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Williams v. Chuvalas

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

November 7, 2017

WARDEN RICK CHUVALAS, et al., Defendants.

          George C. Smith Judge.



         Plaintiff, Charles Williams, a state inmate proceeding without the assistance of counsel, brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants Warden Rick Chuvalas and Major George Smith violated his First Amendment rights by establishing a religion. (ECF No. 6.) This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 20.) For the reasons set for below, it is RECOMMENDED that the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be GRANTED.


         According to Plaintiff's Complaint, the alleged Establishment Clause violation occurred while Plaintiff was temporarily housed at the Correctional Reception Center (“CRC”) in Orient, Ohio. (Compl. 1, ECF No. 6.) Plaintiff alleges on July 18, 2015, the Bill Glass “Behind the Walls” event permitted by CRC established religion in violation of his First Amendment rights because he was forced to hear a Christian inmate band play and Christian preaching by the Bill Glass speaker. (Id. at 2.) The Bill Glass event was hosted outside in the prison's recreation yard. According to Plaintiff, the event was mandatory, and when he tried to walk away from the event, Defendant Major George Smith ordered him “to go stand in the crowd” even though he told Defendant Smith he is a Muslim. (Id.) Plaintiff also complains he was forced to hear preaching afterwards at lunch because the Bill Glass members stayed and talked with the inmates while they ate. Id.

         Defendants contend that the primary purpose of the Bill Glass event was for entertainment, not for religious preaching. (Mot. for Summ. J. 3, ECF No. 20.) According to Defendants, a juggler performed and told jokes, and at the end shared his “personal story” and asked if any of the inmates wanted to learn more about Christianity. (Id. at 4.) If any inmates did want to learn more, they were able to meet privately in smaller groups with Bill Glass volunteers, but no inmates were forced to be part of those conversations. (Id.) Defendants also point out that the inmate band that typically performs at CRC's chapel services played a variety music such as Johnny Cash songs. (Id. at 3.) Defendants do not refute that the event was mandatory, but assert that because CRC is a level-three prison, for safety and security reasons, all inmates are escorted together to food service and recreation. (Id. at 3.) According to Defendants, Defendant Smith found Plaintiff doing “calisthenics” on the track and told him to stop causing disruptions. (Id. at 4.) Defendant Smith represents that he allowed Plaintiff to stay on the baseball bench, which was about 150 yards away from the Bill Glass event, for the remainder of the event. Defendants therefore posit that Plaintiff was not required to participate in the event. (Id.)

         Prior to filing his Complaint, Plaintiff filed a grievance on July 20, 2015, against the Warden with the Chief Inspector of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections regarding the Bill Glass event, and his grievance was granted. (Compl. 4-5, ECF No. 2.) He also filed an informal complaint against Major Smith on July 18, 2015, but alleged he never received a response for that grievance. Id. Defendants however, attached the informal complaint resolution response, which reflects that Plaintiff's informal complaint was answered. (Defs.' Ex. D, at 9, ECF No. 20-1.)

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint on March 1, 2016, seeking compensatory and punitive damages against both Warden Chuvalas and Major Smith. (Compl. 4-5, ECF No. 2.) Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment on May 4, 2017. (ECF No. 20.) On June 8, 2017, the Court issued an Order advising Plaintiff to “file an opposing memorandum, if any, within fourteen days of the date of this order. Failure to do so may result either in the motion being treated as unopposed, or in dismissal of this action for failure to prosecute.” (June 8, 2017 Order, ECF No. 21.) To date, Plaintiff has failed to file a response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that 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 initial burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists, and the court must draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Stansberry v. Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp., 651 F.3d 482, 486 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations omitted); cf. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2) (providing that if a party “fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact” then the Court may “consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion”). The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). “The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255 (citation omitted). “The nonmovant must, however, do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, . . . there must be evidence upon which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party to create a genuine dispute.” Lee v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cty., 432 F. App'x 435, 441 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (requiring a party maintaining that a fact is genuinely disputed to “cit[e] to particular parts of materials in the record”). “When a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported and the nonmoving party fails to respond with a showing sufficient to establish an essential element of its case, summary judgment is appropriate.” Stansberry, 651 F.3d at 486 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23).

         Here, Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment on May 4, 2017. (ECF No. 20.) Plaintiff was ordered on June 8, 2017, to file a response within fourteen days of the Order, but failed to respond. (ECF No. 21.) Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will therefore be treated as unopposed.


         As a preliminary matter, the undersigned finds that Plaintiff's failure to respond to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment amounts to an abandonment of his claims against them. See Clark v. City of Dublin, 178 F. App'x 522, 524-25 (6th Cir. 2006) (affirming trial court's finding that a party's failure to properly respond to the arguments raised in a motion for summary judgment constituted an abandonment of those claims); Hicks v. Concorde Career Coll., 449 F. App'x 484, 487 (6th Cir. 2011) (“The district court properly declined to consider the merits of this claim because [the plaintiff] failed to address it in either his response to the summary judgment motion or his response to [the defendant's] reply brief); Conner v. Hardee's Food Sys., 65 F. App'x 19, 24-25 (6th Cir. 2003) (finding that the plaintiff's failure to brief issues relating to one of its claims in the district court amounted to an abandonment of that claim). The undersigned further finds that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment because the Defendants have met their burden by demonstrating no genuine dispute of material fact exists.

         A. ...

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