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Williams v. Blood

United States District Court, D. Utah

September 27, 2017

CAPT. DEVON BLOOD et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, Gregory E. Williams, is a pro se plaintiff proceeding in forma pauperis and alleging in an amended complaint[1] that remaining Defendants Blood, Nelson, Burr, Swallow and Chipp violated his federal rights.[2] Specifically, he asserts that Defendants Blood, Nelson, and Burr violated (1) his free exercise of religion under the First Amendment; (2) the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)[3]; and the Equal Protection Clause. And he asserts that Defendants Swallow and Chipp unconstitutionally retaliated against him for seeking to freely exercise his religion.

         Defendants move for summary judgment on these claims.[4] The motion is opposed.[5] The Court grants summary judgment as to Defendants Swallow and Chipp.


         (1) As a state prisoner in the Utah Department of Corrections (DOC) Inmate Placement Program (IPP), from April 2, 2010 until May 6, 2010, Plaintiff was held in Millard County Jail (MCJ).[6]

         (2) Plaintiff filed a grievance about his religious-diet accommodations.[7]

         (3) Plaintiff met with [dismissed] Defendant Gehre about his grievance. After the meeting, Defendant Gehre made a note in the Jail Events Summary Report (JESR): “Williams stated that right now he would be more comfortable going back to prison where his meals are pre-packaged to be kosher.”[8]

         (4) Two days later, Plaintiff met with [dismissed] Defendant Winget. After that meeting, Defendant Winget made a note in the JESR: “I related to Mr. Williams that I would get him to where his needs were able to be met, if he felt that we were not meeting them here.”[9]

         (5) On April 26, 2010, the possibility of transferring Plaintiff out of MCJ was discussed with IPP Coordinator Defendant Swallow and perhaps by e-mail with Defendant Chipp.[10] On May 6, 2010, Plaintiff was moved from MCJ.[11]


         This Court shall grant summary judgment when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[12] A party may support factual assertions by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.”[13] The purpose of the summary-judgment rule “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses.”[14]

         The movant bears the initial burden “to demonstrate an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the non-movant's case.”[15] If the movant meets this burden, “the burden then shifts to the non-movant to make a showing sufficient to establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding the existence of that element.”[16] In meeting this burden, the non-movant must “go beyond the pleadings and ‘set forth specific facts' that would be admissible in evidence in the event of a trial from which a rational trier of fact could find for the nonmovant.”[17] In ruling on a summary-judgment motion, this Court must “examine the factual record and reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.”[18]


         • No Genuine Dispute of Material Facts

         This Court notified Plaintiff that, in response to a summary-judgment motion, “Plaintiff cannot rest upon the mere allegations in the complaint. Instead . . . Plaintiff must allege specific facts, admissible in evidence, showing that there is a genuine issue remaining for trial.”[19] In Plaintiff's response, he did not identify material facts that are in dispute.

         • Undisputed Facts Support Dismissal of Retaliation Claim

         A plaintiff bringing a retaliation claim “must prove that ‘but for' the retaliatory motive, the incidents to which he refers, including the disciplinary action, would not have taken place.”[20]A plaintiff must also “allege specific facts showing retaliation because of the exercise of the prisoner's constitutional rights.”[21] Plaintiffs asserting retaliation also have the option of using circumstantial evidence to show a reasonable jury would find the allegations of retaliation were supported, rather than direct evidence of retaliatory motive.[22] In response, defendants may raise “a legitimate and facially plausible explanation for the transfer.”[23]

         Plaintiff has provided no direct or circumstantial evidence to show that Defendants Swallow and Chipp initiated the discussion that led to his transfer to retaliate for his expressed concerns about his religious diet. At most, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint implicitly points only to the close time proximity between his grievances about religious meals and the transfer. However, mere temporal proximity of constitutionally protected speech and alleged retaliation is insufficient to meet this requirement.[24]

         The evidence here shows a legitimate and plausible reason for jail and prison officials to initiate Plaintiff's transfer--i.e., that Plaintiff himself expressed that he wanted a transfer.

         Moreover, even if Plaintiff did not request the transfer--which is what he asserts and is the only dispute of fact--Defendants Swallow and Chipp have another (stand-alone) legitimate and plausible reason for initiating the transfer--i.e., that they saw UDOC as better capable of meeting Plaintiff's dietary restrictions elsewhere.

         The Court now identifies a couple of other interesting and supportive points. First, Plaintiff has no right to be in any particular facility.[25] Second, he has suggested no prejudice; in other words, he does not specify how MCJ was a better fit for him than any other facility. He has not identified what it is about any other facility, to which he may have been moved, that might function as a true punishment or detriment leading to an inference of retaliation.[26]

         Accordingly, this Court concludes that Plaintiff has not shown facts that but-for a retaliatory motive, by Defendants Swallow and Chipp, he would not have been transferred. Defendants have stated a legitimate, facially plausible reason for the transfer, a reason that Plaintiff has not challenged. Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendants Swallow and Chipp fails as a matter of law and is dismissed with prejudice.

         REMAINING ...

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