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Williams v. Bitner

July 25, 2006

HENRY WILLIAMS, APPELLEE,
v.
ROBERT S. BITNER; JAY STIDD; ROBERT W. MEYERS; TERRY L. WHITMAN; ROBIN L. KERSTETTER; GREGORY P. GAERTNER; FRANKLIN J. TENNIS; GEORGE SNEDEKER; GARY EMEL; SCOTT WYLAND, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (INTERVERNOR IN DISTRICT COURT) ROBERT S. BITNER; JAY STIDD; ROBERT W. MEYERS; TERRY L. WHITMAN; ROBIN L. KERSTETTER; G.P. GAERTNER; F. J. TENNIS; GEORGE SNEDEKER; GARY EMEL; SCOTT WAYLAND, APPELLANTS.



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 01-cv-02271) District Judge: Honorable Christopher C. Conner.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fuentes, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued February 28, 2006

Before: SLOVITER and FUENTES, Circuit Judges, and BRODY,*fn1 District Judge.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Henry Williams, a Muslim inmate assigned to work as a cook in his prison's kitchen, was ordered to help prepare a meal that included pork. Williams refused, explaining that his religious beliefs prohibited him from handling pork. As a result, Williams was fired from his kitchen job, cited for misconduct, and punished accordingly. Williams brought this action against numerous prison officials, alleging violations of his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The District Court dismissed Williams's Fourteenth Amendment claim but refused to grant qualified immunity to the prison officials with respect to the remaining claims. We are asked to determine whether, for the purposes of qualified immunity, the conduct alleged by Williams constituted a violation of his "clearly established" rights. For the reasons that follow, we will affirm the District Court's denial of qualified immunity with respect to Williams's First Amendment claim.

I. Background

Appellee Henry Williams ("Williams") is an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview ("SCI-Rockview"), a Pennsylvania corrections institution. Appellants (collectively, the "Prison Officials") are employees and officials of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"), the majority of whom are or were employed at SCI-Rockview.

A. Factual Background*fn2

Williams is a Muslim who believes that the Koran directs Muslims not to consume pork and to refrain from aiding others to consume pork in any circumstances. See The Koran, Part II, 70:173 n.210 ("He has forbidden you . . . the flesh of swine."). Williams further states that Islamic scholars endorse Chapter Eleven of Leviticus in the Old Testament, which prohibits adherents from handling swine. Williams has acted in accordance with this interpretation of his religion throughout his incarceration, and the Prison Officials do not challenge the sincerity of his religious beliefs.

The DOC requires able-bodied inmates to work when assigned to a job. SCI-Rockview officials assigned Williams to work as a cook in the prison kitchen, despite the fact that he neither applied for nor wanted that job. Upon receiving his work assignment, Williams expressed his concerns over possible contact with pork to the "head" inmate-cooks, who coordinated other inmates' daily responsibilities in the kitchen. Williams notified them that, as a practicing Muslim, he could not handle pork or assist in its preparation. They agreed to accommodate his concerns by transferring him to another assignment when pork was served for lunch. It is unclear from the record whether this accommodation was recognized by prison officials.

On Saturday, March 3, 2001, Williams began his shift as usual. He worked as a cook preparing hot cakes in the morning and later switched to another job in the kitchen when it was time to prepare roast pork for lunch. While lunch preparations were underway, defendant Scott Wyland ("Wyland"), one of SCIRockview's food service instructors, noticed that there was a shortage of available inmate-cooks. Although the lunch preparations would likely be finished in time for meal service, Wyland directed Williams to resume his position as cook and to help divide that day's pork rations.

Williams refused to follow Wyland's direction, citing his religious beliefs. Wyland reported Williams's refusal to defendant Gary Emel ("Emel"), the food service supervisor. Emel then approached Williams and ordered him to help ration the pork. Wyland indicated that Williams could wear gloves, an accommodation that other Muslim inmates had previously found acceptable. Williams again refused, stating that he would still be violating his faith by assisting others to consume pork. Emel fired Williams from his kitchen job and instructed Wyland to issue Williams a misconduct citation for failing to follow a direct order. Pursuant to SCI-Rockview policy, Wyland notified defendant George Snedeker ("Snedeker"), a prison captain, of the incident and Snedeker approved the misconduct citation.

On March 6, 2001, defendant Jay Stidd ("Stidd"), a corrections hearing examiner, conducted a disciplinary hearing. Prior to the hearing, Williams had submitted a written defense, in which he cited federal case law suggesting that prison officials cannot force Muslim prison inmates to assist in the preparation of pork and requested that one of the prison's Muslim chaplains be called as a witness. Stidd declined Williams's request and found him guilty of refusing to obey an order. As a sanction, Williams was placed on "cell ...


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