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Boyd v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Corrections

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

May 10, 2017




         Shavon Tyvell Boyd, a pro se prisoner, was granted leave to proceed against Chaplain Richard Ungrodt under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a), and the First Amendment for denying him the right to pray in the chapel and celebrate Chanukah in 2014 at the Westville Correctional Facility. Chaplain Ungrodt has filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF 94), in which he asserts that Mr. Boyd's RLUIPA claims are moot and his First Amendment claims should be dismissed as a matter of law. Chaplain Ungrodt also contends that, to the extent that he violated Mr. Boyd's rights, he is entitled to qualified immunity.

         As a preliminary matter, two additional motions are before the court. Chaplain Ungrodt filed a motion to strike, and Mr. Boyd submitted a motion for oral argument.

         I. Motion to Strike

         Chaplain Ungrodt moves to strike portions of Mr. Boyd's declaration (¶¶ 9-11, 13, 15, 16, 24-25, 27, 30-31, 33-35, 42, 48) and Kelvin Underwood's declaration on the basis that they contain matters that are inadmissible and unsubstantiated. “An affidavit or declaration used to support or oppose a motion must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).

         The court denies Chaplain Ungrodt's motion to strike these declarations on the basis that they contain inadmissible and unsubstantiated evidence. Motions to strike are usually only granted when the contested evidence causes prejudice to the moving party. Kuntzman v. Wal-Mart, 673 F.Supp.2d 690, 695 (N.D. Ind. 2009). That is not the case here. When ruling on the motion for summary judgment, the court is capable of sifting through the evidence, arguments and purported disputes under the applicable federal rules and case law, giving each purported dispute the credit to which it is due. Therefore, there is no need to strike the affidavits based on admissibility concerns.

         Chaplain Ungrodt also moves to strike portions of Mr. Boyd's declaration on the basis that it contradicts Boyd's prior sworn testimony. Id. “Parties cannot thwart the purposes of Rule 56 by creating ‘sham' issues of fact with affidavits that contradict prior depositions.” See Bank of Ill. v. Allied Signal Safety Restraint Sys., 75 F.3d 1162, 1168 (7th Cir. 1996); see also Beckel v. Wal-Mart Assocs., Inc., 301 F.3d 621, 624 (7th Cir. 2012). According to Chaplain Ungrodt, Mr. Boyd tried to create a genuine issue of material fact by submitting a declaration that he met with Chaplain Ungrodt as early as October 2014 to discuss his desire to celebrate Chanukah. Chaplain Ungrodt points out that Mr. Boyd testified during his deposition that he first met with Chaplain Ungrodt about Chanukah in November or December of 2014. Chaplain Ungrodt argues that Mr. Boyd's declaration contains “blatant falsehoods, ” “egregious[]...and arguably libelous statements, ” and contends that Boyd is guilty of “[f]alsifying evidence to secure a court victory...” Chaplain Ungrodt argues that dismissal of Mr. Boyd's case with prejudice would be an appropriate sanction for his transgressions. Id. Respectfully, the court disagrees.

         As a threshold matter, in his deposition Mr. Boyd did state that he wrote to Chaplain Ungrodt in October 2014. While this meeting might not have been about Chanukah, it was about his religious concerns. Thus, while Mr. Boyd's statement in his declaration is likely mistaken, there seems to be no falsifying evidence on the part of Mr. Boyd. Moreover, it is unnecessary to strike Mr. Boyd's statement. Even without considering the statement that he met with Chaplain Ungrodt in October 2014 to discuss Chanukah, there is still evidence in the record that Mr. Boyd sent him numerous letters in November 2014 for that very purpose. Ultimately, there is no need to strike Mr. Boyd or Mr. Underwood's declarations. The court denies Chaplain Ungrodt's motion.

         II. Motion for Oral Argument

         Mr. Boyd asks for oral argument on Chaplain Ungrodt's motion for summary judgment. To be entitled to an oral argument the requesting party must explain why it is necessary. See N.D. L.R. 7-5. Mr. Boyd requests oral argument largely out of concern that his written filings are illegible, but his submissions have been neat and articulate. Mr. Boyd also says he could call witnesses to testify, but under the court's local rules, parties are not permitted to present additional evidence at this stage in the proceedings. N.D. L.R. 7-5(a)(3). Oral argument doesn't appear necessary and Mr. Boyd's motion will be denied.

         III. Motion for Summary Judgment

         A. Factual Background

         Mr. Boyd, a Jewish inmate within the Indiana Department of Corrections, was incarcerated at the Westville Correctional Facility during the events complained of in this lawsuit. In December 2016, Mr. Boyd was transferred to the New Castle Correctional Facility.

         Mr. Boyd claims that in November 2014, he sent Chaplain Ungrodt a letter asking to celebrate Chanukah. Mr. Boyd sought to observe Chanukah by lighting candles on a menorah. Mr. Boyd claims that he informed Chaplain Ungrodt that a rabbi would provide the facility with a menorah that he could use to observe the holiday. Mr. Boyd testified that he wrote Chaplain Ungrodt another letter on December 3, 2014 about Chanukah. Mr. Boyd sent Chaplain Ungrodt more requests regarding his observance of Chanukah dated December 10, 2014 and December 14, 2014. Chaplain Ungrodt received these requests on December 16, 2014. Chaplain Ungrodt denied both requests on the basis that he couldn't accommodate the request because it was too late to obtain the necessary supplies. Chaplain Ungrodt also said that Department of Correction policy required such services to be led by an outside volunteer and required more than one inmate participate. Mr. Boyd contends that he contacted Chaplain Ungrodt “at least 5 times prior to the December 10, 2014 request for interview.” Sometime in early December ...

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