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Brooks v. Walsh

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 20, 2017

SHANE BROOKS, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Shane Brooks, an inmate at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center (NNCC), filed this lawsuit alleging defendants Melanie McBroom and Elizabeth “Lisa” Walsh violated his First Amendment free exercise rights by refusing to correct a mistaken designation of his chosen religion, which led to him being denied a kosher diet and participation in religious services. He also alleges the defendants violated his First Amendment right of access to the courts because they failed to timely respond to his grievances.

         McBroom and Walsh move for summary judgment, arguing they did not personally participate in the decision to deny Brooks a religious diet. Rather, they argue, Brooks voluntarily removed himself from the common fare diet and the decision whether to reinstate him rested with the chaplain, not McBroom or Walsh. The defendants also argue Brooks was not prevented from participating in any religious services because those services are open to the general population. As for the claim of denial of access to the courts, McBroom denies personal participation in responding to grievances and McBroom and Walsh argue Brooks cannot show he was prejudiced by any delay in responding to his grievances or that he suffered actual injury. The defendants also contend Brooks did not exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing suit. Finally, the defendants argue they are entitled to qualified immunity.

         Brooks filed an oversized response brief. ECF No. 74. I denied his motion to exceed the page limit but granted him leave to file a revised opposition that was limited to 40 pages. ECF No. 77. Brooks appealed that order. ECF No. 82. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the appeal. ECF No. 89.

         Brooks never filed a shortened response brief as ordered. As a result, the defendants never filed a reply. Because the defendants prevail on summary judgment even considering Brooks' oversized response and without the need to consider a reply, I will consider Brooks' oversized brief in resolving this motion without putting the parties through the delay that would be occasioned by requiring Brooks to file a new responsive brief.

         I grant the motion as to McBroom because Brooks concedes he has no viable claims against her. I grant the motion as to Walsh because she is entitled to qualified immunity on the First Amendment free exercise claim and because Brooks did not exhaust his claim of violation of his First Amendment right of access to the courts.

         I. ANALYSIS

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, discovery responses, and affidavits demonstrate “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), (c). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts demonstrating there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 531 (9th Cir. 2000). I view the evidence and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. James River Ins. Co. v. Hebert Schenk, P.C., 523 F.3d 915, 920 (9th Cir. 2008).

         A. Defendant McBroom

         Brooks concedes he has no viable claims against McBroom. ECF No. at 74 at 24, 44. I therefore grant summary judgment in her favor.

         B. First Amendment Free Exercise

         In November 2011, Brooks identified himself as a Hebrew Israelite and requested to be placed on a kosher diet. ECF No. 70-5. That request was approved. Id.

         On January 24, 2013, a caseworker incorrectly listed Brooks as a non-denominational Christian. ECF Nos. 70-3 at 13; 70-4 at 5. Although incorrectly classified, Brooks was not removed from the kosher/common fare diet[1] as a result. ECF No. 70-4 at 5. On February 16, 2013, Brooks filed informal grievance number 20062958101 to have the classification corrected. ECF No. 74 at 15. Walsh, who is the Associate Warden and Grievance Coordinator at NNCC, denied that grievance because, in her view, Brooks was attempting to grieve more than one issue. ECF Nos. 70-4 at 3, 6; 70-8 at 41. Brooks resubmitted the informal grievance on April 8. ECF No. 70-4 at 6. Walsh denied it on May 30, stating that the Religious Review Team was meeting for the purpose of discussing ...

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