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Horacek v. Prisk

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Northern Division

June 21, 2018

DANIEL HORACEK #218347, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS PRISK, Defendant.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          GORDON J. QUIST UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Jurisdiction

         Plaintiff, Daniel Horacek, a prisoner currently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), sued Defendant, Thomas Prisk-a Chaplain with the MDOC. Horacek makes six claims: 1) violation of his First Amendment right to freedom and exercise of religion, right to petition for redress of grievances, right of access to court; 2) violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA); 3) violation of the First Amendment/Retaliation for exercising his right to free exercise, redress of grievances, and access to the courts; 4) violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause; 5) malice; 6) intentional infliction of emotional distress. His claims can be briefly summarized as follows: Horacek's 2012 request to participate in the MDOC's Kosher Meal Program was not approved and instituted in a timely fashion, and Prisk contributed to that delay.

         Horacek brings his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Horacek's claims were tried to the Court on June 19, 2019. The Court heard testimony from Horacek and Prisk, and received exhibits.

         Findings of Fact

         Horacek is a practicing Orthodox Jew, who observes a kosher diet as a religious practice. During the Jewish holy days of Passover, Horacek practices the particular Passover diet and the Seder ritual. On October 31, 2012, Horacek re-offended and was returned to MDOC's Egeler Reception and Guidance Center. There, he requested to participate in the MDOC's Kosher Meal Program. Chaplain Bashir of the Egeler Center interviewed Horacek and submitted a request for Horacek to receive kosher meals. On November 29, 2012, Horacek was transferred to the Marquette Branch Prison (MBP), a prison that does not serve kosher meals.

         On January 16, 2013, Chaplain Thomas Prisk received Horacek's grievance, alleging that Prisk failed to ensure that Horacek was receiving kosher meals at MBP. After receiving the grievance, Prisk reviewed his files and did not find any “kite” from Horacek. Prisk concluded and testified that he received no kite from Horacek.[1] Prisk reviewed Horacek's records and found that the kosher diet request was still pending. Prisk contacted the MDOC Special Activities Coordinator in Lansing, Michael Martin, who told Prisk that there was a backlog of such requests pending at the MDOC. In light of the facts before him, Prisk requested that Horacek's request be bumped up and approved sooner rather than later.

         On February 13, 2013, Horacek's kosher meal request was approved.[2] On February 14, 2014, an MDOC email went out, stating, “Please refrain from routine transfers of prisoners with approved Kosher meals until completion of Passover April 2nd.” On February 15, 2013, Prisk received a copy of the MDOC email regarding the transfer delay. That same day, Prisk sent a memo to Horacek informing him that he was approved for kosher meals.

         Prisk had no authority to transfer prisoners and was not involved in the transfer process. Neither is or was Prisk involved in the decision-making process regarding religious diet applications-he conducts preliminary interviews in the process but passes the interview information to others in the MDOC. Prisk did what he could in light of his limited authority and reached out to the transfer coordinator and requested that Horacek's transfer be expedited following Horacek's approval for kosher meals. The MDOC, in accordance with its email regarding transfers around Passover, transferred Horacek to a facility with kosher meals on April 3, 2013-after Passover had concluded.

         Conclusions of Law

          Count 1) Violation of First Amendment Rights

         “[I]nmates retain First Amendment rights, including the right to free exercise of religion. A prisoner alleging that the actions of prison officials violate his religious beliefs must show that the belief or practice asserted is religious in the person's own scheme of things and is sincerely held.” Flagner v. Wilkinson, 241 F.3d 475, 481 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         The sincerity of Horacek's religious beliefs is not in dispute. Horacek asserts that Prisk violated a number of Horacek's First Amendment rights by failing to ensure that Horacek was transferred in a “reasonable” amount of time following his approval for a kosher diet. However, per MDOC policy directives, Prisk had no authority to approve a kosher diet or initiate a transfer of a prisoner. After Prisk received Horacek's grievance-the first undisputed form of communication between Horacek and Prisk-Prisk took the initiative, researched the status of Horacek's kosher meal request, and contacted MDOC offices in Lansing regarding the matter, ultimately requesting that Horacek be approved sooner rather than later. Horacek was approved sooner. Prisk's acts led to the earlier approval.

         In short, Prisk did not violate Horacek's First Amendment rights. Instead, Prisk attempted to cure potential violations of Horacek's rights-Prisk's actions likely resulted in a ...


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