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Rojas v. Heimgartner

United States District Court, D. Kansas

August 7, 2014

JOSE ROJAS, Plaintiff,


J. THOMAS MARTEN, Chief District Judge.

This case comes before the court on defendant James Heimgartner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 12), filed on May 13, 2014. Having reviewed the briefs, the court is prepared to rule. The court finds the following material facts undisputed.

I. Factual Background

Plaintiff Jose Rojas is a Mexican citizen currently residing at El Dorado Correctional Facility (EDCF) in El Dorado, Kansas. He has been lawfully committed to the custody of the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) since August 26, 1987. Defendant James Heimgartner is the Warden of EDCF.

In December 1997, Rojas submitted a KDOC Change of Religion form, changing his professed religion from Jehovah's Witness to "Native American." KDOC internal management policy allows those inmates professing "Native American" as their religion to wear white bandanas during group worship services. Apart from this accommodation, all inmates are prohibited from wearing bandanas throughout EDCF regardless of their religion. KDOC policy allows religious inmates to wear symmetrical kufi caps or tams throughout EDCF. However, the headwear may only be black in color.

On May 5, 2011, Rojas submitted a "Request for Accommodation of Religious Practice" form, seeking permission to wear "religious head wear/bandana." Prison officials received fifteen additional requests from Native American worshipers at EDCF that month, all identical to Rojas's. A KDOC review found that ten of these sixteen requests were made by confirmed gang members and one was from a suspected gang member. These individuals belonged to two recognized security threat groups.

On July 19, 2011, Gloria Geither, KDOC Diretor of Religious Programs, responded to Rojas's request. Geither noted that prison policy only permitted the wearing of bandanas during group worship service, and she directed Rojas to the facility chaplain for further assistance.

Rojas then submitted a grievance to Warden Heimgartner requesting permission to wear bandanas of many different colors at any time throughout EDCF. Heimgartner denied Rojas's request. Rojas appealed to the Secretary of Corrections, who upheld Heimgartner's decision.

On April 17, 2013, Rojas filed suit against Heimgartner in his official capacity. Rojas claims Heimgartner violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to exercise his religion, as well as his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection. Rojas also alleges a violation of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, 42 U.S.C. ยง 1996.

II. Legal Standard - Motion for Summary Judgment

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is appropriate when "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." "A fact is material' if, under the governing law, it could have an effect on the outcome of the lawsuit." Adamson v. Multi Cmty. Diversified Servs., Inc., 514 F.3d 1136, 1145 (10th Cir. 2008) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). "A dispute over a material fact is genuine' if a rational jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party on the evidence presented." Id.

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine all evidence in a light most favorable to the opposing party. McKenzie v. Mercy Hosp., 854 F.2d 365, 367 (10th Cir. 1988). The party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate its entitlement to summary judgment beyond a reasonable doubt. Ellis v. El Paso Nat. Gas Co., 754 F.2d 884, 885 (10th Cir. 1985). The moving party need not disprove the nonmovant's claim; it need only establish that the factual allegations have no legal significance. Dayton Hudson Corp. v. Macerich Real Estate Co., 812 F.2d 1319, 1323 (10th Cir. 1987). To negate summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. Summary judgment is not a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed "to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986); FED. R. CIV. P. 1.

III. Analysis

A. Rojas's Free Exercise Claim

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