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Dangerfield v. Ewing

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

January 8, 2020

ALPHONCY DANGERFIELD, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID EWING, KELLI WILLARD WEST, and JAMES SCHWOCHERT, Defendants.[1]

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Alphoncy Dangerfield, appearing pro se, is an inmate at Oshkosh Correctional Institution. Dangerfield alleges that when he was incarcerated at Wisconsin Secure Program Facility, prison officials violated his right to practice Islam by denying him meals timed to accommodate his fasting during Ramadan. Dangerfield requested special Ramadan meals long after the deadline for doing so, set for 60 days before the start of Ramadan.

         I previously granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on Dangerfield's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies for his equal-protection claim. Dkt. 33. Dangerfield's remaining claims fall under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. Dangerfield moved for summary judgment on the merits of these claims early in the proceedings, immediately following the court's preliminary pretrial conference. Dkt. 14. I denied that motion because Dangerfield did not support his claims with enough detail for a reasonable jury to conclude that he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Defendants have now filed their own motion for summary judgment on these claims. Dkt. 34. Dangerfield did not file materials directly opposing defendants' motion; I will consider the materials he filed in support of his own summary judgment motion to be his opposition.

         I will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment on all of Dangerfield's claims, mainly because the undisputed facts show that the 60-day deadline for prisoners to sign up for special Ramadan meals is an appropriate way to give prison officials enough time to efficiently prepare those meals, under either RLUIPA or First Amendment standards. The case will be dismissed.

         UNDISPUTED FACTS

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

         A. Parties

         Plaintiff Alphoncy Dangerfield 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. Dangerfield was incarcerated at WSPF, in Boscobel, Wisconsin, during this time.

         Defendant David Ewing was the chaplain at WSPF. Defendant Kelli Willard West was the Division of Adult Institution (DAI) religious practices coordinator. Defendant James Schwochert was the DAI administrator.

         B. DOC and WSPF food services

         During Ramadan, observant Muslims fast 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 must sign up in advance for Ramadan meals. DAI Policy and Procedure 309.61.03 governs how facilities administer religious diets: inmates must request an accommodation at least 60 days before the first meal in the special period. This policy applies not only to Ramadan, but to any religious special meal or fasting.

         There are exceptions to the 60-day deadline for prisoners who have just been taken into custody, and 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.

         The 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 about three months in advance.

         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. Defendants say that the content of the Ramadan meal bags is different than the regular meals because the bag meals are intended to be eaten without being warmed ...


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