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Ajaj v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, D. Colorado

August 1, 2018

AHMAD AJAJ, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS Defendant.

          ORDER

          R. BROOKE JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on several pretrial motions. By this order the Court (1) denies plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment; (2) grants in part and denies in part defendant's motion for summary judgment; (3) denies plaintiff's motion for reconsideration of an earlier order concerning transporting him to Colorado for trial; (4) denies without prejudice plaintiff's motion to exclude certain expert testimony; and (5) denies plaintiff's motion in limine.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The background of this dispute has been extensively addressed. See, e.g., ECF No. 97 at 2-9; ECF No. 111 at 2-3; ECF No. 135 at 1-2. I'll briefly review those facts that are relevant to the motions before the Court. Mr. Ajaj has been in BOP custody for 25 years. He initiated this lawsuit in 2015 while housed at the BOP's ADX facility in Florence, Colorado. In January 2018, BOP transferred Mr. Ajaj to a different BOP facility located in Indiana, the USP Terre Haute.

         Mr. Ajaj's claims center around BOP's alleged infringement on his Sunni Muslim religious beliefs. After my prior orders eliminating claims and the parties' Stipulation to Dismiss, ECF Nos. 111, 135, 211, the remaining claims allege that BOP has violated and continues to violate Mr. Ajaj's rights under the Fifth Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). The RFRA claim consists of four discrete components: (1) BOP's failure to accommodate Mr. Ajaj's observance of sunnah fasts; (2) BOP's failure to provide a halal diet; (3) BOP's failure to provide meaningful access to an imam; and (4) BOP's refusal to allow Mr. Ajaj to engage in congregate prayer. See ECF No. 212 at 2.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court may grant summary judgment if “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party has the burden to show that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). The nonmoving party must “designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324. A dispute about a fact is material “if under the substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim.” Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A dispute about a material fact is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The Court will examine the factual record and make reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Concrete Works of Colo., Inc. v. City & Cnty. of Denver, 36 F.3d 1513, 1517 (10th Cir. 1994).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Mr. Ajaj's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [ECF No. 219].

         Mr. Ajaj seeks summary judgment on one aspect of his RFRA claim, namely BOP's failure to provide meaningful access to an imam. He alleges that during his time at ADX and now at USP Terre Haute, BOP has allowed him little to no access to speak with an imam despite his frequent requests to do so. In his motion, Mr. Ajaj argued that his religious beliefs regarding meeting with an imam on a regular basis are sincere, and he also argued that the BOP burdened these religious beliefs.

         However, I find that there is good cause to deny Mr. Ajaj's motion. First, BOP has represented that by the time I issue this order, it is very likely that USP Terre Haute- particularly the Life Connections Program in which Mr. Ajaj participates-will have hired an imam who will work 30 hour per week. ECF No. 232 at 1. At the time the BOP filed its response, July 3, 2018, the imam candidate was apparently undergoing a background check “in anticipation of beginning work as early as mid-July.” Id. Because the presence of an imam would moot Mr. Ajaj's claim, I find it prudent to wait until our August 9 trial preparation conference for an update as to the imam candidate's status.

         Moreover, this motion must be denied as there is a fact dispute regarding Mr. Ajaj's ability to utilize the “Minister of Record” procedure apparently available to all BOP inmates. Under this policy, inmates are permitted to identify a spiritual leader, such as an imam, with whom they can communicate subject to BOP approval. ECF No. 232 at 11. BOP contends that Mr. Ajaj has had this Minister of Record procedure available but he has declined to invoke it. Mr. Ajaj responds that this argument is an attempt by BOP to “shift its statutorily-mandated obligation to provide pastoral care to ministers, ” but he admits that “the Minister of Record opinion technically exists.” ECF No. 242 at 10 n.4. The relief Mr. Ajaj requests in his motion- weekly in-person, telephonic, or video meetings with an imam-is apparently precisely what Mr. Ajaj would be provided under the Minister of Record procedure.

         BOP has expressed concern that if the Court were to grant Mr. Ajaj's requested relief at this time, Mr. Ajaj's safety and that of the facility at large could be put at risk because other prisoners would see Mr. Ajaj's individualized and weekly access to a spiritual leader as preferential treatment. If this risk can be eradicated by Mr. Ajaj's using a pre-existing BOP policy it should be, but at present I do not have enough information regarding this procedure to make a decision on these grounds. As such, I will wait for further fact development on this procedure and thus DENY Mr. Ajaj's motion for partial summary judgment.

         B. BOP's Motion for Summary Judgment, to Dismiss as Moot, and to Dismiss for ...


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