United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR
BROOKE JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on (1) defendants’ motion
for summary judgment, ECF No. 60; (2) the recommendation of
United State Magistrate Judge Kristin L. Mix that the motion
be granted in part and denied in part, ECF No. 86; (3)
defendant’s objection to that recommendation, ECF No.
87; and (4) plaintiff’s objection to that
recommendation, ECF No. 90. The recommendation is
incorporated herein by reference. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). I adopt Magistrate
Judge Mix’s recommendation in full. The motion for
summary judgment is therefore granted in part and denied in
Matthew K. Mounts is an inmate incarcerated by the Colorado
Department of Corrections (“CDOC”) at Arrowhead
Correctional Center (“Arrowhead”). He filed an
amended complaint on January 12, 2017 based on the denial of
several requests related to his Jewish faith. Mr. Mounts
asserts four claims in his amended complaint: (1) that
Arrowhead denied him the ability to light candles at the
correct times on Friday and Saturday nights; (2) that
Arrowhead denied him the ability to light burning wax candles
as opposed to battery-operated tea lights; (3) that Arrowhead
denied him several religious items, including a fedora, a
gartel, challah bread, dreidels, and access to tefillin in
his cell; and (4) that Arrowhead denied him access to
religious services for two months. ECF No. 12 at 4–7.
He seeks injunctive relief, $10,000 in compensatory damages,
and $10,000,000 in punitive damages. ECF No. 12 at 9.
Mounts did not specify which legal claims he asserts
regarding each of these factual claims, but his pleadings
reference the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and
the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
(“RLUIPA”). Magistrate Judge Mix liberally
construed his pleadings due to his pro se status. I
agree with Magistrate Judge Mix’s interpretation that
Mr. Mounts asserts claims under both the First Amendment and
RLUIPA for all four of his factual claims, plus a Fourteenth
Amendment claim for denial of religious services.
filed the pending motion for summary judgment to dismiss all
of Mr. Mounts’ claims. ECF No. 60. Defendants argue
that (1) the Eleventh Amendment precludes damages against
defendants in their official capacities; (2) qualified
immunity precludes damages against defendants in their
individual capacities; (3) RLUIPA does not provide for
damages; (4) the Prison Litigation Reform Act
(“PLRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), precludes
compensatory damages because Mr. Mounts did not suffer
physical injury; (5) Mr. Mounts does not make a case for
punitive damages; (6) several of Mr. Mounts’ claims for
injunctive relief are moot because Arrowhead agreed to
accommodate them; (7) Mr. Mounts did not exhaust his
administrative remedies regarding his claim for denial of
challah; (8) defendants’ conduct does not amount to a
substantial burden on Mr. Mounts’ religion; and (9) to
the extent that their conduct does amount to a substantial
burden, defendants have legitimate penological security
interests for the infringement. ECF No. 60 at 2.
Judge Mix reviewed the motion and recommended that it be
granted in part and denied in part. ECF No. 86. She
recommended granting summary judgment on all except for these
three claims: (1) Mr. Mounts’ Fourteenth Amendment due
process claim for damages against Defendant Olguin in his
individual capacity for denial of religious services; (2) Mr.
Mounts’ RLUIPA claim for injunctive relief against
defendants in their official capacities regarding wax
candles; and (3) Mr. Mounts’ First Amendment claim for
injunctive relief against defendants in their official
capacities regarding wax candles. In response defendants
filed a motion requesting that this Court extend the
long-tolled dispositive motions deadline so that they could
submit an additional summary judgment motion. ECF No. 87.
They claimed that “[t]he inherent ambiguities in Mr.
Mounts’ pro se Amended Prisoner Complaint led
Defendants to construe some of Mr. Mounts’ claims
differently than the Magistrate Judge.” ECF No. 87 at
3. This Court denied defendants’ motion, treating it
instead as a timely objection to Magistrate Judge Mix’s
recommendation. ECF No. 88. As interpreted, defendants make
three timely objections. They object to Magistrate Judge
Mix’s conclusions regarding (1) the Fourteenth
Amendment due process claim for denial of religious services;
(2) the RLUIPA claim for the wax candles; and (3) the First
Amendment claim for the wax candles. ECF No. 87 at 4–7.
Mounts also makes five timely objections. ECF No. 90. He
objects to Magistrate Judge Mix’s conclusions regarding
the claims for (1) denial of religious services; (2) denial
of a fedora; (3) denial of a gartel; (4) denial of correct
candle-lighting service times; and (5) denial of challah
Magistrate Judge recommendation
magistrate judge makes a recommendation on a dispositive
motion, the district court “must determine de novo any
part of the magistrate judge’s disposition that has
been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). An
objection is sufficiently specific if it “focus[es] the
district court’s attention on the factual and legal
issues that are truly in dispute.” United States v.
2121 E. 30th St., 73 F.3d 1057, 1060 (10th Cir. 1996).
In the absence of a timely and specific objection, “the
district court may review a magistrate’s report under
any standard it deems appropriate.” Summers v.
Utah, 927 F.2d 1165, 1167 (10th Cir. 1991); see
also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72 advisory committee’s note
(“When no timely objection is filed, the court need
only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face
of the record in order to accept the recommendation.”).
Legal theories raised for the first time in objections to a
magistrate judge’s recommendation are deemed waived.
United States v. Garfinkle, 261 F.3d 1030, 1031
(10th Cir. 2011).
Motion for Summary Judgment
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.
See 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 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
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 in the light most favorable to the party opposing
summary judgment. See Concrete Works of Colo., Inc. v.
City and Cty. of Denver, 36 F.3d 1513, 1517 (10th Cir.
Pro se Litigants
case involves pro se litigants, courts will review
their “pleadings and other papers liberally and hold
them to a less stringent standard than those drafted by
attorneys.” Trackwell v. U.S. Gov’t, 472
F.3d 1242, 1243 (10th Cir. 2007). Nevertheless, it is not
“the proper function of the district court to assume
the role of advocate for the pro se litigant.”
Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir.
1991). A “broad reading” of a pro se
plaintiff’s pleadings “does not relieve the
plaintiff of the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which
a recognized legal claim could be based.” Id.
Pro se parties must “follow the same rules of
procedure that govern other litigants.” Nielsen v.
Price, 17 F.3d 1276, 1277 (10th Cir. 1994) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted).
address each of Mr. Mounts’ five objections and
defendants’ three objections under a de novo standard
review the remaining claims objected to by neither party
under a clear error standard. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72
advisory committee’s note. Based on that review, I
conclude that Magistrate Judge Mix’s analyses and
recommendations regarding those claims are correct and that
“there is no clear error on the face of the
Denial of Religious Services in Violation of the First
Mr. Mounts disagrees with Magistrate Judge Mix’s
recommendations regarding denial of religious services.
Because Mr. Mounts’ objection is ambiguous, in the
interest of fairness and finality I will address both the
official capacity claim and the individual capacity claim de
with Magistrate Judge Mix’s finding that the Eleventh
Amendment bars Mr. Mounts’ claim against defendants in
their official capacities for denial of religious services.
It is well established that “neither a State nor its
officials acting in their official capacities are
‘persons’ under § 1983,”
Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S.
58, 71 (1989), and that “the Eleventh Amendment
precludes a federal court from assessing damages against
state officials sued in their official capacities because
such suits are in essence suits against the state,”
Hunt v. Bennett, 17 F.3d 1263, 1267 (10th Cir.
1994). Here, to the extent that Mr. Mounts is suing
defendants in their role as public officials-i.e. in their
official capacities-his claim is barred.
I adopt the recommendation of Magistrate Judge Mix and grant
the motion for summary judgment related to Mr. Mounts’
First Amendment claim for damages against defendants in their
official capacities for denial of religious services. The
claim is dismissed without prejudice. See Wauford v.
Richardson, 450 Fed.Appx. 698, 699 (stating that claims
barred by the Eleventh Amendment should be dismissed without
agree with Magistrate Judge Mix’s finding that
defendants are entitled to qualified immunity with respect to
Mr. Mounts’ claim against them in their individual
capacities for denial of religious services. A plaintiff must
satisfy a two-part test to overcome a defendant’s claim
of qualified immunity. See Nelson v. McMullen, 207
F.3d 1202, 1206 (10th Cir. 2000). The plaintiff must
establish both that (1) the defendants’ actions
violated a constitutional right and (2) the right at issue
was clearly established at the time of the alleged unlawful
conduct. See id. Courts may exercise their
discretion in deciding which of these two prongs to address
first. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236
“it is plain that [the alleged] constitutional right is
not clearly established.” See Pearson, 555
U.S. at 236. The alleged conduct at issue here is nuanced.
Defendants assert that they banned Mr. Mounts from the
programs area for two instances of alleged theft therefrom.
ECF No. 60 at 5–6. The programs area is also the area
used for Jewish services, and defendants could not find an
alternative place to conduct services. Id. As such,
the ban from the programs area incidentally resulted in a ban
from religious services. Id. The ban was temporary
(sixty days), and Mr. Mounts was allowed to conduct services
alone in his cell. Id. at 6. Consistent with
Magistrate Judge Mix’s recommendation, I found no
Supreme Court, Tenth Circuit, or any other circuit court
cases that indicate that defendants’ conduct violates a
clearly established First Amendment right.
I adopt the recommendation of Magistrate Judge Mix and grant
the motion for summary judgment related to Mr. Mounts’
First Amendment claim against defendants in their individual
capacities for damages for denial of religious services. The
claim is dismissed with prejudice. See Clark v.
Wilson, 625 F.3d 686, 692 (instructing the district
court to grant defendants’ motion to dismiss based on
qualified immunity “with prejudice”).
Denial of a Fedora in Violation of RLUIPA and ...