Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Rodriguez v. Bryson

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

December 17, 2019

HJALMAR RODRIGUEZ, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner HOMER BRYSON, etai, Defendants.

          ORDER

          MARC T. TREADWELL, JUDGE.

         The Court granted the Defendants' motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff Hjalmar Rodriguez's claims regarding inadequate nutrition, violation of religious modesty obligations, restricted shower use, contaminated food, improper handling of food trays, and inadequate care for a damaged tooth. See generally Docs. 187; 182. It denied summary judgment on the two claims against Defendant Burnside regarding Rodriguez's shoulder. Those two claims will proceed to trial.

         The Court also noted there might be a remaining equal protection claim unaddressed by the summary judgment motions: "the claim that Jewish prisoners were provided with meals that comply with their kosher religious obligations, while Muslim inmates were not provided with meals that comply with their halal religious obligations." Doc. 187 at 3. That equal protection claim was not at all clear in Rodriguez's pleadings, so the Court allowed the Defendants to file a supplemental motion for summary judgment. The Defendants filed that motion, and for the following reasons, the motion (Doc. 188) is GRANTED.

         A. Rodriguez did not plead a forced veganism claim

         Rodriguez now describes his equal protection claim as being forced to be vegan in violation of his religion. Rodriguez's interpretation of Islam requires him to eat meat as an affirmative obligation. Doc. 192-2 at 2-3. He claims that adherents of other religions, such as Christianity and Judaism, are not forced to follow the mandates of different religions, but he is forced to follow a vegan diet. Id. at 12. He appears to believe that veganism is a Jewish religious mandate, though he elsewhere argues that the restricted vegan meal plan, as implemented at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, violated both Islamic and Jewish dietary obligations. Doc. 192-2 at 2. The Defendants refer to this newly argued equal protection claim as the "forced veganism" claim. Doc. 197 at 2-4.

         The Defendants argue, correctly, that Rodriguez never raised a forced veganism claim before the summary judgment stage. Id. He filed two complaints: an original complaint and an amended complaint. Docs. 1; 39-1; 84. The original complaint clearly did not raise any claim based on forced veganism. See generally Docs. 1; 14; 84. Rather, the Court's statement that there was a potential remaining equal protection claim was based on its prior order screening the amended complaint. Docs. 187 at 3; 182 at 2 n.3; 84 at 10 (discussing potential equal protection claims in the amended complaint).

         However, the amended complaint expressly lists the "Claims for Relief": failure to follow prison policies for the restricted vegan meal plan (¶ 111); inadequate nutrition, especially during Ramadan (¶ 112); serving unsafe food containing harmful foreign objects (¶ 113); failing to keep Rodriguez's body properly covered on the way to the shower (¶ 114); failing to allow Rodriguez religiously mandated baths (¶ 115); failure to treat his shoulder and tooth[1] injuries (¶ 116-120); and failure to provide timely dental services (¶ 121). None of those claims concern forced veganism.

         Nonetheless, the Court's screening order identified a potential equal protection claim concerning the allegation that Jewish prisoners were provided with kosher meals and Muslim prisoners were not provided with religiously proper meals, citing four paragraphs of the amended complaint. Doc. 84 at 10 (citing Doc. 39-1 ¶¶ 33-34, 37, 46). Three of the cited paragraphs clearly concern claims on which the Court has already granted summary judgment: inadequate nutrition (¶ 33); using the same trays for the restricted vegan meal plan that had been used by other meal plans (¶ 34); and supervisory liability for inadequate nutrition (¶ 37).

         Paragraph 46 is vaguer. It alleges that Defendants Dozier, Chatman, and Sellers violated the prison's Standard Operating Procedures ("SOP") for the alternative entree program and denied "muslim offenders (plaintiff) access to Halal meals unlike other similarly situated offenders (i.e. Jewish) offenders" that could keep their kosher obligations in the prison meal plan. Id. ¶ 46. But this is no basis for a forced veganism claim. First, there is no evidence that the meal plan was somehow tailored to kosher requirements. Instead, both Jewish and Muslim prisoners have requirements for how animal products are prepared, so the prison simply put them on a vegan meal plan. Rodriguez now contends he has an affirmative religious obligation to eat meat, but he did not allege that in the original or amended complaints.[2] Second, the only alleged religious violations which could form any basis for an equal protection claim based on Paragraph 46 concerned mixing trays and caloric intake.[3] As the Magistrate Judge noted, there is no evidence that any named Defendant was involved in the alleged tray mixing, and the alleged inadequate caloric intake was not supported by evidence and was the result of a voluntary fast. Doc. 182 at 27-29, 30-32. Accordingly, even if the conclusory language of Paragraph 46 had somehow raised an equal protection claim, that claim was resolved by the Court's Order adopting the Recommendation.

         In sum, the "Claims for Relief" section of the amended complaint did not include an equal protection claim based on forced veganism, and nothing in the facts of the complaint alleged forced veganism.[4] Nor did the complaint allege that Rodriguez's religion required him to eat meat. The screening order, which was generous to a fault, noted a potential equal protection claim based on the vague language of Paragraph 46, but any basis for that claim was resolved at the summary judgment stage.

         Rodriguez's argument that his equal protection claims are based on forced veganism appears for the first time in his response to the Defendants' motion for summary judgment. See Doc. 192-2 at 6 ("Which in all reality [sic] [the equal protection claim is] about the Plaintiff also being forced to be a vegan"). If forced veganism was the basis of Rodriguez's equal protection claim, he should have raised it before his response brief filed November 6, 2019, just under a year after the close of discovery. See Doc. 170. Further, as the Defendants point out, the time for amending pleadings is long past. See Doc. 197 at 3.

         B. Even if Rodriguez had raised a forced veganism claim, the Defendants would be entitled to summary judgment

         If Rodriguez had raised a forced veganism claim, the Defendants would be entitled to summary judgment on that claim.

         There is no evidence Rodriguez ever told anyone that because his meal plan was vegan, it violated his beliefs. Nor does Rodriguez argue he told anyone of his need for meat. See generally Docs. 192-1; 192-2.[5] Just as the forced veganism claim is new to this litigation, it is new to the Defendants. There is no evidence they could have known of Rodriguez's religious obligation to eat meat. Rodriguez's putative forced veganism claim alleges that the restricted vegan meal plan was disproportionately burdensome to Muslims. When a plaintiff alleges an equal protection violation based on the disparate impact of a statute, "a plaintiff must prove purposeful discrimination." E & TRealty v. Strickland,830 F.2d 1107, 1112 n.5 (11th Cir. 1987). And again, there is no evidence the Defendants ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.