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Muhammad v. Clarke

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

November 3, 2014

HAROLD W. CLARKE, ET AL, Defendant(s).


GLEN E. CONRAD, District Judge.

Abdul Hamza Wali Muhammad, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that prison officials at Red Onion State Prison interfered with his ability to utilize the grievance procedures concerning specific complaints about his religious diet.[1] Upon review of the record, the court finds that the action must be summarily dismissed.


Liberally construed, Muhammad's initial complaint and attachments (ECF Nos. 1 & 2) present the following issues:

1. Grievance Coordinator Messer rejected at intake several informal complaints and grievances Muhammad filed about his concern that the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") does not provide a diet which complies with the religious tenets of the "Nation of Islam Black Muslim" inmates, like himself.[2] (ECF No. 1:2, 2:2-3.)
2. Messer rejected at intake informal complaints and grievances about Muhammad's complaint that between January and April 2014, on four occasions, Officer Thomas Lawson and others "forced" Muhammad to take "pork trays or no trays at all, " although his religious beliefs prohibit him from eating pork. (ECF No. 2, p. 3.)
3. Muhammad's attempt to file an informal complaint directly to the regional ombudsman about Messer's actions failed, when the ombudsman referred the complaint to Messer.
4. Muhammad asserts that many VDOC officials are involved in a conspiracy to frustrate his ability to exhaust his administrative remedies as required to bring claims under § 1983 about conditions at Red Onion.


The court is required to dismiss any action or claim filed by a prisoner against a governmental entity or officer if the court determines the action or claim is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). In order to state a claim in any federal civil action, the plaintiff's "fflactual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " to one that is "plausible on its face, " rather than merely "conceivable." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). 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).

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), an inmate is barred from bringing a prison conditions claim in a federal lawsuit until he has first presented that issue through all levels of the available prison grievance procedures. Woodford v. Ngo , 548 U.S. 81, 90 (2006). On the other hand, inmates do not have a constitutionally protected right to a grievance procedure, Adams v. Rice , 40 F.3d 72, 75 (4th Cir. 1994), and a prisoner's use of grievance procedures is not a protected First Amendment right. Daye v. Rubenstein , 417 F.App'x 317, 319 (4th Cir. 2011). Thus, a prison official's failure to comply with an existing state grievance procedure is not actionable under § 1983. Mann v. Adams , 855 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1988). Moreover, because state grievance procedures are separate and distinct from state and federal legal procedures, an institution's failure to comply with state grievance procedures does not compromise its inmates' right of access to the courts. Flick v. Alba , 932 F.2d 728, 729 (8th Cir. 1991).

In each of the claims in this lawsuit, Muhammad sues the grievance coordinator and other prison officials, because they have allegedly violated his constitutional rights by conspiring to frustrate his efforts to exhaust administrative remedies on various issues. Specifically, he complains that the grievance coordinator has rejected his informal complaints or grievances on intake for such reasons as failing to state any personal loss from the challenged issue, including multiple issues, or not providing dates or other specific information about the events he challenges. Muhammad declares that such rejections prove purposeful efforts to prevent him from completing the exhaustion process so he can go to court. He alleges that other officials have condoned these illegal actions by failing to correct these intake errors on appeal.

Contrary to Muhammad's factual characterizations, an official's efforts to require an inmate to bring only one issue per grievance and provide sufficient personal details about his complaint or injury do not prove an intention or conspiracy to prevent exhaustion. For the grievance procedure to serve its intended purposes, inmates must state sufficiently focused facts to allow effective investigation of the specific actions they are contesting. More importantly, however, Muhammad's legal conclusions here are unwarranted. Because he has no right to the VDOC grievance procedure, prison officials' alleged violations of its provisions, even if proven, do not violate any federally protected right. See Adams, Daye, supra. Therefore, Muhammad has no constitutional claim actionable under § 1983, based on prison officials' unsatisfactory responses to his informal ...

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