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Marron v. Miller

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

June 24, 2014

TRAVIS JACKSON MARRON, Plaintiff,
v.
SGT. MILLER, ET AL., Defendant(s)

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GLEN E. CONRAD, Chief District Judge.

Travis Jackson Marron, a Virginia inmate proceeding pm se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), alleging that the defendant prison officials violated his rights by confiscating his religious books, shaver, and sunglasses. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, and Marron has responded, making the matter ripe for disposition. After review of the record, the court concludes that the motion to dismiss must be granted.

Background

Marron's submissions indicate the following relevant facts. While he was incarcerated at Lawrenceville Correctional Center, Marron was approved to receive the Common Fare Diet, designed to accommodate inmates' religious dietary beliefs. Marron had also petitioned the state court to change his legal name for religious reasons.[1] In March 2013, Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") officials transferred Marron to Augusta Correctional Center. When Marron arrived at Augusta on March 20, 2013, Defendants Miller and Flavin inspected his personal property and confiscated several items that did not comply with Augusta's property restrictions. They informed Marron that they were confiscating his religious books, because he had marked the books with his Muslim name rather than his legal name. They also confiscated Marron's electric shaver, his prescription sunglasses for outdoor use, and his polarized sunglasses for indoor use. They told Marron that he could not have these items at Augusta because the shaver and the outdoor sunglasses were different than similar items available through Augusta's commissary and his prescription sunglasses had metal frames. Marron filed a grievance about the confiscation, which officials determined to be unfounded. The grievance response notified Marron that his property items would be held in the property department until he had a chance to appeal the grievance. Marron's appeal was unsuccessful.

Marron claims that his eyes are sensitive to light and without his sunglasses, he suffers from eye pain and headaches. When he saw the eye doctor about this problem in late March 2013, the doctor indicated, "[Marron] is very light sensitive and would benefit from sunglasses and tinted lenses inside. If rules allow please re-issue glasses for him.'" (ECF No. 2, p. 24.) A nurse noted, however, that Marron "must purchase sunglasses through commissary." (Id.)

Marron raises three claims against Miller and Flavin based on these events: (A) confiscation of his religious books violated his right to free exercise of his religious beliefs; (B) confiscation of his shaver and sunglasses deprived him of property interests without due process; and (C) confiscation of his prescription sunglasses was cruel and unusual punishment because of his medical problems. Marron seeks monetary damages for these alleged violations.

Discussion

Plaintiffs claims cannot survive a motion to dismiss unless he "pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S.662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (finding motion to dismiss properly granted where plaintiffs factual allegations do not state "plausible" claim for relief). The complaint must allege facts sufficient to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ' thereby nudg[ing] the[ claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'" Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc. , 658 F.3d 388, 391 (4th Cir. 2011) (first alteration in original) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 570). In undertaking this review, the court must accept as true plaintiffs "well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegations in the complaint."[2] Burnette v. Fahey , 687 F.3d 171, 180 (4th Cir. 2012) (quotations and citations omitted). To state a cause of action under § 1983, a plaintiff must establish that he has been deprived of rights guaranteed by the Constitution or laws of the United States and that this deprivation resulted from conduct committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins , 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

A. Deprivation of Religious Books

Marron asserts that Miller and Flavin confiscated his religious books because of his religion and, thereby, substantially burdened his ability to exercise his religious beliefs. Defendants argue that Marron has not established that defendants' actions substantially burdened his religious belief, and the court agrees.

The First Amendment provides that "Congress shall make no law... prohibiting the free exercise thereof." U.S. Const. amend I.; Cruz v. Beto , 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1977). To prove a violation of this right, an inmate must first state facts sufficient to show that (1) he holds a sincere belief that is religious in nature; (2) the prison regulation imposes a substantial burden on his right to free exercise of his religious beliefs; and (3) the regulation is not "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz , 482 U.S. 342, 349 (1987) (quotation and citation omitted).

RLUIPA heightens an inmate's free exercise rights by prohibiting the government from imposing a "a substantial burden" on an inmate's religious exercise unless the government can demonstrate that the regulation "(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest." 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). A regulation imposes a "substantial burden" if it "puts substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs." Lovelace v. Lee , 472 F.3d 174, 187 (4th Cir. 2006) (quoting Thomas v. Review Bd. of Ind. Employment Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 70, 718 (1981); Sherbert v. Verner , 374 U.S. 398 (1963)). No substantial burden occurs if the government action merely makes the "religious exercise more expensive or difficult" or inconvenient, but does not pressure the adherent to violate his or her religious beliefs or abandon one of the precepts of his or her religion. Smith v. Allen , 502 F.3d 1255, 1278 (11th Cir. 2007); Living Water Church of God v. Charter Tp. of Meridian , 258 F.Appx. 729, 739 (6th Cir. 2007).

VDOC Operating Procedure ("OP") 802.1, including the "Authorized Personal Property Matrix, " sets out restrictions regarding personal property inmates may possess in VDOC institutions. Unless an item of property is included on the OP's approved list, is currently sold at the facility's commissary, or approved by the Faith Review committee, an inmate may not lawfully possess that property item at the facility without special written permission from the VDOC Chief of Operations. OP 802.1(IV)(G). When an inmate arrives at a new facility with property that is disallowed at that facility, he may not possess such property, but may designate that disallowed items be mailed to an address of his choice, picked up by a visitor, or donated to charity. OP 802.1(V)(F)(6). Any state or personal property which has been altered or modified without written authorization may be confiscated as contraband. OP 802.1(VII)(G). The inmate may appeal a property confiscation. If officials determine on appeal that a confiscated item is, in fact, authorized, officials should return it to him if he establishes that he owns it. OP(VID(I).

Marron's allegations indicate that the confiscated books were marked with a name under which he was not yet legally recognized by the state courts or the VDOC. Thus, Miller and Flavin had a valid basis under OP 802.1 to confiscate the marked books as contraband. No facts in the record support Marron's naked assertion that the officers took the books because they were religious, rather than ...


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