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Godbey v. Wilson

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

February 27, 2014

Walter Thomas Godbey, Plaintiff,
Eric Wilson, et al., Defendants.


T.S. ELLIS, III, District Judge.

Walter Thomas Godbey, a federal inmate confined in the Eastern District of Virginia and proceeding pro se, has filed a civil rights action, pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics , 403 U.S. 388 (1971), the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), and other authorities, alleging that his rights have been violated by restrictions placed upon his religious practices. The matter is now before the Court on defendants' Amended Motion to Dismiss and Amended Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff was provided with the notice required by Local Civil Rule 7(K) and Roseboro v. Garrison , 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), and he filed a Supplemental and Amended Reply on July 12, 2013. Defendants submitted a reply to plaintiffs pleading on August 6, 2013, and plaintiff filed a sur-reply and supporting affidavit on August 30, 2013. On January 13, 2014, plaintiff filed a pleading captioned as a Supplemental Motion Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15, to which defendants filed a response in opposition on January 15, 2014. After careful consideration of all of these materials, defendants' Amended Motion to Dismiss and Amended Motion for Summary Judgment must be granted, and plaintiffs claims must fail.

Also pending before the Court is plaintiffs Motion for Injunction Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 65, in which he claims that prison officials have encumbered his inmate account unlawfully. In response, defendants filed a Memorandum in Opposition to plaintiffs request and supplied a supporting affidavit of the Trust Fund Supervisor of plaintiffs institution. Based on the information contained therein, plaintiffs Motion for Injunction must be denied, as moot.

I. Background

The following material facts are undisputed. Plaintiff Walter Godbey, an inmate confined at FCI Petersburg, is serving a term of twenty-two (22) years imprisonment for a conviction of voluntary manslaughter. Am. Compl. at 17; see Godbey v. Simmons, 1:11cv704 (TSE/TCB). Godbey identifies himself as an adherent of the Asatru faith, and states that he has been such since 2005.[1] Id . Defendant Eric Wilson is the Warden of FCI Petersburg. Id. at 4. Defendant Michelle Fuseyamore was the Regional Counsel for the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") from January 7, 2007 until December 29, 2012. Def. Ex. 2 at ¶ 2.

Plaintiff alleges in the amended complaint, which is the operative complaint in the lawsuit, Dkt. 11, that defendants violated his rights by (1) refusing to allow him to drink alcoholic mead during his religious ceremonies, and (2) forbidding him to wear his hlath, a headband adorned with various runes or symbols worn by Asatru practitioners during their religious ceremonies, outside of the institutional chapel. Plaintiff brings this action against defendants in their individual capacities under Bivens and the FTCA, asserting that they have violated his First and Fifth Amendment rights[2] as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), 42 U.S.C. §2000bb et seq. the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §2000cc et seq.; and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff also sues defendants in their official capacities under the First and Fifth Amendments "solely for the purposes of the injunction." Am. Compl. at 2.

Some practitioners of the Asatru faith drink mead as part of their religious ceremonies. Def. Ex. 3 at ¶ 13.[3] Mead is "a mixture of water and honey sometimes with fruit juice or spices and wine yeast." Plf. Aff. (Dkt. 12), Ex. 1 at 47. The BOP prohibits inmates from consuming alcohol due to security concerns that increased violence otherwise might result. In addition, the prohibition of alcohol serves the penological concerns of furthering the rehabilitation of inmates with histories of substance abuse, deterring criminal behavior, and punishment. Def. Ex. 3 at 14-16. The BOP permits the religious use of wine in instances where it is specifically mandated by religious law, such as during the Catholic Eucharist. In such situations, however, only the clergyman is allowed to hold the chalice while inmates dip their communion wafers into the wine and then eat the wafers. Inmates are never permitted to handle the sacramental wine themselves or to drink the wine directly. Id. at ¶¶ 17, 19. Asatru religious ceremonies involving mead require the participants to handle the mead themselves by toasting each other with the mead and then drinking the mead. Therefore, BOP cannot provide Asatru practitioners with any alcoholic alternative that would accommodate its security concerns in allowing inmates to handle and to drink alcohol. Id. at ¶ 21. As a result, it provides Asatru adherents with the honey and fruit juice mixture plaintiff describes as an alternative to alcoholic mead. Id.

In addition, BOP does not allow offenders to wear clothing or headgear with symbols throughout prisons because the symbols could be used as a means of covert communication among the inmate population for purposes such as identifying gang affiliations or ordering acts of violence against institutional staff or other inmates. Id. at ¶¶ 8-9. The hlath or head garment worn by Asatru adherents is a solid-colored headband containing one or more symbols or runes. There are twenty-four (24) symbols in the Asatru alphabet, each of which has a different religious significance and any of which may appear on the hlath. Id. at ¶¶4, 11. Each Asatru practitioner chooses the runes on his own hlath, so hlaths cannot be standardized for all prison inmates. Id. at ¶ 11. The BOP classifies hlaths as ceremonial religious headgear and allows their use in the prison chapel during ceremonies, but does not permit inmates to wear them throughout the rest of the institution. Id. at ¶¶ 5-6. Only religious headgear that is not adorned with non-standardized or alphabetic symbols may be worn throughout the prison. Id. at ¶ 10. The BOP cannot allow Asatru inmates to wear hlaths outside prison chapels and still accommodate the significant security concerns they raise. Id. at ¶ 12.

II. Standards of Review

A. Rule 12(b)(6)

Rule 12(b)(6) allows a court to dismiss those allegations that fail "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a 12(b)(6) motion, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. ___, ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Where "the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, " the complaint fails. Id at 679. In analyzing a complaint filed by a plaintiff who is proceeding pro see, however, a court is obliged to afford the allegations generous construction. Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Bracey Buchanan, 55 F.Supp.2d 416, 421 (E.D. Va. 1999).

B. Rule 12(b)(1)

Federal district courts are courts only of the limited jurisdiction which is granted to them by the United States Constitution and statutes. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc. , 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005). When a district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over an action, the action is subject to dismissal pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp. , 546 U.S. 500, 506-07 (2006). In determining whether jurisdiction exists, "the district court is to regard the pleadings' allegations as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment..." Richmond. Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad Co. v. United States , 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). A Rule 12(B)(1) motion to dismiss should be granted when "the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law." AtlantiGas Corp. v. Columba Gas Transmission Corp. , 210 Fed.App'x 244, 247 (4th Cir. 2006).

C. Rule 56

Summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to Page 6> interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of proving that summary judgment is appropriate. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (moving party bears the burden of persuasion on all relevant issues). To meet that burden, the moving party must demonstrate that no genuine issues of material fact are present for resolution. Id at 322. Once a moving party has met its burden to show that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to point out the specific facts that create disputed factual issues. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, a district court should consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of that party. United States v. Diebold. Inc. , 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962). Those facts for which the moving party bears the burden of proving are facts which are material. "[T]he substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts which might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248. An issue of ...

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