On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. No. 98-cv-04310) District Judge: Hon. Garrett E. Brown, Jr.
Before: Sloviter, Ambro, Circuit Judges, and
TUCKER,*fn1 District Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sloviter, Circuit Judge.
Before us is the appeal by prisoners from the order of the District Court granting summary judgment to prison officials and employees as to the prisoners' claims that their constitutional rights to the free exercise of religion and equal protection have been violated by the prison's failure to provide them with meals they contend are required by their religious beliefs. We further consider whether the District Court abused its discretion by admitting the declaration and deposition testimony of a witness into the summary judgment record.
Plaintiffs Ishmon Stallworth and James Williams ("Prisoners"), inmates at the New Jersey State Prison ("NJSP"), filed suit against Willis E. Morton, Roy Hendricks, Walter Wise, and Frank Graves ("Prison Officials"), all of whom are either former or current NJSP officials, in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The crux of Prisoners' claims is that the Prison Officials violated their constitutional rights by failing to provide them with Halal meat meals in conformity with their religious beliefs. A Halal, or lawful, diet includes fruits, vegetables, seafood, and meat from herbivorous animals such as cows and chickens that are properly slaughtered. The opposite of Halal food is Haram food, which is prohibited or unlawful and includes pork and meat from carnivorous animals. Halal foods can become contaminated if they are commingled with Haram items.
Currently, the different diets provided by the NJSP fall into four general categories: (1) a regular meal which is served to approximately 600 inmates; (2) a series of healthrelated diets with low sodium, low cholesterol, and reduced calories which are served to about 350 inmates; (3) a Kosher diet that is provided to 4 Jewish inmates; and (4) a religious vegetarian diet served to approximately 225 inmates who cannot eat the regular prison diet for religious reasons.*fn2 The regulation creating the religious vegetarian meal reads:
An inmate who cannot eat the food served to the general population because of the inmate's religious beliefs may request a religious vegetarian diet. Upon review and approval of the request by the Chaplain of the correctional facility in accordance with this subchapter, nutritionally balanced vegetarian meals shall be provided to the inmate in place of the food served to the general population.
On behalf of themselves and other Muslim inmates, Prisoners contend that, as applied, this regulation violates their sincerely held religious belief that they are required to consume Halal meat in their diet. Their complaint alleges that the Prison Officials violated their rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment *fn3 by not providing them with Halal meat and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment *fn4 by providing Kosher meals with meat to Jewish prisoners without providing Halal meat to Muslim inmates. They further claim that the Prison Officials violated their rights under the New Jersey Constitution and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-1 et seq. Prisoners requested an injunction that would require the NJSP to include Halal meat in their diet and damages for the alleged violations of their constitutional rights.*fn5
Analyzing Prisoners' constitutional claims under the fourpart test enunciated by the Supreme Court in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), the District Court granted the Prison Officials' motion for summary judgment.*fn6 Prisoners timely appealed.
A. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review
We have jurisdiction to hear this appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We exercise plenary review over the District Court's decision to grant summary judgment. DeHart v. Horn, 227 F.3d 47, 50 (3d Cir. 2000) (en banc). Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. We must view all evidence and draw all inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, here Prisoners. Id.
As to their free exercise claim, Prisoners concede that the District Court applied the correct test as enunciated in Turner but argue that it incorrectly applied that test to the facts in the record. According to Prisoners, there is sufficient evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Turner factors weigh in favor of the Prison Officials, thereby making summary judgment inappropriate.
In Turner, the Supreme Court considered the proper standard under which courts are to review prison regulations that are challenged on constitutional grounds. The Court considered two somewhat competing principles, the first of which is that federal courts "must take cognizance of the valid constitutional claims" of inmates. Turner, 482 U.S. at 84. This judicial cognizance notwithstanding, courts must remember that they are "ill equipped to deal with the increasingly urgent problems of prison administration and reform." Id. (citation omitted). Bearing these dual principles in mind, the Court concluded that "when a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Id. at 89.
Thereafter, the Turner Court provided the following four factors to consider when applying its newly ...