United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
OPINION AND ORDER
D. PETERSON DISTRICT JUDGE.
Keith Lee, appearing pro se, is currently an inmate at
Columbia Correctional Institution. Lee is a practicing Muslim
who fasts from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan.
Wisconsin prisons accommodate fasting prisoners by serving
them high-calorie bagged meals after sunset. But a prisoner
has to sign up for the Ramadan meals 60 days before the start
of Ramadan. Lee says that he submitted a timely sign-up
request last year while he was at the Wisconsin Secure
Program Facility (WSPF). But he was not approved, even after
he followed up when it became clear that he had not been not
approved. Lee contends that depriving him of Ramadan meals
violates his rights under the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §
2000cc-1(a), the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,
and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. I will
deny Lee’s motion because he is not entitled to
judgment as a matter of law on any of his claims. I will
grant defendants’ motion in part. Lee says that
defendant WSPF Chaplain David Ewing ignored his properly
timed request to receive Ramadan meals, which if true would
support a claim under the Free Exercise Clause. This issue
must be resolved at trial. Trial is also necessary for
Lee’s RLUIPA claim regarding the prison policy setting
a 60-day deadline to sign up for Ramadan meals. There are
factual disputes over whether the policy substantially
burdened Lee, and whether the policy is the least restrictive
means of furthering compelling state interests.
following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.
Keith Lee is a state of Wisconsin inmate who practices Islam.
This case concerns his request to be placed on the list to be
given special Ramadan meals in 2018. Lee was incarcerated at
WSPF, in Boscobel, Wisconsin, during this time.
David Ewing was the chaplain at WSPF and defendant Gary
Boughton was the warden there. Defendant Kelli Willard West
was the Division of Adult Institution (DAI) religious
practices coordinator. Defendant James Schwochert was the DAI
DOC and WSPF food services
Ramadan, practicing Muslims should not eat from sunrise to
sunset. WSPF’s Food Services department prepares meal
bags that are delivered to inmates to consume after sunset
and before sunrise every day of Ramadan. Each meal bag
contains a day’s allotment of calories and nutrition to
be eaten during non-fasting hours. But inmates have to sign
up for Ramadan meals. DAI Policy and Procedure 309.61.03
governs how facilities administer religious diets: inmates
have to request an accommodation at least 60 days before the
initial meal. This policy applies not only to Ramadan, but to
any religious special meal or fasting.
exceptions to the 60-day deadline are one for prisoners who
have just been taken into custody, and second for those who
have just been transferred to a new facility, if the inmate
had properly requested accommodation at a previous facility.
Defendant Ewing was not involved in drafting any version of
this policy, and defendants say that he had no authority to
depart from it.
Ramadan meal-bag program requires considerable advance
planning and coordination between the food services
administrators at each DOC facility and the department
dieticians and budget staff. Food Services at WSPF starts
planning for Ramadan approximately three months in advance.
content of the 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. They
contain items like sandwiches, fresh fruit and vegetables,
and high-calorie foods. Various types of meal bags are
prepared, including the standard “general fare”
bag, and bags that are Halal, plant-based, or dairy-free.
There are also special bags adjusted to account for various
medical needs, such as low-sodium or low-fat/cholesterol
diets, or for inmates with peanut or soy allergies. The
precise number of each bag depends on which inmates sign up
to participate. Participation in Ramadan can vary
significantly from year to year. From 2011 to 2018, WSPF had
between 61 and 84 inmates participating in Ramadan.
DOC’s dietetic services director reviews each
facility’s proposed Ramadan menus for budgeting
purposes and to ensure caloric and nutritional requirements
are met. The director considers whether changes are needed
because of product availability, ingredients, packaging, or
updates to nutritional standards or serving sizes. If a menu
needs adjustments, there may be “significant back and
forth” with the facility to hammer out an acceptable
menu. Dkt. 40, at 10, ¶ 29. Once a menu is approved, the
DOC tries to give its vendor the menus four to eight weeks in
advance of the facilities’ orders to give the vendor
time to acquire adequate stock.
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. Meals are
prepared three to four days before they are delivered to
Food Services prepares Ramadan meals only for those inmates
who signed up in advance to participate; it does not prepare
extra Ramadan meals. In the event an inmate is transferred to
WSPF who is participating in Ramadan, either during Ramadan
or within 60 days before the start of Ramadan, Food Services
will adjust the meals using the existing food supply to
accommodate that inmate. But this puts a strain on Food
Services’ resources; they are able to accommodate no
more than a few exceptions.
Lee’s 2018 request
2017, Lee signed up for Ramadan meals in advance of the
60-day deadline and received the Ramadan meal bags. In 2018,
Ramadan began on May 15. The deadline for inmates to sign up
for the accommodation was thus March 17, 2018. WSPF staff
gave notice of the deadline by posting the deadline on the
institution’s television channel, on the units, and in
the chapel. (In his brief in opposition to defendants’
summary judgment motion, Lee says that WSPF does not have a
chapel. But he did not dispute defendants’ proposed
finding about it so I won’t consider this fact to be
says that on March 1, 2018, he sent an “interview
request” form to defendant Chaplain Ewing asking to be
placed on the list for Ramadan meals, but he received no
answer from Ewing. Ewing says that he did not receive
Lee’s request. Ewing says that if he had received the
request, he would have responded within one business day with
March 26, Lee noticed that other inmates received
confirmation that they were on the Ramadan meal list. Lee
wrote to Ewing asking if he was on the list; Ewing responded,
“No the deadline was 3-17-18.” Dkt. 1-1. Two days
later, Lee wrote another request. Ewing responded,
“Sorry I didn’t get anything before the
deadline.” Dkt. 1-2. Lee says that he followed up by
writing letters to defendants Boughton, Willard West, and
Schwochert. Each of those defendants say that they did not
receive Lee’s letter.
also filed an inmate grievance about the denial. See
Dkt. 1-3. The institution complaint examiner contacted Ewing,
who said that he had not received a request form dated March
1 from Lee or otherwise contacted him before the deadline.
The grievance and Lee’s appeal were dismissed.
says that because was not approved for Ramadan meals, he has
to choose between participating in Ramadan fasts and having
adequate meals. Defendants say that he could have bought food
from the canteen to eat in place of the Ramadan meals. They
provide receipts showing that Lee bought more than $100 of