with his request, I promptly processed the paperwork. I did not know of any grievances before July 12, 2004 regarding Plaintiff's desire to change religions or being denied kosher meals. (Stanley Affidavit [#30] at ¶ ¶ 15-17). In regard to having Plaintiff execute the religious designation form, Defendant states that she was following DOCS Directive 4202.*fn2 (Id. at ¶ 18). On July 12, 2004, the same day that she received Plaintiff's letter, Defendant "approved Plaintiff's kosher diet request." (Stanley Affidavit [#30] ¶ 11). Defendant also conveyed Plaintiff's request for kosher meals to prison officials, and on or about July 13, 2004, the Assistant Deputy Superintendent for Program Services at Southport sent Plaintiff a form on which to indicate that he wanted to receive the Cold Alternative Diet Program. Plaintiff completed and returned the form. On July 17, 2004, Defendant also signed the form, after which, "[i]t was [her] understanding that the inmate would obtain his meal shortly after this date and [she] had no further involvement with Plaintiff's request for kosher meals." (Id. at ¶ 14). On July 20, 2004, the food service administrator at Southport wrote to Plaintiff and informed him that he would begin receiving the "Cold Alternative Meal Program" on July 21, 2004. According to Plaintiff, he did not actually begin receiving kosher meals until July 23, 2004.

During the period between April 2004 and July 2004 when Plaintiff did not directly receive kosher meals, and excluding the month of May when Plaintiff was at Upstate, Plaintiff ate "a lot of breads, fruits [and] cold cereal." Id. at 67. Additionally, Plaintiff obtained kosher food by trading with inmates who were receiving kosher meals. Id. at 68. In that regard, Plaintiff testified:

A: I trade[d] . . . with somebody who was getting a kosher meal.

Q: So, you were able to eat kosher meals?

A: Yes. That's how I would get kosher meals.

Q: I'm just trying to understand. So, from the time period where you were waiting to get your kosher meals, you were ...


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