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Riley v. Ewing

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

February 14, 2019

SHAWN RILEY, Plaintiff,



         Pro se prisoner Shawn Riley is proceeding on a claim that defendant David Ewing, the chaplain at Wisconsin Secure Program Facility, failed to accommodate his request to fast during the month of Ramadan, in violation of his rights under the First and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, Dkt. 19 and Dkt. 25, as well as several motions filed by Riley requesting that the court rule on outstanding motions and recruit counsel to represent him. Dkts. 41, 44, 45, 48, 49, 53, 61, 63, 64, and 66. For the reasons below, I will grant Ewing's motion for summary judgment and will deny all of Riley's motions.


         A. The parties

         Plaintiff Shawn Riley has been incarcerated at Wisconsin Secure Program Facility since September 2011. He is Muslim. Defendant David Ewing has been the chaplain at WSPF since 2013.

         B. Ramadan observance in Wisconsin prisons

         Islamic inmates incarcerated in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections may participate in the Islamic celebration of Ramadan, which is held during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. During this month, Muslims around the world spend the daylight hours in a complete fast. Muslim inmates incarcerated in the DOC may participate in the Ramadan fast by submitting a request to the prison chaplain. Inmates who sign up for the fast are provided meal bags during non-fasting hours that contain a day's worth of food, to be eaten after sunset and before sunrise. Under Division of Adult Institution policy 309.61.03, which applies to all adult institutions in the DOC, inmates must sign up for any multiday consecutive religious dietary observance (such as Ramadan or Passover) at least 60 days in advance. Any inmate who misses the signup deadline cannot participate in the religious dietary observance. Under the policy, the DOC's Religious Practices Advisory Committee, which is comprised of representatives of community religious groups and DOC staff, is responsible for issuing a memo each year that identifies the timeframe for Ramadan and the deadline for signing up. (The policy does not specify who is to receive the memo.)

         DOC institutions can make certain limited exceptions to the 60-day signup rule. An institution may excuse an untimely signup request if there were special circumstances affecting an inmate's ability to meet the signup deadline, such as if an inmate was out of the institution in the hospital for an extended period of time. Additionally, at WSPF, if an inmate is transferred to the prison either during Ramadan or within the 60 days prior to Ramadan and tells Chaplain Ewing that he signed up for Ramadan at the prior institution, Ewing verifies the information with the prior institution's chaplain. Once verified, the inmate can be provided Ramadan meals at WSPF. Exceptions to the 60-day rule are rare at WSPF, occurring approximately three times a year.

         C. Planning for Ramadan

         In fiscal year 2017, DOC served 25.7 million meals at an average cost of $1.01 per meal. At WSPF, Food Services prepares three meals a day for approximately 500 inmates. Most inmates receive either a general fare meal, plant-based meal, halal meal, or kosher meal, based on previously approved requests. Inmates may also receive a medical diet created in consultation with a dietician and the Health Services Unit. Food production at the prison is a large-scale operation that requires months of careful planning to avoid shortages and waste and to ensure that the nutritional needs of the inmates are met.

         Planning for Ramadan requires considerable advance planning. The content of Ramadan meal bags is different than the regular meals because it is intended to be eaten without being warmed up and needs to last until the morning. Every year during Ramadan, Food Services at WSPF must change the general institution menu recipes (including the general fare, halal, and plant-based recipes) to make smaller amounts of food to account for the approximately 75 inmates who will participate in Ramadan. Food Services must also finalize a menu for all three diets (general, plant-based, and halal) for the Ramadan meals. There may also be individual medical concerns to take into account, depending on who is participating in Ramadan, such as low-sodium or low fat/cholesterol diets or food allergies.

         Food Services at WSPF starts planning for Ramadan approximately three months in advance. DOC can estimate quantities of food needed for Ramadan based on the prior years' data, but participation can vary significantly from year to year. From 2011 to 2016, WSPF had between 61 and 84 inmates participating in Ramadan. By requiring inmates to sign up for Ramadan at least 60 days in advance, Food Services is able to order the right amount of food, with enough time at each institution to provide timely, religiously appropriate meals to Ramadan participants. The 60-day signup deadline also enables DOC to order the correct quantities of food for those inmates not participating in Ramadan without significant food budget overages.

         To finalize the menus, Food Services submits the month-long Ramadan menus to DOC's dietetic services director, Christine Berndt-Miles, for approval for budgeting purposes and to ensure caloric and nutritional requirements are met. Berndt-Miles reviews the menus and considers whether any changes are needed based on product availability, ingredients, packaging, or updates to nutritional standards or serving sizes. If Berndt-Miles finds that a Ramadan menu is satisfactory, she may be able to approve it the same day she reviews it. But if the menu needs adjustments, there may be significant back and forth with Food Services at the institution to address any issues.

         Once the menus are approved and finalized, DOC provides the menus to its vendors, preferably four to eight weeks in advance of when DOC will order the food. Once food is ordered, it can take up to four weeks for an institution to receive the orders, depending on order quantity and whether products are readily available. At WSPF, Ramadan food is thawed up to two weeks in advance. Ramadan meals are prepped three to four days before they are delivered to inmates. Food Services prepares Ramadan meals only for those inmates who signed up in advance to participate and does not prepare extra Ramadan meals. The only reason there would be extra Ramadan meals on any given day would be if an inmate chose to stop participating in Ramadan or if an inmate participating in Ramadan was transferred to another institution.

         D. Riley's participation in Ramadan

         Riley was housed in the restrictive housing unit at WSPF between 2011 and 2015. In 2013 and 2014, he submitted requests to Ewing to participate in Ramadan more than 60 days in advance, and he was able to participate in Ramadan. According to Riley, WSPF had announced the signup deadline in those years by sending out a memo to inmates or broadcasting the dates on the institution's television system. (There is no evidence in the record regarding who sent the memo to the inmates or who was responsible for the television broadcasts.)

         In 2015, WSPF posted the dates for religious multiday observances and annual celebratory meals on all units housing general population inmates. (At the time, DAI policy 309.61.03 did not require prisons to provide notice of the signup deadline to inmates. Dkt. 29-1. This changed in 2016. Prisons are now required to provide notice of the signup deadline, including posting the deadline in the institution chapel, in general population units, and, at the warden's discretion, in restrictive housing units, on institution televisions, and in other locations. Dkt. 29-4.) Riley was housed in the restrictive housing unit in 2015, where there were no bulletin boards that contained notice of the Ramadan dates. WSPF also did not announce the signup deadline on the institution televisions in 2015. DOC held the Ramadan fast from June 18, 2015 to July 18, 2015. The deadline to sign up was April 19, 2015. Riley submitted his request on May 12, 2015, and Ewing denied the request as untimely.

         After Ewing denied his request, Riley submitted a note to Ewing dated May 14, 2015, stating he was never informed of the signup deadline. Ewing responded that it was up to Riley to know the dates of his religious observances and that Riley could contact Ewing anytime he had a question about dates. Riley later spoke to Ewing at his cell and asked whether the kitchen could send an extra Ramadan meal bag to Riley's cell during the month of Ramadan. Ewing ...

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