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Cowart v. Allen

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

August 26, 2014

JOHN DOUGLAS COWART, #153264, Plaintiff,


SUSAN RUSS WALKER, Chief Magistrate Judge.


This case is before the court on a 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 complaint filed by John Douglas Cowart ["Cowart"], an indigent state inmate currently incarcerated at the Easterling Correctional Facility ["Easterling"]. Cowart alleges that he follows the Native American religion, and he makes the following claims:

(1) defendants allow anyone on the "approved list" to be on the Native American sacred grounds, knowing that some White gang members on the list desecrate the sacred grounds, and defendants refuse to take corrective action;
(2) defendants break the ceremonial circle on Native American grounds to accommodate officers moving segregation inmates;
(3) defendants refuse to allow tobacco for ceremonial purposes or transfer Native American inmates to institutions that allow tobacco;
(4) defendants limit access to firewood and limit fires to three days a week while other institutions have fires daily;
(5) defendants refuse to allow Native American inmates to use tobacco in the ceremonial pipe;
(6) defendants prevent Native Americans from using the sweat lodge because it is 100 yards from the ceremonial grounds, the area is too small, tobacco is prohibited, and Cowart is not allowed to transfer to an institution with a functioning sweat lodge and tobacco use; and
(7) defendant Chaplain Askew desecrated Cowart's ceremonial items by touching them and, when questioned, said, "I can do this I'm a holy man, " then laughed derisively.

Compl. - Doc. No. 1, at 2-5; Doc. No. 28, at 7. Cowart complains that defendants' actions violate his rights under the First Amendment, Eighth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Alabama Constitution, and Alabama Department of Corrections ["ADOC"] Policy No. 333.[1] Id. Cowart names as defendants Richard Allen, Gwendolyn Mosley, Lewis Boyd, Kenneth Sconyers, Gwendolyn Babers, Anthony Askew, and Steven Walker. Cowart seeks injunctive relief and monetary damages for the alleged violations.[2] Doc. No. 1, at 6; Doc. No. 28, at 3-5.

The defendants filed an answer, special report, and supporting evidentiary materials addressing Cowart's claims for relief. Doc. No. 20. Defendants argue that Cowart's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, that respondeat superior cannot be the basis of liability, and that defendants are entitled to sovereign or qualified immunity. Doc. No. 20, at 3, 6-10.

The court informed Cowart that the defendants' special report may, at any time, be treated as a motion for summary judgment and explained to Cowart the proper manner in which to respond to a motion for summary judgment. Doc. No. 21. Cowart responded. Doc. No. 28. The court deems it appropriate to treat the defendants' report and supplemental report as a motion for summary judgment. Thus, this case is now pending on the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of this motion, the evidentiary materials filed in support thereof and the plaintiff's response, the court concludes that the defendants' motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.


"Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine [dispute] as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomm., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (citation to former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 omitted); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) ("The 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.").[3] The party moving for summary judgment "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the [record, including pleadings, discovery materials and affidavits], which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue [- now dispute -] of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by presenting evidence indicating there is no dispute of material fact or by showing that the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-24.

The defendants have met their evidentiary burden and demonstrated the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact. Thus, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to establish, with appropriate evidence beyond the pleadings, that a genuine dispute material to his case exists. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3) ("If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact [by citing to materials in the record including affidavits, relevant documents or other materials] the court may... grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials - including the facts considered undisputed - show that the movant is entitled to ...

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