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Brown v. Mathena

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

September 16, 2014

KELVIN E. BROWN, Plaintiff,
RANDALL C. MATHENA, et al., Defendants.


JACKSON L. KISER, Senior District Judge.

Kelvin E. Brown, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and also known as Karim A. Muhammad, filed a civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff generally alleges that defendants, who are staff of the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") and the Red Onion State Prison ("ROSP"), do not serve him nutritional food in conformity with his Islamic beliefs. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and Plaintiff responded, making the matter ripe for disposition.[1] After reviewing the record, I grant defendants' motion for summary judgment because Plaintiff fails to establish a violation of federal law and defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.


Plaintiff filed this action because he believes trays of the VDOC's Common Fare Menu[2] ("Common Fare") are not prepared and served at ROSP in conformity with the religious requirements of the Nation of Islam ("NOI"), which is Plaintiff's religion. Plaintiff complains about the lack of hot water for morning cereals, the substitution of fruit juice for servings of fruit, the smaller portion sizes of Common Fare meals than of other menus, the quality of Common Fare vegetables and bread, the lack of religious certification for beverages and bread, and the manner trays, cups, and lids used for Common Fare are transported, cleaned, and stored in relation to the "unsanitary" foods served on other menus. Plaintiff also believes that prison workers are not qualified to serve Common Fare, that the administrative procedures implemented to be approved for, to receive, and to be removed from Common Fare are unlawful, and that inmates should not be forced to carry and present their identification cards to receive Common Fare. Plaintiff argues that these complaints violate his rights pursuant to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") and the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff requests damages and declaratory and equitable relief.

Defendants explain that VDOC policy requires Common Fare meals to be prepared using premeasured ladles and scales to ensure proper food portions are served, and as a result, Common Fare has been analyzed and certified as meeting or exceeding minimum daily nutritional requirements. ROSP's reusable food trays and lids used for Common Fare meals are washed, sanitized, and stored separately from the trays and covers used for other menus, and all Common Fare meals are prepared separately from the regular menu meals and placed on serving carts that are reserved for Common Fare meals. Fresh produce is ordered every week and washed and cleaned. Produce that is not suitable for serving because of, for example, age or mold is discarded. Similarly, bread that is stale, moldy, or "old" is not served, and Common Fare meals include Kosher bread. Defendants further explain that fresh fruit is served when available, but 100% fruit juice is served as an appropriate replacement when no fresh fruit is available. Defendants admit that the same beverages are served from the same containers regardless to the type of tray an inmate receives, but there is nothing in the record to support the proposition that the beverages contain pork-related ingredients or are contrary to religious requirements. Defendants assert that only authorized food items are served on the Common Fare menu, and all authorized food items comply with Kosher and Halal standards. Defendants also assert that all food service workers, including inmate kitchen workers, receive training and supervision in the proper handling of the food used for Common Fare and that all health, hygiene, and safety rules are enforced.


Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that they are entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified immunity permits "government officials performing discretionary functions... [to be] shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald , 457 U.S, 800, 818 (1982). Once a defendant raises the qualified immunity defense, a plaintiff bears the burden to show that a defendant's conduct violated the plaintiffs right. Bryant v. Muth , 994 F.2d 1082, 1086 (4th Cir. 1993).

A party is entitled to summary judgment if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts are those necessary to establish the elements of a party's cause of action. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986), A genuine issue of material fact exists if, in viewing the record and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-movant. Id . The moving party has the burden of showing - "that is, pointing out to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the movant satisfies this burden, then the non-movant must set forth specific, admissible facts that demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of fact for trial.[3] Id. at 322-23. A party is entitled to summary judgment if the record as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find in favor of the non-movant. Williams v. Griffin , 952 F.2d 820, 823 (4th Cir. 1991). "Mere unsupported speculation... is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion." Ennis v. Nat'l Ass'n of Bus. & Educ. Radio, Inc. , 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995).

Plaintiff does not state facts on which a reasonable factfinder could conclude that defendants Walrath, Shear, Parr, or Taylor had any personal involvement with Plaintiff's allegations. Also, staffs "after-the-fact denial of a grievance [or response to a letter] falls far short of establishing § 1983 liability." DePaola v. Ray, No. 7:12cv00139, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117182, at *23, 2013 WL 4451236, at *8 (W.D. Va. July 22, 2013) (Sargent, M.J.). Liability under § 1983 may not be predicated on the theory of respondeat superior. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. , 436 U.S. 658, 663 n.7 (1978); Fisher v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Author. , 690 F.2d 1133, 1142-43 (4th Cir. 1982). Accordingly, these defendants are entitled to qualified immunity and summary judgment. I also note that Plaintiff has stated no facts to support any actionable claim for monetary damages under RLUIPA, and defendants are immune from damages in their official capacities. See, e.g., Sossamon v. Texas, ___ U.S. ___ , 131 S.Ct. 1651, 1660 (2011); Rendelman v. Rouse , 569 F.3d 182, 189 (4th Cir. 2009); Gray v. Laws , 51 F.3d 426, 430 (4th Cir. 1995). Finally,


Plaintiff alleges that a failure to provide Common Fare meals that are nutritionally equivalent to the meals served to the General Population violates the Fourteenth Amendment right to Equal Protection. The Equal Protection clause requires that persons similarly situated be treated alike. Flyer v. Doe , 457 U.S. 202, 216 (1982). In order to state an equal protection claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he has been treated differently from others who are similarly situated and that the unequal treatment was the result of intentional discrimination. Morrisson v. Garraghty , 239 F.3d 648 (4th Cir. 2001). "Ordinarily, when a state regulation or policy is challenged under the Equal Protection Clause, unless it involves a fundamental right or a suspect class, it is presumed to be valid and will be sustained if there is a rational relationship between the disparity of treatment and some legitimate governmental purpose.'" Veney v. Wyche , 293 F.3d 726, 731 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Heller v. Doe , 509 U.S. 312, 319-320 (1993)). An equal protection violation occurs in one of two ways: (1) when the government explicitly classifies people based on race, or (2) when a law is facially neutral but administration or enforcement disproportionately affects one class of persons over another and discriminatory intent or animus is shown. Sylvia Dev. Corp. v. Calvert Cnty. , 48 F.3d 810, 818-19 (4th Cir. 1995). An inmate's equal protection claim must be analyzed in light of a prison's special security and management concerns. Morrison, 239 F.3d at 655 (citing Jones v. N.C. Prisoners' Labor Union, Inc. , 433 U.S. 119, 136 (1977)).

Plaintiff alleges that Common Fare portion sizes are smaller than the portions received by the general population on other menus. However, an inmate who has chosen to receive Common Fare for religious reasons is not similarly situated to inmates willing to eat from the other menus. See, e.g., Awe v. Va. Dep't of Corr., No. 7:12-cv-00546, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161227, at *8, 2013 WL 5988869, at *2 (W.D. Va. Nov. 12, 2013) (Kiser, J.) (rejecting Equal Protection claim related to the Common Fare diet because the plaintiff was "not similarly situated to inmates who do not require meals to be specially prepared based on a claimed religious belief'), aff'd, 2014 U.S.App. LEXIS 6031 (4th Cir. Apr. 1, 2014) (per curiam). Plaintiff has not established that he is treated differently than other inmates receiving the same Common Fare foods and portion sizes. Accordingly, Plaintiff is "in all relevant respects alike" and similarly situated to inmates receiving Common Fare, not the other menus, and Plaintiff fails to establish an equal protection claim.


Plaintiff alleges that requiring him to sign the Common Fare Agreement violates due process because the Agreement "unconstitutionally" provides for sanctions, including removal, if he violates the program's terms and conditions. Plaintiff ...

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