Lamont Bernard Heard, William M. Johnson, Jamero T. Moses, Anthony Lee Nelson, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
Tom Finco, Defendant, and Brad Purves, Dietician and Food Service Manager, Defendant-Appellee.
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Michigan at Grand Rapids. No.
1:13-cv-00373-Gordon J. Quist, District Judge.
Manville, CIVIL RIGHTS CLINIC, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
COLLEGE OF LAW, East Lansing, Michigan, for Appellants.
Patrick S. Myers, MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE,
Lansing, Michigan, for Appellee.
Before: GUY, THAPAR, and NALBANDIAN, Circuit Judges.
THAPAR, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
has value for all things." 1 Timothy 4:8. But
how do you quantify that value? See Quran 83:1
(M.A.S. Abdel Haleem trans., 2004) ("Woe to those who
give short measure!"). In our legal system, we typically
let the jury decide. And in this case, a jury determined that
four Muslim inmates collectively suffered $900 in damages
when prison officials did not provide them with adequate
meals during Ramadan to accommodate their fasting. The
inmates claim that the jury ignored the spiritual harms they
suffered in making this calculation. The district court
disagreed, and we affirm.
Heard, William Johnson, Jamero Moses, and Anthony Nelson have
at least two things in common: they all belong to the Nation
of Islam, and they all are inmates in Michigan prisons. These
two commonalities collided when the inmates wanted to observe
Ramadan. Muslims around the world celebrate Ramadan as
"the month in which the Islamic Holy Book, the Quran,
was revealed." R. 370, Pg. ID 2922. Typically, Muslims
commemorate Ramadan by fasting the entire month; they neither
eat nor drink "from dawn to sunset." Id.
however, makes that practice a challenge. At first, Michigan
prisons provided Muslim inmates with one-and-a-half breakfast
and dinner portions during Ramadan to accommodate their
fasting. But that changed in 2009. That year, Muslim inmates
noticed they were getting less food than usual during their
meals. Less food meant fewer calories, and fewer calories
made observing Ramadan more difficult. With fewer calories,
Muslim inmates had a hard time concentrating on spiritual
activities such as prayer and Quran readings. So the inmates
sent a proposal to the Michigan Department of Corrections to
rectify the issue. But prison officials refused to deviate
from the "regular statewide menu." R. 370-1, Pg. ID
3069-70. They essentially told the inmates that their
problems were their own fault; the regular menu was fine, and
the inmates were not receiving the same caloric intake as
usual because they were fasting.
by this response, the four inmates sued various prison
officials. The inmates alleged that the officials violated
the First and Eighth Amendments. A jury agreed and awarded
damages: $150 for each Ramadan the prison officials
disrupted. So Moses and Johnson received $150 each to
compensate injuries suffered in 2012, while Heard and Nelson
received a total of $300 each for injuries suffered in both
2011 and 2012. Collectively, then, the inmates received $900
in compensatory damages.
this amount too low, the inmates filed a motion requesting a
new trial on damages. The district court denied the motion
because it found that the jury could have reached its
conclusion based on the evidence. The inmates appealed.
appeal, the prison officials do not dispute that they
violated the inmates' constitutional rights. Instead,
this appeal involves how much compensation the inmates should
have received as a result of those violations. More
precisely, we review whether the district court abused its
discretion in denying the inmates' motion for a new trial
on damages. Anchor v. O'Toole, 94 F.3d 1014,
1021 (6th Cir. 1996). We will reverse the district
court's decision only if the inmates
"unquestionably" proved that they deserved more
damages through "uncontradicted" and
"undisputed" evidence. Id. But so long as
"the verdict is supported by some ...