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Powers v. Clarke

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

September 17, 2014

JAMES POWERS, Plaintiff,
v.
HAROLD CLARKE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION (GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT)

HENRY E. HUDSON, District Judge.

James Powers, a Virginia prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983[1] Powers is a member of the Nation of Gods and Earths ("NGE"). The Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") has classified the NGE as "a gang rather than [as] a spiritual group." (Compl. ¶ 12.) In 2011, Powers wrote a letter seeking to have the VDOC recognize the NGE as a religion. ( Id. ¶ 11.). Powers's request was denied "based on the NGE being classified [as] a gang." ( Id. ¶ 10.) Powers contends that this classification has placed a "substantial burden on Plaintiff...." ( Id. ¶ 12.) The VDOC policy of labeling NGE as a gang precludes Powers from receiving spiritual literature, namely The Five Percenter Newspaper. ( Id. ¶ 14.) Powers names Harold Clarke, the Director of the VDOC and Layton T. Lester, the Warden of Lunenburg Correctional Center, as defendants. Powers lists the following claims for relief:

Claim 1 The Defendants' policy of labeling the NGE as a gang instead of a religion violates Powers's rights under:
(a) The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA");[2]
(b) The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment;[3]
(c) The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment; and,
(d) The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[4]
Claim 2 "The Defendants failure to comply with [VDOC] regulation requiring them to process request for DOC recognition of religion form violated James Powers' rights under...:" ( Id. ¶ 21.)[5]
(a) RLUIPA;
(b) The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment;
(c) The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment; and,
(d) The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Claim 3 "The Defendant Harold Clarke by upholding and enforcing a blanket ban on publications and literature relating to the Nation of Gods and Earths violates plaintiff James Powers' rights under...:" ( Id. 22.)
(a) RLUIPA;
(b) The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment;
(c) The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment; and,
(d) The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and the Court's obligation to dismiss inadequate or frivolous claims by prisoner pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

I. Review Under The Prison Litigation Reform Act

Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") this Court must dismiss any action filed by a prisoner if the Court determines the action (1) "is frivolous" or (2) "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. The first standard includes claims based upon "an indisputably meritless legal theory, '" or claims where the "factual contentions are clearly baseless.'" Clay v. Yates, 809 F.Supp. 417, 427 (E.D. Va. 1992) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)). The second standard is the familiar standard for a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

"A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356 (1990)). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations are taken as true and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993); see also Martin, 980 F.2d at 952. This principle applies, only to factual allegations, however, and "a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "require[] only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.' Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (second alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Plaintiffs cannot satisfy this standard with complaints containing only "labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. (citations omitted). Instead, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " id. (citation omitted), stating a claim that is "plausible on its face, " id. at 570, rather than merely "conceivable." Id. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 556). In order for a claim or complaint to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, therefore, the ...


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