Howton v. Butler et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: 1. Howton's claims against the named defendants [R. 1] are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. 2. All pending motions are DENIED as moot. 3. This action is DISMISSED and STRICKEN from the Court's docket. 4. Ho wton may pursue his administrative remedies at FMC Lexington and, once he has exhausted those remedies, he may file a new complaint if he so chooses. 5. A corresponding judgment will be entered this date. Signed by Judge Gregory F. VanTatenhove on 08/17/20147.(KJA)cc: COR, mailed paper copy to pro se filer
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
JACK E. HOWTON
SANDRA BUTLER, Warden, and
THOMAS JAHR, Supervisory Chaplain,
Civil Action No. 16-CV-277-GFVT
*** *** *** ***
In December 2016, federal prisoner Jack E. Howton filed a civil rights complaint with
this Court. [R. 1]. In that complaint, Howton sued the Warden and Supervisory Chaplain at the
Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Manchester, Kentucky, alleging that they violated his
federal statutory and constitutional rights by failing to provide him buffalo meat for a ceremonial
dinner at which he and other inmates observed their Native American religious beliefs. [R. 1].
Howton failed to identify the relief he was seeking, and the Court construed his complaint as one
pursuing injunctive relief. [R. 6.] It does not appear that Howton ever disagreed with this
characterization of his complaint. In fact, in a later submission, Howton made it clear that he
was simply asking the Court to order prison officials to supply him and other inmates with
certain traditional foods, including buffalo meat. [R. 13 at 12.]
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, a motion for summary
judgment. [R. 10.] Shortly thereafter, Howton submitted a change of address, indicating that he
had been transferred to the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Lexington, Kentucky. [R. 11.]
Howton then filed a response to the defendants’ motion [R. 15], and the defendants filed their
reply [R. 21.] Thus, the defendants’ motion is now ripe for a decision.
The Court, however, will not reach the merits of the defendants’ motion because
Howton’s claim for injunctive relief against the Warden and Supervisory Chaplain at FCI –
Manchester is moot given that he is no longer being held at that facility. The Sixth Circuit has
made it clear that “a prisoner’s claim for declaratory and injunctive relief against certain prison
officials [becomes] moot once the prisoner [is] transferred from the prison of which he
complained to a different facility.” Henderson v. Martin, 73 F. App’x 115, 117 (6th Cir. 2003);
see also Kensu v. Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1996) (concluding that the inmate’s claims
for injunctive relief were rendered moot upon the inmate’s transfer from the prison about which
he complained). Pursuant to this principle, Howton’s complaint is moot because he seeks
injunctive relief against prison officials at a facility where he is no longer being held.
The Court recognizes that there is a narrow “exception to the mootness doctrine for
claims that are capable of repetition, yet evade review.” Fredette v. Hemingway, 65 F. App’x
929, 931 (6th Cir. 2003). This exception, however, is limited to situations in which there is “a
reasonable expectation that the same complaining party would be subjected to the same litigation
again.” Id. And, in this case, it is not clear whether Howton will face the same situation at FMC
- Lexington. That is because officials at FMC – Lexington are not part of this litigation and,
thus, they have not formally said whether they would provide Howton buffalo meat for the
annual ceremonial dinner. While the defendants briefly claimed six months ago that buffalo
meat is “not served at any of the correctional facilities located within the Eastern District of
Kentucky” [R. 10-1 at 13 n. 10], it is certainly possible that prison officials at FMC – Lexington
will now provide Howton with the traditional food he is requesting. After all, in Haight v.
Thompson, 763 F.3d 554, 564-65 (6th Cir. 2014), the Sixth Circuit indicated that state prison
officials imposed a substantial burden on inmates when they denied the inmates’ request for
traditional foods at their annual Native American celebration. Plus, after the Sixth Circuit
remanded that matter for further proceedings, the prison officials and inmates came to an
agreement regarding which traditional foods would be served at the annual celebration. See
Haight v. Thompson, No. 5:11-cv-118 (W.D. Ky. 2017) at R. 121. In light of this recent
development in an analogous case, it is possible that prison officials at FMC – Lexington will
respond favorably to Howton’s requests.
In summary, Howton’s current complaint is moot because he is seeking injunctive relief
against prison officials at FCI – Manchester, a facility where he is no longer being held. That
said, Howton may pursue his administrative remedies at FMC – Lexington and, once he has
exhausted those remedies, he may file a new complaint if he so chooses.
Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that:
1. Howton’s claims against the named defendants [R. 1] are DISMISSED WITH
2. All pending motions are DENIED as moot.
3. This action is DISMISSED and STRICKEN from the Court’s docket.
4. Howton may pursue his administrative remedies at FMC – Lexington and, once he
has exhausted those remedies, he may file a new complaint if he so chooses.
5. A corresponding judgment will be entered this date.
This the 16th day of August, 2017.
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